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School board to discuss policy change on student surveys at Tuesday meeting


The Cumberland County Board of Education will host its February meeting on Tuesday, with members set to discuss topics like the board’s legislative agenda and potential policy changes. 

Of the three policy changes the board will consider, the lengthiest is a revision to the school system’s policy on student surveys, which came in the wake of the “Parents’ Rights” legislation passed by the N.C. General Assembly last year. As CityView previously reported, the new law prohibits schools from administering surveys to students under 18 without parental permission if the surveys’ questions fall under a wide-ranging category of “sensitive information.” Cumberland County’s school board will consider adding a provision to allow parents to opt their students out of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System and National Youth Tobacco surveys rather than requiring them to opt in, according to the proposed revision.

The change is required by the General Assembly, according to Nick Sojka, the attorney for Cumberland County Schools. 

“When the General Assembly went back to finalize the budget, they actually added a special provision that now says in North Carolina law that school districts can administer these surveys,” Sojka said at a Feb. 6 meeting of the school board’s policy committee. “The Youth Risk Behavior Survey goes just to high school students, and the Youth Tobacco Survey goes to middle and high school students.” 

The board will also consider eliminating a requirement for people providing public comment at meetings to state their address. Sojka said that the policy was originally adopted in 2010 and had not been touched since. 

“I can’t tell you what the history was, why that was originally included in this policy,” Sojka said, noting that his office had received many inquiries from members of the public, raising privacy concerns related to sharing their address. 

The final policy change for the board to consider would prohibit principals from imposing administrative penalties on students for unpaid meal fees, according to the proposed revision. Administrative penalties, which include denying students their diplomas and withholding student records, have not been applied to Cumberland County students with outstanding cafeteria fees, Sojka said Feb. 6. 

“That is also language that comes to us directly from the General Assembly,” Sojka said. “This was another special provision that was included in the state budget when it was ultimately approved in September. There had been a concern that students around the state were being penalized in ways like holding their report cards and that sort of thing if they had school lunch debt.” 

Legislative agenda

The board will also vote on its legislative agenda for the 2024 short session of the General Assembly, which begins in April. 

According to the proposed agenda, if approved, the board’s legislative priorities would include: 

  • Pay increases and affordable benefits for all public school employees. 
  • Increasing principal and teacher pay in North Carolina to be the highest in the Southeast by 2026.
  • Removing the 3-year service requirement for limited licenses, instead allowing “any teacher who has completed their residency program to qualify for one.” 
  • Additional staff and technology for the N.C. Dept. of Public Instruction “to speed processing of licensure requests and remove the current bottleneck.” 
  • Changing the way the state calculates school performance grades by 2026 to include factors like “the percentage of economically disadvantaged students, graduation rates, career credentials” and greater emphasis “on student growth, rather than disproportionate focus on overall proficiency.” 
  • Increase funding for students with disabilities. 
  • “Additional funding for school mental health support personnel … ”
  • A statewide construction bond “to address a statewide backlog of over $12 billion needed to replace aging, outdated schools.” 
  • Full funding of the Leandro Comprehensive Remedial Plan “without supplanting other education funds.”

After Sojka presented the potential agenda to the board’s Legislative Committee on Feb. 6, some board members voiced concerns that legislators will ignore their wishes. 

“I feel like, on some of these, we’re beating our head against the wall,” said board member Donna Vann. “All of that, yes, we’ve said it, over and over again, and the problem is, they want to see the downfall of public education up there. So we can do this over and over again, but until the people from up there get replaced, nothing’s gonna happen.” 

Board member Carrie Sutton said it was crucial to restate their wishes to legislators, even if they are ultimately ignored. 

“We gotta keep saying it. We can’t stop, and hopefully we will have different people that come in to support public schools,” she said. “It’s almost like the country now is wanting to go backwards. I don’t know what’s happening. I don’t know the world that we’re living in right now, but we’re in it, and we can’t forget about our children.” 

Superintendent Dr. Marvin Connelly Jr. told the board Feb. 6 that he would not be present at the Feb. 13 meeting in order to attend a meeting of the School Superintendents Association.

The school board will meet at 6 p.m. at the Central Services Building at 2465 Gillespie St.

Reporter Lexi Solomon can be reached at lsolomon@cityviewnc.com or 910-423-6500.

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Cumberland County, schools, General Assembly, surveys, parents rights