By Steve Woodward
The (Southern Pines) Pilot’s beat writer Mary Kate Murphy seems to view public education in Moore County as a sailing vessel with a few leaks, readily plugged, that has encountered a tsunami of contempt by citizens, who are nothing more than rabid ideologues looking to pick fights and draw attention to themselves.
Her January 2, 2022, attempted magnum opus, “The Polarization of Public Education”, is a rambling compilation that reads as though the reporter is pouring out an embarrassing admission: county school board meetings confuse her. She doesn’t understand what all of the fighting is about. “What’s going on here”? Murphy writes.
As published, the work also is a poorly veiled effort to defend four entrenched board members and a feckless superintendent against numerous examples demonstrating that they have failed students, teachers, parents and other concerned taxpayers. The education universe is polarized, she contends by inference, because too many locals merely wish to echo a broader national conversation about issues (genuine issues, as it turns out) plaguing schools; because they focus too much attention on student aptitude test scores; because David Hensley, Philip Homes and Bob Levy were elected to the board, and because their supporters are mean spirited by nature.
The 4,415-word summary of the past 18 months since the arrival of pandemic lockdowns and fear mongering is rife with flimsy conclusions and glaring omissions. Murphy does not address the tendency of then-board chair Libby Carter and her board puppets to demean members of the community. Who will soon forget when board member Stacey Caldwell complained in a meeting that protracted public comments had meetings ending too late at night, which, for her, was a problem because she has a job? When a recording of that was played back at a subsequent meeting, Caldwell denied her own words and shouted from the stage, “that’s a lie”, violating board policy that prohibits engaging the public during board meetings. Grumpy Ed Dennison, on another occasion, dismissively said that citizens desired to make public comments “to see themselves on (YouTube) TV”.
In both cases, disdain prevailed rather than listening to constituents.
Murphy’s piece opens with a dramatic revisiting of a September profanity filled voicemail recorded to a Moore Schools central office phone line. The caller said she would find the homes of board members and would not “play nice” unless classroom mask mandates were lifted. The insinuation, never proven to this day, is that the caller was associated with groups that had been gathering ahead of board meetings to display signs and demonstrate unity. The reporter ignores the key fact that a so-called “investigation” to reveal the caller’s identity was abandoned, or that parents and citizens attending these rallies never spewed profanity or made threats, despite being mistreated as potential threats by armed security and being forced to assemble far removed from the Moore County School central office building’s entrance.
The piece further ignores that board chair Carter stoked an atmosphere of hostility in a span of board meetings by refusing to accommodate growing numbers of citizens signing in to deliver three-minute speeches, forcing people to wait outside in inclement weather and pass through metal detectors. Requests to move the meetings to larger venues by Hensley repeatedly were ignored by Carter. She seemed to relish wielding her power to discourage or enrage fellow citizens, as if hopeful her restrictions would inflame visitors and result in physical removal by her cadre of armed security.
These are some of the many other inane gems littering a classic demonstration of journalistic malpractice by The Pilot:
A lament that 2021 board meetings presented a “stark contrast to past years, when board meetings were largely conducted in perfunctory style and played to largely empty rooms.” Read: The good old days when Grimesey reigned supreme over a rubber-stamp board.
“Politics have taken hold of public education.” Nice try. Public education has been exposed as flawed and subverted by unaccountable third parties.
“Protests against Critical Race Theory were a nationally motivated political device to try to unite people against our traditional public schools,” Carter said. Oops. Carter, who claims not to be a left wing Democrat by virtue of how she registers to vote, was caught in a rare moment of transparency. What is traditional in a public school is NOT to teach children that our nation as founded is deeply flawed, and NOT to impose upon young white children that they were born racist.
“Our schools aren’t performing well, but that’s a function of the fact that they’ve been defunded for years.” The quote is attributed to one of the dumbest elected officials in Moore County, Whispering Pines mayor Alexa Roberts. Teachers receive generous annual raises and have for years on end. Has Lexy forgotten what taxpayers contributed to building Pinehurst Elementary School and Aberdeen Elementary School? Pinehurst Elementary ranks as the most expensive new school built in the state’s history, at $47,500 per student seat, with Aberdeen not far behind. The Pinehurst construction tab was $38 million. Who or what is being defunded? A legit reporter would have asked this question before publishing an erroneous quote. In recent memory, the one defunded line item was seat belts for Moore County Schools activity buses.
“The rally at the Moore County Schools central office had already been advertised in a recent Moore County Republican Party newsletter.” Read: Oh, no, some folks organized a rally and had the nerve to let people know when and where it was happening.
Parents and citizens who are not aware that their children are used as pawns by the radical Left, as experiments to determine how far educators can subvert public schools, and reshape them as indoctrination centers, these parents are the “majority”. Those who challenge the current board and its superintendent, those who have filed to run for school board seats in 2022, are fringe radicals.
Everyone else, Carter’s friends and neighbors, “just want their kids to be able to go to school and be happy and enjoy their teachers,” said Alexa Roberts, the mayor of Whispering Pines. “They don’t feel that there’s a problem in their school.”
It’s always about how they feel, is it not? That’s why they love their student surveys. How do you feel today, Lexy?
Lastly, a photo that accompanied Murphy’s diatribe showed board members Hensley, Holmes and Levy standing outdoors in an open space seemingly looking for an encounter. But The Pilot does not mention that the photo was captured one fine morning a few days after a bus accident on Highway 5 near the Aberdeen Elementary School. It had come to their attention that the speed limit along that stretch, 45, had not been adjusted to accommodate school buses turning left toward the school out of a lane without a turn light. The board members showed up early that day to draw attention to the dereliction of Moore County Schools with regard to organizing law enforcement traffic control at the intersection.
Perhaps, Murphy might some day report, this was yet another example of polarization. A divide between common sense and dereliction. Something to keep in mind when we vote to replace the Carter Four in November.