A group of Chapel Hill and Carrboro parents and citizens are petitioning for three members of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School Board of Education to be recalled over ethics violations concerning the vote to make Glenwood Elementary a Mandarin dual-language magnet school.
The group organizing the petition to recall board members Pat Heinrich, James Barrett and Margaret Samuels has a website at boardrecall.com that displays their mission, which is the “removal from office of three CHCCS school board members who are believed to have failed in their duty to adhere to Policy Codes that govern the Board.”
Heinrich has been accused of sharing non-public information with the Mandarin Advisory Committee, a group consisting of parents with children in the MDL program, which supports the expansion of the MDL program at Glenwood.
The website contains screenshots of emails between Heinrich and members of the committee, including some sent to the board about different stances and the names of teachers that had written the board expressing their anti-conversion opinions.
He also recommends courses of action for pro-MDL parents, such as sending more emails to the board or what to say at meetings. In the emails on the website, Heinrich notes multiple times that the information he is sending is public record.
Barrett is also accused of sharing non-public information with Kristie Mather, a co-chair of the committee. Screenshots of text conversations show him recommending to Mather that she “see if the votes are there” and reach out to Amy Fowler, a fellow board member, as she is “whom I worry about if anyone.” The screenshots also show that Mather asked Barrett to not mention his knowledge of the communication between the committee and Fowler.
“I find it extremely ironic that I’m being accused of something that I’ve always said that I would do, which is be open and talk to anybody about issues in our schools," Barrett said. "I welcome conversations with all constituents, and that’s exactly what I did."
He said he would have shared this information with anybody.
Samuels, the chair of the board, is being criticized for failing to hold other board members accountable and not committing to a proposition — made at a board meeting on Jan. 24 — by board member Rani Dasi to be transparent and not to divulge sensitive information before the whole board has processed it.
Samuels said that the following quotes are her own statements and do not represent the views of the board. She said the meeting on Jan. 24 was a work session, where no decisions or actions are typically taken, and clarified that she does not have the authority as board chair to take unilateral action against policy violations.
“What I believe that is a fundamental misunderstanding is that the board chair does not have any additional authority to take any action if there is a perceived policy violation. All action taken by a school board is a collective action,” Samuels said.
Samuels said sharing information about votes isn’t out of the ordinary, especially when compared to national politics.
“I think we see that in national politics, we see that in state politics, we see that in local politics. That individuals will either state or appear to state what side of an issue they stand on, and some may take that and share that with others,” Samuels said.
Barrett said the situation resembles congressional behavior.
“You think about it at the congressional level, we have a position we call the whip, right? What does the whip do? Whip votes, right? Counting the floor and understanding how votes are going to be made is part of the process,” Barrett said.
Barrett and Samuels both said there have been tensions among the board recently.
“There’s a lack of trust in many directions right now. It's palpable when we meet, and it causes a lot of uncertainty amongst the staff, and it’s not good for moving things forward,” Barrett said.
Samuels said her focus is on the community right now.
“For me it’s about serving the students and serving our community,” Samuels said. “My primary focus will continue to be the education and welfare of all students attending Chapel Hill and Carrboro City Schools and ensuring that all schools and programs meet the needs of every child in attendance.”
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