WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – Following Tuesday night’s school board meeting that was cut short by an out-of-control audience, vice-chair of the board Nelson Beaulieu, who tried to control the crowd at the meeting, spoke about the events that unfolded.
Beaulieu ran the meeting because Board Chair Stefanie Adams was out of town.
With COVID-19 restrictions easing, there were more people inside the Board of Education Center on Tuesday night than there has been in quite some time. Capacity has been capped at 50 attendants over the last several months, but 170 people were allowed to attend Tuesday night. That means many different groups, passions and tensions all together under one roof.
Beaulieu did not expect things to get out of hand like they did.
“I think when you have 170, 180, 190 adults in a room, you expect them to behave like adults,” he said. “I did not anticipate people jeering other audience speakers, people, you know, jeering the board, you know, interrupting speakers, interrupting board members when they tried to speak.”
50 people signed up to speak and address the board on any issue during the call to the audience part of the meeting.
The board voted to extend the call to the audience, so everyone would have the chance to speak for two minutes.
The speakers touched on several hot button issues, including critical race theory, the suggested social studies curriculum, and ending suspensions for the youngest students.
But outbursts and interruptions from the audience were frequent during the call to the audience. Beaulieu at one point told the public that the board meeting is not a battle zone.
“And I say that it’s not a warzone as a veteran of the war in Afghanistan,” he said on Wednesday. “I understand that people are excited about certain issues, passionate, angry and that, that’s excellent. That’s important we hear that feedback. It informs our governance decisions, it certainly informs my thinking, but it cannot lead to that type of breakdown because we have a job to do and it’s not about us. It’s about our students, it’s about our faculty.”
Beaulieu and the board asked their attorney several times for the correct procedure, as speakers tried to defer their time to others. He said in his two-and-a-half years on the board he has “never seen anything quite like that.”
“We definitely had to pause and make sure that we were doing the right thing. We consulted with our board attorney a number of times and we were just trying to make sure that we were being consistent across the board, and that we were just trying to make sure that people had their constitutional right to speak,” he said.
Beaulieu says he really saw things start to turn in a not productive direction around the 15th or 16th speaker.
“When it veers to an issue where I feel like the public safety is at risk, and the safety and security of the 200 people in that room were at risk I didn’t really see an alternative other than to pause that and resume at a later date.”
Beaulieu said that there are other school districts across the country dealing with similar issues where the public is quick to draft the school system into, “the culture war.”
“I know people are eager to draft New Hanover County Schools or any school system into the culture war. I’m not ready to play that game. I am ready to play the game of doing what is right for our students and our staff and that’s it. That’s what we should be focused on, and that’s what I’m focused on. I was focused on that last night and I will be focused on that moving forward,” he said.
WECT asked Beaulieu if he thinks there might be push back from the public now that the board is planning to meet virtually next week. He did not comment directly on that, but said he thinks the district will send out a statement with details, which he believes are still being finalized and discussed.
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