Alamance-Burlington school board members voted 4-3 at a special-called meeting Tuesday night to name the county’s forthcoming seventh high school Southeast Alamance High School.
Voting to approve the name Southeast Alamance High School were: school board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves; and board members Ryan Bowden; Tony Rose; and Donna Westbrooks.
Opposed were: vice chairman Patsy Simpson; and school board members Allison Gant and Wayne Beam. The three dissenters said they wanted to include the word “central” in the name to acknowledge that, when it opens for the fall of 2023, the new high school will draw students from the central, eastern, and southern parts of the county.
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Tuesday’s vote followed a 40-minute public forum held earlier in the evening to gather public feedback on the name for the new high school, which is under construction at 3368 South NC 119, near the Honda Power Equipment Manufacturing plant in Swepsonville, and is being funded by the $150 million bond referendum that voters approved for ABSS in November 2018.
About a dozen people – who included ABSS students, parents, and community members – attended the public forum held at the ABSS Central Office on Vaughn Road in Burlington, held immediately before the special-called school board meeting.
ABSS public information officer Les Atkins said at the beginning of the public forum that, as of 2:00 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, 403 responses had been submitted via an online survey conducted over the past week to gather suggestions for the name of the new high school.
After the principal of the new high school, Eric Yarbrough, explained the criteria in an ABSS policy that governs the naming of new facilities, participants split into three groups, discussed their preferences, and designated a spokesperson to present five or six preferences and the reasons for them. Once a consensus was reached, the 10 most common preferences were written on a Post-It easel pad, and each participant was given a green sticker to place beside the name he or she liked best.
The 10 most-mentioned names given during a brief, subsequent discussion were: Hawfields High School (9 votes); Alamance Central (1 vote); Southeast Central (1); Wyatt Outlaw High School (1); Haw River (0); John Freeman (0); Mebane (0); Melville (0); Southeastern (0); and Triad High School (0).
Open Meetings Law violation triggered special-called school board meeting
The subsequent special-called meeting comes after school board members voted last week to remove an item that had been listed on their agenda for their August 22 meeting, which would’ve ratified naming the new high school. Alamance News publisher Tom Boney, Jr. said the so-called “community committee” that had met on August 11 and subsequently recommended naming the new high school as Hawfields High School had violated the North Carolina Open Meetings Law.
Boney strenuously objected in a letter he sent to superintendent Dr. Dain Butler and school board chairman Ellington-Graves last Monday afternoon, insisting that the inclusion of “parents, community members, and students” in a committee charged with recommending a name to the superintendent and board is subject to all of the requirements of the Open Meetings Law, including public notice of its meetings.
“I am unaware,” Boney said in his letter to Ellington-Graves and Butler, “of any public announcement of the appointment of such a committee or of any of its meetings. “I find no exemption from the state’s Open Meetings Law that would have permitted this committee to be assembled and meet without any public notice.”
Boney suggested that perhaps school officials had “conflated the makeup of this committee with [a provision] that allows ‘a meeting solely among the professional staff of a public body’ to conduct business without notification.”
See newspaper’s editorial opinion (in August 25 edition) on the Open Meetings Violation here: https://alamancenews.com/geesh-who-knew-school-officials-cant-follow-basic-laws/
See report (in September 1 edition) on the result of public records request for emails, other correspondence among school officials and school board members which show members were, in fact, aware of the renaming committee’s establishment and recommendations: https://alamancenews.com/emails-reveal-school-board-members-knew-about-naming-committee/
School board members acknowledged during their August 22 meeting that no notice of the committee’s establishment, much less its meeting to develop a recommendation for the name, had been given.
At the beginning of last week’s meeting, Ellington-Graves did, in fact, note the recommendation to remove the high school naming issue from the agenda. A motion to remove voting on the name of the new high school from the school board’s meeting agenda passed 6-1, with Wayne Beam opposed, later telling The Alamance News that he objected to having any discussion about the topic in light of the Open Meetings Law violation.
While the name Hawfields High School was the top preference during the public forum Tuesday evening, a majority of school board members favored going with the directional name, along the same lines as the existing Eastern, Southern, and Western Alamance High schools.
“The more wordy it is, the harder it is to communicate,” Rose said Tuesday night. “Southeast seems to fit better, but I can support any of these suggestions.”
Bowden said, “I’m going to stick with what the community recommended, and that is Southeast Alamance.”
Meanwhile, Simpson (who participated in the meeting via phone due to an illness in her extended family in Virginia) supported including the word “central” in the new high school’s name. “I think, in the interest of bringing the community together, it’s a very appealing thing to add central – not that it would be the old Central High School that used to be in Graham,” she said. “To be honest, we’ve got a Southeastern Guilford a southeastern whatever; I just think it makes it a little bit more unique and really includes all those communities.”
Beam and Gant also strongly favored including “central” in the name, but one sticking point for other school board members was how the name might be abbreviated in the future: SCHS.
“I think,” said Gant, “we should honor all three areas that these students are coming from. If we are going to honor Eastern and Southern, why not use central, because Central [High School] used to sit in the current Graham High School location.”
Beam added, “I like, for a lot of reasons, Southeast Central High School.” Not only does it incorporate the southern and eastern parts of the county, it was also represent future students who would be coming from Graham, Beam elaborated. “Central was one of our minority schools and has since been torn down,” he added. [Editor’s Note: The former Central High School, which had been a black high school, became Graham High School beginning in 1968 and has continued to be used in the 54 years since. The former Graham High School, on Pine Street, became Graham Middle School, at the same time.]
After introducing a motion to name the new high school Southeast Alamance High School, Rose said Tuesday night, “The Central designation only had nine votes, and Southeast Central was not on [a presentation of the most-commonly preferred names submitted via the online survey] at all. I think it’s simpler, and I think it’s less words.
“This school geographically sits in the southeast [part] of the county; it’s not really in the central part,” Rose added. “If we’re going to go with directional, I think it’s a better directional name. If we’re going to name it after history, then we should just call it Central High School, because we had a Central High School. That really wasn’t put forth by the community, the forum, the survey, or the board. I think merging those two concepts together is not what I think is the preferred thing to do; that’s just my opinion. When I heard everybody talk about it, I felt like we had a majority opinion on the Southeast and a minority opinion on adding central, but I’m okay with how the vote goes.”
“To not recognize students from Graham who would attend,” Simpson countered, “it’s like we’re not starting off in the right direction, and only giving homage to Eastern and Southern really saddens me.”