The Cleveland County School Board Meets regularly on the second Monday of each month at 6:00 pm. Meetings are held in the Board Room of the Cleveland County Schools Central Services building, located at 400 W. Marion Street in Shelby, NC. These meetings are open to the public and they are broadcast live, so if you are unable to attend you can still watch things happen in real time.
Why This Meeting Mattered
This was the first meeting with all of the members of the newly elected school board after November’s election. You’ll notice from the photo that our new school board is made up entirely of white men. For most of them, it has been a LONG time since they have had to attend a parent-teacher conference, help with homework after school, or leave work early to get a kid to practice.
Obviously there is value to be found in citizens of all kinds participating in our local government, whether they are parents of school-age children or not. But here in Cleveland County, because of a partisan school board election, we do NOT have citizens of all kinds participating. We have just one kind of citizen making the decisions for a population that is 50.5% female, 21% Black, and 4% Hispanic or Latino.
The School Board Makes Decisions for Teachers and Other Employees of Cleveland County Schools
Based on the county population statistics, we’d ideally have at least 4 women on the board (or 9 if you left me in charge), and at least two people of color, but when you look at the employment statistics of who is actually working in our schools, 69% of Cleveland County School employees are women. 17% of employees are Black. So it’s not representative of employees either.
This December 12 School Board meeting came right on the heels of Trevor Noah’s last day on The Daily Show (it’s relevant, I promise), and with this completely unrepresentative partisan school board sitting before us, had one thing that Trevor Noah said circling through my head. “Issues are real, but politics are just an invented way to solve those issues.”
Politics have gotten us here, so let’s break down this meeting and look at the issues.
Election of Officers
This was the first actual piece of business in this meeting, and it was also the first hint at a little bit of drama. Some internal fracturing of what looks like one cohesive Republican board.
Danny Blanton spoke up first to make a nomination of Ron Humphries. Ronnie Grigg seconded that motion.
Ron Humphries declined the nomination.
Greg Taylor then nominated Robert Queen. There was no second, and Ron Humphries made a motion to close nominations.
The Vote for Chair
The vote for Robert Queen as Chair was split —
- Danny Blanton, Ronnie Grigg, Rodney Fitch, and newcomer Aaron Bridges voted against.
- Ron Humphries, Robert Queen, Joel Shores, and Greg Taylor voted for. Walter Spurling, attending via phone, was the tie breaker in favor of Queen.
The Vote for Vice Chair
This was even more all over the place; everyone talked at once.
Rodney Fitch nominated Joel Shores. Ronnie Grigg nominated Danny Blanton. I’m pretty sure Walter Spurling said to Queen “nomination’s yours,” which … do with that what you will. 😏
When it came time to vote there were 6 votes for Shores, and then Danny Blanton and Ronnie Grigg voted for Blanton.
Aaron Bridges faltered and just … didn’t vote. It was like we were watching him change teams in real time. After a little prompting from Queen that voting is required [and not just aggressive gum chewing which was his contribution to this point], he voted for Shores.
Local resident Robert Williams stood up to speak, and we tried to follow along, but Queen shut him down pretty quickly. Here’s what I was able to gather:
Mr. Williams and Robert Queen have been exchanging emails and it sounds as though several board members have been copied. Williams was upset that someone accused him of altering the emails by adding some underline emphasis. Apparently there was a “gang fight” at the Burns/Crest game at Crest High School in August, but the only actual reference to this is an article that Williams published himself (that I am not linking to because there are no other verifiable reports).
The allegation Williams made is that Queen moved an ambulance but has no authority to do so. Mr. Shores interrupted and inserted a point of order, asking what this has to do with the school board. Mr. Williams clarified that Robert Queen had emailed him using the school board letterhead / signature as chair, but he didn’t explain the contents of the email or what it had to do with his article.
Robert Queen gave him the gavel and took back the last 1:15 of his public comment time.
What’s Not on Video
What you can’t see after this is Robert Williams walking out one door and in another, and milling around with his hands in his pockets, with a mischievous grin, while people wondered if he was up to no good.
He just needed a drink of water.
Danny Blanton tried to interject with a question about operations but was shot down by Robert Queen with the reason of “agenda”.
After that, they ran through committee meeting reports, and there was nothing really notable added, but this feels like a great place to interject that many committee meetings ARE open to the public. Those meetings are where decisions are made, and it is a great place for us to show up as often as we can. Elected officials should be held accountable. They represent us all.
