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Thursday, July 15, 2021
Stories and photos by Wingate Lassiter
unless otherwise noted

School issue No. 1: To mask or not to mask

Critical Race Theory took a back seat to mask wearing by students at Tuesday's tumultuous monthly meeting of the Johnston County Board of Education when more than 20 citizens got their three minutes' worth of "Public Comment" --- many of them deriding CRT; more of them pleading for parental choice regarding masks when the 2021-22 school year opens in late August.

Even before hearing their pleas for optional masking, Chairman Todd Sutton sided with their stand and promised a decision from the board as early as next week. "I think it's our duty to keep our students and staff safe but more importantly to give them the opportunity of choice," he declared.

Backing him up were board members Mike Wooten and Ronald Johnson. "I feel like it should be a parental choice and a staff member's choice to wear a mask at school each and every day," Mr. Wooten stated. "From Day One I've advocated for giving people a choice," Mr. Johnson noted.

Board members Terri Sessoms, Kay Carroll, and Lyn Andrews said they prefer to wait for upcoming recommendations from local, state, and federal health officials before deciding on a masking policy going forward. (Board member Al Byrd, on vacation, did not attend Tuesday's meeting.)

Ms. Sessoms said she has heard from "an equal number" of parents on both sides of the masking issue. "I want all the reliable information that I can get --- not what's on Facebook, but what's coming from the people we charge with providing data."

Added Mr. Carroll: "Let's make decisions based on the overall health of everyone" --- after hearing from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) especially. "If we listen to  them we'll all come out better and we'll get out of this quicker," he said.

Currently, CDC guidelines call for mask wearing by unvaccinated students and staff, yet presently no one under age 12 is allowed to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Policy amendment seeks to placate CRT critics

The board adopted without dissent an amendment to the school system's policy on Ethics and Standards of Conduct that reads: "
Instructional staff and other school system employees will not utilize methods or materials that would create division or promote animosity among students, staff and the community. Staff shall not teach social theories, outside of NC Standards, of any kind to students unless approved by the North Carolina State Board of Education and legislated by the North Carolina General Assembly."

That step is what school leaders promised Johnston's County Commissioners when they adopted the 2021-22 county budget last month with a funding freeze for school operations until a policy banning CRT teaching is adopted and the N.C. General Assembly decides on state funding for local school systems, including the size of pay raises for teachers and other employees.

Board member Ronald Johnson voted for the amendment even though said he has prepared an alternative statement that's "a lot more specific." His proposal was to be taken up at a meeting this afternoon (Thursday) of the board's Policy Committee, of which he is a member.


Just 37% of Johnstonians are fully vaccinated

How does Johnston County stack up with neighboring counties, the rest of the state, and the nation in percentages of persons fully vaccinated against COVID-19?
We're at 37%, North Carolina at 45%, the U.S.A. as a whole at 48%.

Among neighboring counties, Wake County leads the pack at 56% followed by Nash at 42% and Franklin at 39%. Wilson has matched Johnston's 37%, with Sampson trailing at 35%, Wayne at 31%, Harnett at 28%.

According to Wednesday's report from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, 48% of all North Carolinians have had at least one dose of vaccine; in Johnston County the number is 40%.

Case total
since 3-20 

(last week)
since 3-20 

(last week)

(last week) 

(last week)
78,183: 37%*
(77,458: 37%)
4,751,949: 45%*
(4,520,202: 43%)
UNITED STATES 33,921,230
  159,675,163: 48%* 
(157,908,171: 49%)
WORLDWIDE 188,028,448
(total doses)
Information from County of Johnston at 9:05 a.m. July 13,
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services at 12:00 p.m. July 14,
Johns Hopkins University at 12:21 p.m. July 14
* Percentage of total population (all ages)

Monique Austin's State Department odyssey

She recently retired to Smithfield, the place of her family's roots, after three decades of diplomatic service in more than three-dozen countries. READ Susan Lassiter's story about her career on the FEATURE PAGE>


County Commissioners will meet twice on Monday

Johnston County's Board of Commissioners will meet at 10 a..m. and again at 6 p.m. in the Old Superior Courtroom inside the Courthouse in Downtown Smithfield. The public may attend without COVID-19 restrictions. The meetings will be live-streamed on the county's Facebook page>

On the agenda for the morning session: COVID-19 update; Child Fatality Prevention Team annual report; Broadband study's final report from ECC Technologies; and several contract awards for water and sewer facilities. VIEW the complete agenda>

At the evening session, commissioners will receive several reports on transportation: from the 70 Corridor Commission, N.C. Turnpike Authority, GoTriangle, N.C. Department of Transportation, Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, Upper Coastal Plain Rural Planning Organization, and the Johnston County Area Transit System (J-CATS).

Click on the name to read an obituary, usually posted by the funeral home


POPE LOFTIN HARDEE, 82 - died July 7

WALLACE REID RENFROW, 72 - died July 7


Screenshot from live-streaming of July 13 Board of Education meeting


Chilling rhetoric from a school-board critic

Dale Lands (pictured in the screenshot above) was one of the organizers who rallied more than a hundred folks in the parking lot outside the Simpson Building during Tuesday's school-board meeting to protest the alleged teaching of Critical Race Theory in the county's public schools. He was among the speakers who addressed the board during the time set aside during the monthly meeting for "Public Comment."

Calling CRT "garbage" and expressing his displeasure with the board's newly adopted policy amendment outlawing "divisive" teaching without mentioning CRT by name, he issued this warning to board members:

"Either address this now or we will fight to replace every single one of you.... If you choose not to take a stand now, a strong stand, we will come for your seats. We will fight every step of the way to get you removed from this board and we'll fight to prevent you from ever holding an elective office in this county or this state again."

There's something hauntingly familiar about the tone of that rhetoric.

Many others who spoke Tuesday were equally passionate about the perceived incursion of CRT in our classrooms.

And yet, there were some who stood up in opposition to their rants. One of them was April Lee, a teacher who heads Johnston County's Association of Educators and a frequent speaker at school-board sessions:

"It is a non-issue," she said of CRT. "It is a distractor from the real issues of public education and it is a vehicle for certain candidates to build a base for the 2022 election, based on dog-whistle issues."

"Our kids deserve a full history of our country and the world," Ms. Lee declared. "I love our country. But ignoring its flaws, both past and present, is no way to pass on our legacy or preserve democracy as we know it."

Concluding her remarks, she said the board's newly adopted policy in response to complaints about CRT is "too vague," and predicted it will "incite witch hunts for teachers."

What bothers me about the new policy is its attempt to muzzle the teaching of anything considered "divisive" or a cause for "animosity." If we follow that rule to the letter, we'd have to put an end to classroom discussions about current events!

If you care about all this, please take an hour and 15 minutes to listen to what all the speakers had to say at Tuesday's meeting. The video is archived on the school system's YouTube channel: Advance the recording to the 2:04:00 mark for the start of the Public Comment segment. Here's the link>


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