GUILFORD COUNTY — Voices of parents and constituents reverberated through the meeting room of the Guilford County Board of Education Tuesday night for the first time in 17 months.
During the first in-person meeting of the school board since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, people from across the county, including High Point, raised issues ranging from school security to how race is brought up in Guilford County Schools classrooms.
High Point Central High School teacher Richard Herman said the county should not reduce local teacher pay supplements as educators receive raises from the state. Herman, marking his 25th year as a teacher, said the county policy of reducing local supplements as state pay raises kick in is unfair to teachers, especially those with seniority.
The role of Superintendent Sharon Contreras was a split topic among the speakers, with some praising her leadership and the accomplishments of students during her tenure, and others saying she has assumed too much personal control over the school district.
Contreras recently had security protection assigned to her after receiving threats of harm. Board Chairwoman Deena Hayes said at a previous meeting that the threats against Contreras stemmed from false reports that GCS taught critical race theory.
The board meeting Tuesday evening represented a transition as members of the public were allowed to return to meetings after school leaders went to remote virtual sessions in the wake of the pandemic. The intention is to also resume regular meetings in High Point at City Hall, though most meetings take place at the GCS central office north of downtown Greensboro.
To accommodate COVID-19 protocols for school facilities, the number of people admitted to meetings currently is limited to 15. Speakers who didn’t have seats in the room had three minutes each for remarks and then walked from the board room.
The board usually limits the public speaking portion of the meeting to a half an hour but extended it by at least 15 minutes to allow everyone who signed up to speak.
Prior to the meeting, demonstrators for and against the school board gathered along a sidewalk along N. Eugene Street outside the school district office on a steamy late afternoon. The demonstrators gathered more than an hour before the 6 p.m. start of the meeting.
People who were lucky enough to secure one of the 15 seats for the board meeting and others who had signed up to speakers waited at the stone steps of the building before they were ushered through a security and temperature screening.
Greensboro Police Department officers in cars and on foot monitored the scene.
In a policy matter at the meeting, the board took up a request by member Anita Sharpe to rescind the pandemic emergency powers granted to the superintendent by the board in March 2020. Sharpe said the pandemic has reached a point where the emergency powers authority is no longer necessary.
But member T. Dianne Bellamy Small, who said she lost a dear friend to COVID-19 earlier this month, said the threat remains. The school board should keep the emergency option open, Small said.
Contreras told the board she hasn’t used the emergency powers since she was granted the authority 17 months ago.
The board voted to leave the superintendent’s emergency authority in place.
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