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Group seeks recall of 3 Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board members over Mandarin magnet

A group of parents who say rules were violated in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board’s recent actions to make Glenwood Elementary a Mandarin language magnet school will try to recall board members James Barrett, Pat Heinrich, and board Chairwoman Margaret Samuels.
A group of parents who say rules were violated in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board’s recent actions to make Glenwood Elementary a Mandarin language magnet school will try to recall board members James Barrett, Pat Heinrich, and board Chairwoman Margaret Samuels.

A group of parents upset by a decision to make Glenwood Elementary a Mandarin language magnet school will try to recall three Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board members.

The parents filed an affidavit with the Orange County Board of Elections on Thursday. They have 30 days to get the signatures of 10 percent of the registered voters in the district for each member. If they do, there will be a yes or no referendum on recalling each of the three members for whom a petition is certified.

The votes would be held no less than 50 days and no more than 70 days from the petition’s certification.

If a board member is recalled, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board would then appoint someone to fill out the term.

The three board members in question are James Barrett, Pat Heinrich and Chairwoman Margaret Samuels. All three board members’ terms are up in the fall. Barrett announced in January that he would not be running for re-election to the board in order to run for state school superintendent in 2020.

According to parents’ spokesman Ron DiFelice, members Heinrich and Barrett violated the board’s policies in contact they had with pro-magnet Glenwood parents before the September magnet vote. Samuels has not enforced those policies, he said.

“How can we have public officials in office who won’t adhere to their own policies?” DiFelice asked.

Barrett said he had not heard of the recall effort and had no comment.

Reached by phone Thursday, Samuels said she was in a meeting and couldn’t comment at the moment.

Heinrich could not be reached immediately for comment.

Recall authority

UNC School of Government Professor Robert P. Joyce said only two school districts in North Carolina allow for recall elections: Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and Burke County Public Schools.

“What might or not have happened in Burke County, I don’t know,” Joyce said of recall elections. “I’m not aware of one ever happening in Chapel Hill.”

The General Assembly passed the local law allowing CHCCS recall elections in 1993.

There were also 24 North Carolina cities as of 2016 that provided for recall elections. No North Carolina counties do, Joyce said.

“It happens once in a while in the cities,” Joyce said. “It’s rare but it happens.”

Mandarin track

Glenwood currently has a dual-language Mandarin track that is open to all district students by lottery and a traditional track for students who live in the Glenwood zone. As a way to deal with overcrowding at the school, the smallest elementary in the district, the board voted 4-3 in September to make it a Mandarin magnet school. The district is still working out the details.

After the vote, some parents of children in the traditional track made a public records request to get board members’ e-mails and text messages pertaining to the Glenwood decision. They say the records show Heinrich and Barrett had improper contact with the pro-magnet parents, and met with them without notifying the board chairwoman and district superintendent, against the board’s policies. They say Heinrich and Barrett shared non-public information with Mandarin program parents.

They are also frustrated that Heinrich has not addressed the situation and that Barrett has said he did nothing wrong and continues to support Heinrich.

The parents seeking the recall election have set up a website, boardrecall.com, that explains their issues. As the website notes, the board’s legal counsel has absolved Heinrich and Barrett of any conflict of any legal wrongdoing, but the recall supporters say they are focused on board policies they feel were broken and want Samuels to enforce those policies.

K-7 students are learning Mandarin Chinese at East Point Academy, a Chinese immersion charter school with 570 students in West Columbia.

Matt Goad: mattgoad@gmail.com
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