Caldwell County School Board criticized for board appointment and mask policy at board meeting

LENOIR, NC (September 16, 2021) — At the recent Caldwell County School Board meeting, several members of the community spoke out against the Caldwell County School Board’s decision to appoint B.J. Fore to the school board to fill a vacancy left by Chris Bumgarner and the use of masks in schools.

Speakers were rather critical of the school board’s decision not to choose the next person in line according to the number of votes received in last November’s election. Elaine Setzer-Maxwell was next in line and had 863 more votes than B.J. Fore. Caldwell County voters lost their voice on this night at the Caldwell County School Board meeting on Monday, September 13, 2021…”the board overrode the will of the people” stated Elaine Setzer-Maxwell. One speaker called for transparency in reference to the school board member appointment and said that “the seat filled by Mr. Fore should have been first offered to Elaine Setzer-Maxwell and then to Sarah Greer Koenig as they both received more votes than Mr. Fore in the general election and it was very clear what the people of Caldwell County wanted.” The school board did follow policy on the appointment but did not fulfill the will of the people according to the speakers.

Also during the public comment period of the meeting, speakers spoke about the school board’s decision to start the school year as mask optional. There was a mix of speakers for and against masks. One speaker was “disappointed in the lack of action from the board” for starting the school year as mask optional.

If you view the Caldwell County School Board meeting video below, you will have a more thorough perception of what took place.

11/03/2020 Official General Election Results – Caldwell
(Caldwell County Board of Education – Vote For 3)

Darrell Clayton Pennell 21,238 20.38%
Ann B. Edwards 21,091 20.24%
Christopher Becker 13,274 12.74%
Elaine Setzer-Maxwell 12,879 12.36%
Sarah Greer Koenig 12,385 11.88%
William (BJ) Fore 12,016 11.53%
Daniel Holman 7,601 7.29%
Mike Vincent 3,465 3.32%
Write-In (Miscellaneous) 275 0.26%

After the Caldwell County School Board meeting on Monday, September 13, we reached out to the school board members with two questions.

Only two school board members responded.

Question #1 Please provide me with an explanation of how and why you came to the decision to appoint B.J. Fore even though Elaine Setzer-Maxwell obtained more votes in the last election.

Question #2 Also, please provide me with an explanation of how and why you decided to begin the school year as mask optional.

Here are their responses as of 7:ooam September 16, 2021:

Darrell Pennell, Chairman

Reply to Question #1 “Our policy for naming a new board member was followed. Several names were discussed in one on one conversations or in small groups of less than a majority. After days of consideration, a consensus was reached which led to a unanimous vote in our public meeting.”

Reply to Question #2 “We began with the optional plan given the data at the time with the understanding that we would monitor the situation consistently which we have done.”

Teresa Branch, Vice-Chairman

Reply to Question #1 No Response

Reply to Question #2 No Response

Duane Knight

Reply to Question #1 The Caldwell County Board of Education has no policy or procedure to follow when appointing a member for replacement of another. I do not know Ms. Maxwell or Ms. Koenig. But I have known Mr. Fore for many years, since the days of the late Sheriff Clark. I do know that his wife is a retired teacher from Caldwell County Schools. I wanted to vote for a person that I felt could best represent the school system. Of the six members that voted, I did want diversity. Including in the six members were three educators, a retired business owner, an insurance agent that is also a business owner, and a health care management professional with youth coaching skills. Mr. Bumgarner is in law enforcement and helped us with legal matters that did not require our board attorney. My thoughts were that Mr. Fore could do the same. In July of 2010 Darrell Pennell replaced his deceased wife with a 4-2 vote. I was not a member of the board at that time and do not know how they arrived at this process. In November of 2010 I unsuccessfully ran for the Board of Education. There were four seats available. I finishing 8th out of eleven that ran for the office. Mr. Tim Hawkins finished fifth and was appointed unanimously to replace Mike LaBrose after he became a County Commissioner. In May of 2011 I was appointed to fill the seat of resigned member Chris Becker. I had emailed each of the members. I was known for volunteering in the schools and as member and past president of the Education Foundation. After the resignation of Teresa Branch 2013, we held interviews. Included were Andy Anderson, Joe Sims, Ann Edwards and Bob Henson. On the second vote Joe, who had never ran for office was appointed. When Tim Hawkins passed away we decided to hold the seat open. At the time there were no controversies to address. This was before the closing of Oak Hill and the complications of Covid-19.

Reply to Question #2 It was my wish to open school as normal as possible. We did give our superintendent the authority to switch if the numbers required. After one week we did vote again to make masks mandatory.

Joe Sims

Reply to Question #1 No Response

Reply to Question #2 No Response

Ann Edwards

Reply to Question #1 No Response

Reply to Question #2 No Response

Chris Becker

Reply to Question #1 “I voted to bring BJ in solely based on what I knew … I knew BJ personally and knew with 20 plus years in law enforcement, past PTO president and his character, he would serve the kids well. This is the only reason, had nothing to do with R or D, had nothing to do with the color of his skin or anything else one could conjure up. I simply voted for him because of his high character that I could attest to.”

Reply to Question #2 “I chose to vote for no mask based wholly on numbers, at the time, I was unsure if the numbers would continue to rise or be steady and decline.  I quickly changed my decision after seeing the numbers continue to go up and realize the masks were the only way to keep the kids in school.”

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