After weeks of harassment from a vocal group of conservatives, individuals from the community and school board members spoke out in support of Guilford County Schools’ Superintendent Sharon Contreras during Tuesday’s school board meeting.

By about 5:45 p.m., 15 minutes before the meeting started, close to 60 people had shown in support of Contreras and the school board, compared to just three conservative protesters. Inside of the building, which was restricted due to pandemic rules, more than 15 people signed up to speak during the public comment period, a majority of whom spoke out against the hateful, racist messaging and activity that Contreras and board chair Deena Hayes-Green have endured over the past several months. This week’s meeting marked the first that the public could attend in-person after the board voted to open the meetings back up last month.

“We understand what critical race theory has brought to the nation and not just to our county,” said Deon Clark, a pastor at Equation Church in Greensboro. “We can’t control the nation, but we can control what happens right in our front yard. This is our front yard; this represents our families, our students, and this our represents our superintendent. And the truth of the matter is, just because our superintendent hasn’t spoke, doesn’t mean she doesn’t have strength. Silence is a source of great strength. African-American females are disrespected… and I am here tonight to demand respect from the community, from the board members, from those who are in this room, from those who are outside.”

A news report from June by Triad City Beat uncovered multiple hateful messages to Contreras from members of a local conservative group called Take Back Our Schools. While the group has existed for a number of years, they have recently become more vocal after conservatives at the national level used critical race theory, or CRT, to galvanize this base. Many of the messages were racist and sexist in nature, most targeting the fact that Contreras is a Black woman. On Tuesday evening, many supporters rallied around Contreras, speaking up about the need to support Black female leadership.

“She’s not going anywhere,” Clark continued. “And just because she’s silent doesn’t mean we’re going to be silent…. Dr. Contreras you have our support.”

Prior to the meeting, supporters stood outside with signs that read, “We love our superintendent” while others wore shirts that read, “Stand with Black women, demand respect for our leaders.”

Supporter Tim Hopkins speaks outside of the school board meeting on July 13. (video by Michael Frierson)

And although the speakers during the public comment period spoke mostly in support of Contreras and the board, a select few spoke out against critical race theory and what they said was the “bullying of children.” As TCB has reported, critical race theory is not taught in Guilford County Schools because it is a college-level framework.

Trudy Delling of Oak Ridge lamented that children were being taught to be victims or oppressors and stated that as a white woman, neither she nor anyone in her family had ever been given white privilege.

Another woman, Aryn Schloemer, spoke at length about how CRT was “Marxist policy” and how the school board’s liberal agenda was sparking a wave of conservative support. A Google search of Schloemer’s address, which is stated during the public comments period, revealed that Schloemer is likely related to Myra Schloemer, who spoke outside of a school board meeting on June 17. As reported previously, Myra Schloemer used a megaphone to speak out against the teaching of CRT and advocated for the group to hire lawyers. She then alluded to being at the Jan. 6 rally at the Capitol.

“I mean, we were there on the 6th and the FBI hasn’t found us yet so… any one of us could experience this,” Schloemer said.

During Tuesday evening’s meeting, Aryn Schloemer echoed her relative’s right-wing talking points.

“I wanted to thank you today for accelerating our country into a new age of Enlightenment,” Schloemer said. “Due to your radical, Marxist policies… parents of all ages, ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds, races, etc. are coming together to protect our children here in Guilford County in alarming speed. Churches are filling and new relationships are forming in spite of your racist and divisive teachings. Because of folks like you, Guilford County is becoming a mecca for Christianity, home-schooling communities and a return to family-first mentality. The future looks bright for a rebirth, a revival of American patriotism.”

Schloemer also spoke out in support of Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, elected in 2020. Robinson is a Greensboro native and is one of the key conservative figures at the state level who has been using CRT to rally the right-wing base. In March, Robinson launched FACTS, an online-comment platform in which those concerned about CRT can submit grievances against particular teachers or school districts.

“America will prevail and will be stronger and more united… because of some of the policies,” Schloemer continued.

Quarrels about the Superintendent’s powers

Another point of contention that members of Take Back Our Schools as well as the Republican members of the school board like Anita Sharpe of District 2 and Linda Welborn of District 4 have repeatedly brought up is the fact that since March of last year, Contreras has had an increase in temporary authorization from the school board. Like many superintendents across the state, Contreras was granted special emergency powers to be able to deal with situations brought upon by the pandemic after the school board voted unanimously to grant her those powers. However, to date, Contreras has never once used that authority, something that she made clear during Tuesday’s meeting.

Even so, at the request of board member Sharpe, Contreras’ powers were brought up again for a vote on Tuesday. Sharpe pushed for a motion to rescind Contreras’ emergency powers while Republican Pat Tillman of District 3 suggested a substitute motion to rescind Contreras’ powers once the state was no longer in a state of emergency. The motion failed 6-3 along party lines with Welborn, Sharpe and Tillman voting in favor.

Superintendent Sharon Contreras

During discussions about the emergency powers, a few of the Democratic school board members such as Diane Bellamy-Small of District 1 and Deborah Napper of District 5 expressed confusion as to why the issue was being brought up at all. Bellamy-Small noted that COVID-19 is still very real and that numbers are starting to rise while Napper noted that the board is still functioning fully even after giving Contreras emergency powers. To that, Sharpe argued that the board has somehow abdicated its legal responsibility by granting Contreras extended powers but the attorney for the school district, Jill Wilson, clarified that the powers only relate to COVID-19 issues and that it hasn’t changed the board’s policymaking authority. The measure is in place so that if Contreras needed to act expeditiously to purchase things for the district, for example, she could do so and then notify the school board afterwards. In the end, Contreras spoke about how the issues being brought up by some members of the public as well as school board members are due to a lack of understanding of her position as superintendent.

“Anything that’s not in policy, the superintendent makes the decision about anyway, so most things in the district, I make decisions about outside of the board so there’s no individual liability. That’s why school boards have superintendents,” Contreras noted. “And this entire conversation is a continual reminder of why we have to do better with understanding board role and superintendent role. I heard someone stand right at the microphone tonight and say, ‘Why is the superintendent on the policy committee, she’s not a member of the board.’ I am by state statute, the board’s secretary. It just shows we don’t understand what the role of a superintendent is in a school district and what board members do.”

The next school board meeting will take place on Aug. 10.

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