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SCHOOL BOARD Q&A: Calendar vote defying state law, parents' rights

Six candidates are running in the Republican primary to be their party’s nominee for the Henderson County School Board. The four winners of the primary will face Democrats Mary Ellen Kustin, Leslie Carey, Crystal Cauley and Rhonda Mountain in the Nov. 4 general election.

Michael Absher, 34, is CEO of Only Hope WNC. He graduated from Blue Ridge Community College in 2022 with degrees in public administration and leadership and from WCU in 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and law. He also serves the the Henderson County Library Board of Trustees, Juvenile Crime Prevention Council and Homeless Coalition.

Incumbent Robert Bridges, 77, earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, a master’s degree in guidance and counseling, and education specialist degree in administration from Western Carolina University. He and his wife, Norma, have been married almost 56 years and have lived in Henderson County 55 of those years. They have two granddaughters. “Serving God and the people of our church is important to me, and woodworking is a hobby I enjoy,” he says.

Tae Brown, 28, graduated from East Henderson High School. He is pursuing a master’s degree in social work from the University of Michigan. He works at BRCC as a success coach. “I have a blessed family that includes a loving mother and amazing siblings” and has several nieces and nephews attending Henderson County public schools, he says. “I enjoy reading, spending time with family and friends, practicing mindfulness, volunteering, swimming, mentoring, and gardening.”

Beth Campbell, 36, lives in Mills River with her husband, Trae, and their three daughters. A graduate of Henderson County schools, she currently works part-time as a pharmacy technician. “My hobbies include raising chickens, learning about herbalism, spending time with my husband and kids, hiking and growing our farm,” she says. “I enjoy volunteering at our schools and staying actively involved in our church.”

Amy Lynn Holt, 50, graduated from Miami Dade College in Florida. She and her husband, Ritch, own Champion Comfort Experts, where she serves as community outreach and major gifts officer. She and her husband have four children. Her hobbies include reading, flower growing and arranging, working with non-profits, following daughter Aliyah Faith’s gymnastic competitions and playing with her granddaughters Charlotte and Elle.

Incumbent Kathy Revis, 66, has been an educator for over 40 years. She earned her undergraduate degree in secondary math, has a doctorate in educational leadership and has experience as a teacher, principal and, for 17 years, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for over 17 years. She worked part-time for WNCSource and served as a trustee for Blue Ridge Community College and currently serves as an adjunct professor in the master’s for school administration program at Gardner-Webb University. Elected to the School Board in 2020 she now serves as vice chair. She and her husband, Ken, have a son, Garrett, and three grandchildren who attend Henderson County public schools.

The School Board has again voted for an early start to the school year in defiance of state law. If given the opportunity to vote on the calendar, how would you vote and why?

Brown: I would vote again for an early start. Parents, teachers, and administrators all voted in alignment with the majority of the School Board members. Additionally, test scores have improved due to this decision. If the decision relates to the well-being of our students and the majority of stakeholders unanimously agree, then I believe that decision should be supported. Public voices matter. 

Bridges: In regards to the school calendar, I did vote for the early start date, feeling it best for the students of Henderson County. This early start date enables students to finish semester exams (before Christmas) prior to the second semester. By so doing, those who wish may enroll in technical programs, community colleges, or universities earlier. I would continue to vote for an early start date even though state law requires a later date. Our legislators should be encouraged to allow local boards to make the decisions that best serve their students.

Campbell: The issue of the school calendar is a hot-button issue. I absolutely do not support the current calendar law. The law does not have our students’ best interests at heart. If elected I will swear an oath to uphold the law and I will do so. However, I look forward to joining the fight to get that law changed and make sure those who make the laws know that what they are doing hiding behind the calendar law and using it for profit is hurting our kids and I do not agree with that. 

Holt: I previously supported defying the calendar law. Starting school 10 days early is the right thing to do for students. Most people don’t realize that hundreds of HCPS seniors graduate early in the first semester and then they can go on to start college in January. The way the calendar law is now, there is no possible way to graduate in December and start college in January. … With that said, over the last 6 months or so I have thought long and hard about voting to break the calendar law and start school early. It has become apparent to me that this is breaking the oath of office and not something I need to do.

Revis: When I took the oath of office for my current seat on the school board, I swore to uphold state, local and federal laws. I take this oath very seriously so that is what I intend to do. I do not like the current calendar state statute and believe that each school board should have the authority to set the calendar for its school district. I think our current calendar makes common sense, except for one thing; it does not comply with the state statute. Just because we do not like a law, we cannot simply defy it. I voted against our current calendar because it does not comply with state statute.

Absher: If the vote on the calendar were to come up again, I would vote to uphold the law. It reminds me of a quote from Martin Luther King Jr: “I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.” As an elected official, we must hold ourselves to a higher standard, especially since one of the reasons for the change was to align with the community college calendar, which typically waits for Henderson County to do so.

The School Board has now adopted the Parents’ Bill of Rights as required in legislation enacted by the N.C. General Assembly. Do you favor or oppose the Parents’ Bill of Rights? Why or why not?

Holt: I am 100 percent in favor of the Parents’ Bill of Rights; I actually think it is sad that we have to have this. Parents have a right to know what is going on with their children at all times. They should be consulted and approve of their child being called a different name or a different gender. It is not appropriate for anyone to address a child in a matter that their parents don’t approve of. When these children are adults, they can navigate that for themselves, but while they are a minor it is solely a parent’s responsibility to make these decisions for their child.

Absher: I do not oppose the Parents’ Bill of Rights, as Henderson has followed most of its standards as far as I can remember. However, if someone has a concern about the legislation, they should talk to the administration or state leadership. 

Revis: I think this legislation is a direct response to a lack of parents’ trust in public education and it is sad that we have come to this point. However, I believe in transparency, so I have no problem with parents having the right to know what is going on with their child, what is being taught in classrooms and the right to be informed when particular issues arise with their children. The Board had to make very few changes in our current policies to comply with this new legislation. My hope is that we continue to work with parents to build trust and collaboratively work together in the best interest of their child.

Brown: I favor the Parents’ Bill of Rights as set forth in the legislation because it should not be a school’s objective to impose or support beliefs related to the matters in this particular legislation. Moreover, this legislation “ensures that parents remain aware of major health-related matters impacting their child’s growth and development.” It also provides transparency for parents. When I envision a child, I see a child in the context of their family, school and community. I believe those boundaries need to be appropriately upheld and respected.

Campbell: In regards to the Parents’ Bill of Rights, I wholeheartedly agree with what is in it. I am extremely sorry that our kids are growing up in such a mixed up confused world that we need it, but considering what is going on I am thankful to have it. Parents should have complete say over their children for as long as they are minors. No one, including doctors, school counselors, teachers or social workers should have higher authority over someone’s child more than the parents.

Bridges: I fully support the state’s adoption of the Parents’ Bill of Rights. Parents are positive advocates for their children, and I encourage them to become actively involved in their education.