Source: The Assembly
Orange County is the latest example of growing extremism in school boards across the country. A new school board composed mostly of more moderate members and an increasing presence of far-right groups has worried Orange County parents and teachers for years, according to a report by IndyWeek.
In October 2021, actions by Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, Proud Boys and Moms for Liberty attacked Orange County from all sides.
A month prior, Proud Boys assembled near the entrance of a football game calling for an end to COVID-19 vaccine mandates for students (though none existed), masking rules, and for the deaths of those who disagreed, IndyWeek reports.
Followed by Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson office targeting Hillsborough’s Cedar Ridge High School library for carrying Maia Kobabe’s memoir Gender Queer.
National far-right group, Moms for Liberty, set up shop in Orange County and attempted to assert power during school board meetings – with one meeting featuring an outburst by members who made false claims against the board, IndyWeek reports.
The growing attacks by far-right groups and conservative leaders in Orange County mirrored a national script. One that many schools districts across the nation, and in North Carolina, are seeing as conservatives attempt to organize around extremist themes, including book banning, classroom censorship, and targeting LGBTQ students.
The extremism growing in Orange County resulted in not just school board members feeling targeted, but superintendents and educators too.
Longtime Orange County Superintendent Dr. Monique Felder, was one of the many targets. Dr. Felder had a reputation amongst school board members and parents for her outstanding work of leading schools through the pandemic and addressing the district’s racial disparities, particularly in student performance and discipline.
According to the NC DPI, during the years Dr. Felder became superintendent, graduation rates for Black students improved, going from 87.2 percent in 2018-19 to 88.7 percent in 2021-22.
“During [Felder’s] tenure, I have seen historically marginalized students be more supported in schools,” Sarah Patterson, a social worker at New Hope Elementary School, stated during a school board meeting. “Students no longer have to worry about being deadnamed in front of their peers, because they are now protected by our gender support policy. Students get to celebrate the joy of Black History Month through our first-ever district-wide student expo [in February].”
“All of these improvements are because of Dr. Felder and the steps she has taken as superintendent to support all students in this district,” Patterson added.
Despite Dr. Felder’s work to address equity issues, the newly more moderate school board chose not to renew her contract; undoing the years of progressive leadership and signaling the ever-growing influence of extremism.
“When we lose superintendents and members of district leadership, we lose principals and [assistant principals],” stated Hillary MacKenzie, former school board chair, during a school board meeting. “And when we lose school leadership, we lose teachers and other support staff members.”
Read more from The Assembly.