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The Daily Tar Heel

Orange County BOCC delays voting on ordinance to regulate gatherings around schools


The Proud Boys gather outside of an Orange County Schools Board of Education meeting on Oct. 11, 2021.
Photo Courtesy of Allison Mahaley. 

The Orange County Board of County Commissioners continued discussion on an ordinance that would regulate gatherings on and near school property and public playgrounds during its meeting business Monday. 

This ordinance is the result of a gathering of Proud Boys protesting mask mandates at Orange High School on Sept. 24 of last year. It was last discussed at the board’s meeting on June 21when a vote on the ordinance was delayed until October.

County Attorney John Roberts said the ordinance was proposed last fall. The board has gathered information and reviewed several iterations of the draft ordinance during meetings throughout this year.

Roberts said the board has received numerous emails saying the ordinance would unconstitutionally restrict speech.

“Every right guaranteed in the Bill of Rights is subject to reasonable restriction,” Roberts said. “Every one – including freedom of speech.”

He said protests are not currently allowed on school property and the ordinance will extend a buffer around school grounds. Roberts recommended a 50-foot buffer from all school property entrances.

“This does not do anything that the school boards cannot currently do other than extend a restriction out into the public right of way,” Roberts said.

Patrick Abele, deputy superintendent of Orange County Schools, said he would like to see modifications to the regulation. Abele requested that the right-of-way beside roads in front of schools be the standard instead of the 50-foot buffer recommended by Roberts.

“What we would propose would be a consistent ordinance for all campus property that would limit and prohibit any gatherings, any protests or any demonstrations in those DOT right-of-way areas from the school property,” Abele said.

Commissioner Amy Fowler said this right-of-way regulation would cause the distance to differ from school to school. Commissioner Sally Greene said she would need more time to evaluate how this will affect each individual school.

After further discussion of Abele’s suggestion, Commissioner Jean Hamilton asked for the ordinance to be tabled. Hamilton said she would like to have a committee including school staff, an attorney and the Orange County Sheriff’s office look over the ordinance.

Abele said the ordinance is not about the type of speech, but when and where speech takes place. He added student protests are permissible.

During the public comment period, 24 Orange County residents spoke about the ordinance. 

Olivia Fisher, an Orange County parent, said the current language of the ordinance is too vague. She also raised questions about when the ordinance would go into effect for playgrounds and what is considered a gathering.

“This ordinance doesn’t promote safer communities, stronger communities, or safer campuses or stronger campuses,” Fisher said. "It makes silent ones."

Some commenters said the ordinance was un-American, unconstitutional, heavy-handed and targeted specific groups and ideologies. 

Commenters also discussed issues with the previous Orange County Schools Board of Education, including capacity limits at meetings, late agenda postings and the method that student comments — which led to the ordinance — were collected. They said students had been “solicited” for comments by the board.

After public comment, Hamilton made a motion to defer consideration of the ordinance. The motion passed 6-1, with Commissioner Jamezetta Bedford dissenting. Roberts said a motion to defer consideration expires after 100 days, at which point consideration must be revived or the ordinance will die.

Hamilton made a second motion to establish a task force to consider the issue, and the motion passed unanimously.


@DTHCityState |

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