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Chairwoman of Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board resigns amid recall effort

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.

Margaret Samuels, the chairwoman of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board and one of three people targeted in an election recall effort, has resigned, the school system announced Tuesday morning.

“The charges leveled at me are baseless and without foundation,” Samuels wrote in a letter released by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

“Nevertheless,” she continued, “since being elected chair, well after the events in question happened, I have tried to respond to public concerns by working toward board consensus where possible, by ensuring board members had access to professional development and training and by setting in motion a review of our board’s related policies.”

Samuels and board members James Barrett and Pat Heinrich are subjects of a recall effort launched by a group of parents upset with a 4-3 vote last September to make Glenwood Elementary School a Mandarin language magnet school.

The parents accuse Barrett and Heinrich, who has a daughter at the school, of improperly communicating before the vote with parents who supported the magnet school plan. They accused Samuels, who became chairwoman in January, of not enforcing board policies.

A school board attorney cleared Barrett and Heinrich of any conflict of interest, but a UNC School of Government professor says the two may have violated board policies.

All three targeted members’ terms are up this year, and Barrett has already announced he will not seek re-election so that he may focus on a run for state superintendent of schools next year.

In her letter, Samuels said she is not a politician and has “no appetite for political fights that take the attention away from our schools and our children.”

On Wednesday the group CHCCS School Board Recall said it does not agree with Samuels’ characterization of their effort in her letter.

The actions of Heinrich and Barrett are their main concerns, the group said, but Samuels failed to hold them accountable or provide for any “meaningful discussion” of the issues, according to a statement provided by group representative Riza Jenkins Redd.

The magnet school vote, the statement said, “was rushed through without adequate analysis of impacts to all stakeholders.”

“This Board must re-establish the trust between its Board members and the community, which is essential to producing solutions to challenging issues that impact the children within our district,” the statement continued. “We understand that pursuing a recall is an unprecedented move in our district, and we do not take it lightly. However, it is never wrong to hold people accountable, and accountability and transparency is what this group is trying to achieve.”

Replacement policy

Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board policy provides for this sort of resignation.

“When a chair or vice chair resigns in the middle of a term, it’s up to the board to replace them at the next meeting,” district spokesman Jeff Nash said.

The remaining six board members will elect one of the members as the new chair. Nash said the board might delay the vote, since its next meeting is on Thursday.

Nash said board policy and the state statute upon which that policy rests says it is up to the board to fill Samuels’ now empty seat. Since her seat would have been up for election in November, Nash said he isn’t sure if the board will appoint someone to fill it before then.

Mark Schultz: 919-829-8950; @TriangleEditor
Shelbi Polk: 919-829-4557; @shelbi_polk
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