by Jay Fenwick, 19 Feb 2022
Previously I reported to you about the February 14, 2022, Watauga Board of Education meeting. That report covered one agenda item only, our mask policy. But the February 14th meeting offered much more excitement.
(I repeat the "disclaimer" here that these are my personal opinions and recollections. My purpose is simply to share a fuller description of events to keep you informed of what is happening at YOUR school board meetings.)
The public comment portion of the meeting always begins with the board chair reminding speakers of the rules of etiquette that are typical at public meetings. Speakers are allowed 3 minutes, are expected to be courteous in their language, are to speak to the board as a whole, and should not expect back-and-forth conversation with the board.
Six persons signed up to speak to the board, but Jennifer Hanifan (who has filed to run for the Board of Education) declined when her name was called. The first four speakers all asked to end the mask mandate and provided their unique personal perspectives. I carefully listen to all of our public speakers. I often take notes on what they say. Some people think the board is being disrespectful or ignoring the voices of the speakers. It is unfortunate that they just can not accept that one can truly listen to them but then choose not to do what they ask. Maybe they haven't raised teenagers yet?
Candidate for Congress
Both Superintendent Scott Elliott and the board attorney have previously addressed the meeting about a recent conspiracy theory surrounding "surety bonds," involving a website called BondsForTheWin.com. They both explained that NC law does not require surety bonds for school board members. And they encouraged school board members not to be swayed by tactics akin to bullying.
Mr. Ackerman again chastised the board for what he sees as its disrespect for the voices wanting an end to the mask mandate. He also again chastised the board for not altering the format of its public comment. He then quoted from the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence. I do agree with him that this is amazing and powerful language: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
Ackerman then said, "With great sadness and resolve I do stand before you tonight and inform you that you have left us with no other option but to serve each of you with letters of intent to file claims against your surety bonds.”
On that choreographed cue, two men stood up in the audience, flanked Mr. Ackerman at the podium, and then walked toward the board members with stacks of large manilla envelopes. Superintendent Elliott, the board attorney, and two deputies began to loudly request that the men halt. It's not a large room. The men ignored the admonitions and were already in front of the board members. They began rifling through their packets of envelopes trying to match up the board member nameplates with the labels on the envelopes they had. In the end, they "served" 8 persons: each board member, the Superintendent, the Assistant Superintendent, and the Finance Director. Board members did not open the envelopes and simply handed them to the attorney.
Mr. Ackerman concluded his remarks stating that this was not a legal action but an insurance claim action, and that we had 72 hours to comply.
What exactly was in the envelopes? I can only tell you what was in the packet that I received but am confident that the others were identical. My packet contained three bundles of documents. Each bundle was from a different person making a claim, and each claim consisted of two parts, an 8-page "Declaration of Fact" and about 40 pages of materials that Superintendent Elliott had submitted in response to a public information request for surety bonds, policies related to insurance and bonding, and oaths of office.
The language in the "Declaration" is legal-sounding:
- "...expressed in the form of an obligation containing my wet ink autograph that I have personal knowledge of and asseverate the following...."
- "...I, a man, ------------- claim ------------------ as my offspring.
I, a man, ------------- claim my body, information, and genetic material, including my offspring, are my Property."
- "...I, a man, ---------------- retain my right to decline all attempts to access, influence, and or otherwise alter any of my Property, my God given biological material, my biological systems, and or that of my minor offspring."
A section boldly labeled "Direct and Constructive Notice" contains numerous legal citations that supposedly demonstrate that school board members have stepped outside their oaths and responsibilities, violated state and federal law and the Constitution itself with our mask policy.
It demands that the school board cease and desist within 72 hours forced mask wearing, social distancing, COVID testing. It also includes a clause demanding the immediate removal of all materials (books, media, lesson plans, etc.) that promote a variety of things like "tribalism within our nation" and "deconstruction of the nuclear family," among others.
It then says that each board member must rebut these claims within 10 days. (What happened to 72 hours?) And it concludes with a reminder of my obligation to a timely response: "Silence will result in your acquiescence and tacit agreement."
All three claims are signed and then notarized by school board candidate Jennifer Hanifan.
NC DHHS has announced a big change in their COVID guidance, and the CDC has hinted at some big changes coming in their guidance. I see another school board meeting already on the calendar.
This local newspaper article captures a good bit of the public comment portion of the Feb 14th meeting.
Jay Fenwick is a member of the Watauga County Board of Education