UPDATE (11:54 a.m.): Kelly contacted The Rant to say he’s asked for a special called meeting in order to resolve this issue. We will update this post if there is any additional information.
ORIGINAL STORY: A Tuesday night vote by the Lee County Board of Education — which generated relatively little discussion and at times appeared to confuse some of the members — has left a local youth football league with no option but to cancel a planned Saturday event consisting of 16 games which they had expected to raise funds needed to pay for equipment.
The board on Tuesday night was asked to consider rescinding a temporary restriction on Policy 5030, which governs community use of school facilities. The temporary restriction had been recommended by the North Carolina School Board Association at the beginning of the COVID pandemic.
Superintendent Dr. Andy Bryan told the board on Tuesday that with schools back to in-person learning under Plan A, the Central Office had “been contacted by a number of community organizations who have sought this out.”
Lee County Youth Athletics had submitted a request for the use of the football fields at Lee County High School on Saturday. Brent Poole, the president of the league’s board of directors, said the event was to consist of 16 games, including multiple teams from out of town. The league is the result of a recent merger of the former Sanford Sting and Lee County Panthers youth football organizations, and serves kids from ages 5 to 14.
“We went through every hoop, protocol, safety procedure. We require masks on everyone, whether they like it or not,” Poole explained.
Republican board member Sherry Lynn Womack, who is the chair of the board’s policy committee, appeared to question rescinding the temporary restriction on two fronts, the first of which is that the language in the restriction states it “shall remain in effect until repealed by the board or until applicable guidelines from North Carolina DHHS, North Carolina DPI Strong Schools public health toolkit is rescinded, whichever occurs first.”
Bryan replied that his interpretation was that the word “or” in that language gave the board the power to rescind the restriction.
Womack further noted that her committee had not been able to consider the change.
“This did not come before the policy committee, and as standard practice here, we tend to do that,” she said. “This is the first time we’ve ever had something come before — now is there something urgent or special that would make this policy different than the other COVID policies that have temporary restrictions?”
When board Chair Sandra Bowen asked for a motion on the repeal, Womack moved to instead table the request until such time as it could be first considered by the policy committee. With a second by Republican member Pam Sutton, Bowen asked for those in favor to vote yes, prompting Womack and Sutton to do so. Asked for no votes, the rest of the board remained silent.
Initially, Bowen indicated that meant passage of the motion. A few seconds later, though, she said “let’s try this again” and called for another motion to table to repeal of the temporary restriction on Policy 5030.
That prompted Democratic member Patrick Kelly to do so. The rest of board then unanimously voted in favor of the motion.
“I didn’t want it to be said it came out of my mouth without the board,” Bowen said after the second motion.
Watch video of the discussion, which begins at the 38:51 mark, here.
Poole said Lee County Youth Athletics has been practicing at a soccer field in Jonesboro, but noted that that field for various reasons doesn’t meet the requirements for actual game play. He said after the vote, Lee County Youth Athletics looked at options like the soccer fields at Southern Lee (which is owned by Lee County and not Lee County Schools, and therefore not subject to the temporary restriction) and the fields at the Lions Club Fairgrounds, but logistical and time limitations (setup for play, spectators and vendors, the ability to hold multiple games simultaneously, etc.) made both options untenable.
Instead, the organization announced Friday morning around 9 a.m. that the event would have to be canceled.
The Board of Education’s policy committee is next slated to meet on Tuesday, April 20. Assuming the temporary restriction on 5030’s repeal is approved there, the next full board meeting is scheduled for May 11.
Lee County Youth Athletics’ spring season ends on May 15. There are about 150 kids involved at this time.
Poole said the league had just gotten out of debt incurred by last year’s COVID restrictions which didn’t allow for players to sign up, and had expected this weekend’s event to raise as much as $20,000 to pay for new equipment. Now, he and others with the organization are scrambling to find a way to salvage any sort of season at all. He said he was disappointed with the board as a whole and Womack in particular for holding up the vote.
“There was no reason to do what she did,” he said. “If it’s a COVID issue – this is the same woman who went to the capital, marching without a mask. And I support her right to go up there if she wants. But she’s obviously not worried about COVID.”