Reporter Notebook: Protests, arrests at school board meeting

By Tom Roussey - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - 8:51 p.m. -- The eyes of the folks on the school board have all glazed over.  And yet another speaker reading their comments, which isn't helping.  I'm telling you, comments from the heart are so much more effective!

8:35 p.m. -- Speaker John White to the CMS board:  "You people, including the superintendent, have got to go!"

8:30 p.m. -- Speaker and Harding supporter Allen Anderson: "If it was Ardrey Kell, if it was Myers Park..." these kinds of things wouldn't be considered.  He reflects the frustration of a lot of speakers tonight that these kind of changes would never be proposed in majority white neighborhoods.

8:16 p.m. -- Four pro-keeping Waddell open speakers just wrapped up.  Their anger level at Smith Language Academy is growing.  Student Raven Hornes says she feels Smith folks were promised Waddell in some sort of backroom deal.  The Waddell/Harding/Smith issue seems far and away to have the most folks speaking on it tonight.  With good reason -- it's the one issue where we have the least idea what the board is actually going to do tonight: Close Waddell, close Harding, or delay the vote?

8:08 p.m. -- Another Oakhurst parent.  Most of the folks from Oakhurst and a lot of other schools are reading their remarks tonight.  It seems to me if you want to reach the school board and make them listen after hearing about 50 speakers, reading from prepared remarks is not the best way.  I've covered these meetings for years and believe one minute from the heart makes a lot more impact than two minutes of reading.

8:01 p.m. -- We hear from the Waddell High class president Ryan Herbin.  He gets cheers.  You might think CMS has pitted Harding against Waddell since only one of the two will close.  But it's a fight neither school wanted, so I'm not noticing much animosity between the two.  In fact, both sides seem to be cheering for each other somewhat.  Although I'm not sure the Waddell folks are too thrilled with Smith Language Academy, which wants their building.

7:59 p.m. -- Harding parent Sabrina Jones gets emotional as she asks the board not to close the school.  She says Harding represents a dream for many kids -- a dream of going to college after high school.

7:58 p.m. -- Levester Flowers gives a passionate talk/poem reading to try and save Waddell High, at one point holding up his keys talking about CMS's desire to give the keys to Waddell to Smith Language Academy.

7:53 p.m. -- More speakers from Harding.  The school has a huge crowd here tonight, including one man who said he graduated in the late 1940s from the school!

At 7:47 p.m., a couple more speakers against closing Oakhurst Academy.

At 7:45 p.m., Mender Bailey called the plan "racist" against African-Americans.

At 7:23 p.m., Smith Language Academy parent Towner Blackstock called for Smith to be moved to Waddell, saying Harding is too big a campus with too many buildings for Smith to move to.

At 7:19 p.m., First Ward Elementary parent Laura Rice ripped the way the board has handled this whole process.  She is against a plan to close University Park Elementary and send its arts magnet to First Ward.

At 7:17 p.m. Harding High University School Leadership Team President Ericka Ellis-Stewart said she wants to keep both the math and science magnet and IB program at the school.

At about 7:15 p.m., parent Qnubia Brown on plans to turn Irwin Avenue Elementary into CMS offices: "Replacing that building with bureaucrats would be a dangerous precedent."

A couple parents with Oakhurst Elementary spoke as well, saying the school should not be closed.

Around 7:00 p.m., a couple speakers from Smith Language academy spoke, including the PTA president.  They supported moving the school to Waddell and not Harding highs.

Shortly after Tuesday night's 6:00 p.m. meeting began, several people were arrested in the packed house after a chant of "No Justice, No Peace," broke out.

The meeting was interrupted for several minutes.  When police escorted some of the chanters outside, the chants continued in the hall.

Tuesday night's much-anticipated board meeting barely began tonight before board member Joyce Waddell proposed that the board not vote on any of the 25 measures -- which include school closures and other big changes -- it had planned on.

"I am asking that this be delayed until the February meeting," Waddell said.

But Waddell's motion was shot down 7-2, with only board member Richard McElrath joining Waddell.