Mask mandates and critical race theory caused parents to be active at school board meetings in recent months.
Parents of children in traditional public schools should be guaranteed a larger share of the seats on a new statewide parent advisory group, State Board of Education (SBE) members said Thursday.
State Superintendent Catherine Truitt, a Republican, created the panel to “advise and inform” state leaders and public policy officials on various aspects of education and student well-being.
Only 33% of seats are guaranteed to parents of traditional public school students even though those students are 78% of North Carolina’s schoolchildren. The advisory group will include charter school parents, private school parents and those who homeschool.
State Board members said parents who homeschool their children and send them to private schools could receive a disproportionate share of the seats.
“I feel that it does not match up with our mission to provide a sound basic education to every child in North Carolina Public Schools,” said State Board member Jill Camnitz, explaining that parents in the Northeastern Education Region she serves have expressed concerns.
State Board Vice Chairman Alan Duncan said he wishes Truitt had discussed the board’s makeup with state board members before Thursday’s meeting.
He said such a discussion might have produced a “different composition” of the panel, one that better reflects the students served by the state’s public schools.
Truitt reminded Duncan that she doesn’t need state board approval in such matters.
“I’m bringing this to the board as a courtesy and am in no way required to include the board in this work,” Truitt said.
Truitt faced tough questioning about why the panel needs parents of children in homeschools and private schools when the state has virtually no authority over them.
She said some superintendents view all children as part of their educational communities because they might one day return to traditional public schools.
“I think that’s a good model for how we should be invested in our children,” Truitt said. “It’s not the system of education that we’re trying to protect. We want this council to be about students.”
She added that the NCDPI and the state board could learn why parents are leaving public schools if the panel includes parents who have left.
“We want public schools to be the schools of choice, but that’s not always the case, which is why parental choice has taken such a prominent role, I would say, even before the pandemic,” Truitt said. “I so appreciate your candid feedback but I feel very strongly that we do have something to learn from all parents.”
SBE member James Ford said he is concerned that the panel won’t reflect the diversity of North Carolina’s schools. A little more than 50% of the state’s traditional public schools are students of color.
“My concern is about the inclusion of all parents, particularly those who are least likely to have a voice in the system,” Ford said.
Truitt said the application doesn’t ask parents to share their race or ethnicity. After the panel is selected, Truitt said she would welcome further discussion.
“It’s premature to have concerns about who is on the committee when the application process hasn’t even closed yet,” Truitt said.
Kisha Clemons, the 2020 NC Principal of the Year, reminded Truitt that the state board talks a lot about its commitment to equity and inclusion.
Clemons, principal of Shuford Elementary School in the Newton-Conover City Schools, said state education leaders must think ahead and be proactive in thinking about ways to include voices that are marginalized.
“We have to think about who those people are, and we have to make sure to create something and design something that’s going to get those voices at the table,” Clemons said. “The lack of thinking about race, ethnicity and other dimensions of diversity is problematic.”
The superintendent also addressed a newsletter sent by her campaign committee celebrating the parent group. Jen Mangrum, her opponent in the 2020 superintendent’s race, said the newsletter with a campaign donation button at the bottom, raises questions about Truitt’s ethics.
“Apparently, when you apply to be on Truitt’s Parent Advisory Board, you are encouraged to make a contribution to her next campaign,” Mangrum wrote. “That seems illegal and definitely unethical. But not surprising, knowing who she is.”
Truitt took issue with that characterization.
“People can insinuate all they want about whether this is a pay-to-play opportunity,” Truitt said. “Until there is proof of that, I would say to not make such insinuations and I would also say that if any superintendent has received that email, it’s because they’re on my campaign email list.”
She read a campaign email from State Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat, urging voters to, “chip in now” to support his work protecting North Carolina consumers.
“So, it is commonplace for elected officials to send out emails through their campaign that automatically have a donate button at the bottom of the page,” Truitt said.
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