Bullying on the rise in local school board meetings

NEW HANOVER & BRUNSWICK COUNTIES (WWAY) — Earlier this week, Governor Roy Cooper expressed concern over the “fevered pitch of recent meetings,” asking for an end to bullying from adults.

“Threats. Bullying. Intimidation. None of this belongs in our public schools,” Cooper said, “particularly by adults.”

Some local board of education members say they’ve seen more bullying and less dialogue over the past few months, taking focus away from students and informed discussion.

From throwing a brick through another school board member’s window, to a protester yelling profanities with a bullhorn at a board member, heated meetings have led to crossing the line in New Hanover, Brunswick, and Pender Counties according to board members.

“You draw a line,” explained New Hanover Board of Education member, Judy Justice. “It’s one thing to protest, but another thing to bully and do behavior that is totally outrageous in front of cameras and in front of children.”

With contentious issues to deal with, all eyes, including students have been on Board of Education meetings and those attending.

Brunswick County Board of Education member Gerald Benton worries how it will affect students.

“What you’re doing now will reflect on how your child acts in the future,” said Benton. “And I think that some parents lead their child maybe down the wrong road.”

Benton said the bullying doesn’t stop at board members. Other parents felt too threatened to speak out for mask mandates.

“And a lot of parents felt very uncomfortable doing it because they knew a lot of the folks were anti-mask,” Benton continued, “folks you know rallying at a board meeting. Or they perceived there would be pressure from the audience for them not to.”

New Hanover Board of Education Chair Stefanie Adams says she understands the passion behind some of these topics, but it’s important to listen instead of yelling over someone with a different perspective.

“Listen. Truly listen,” Adams said. “Not listen to respond, not listen to react. Truly listen to how another person feels about an issue is really the only way forward.”

Most school board members we spoke with said it hasn’t always been like this, but the pandemic, debate over mask use, and critical race theory appear to be sparking strong emotions.

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