Gov. Pat McCrory’s latest nominee for the N.C. Board of Education, J. Todd Chasteen of Samaritan’s Purse, fought to ban a book from honors English classes at Watauga High School in 2014.
Nominees for the board go through the N.C. General Assembly, and given its track record, it’s likely Chasteen’s nomination could go through. But it’s another example of the many troubling moves that hand leadership in North Carolina to extremists that don’t represent the values of many of the people in the state. The General Assembly should think twice before letting this nomination sail through.
Chasteen’s background is in nonprofit logistics and law, and his wife, Kim, runs a private, Christian K-8 school, Grace Academy. There’s some evidence that Todd Chasteen’s effort to ban Isabel Allende’s “The House of the Spirits” was part of a larger effort to fight the book encouraged by Franklin Graham of Samaritan’s Purse.
Allende wrote a letter to the local school board defending the book and made a strong video explaining its context and the dangers of censorship (screenshot above). The local board eventually voted 3-2 to deny the challenge. But before the resolution, the controversy hit Fox News and Media Matters and drew in the ACLU.
None of this likely matters enough to keep the N.C. General Assembly from approving Chasteen’s nomination to the N.C. Board of Education, which approves textbooks, approves or denies charter school applications, and administers the “free public school system” as spelled out in North Carolina’s Constitution. The General Assembly sat on nominations for the board from former Gov. Bev Perdue for two years, giving McCrory more appointments instead. This latest nomination for a voice representing Samaritan’s Purse probably feels like just another routine step to increase far-right, extremist voices on a board often overlooked by most people in the state.
But here are other factors that should concern N.C. residents about Chasteen’s nomination and McCrory’s history with the state school board:
- McCrory’s nominations fail to reflect the background of many of the consumers of public schools in North Carolina. He’s made seven nominations: four white men, two white women, one Native American woman. Chasteen’s nomination is the fifth white male.
- McCrory’s nominations shortchange one of the two largest systems in the state, Charlotte-Mecklenburg. One member out of 13 voting members*, Eric Davis, is from Charlotte and is a recent at-large appointee. Chasteen’s nomination is for the northwest district, recently represented by Greg Alcorn, a native of Rowan County. Alcorn has somehow been moved to the southwest district representing Charlotte, through some kind of redrawing of districts effective April 1, 2015.
- Of McCrory’s recent nominations, some don’t have strong public education backgrounds, just like Chasteen, who again comes from a private, religious, nonprofit logistics and law background. Alcorn has a marketing/logistics/business background, skills valuable on the board in balance. But those kinds of backgrounds are squeezing out members who can represent the consumers of our state’s free public classrooms.
McCrory and the General Assembly should take another crack at representing the biggest consumers of the state’s schools. The Charlotte area has educators and voices who could be a better balance on the board. Here are three names I found just digging around through media reports and social media. I don’t know them personally, and I have no idea they’d be interested, but their backgrounds are stronger than Chasteen’s for representing public school consumers. If I can find three easily, surely McCrory and the General Assembly can do a better job finding a voice that would provide better balance to the N.C. Board of Education.
- Beatrice Thompson, a TV and radio personality in the Charlotte area. She has covered education as a reporter and is in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Women’s Hall of Fame.
- Cheryl Turner, director of Sugar Creek Charter School and a member of the N.C. Charter School Advisory Board until June 2015. She said in 2014 that she planned to step down from that role, but she’s still listed on the board’s website. Her school got written up by the Carolina Journal in 2010 as an example of a strong charter school.
- James E. Ford, now serving in an advisory capacity to the Board of Education because of his selection as North Carolina’s Teacher of the Year in 2014.
Chasteen, McCrory’s latest nominee, may be a shoe-in, and the redrawing of board of education district lines effective April 1 may be a signal that his appointment has been in the works for awhile. His involvement in trying to keep a book away from other students should be enough to disqualify him from the N.C. Board of Education. Taken in the context of McCrory’s nominees over time, it’s clear that his nomination is just another step stifling the voices of many consumers of public schools.
* I don’t know if Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson is a voting member; I didn’t include her in the 13 voting members.
The Progressive Pulse has a series of profiles of state school board members.