Danny Blanton also wanted some people to be held accountable here regarding Operations, so much that he flagged down legal help in the middle of the meeting. The lawyer told him that it was up to the Chair to hear from a Board Member during the meeting, and Robert Queen used his Chair power to shoot Blanton down a second time.
At this point Robert Queen spent quite a bit of time reading about how awesome he and his School Board friends are.
He rattled off a list of what they are deeming achievements, but without much in the way of context. It was long and boring, but starts at the 32:27 time stamp and goes to 37:05 if you are interested in hearing it for yourself.
This was part of the Superintendent’s Update and was really the only notable policy that was covered during this meeting. They are actively soliciting feedback from the community.
Okay so I know this has gone on for 1000 words, but if you are still with me, stay put because the next part matters.
Wrote a statement about where he stands, and where he plans to stand for the voters of Cleveland County. He wanted to remind the board that he and 3 new members were elected over the 3 incumbent members [ahem … partisan election, but I digress]. He said that most parents are dissatisfied with the direction of Cleveland County Schools, and that started with the schools shutting down, and when students returned, with mandating masks.
[Note to Danny Blanton that one of his responsibilities is safety in schools, even when it’s not fun.]
He did then say that masks should always be an option for staff and students, so at least he’d like them to make that choice. Blanton also said that he will always do what is asked of him by the people and the staff, and caveated that he does not work for the administration.
He wants qualified people to be hired, he wants the committees to go, and he wants the people of Cleveland County to know what’s going on. <<<— PREACH.
Blanton wants the Board Meetings and Committee Meetings to be available on the website so that the community can know what decisions are being made. He’s looking for transparency, and you know what?SO ARE WE.
This reminded me of another thing Trevor Noah said on his last show, “… someone that you may disagree with on most things can do something that you like. “
Participating at this local level can definitely help us to find common ground.
Ron Humphries and Walter Spurling
Mr. Humphries didn’t say much; he was very complimentary of elementary schools and mentioned that there is much effort put into where students are in their journey and what they need.
[Shout out to teachers ❤️]
Mr. Spurling expressed his thanks and that he is looking forward to the work ahead.
Everything Ronnie Grigg said made me feel some kinda way — none of it good. In fact, listening to it again to write this article had me pretty much seething. I’m printing his statement in a separate article, word for word so you can decide for yourself how you feel about what he plans to “contribute” to our community. Read Ronnie Grigg’s statement here.
Explained that he ran as a parent and does have school-age children, and presented himself as a sort of middle-of-the-road candidate. Bridges says he’s willing to listen to everybody and that changes do need to be made, and that he has ideas he’s wanting to bring to the table. He thanked everyone for their support and that was that.
Mr. Taylor took the sass approach in response to Mr. Grigg and said “you don’t know where I stand on most of those; you’ve yet to ask me where I stand on most of your issues.” Then he invited Mr. Grigg to “put silly things aside” and bring forward any ideas he may have to change things, and not have empty ideas.
Mr. Shores also decided to direct his words towards Mr. Grigg, and said that he also issued a harsh statement when he was elected, but came to find out that “a lot of it was noise.”
[Important interlude here: Danny Blanton spent a solid minute or more unwrapping a candy in front of his microphone.]
He let Grigg know that as members of local government, they are at the bottom and many decisions are not actually at their discretion. He also stated that if any teachers come forward to him and are terminated for it, he will have a “come apart.”
I’m not sure what that would do to salvage a teacher’s job, but you do you, Mr. Shores.
The End (Finally).
Robert Queen and Ronnie Grigg really like to hear themselves talk, was my main takeaway from this meeting. It ended with Queen waxing poetic about a Charlie Brown Christmas, and as a secular attendee (that really likes Charlie Brown), I was time and time again blown away by the amount of not just religion, but Christianity being infused into everything.
It was kind of wild to hear a bunch of people that want to wave around the First and Second Amendments to the Constitution be COMPLETELY unaware that the Establishment clause in the First Amendment prohibits government from establishing a religion, effectively separating church and state. And maybeeeeeeee if we’d stop policing teachers about things like Critical Race Theory, or gender studies, and just LET THEM TEACH AND PAY THEM A LIVING WAGE, we’d have a community that can continue to learn, grow, and thrive.
Okay, I’m done. Please join us for the next meeting on Monday, January 9, 2023!