ALAMANCE COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — What was supposed to be a routine school board meeting in Alamance County ended abruptly as shouting erupted in the conference room.
The yearbook at Southern Alamance High School sparked comments from the public in response to a page addressing the Black Lives Matter protests that took place over the summer.
Yearbook staff had paid homage to an unusual year by offering a reflection on the major events that shaped it. That includes the nationwide protests that followed the death of George Floyd, a name now synonymous with the Black Lives Matter movement.
The Monday meeting came the day before the one-year mark since Floyd, a Black man, died after Derek Chauvin, a white now-former Minneapolis police officer, kneeled down on his neck. Chauvin has been convicted of murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death.
Board Chair Allison Gant said she had asked the superintendent to look into processes and procedures regarding the yearbook situation, raising concerns from Board Member Patsy Simpson. Tensions escalated as members of the audience began to interject.
Vice-Chair Tony Rose responded to Simpson, disagreeing with her point. Debate between Rose and Simpson drew more reaction from the audience, leading to an eruption of tempers from people in the conference room.
Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson stepped up to the board and attempted to intervene as voices were raised.
The board ultimately voted to adjourn early.
Superintendent Bruce Benson issued a statement after the meeting, emphasizing the importance of active listening and said that he was “disappointed” that the board couldn’t finish their meeting.
“ABSS welcomes public input and feedback on topics of importance and interest to community members,” Benson said. “We are community schools. As part of a continuous improvement process, we listen carefully to the public’s voice and then we review our already-established thought processes, policies, practices and procedures to see if our standards are sufficient or if changes or updates are needed. Active listening is a key component of continuous improvement, as well as a critical element of good leadership. It is our district expectation that differing viewpoints are considered in a respectful, thoughtful manner. That said, I am disappointed that we were unable to complete the work of the Board at our meeting last night.”
Gant echoed Benson, emphasizing the value of “listening carefully” to public comments.
“As an individual member of the board of education elected by our community, my role is to assist with carrying out the work of the district in support of all children, our staff and our schools,” Gant said. “Listening carefully and respectfully to our community’s comments and concerns plays a large role in my job as one community representative on the board. I appreciate our citizens expressing their thoughts and concerns as we work together to benefit our students who are the future leaders for Alamance County.”