Attorney: Board OK to require tickets
by Tom Mayer
UPDATE: The Watauga County Board of
Education meeting regarding the use of "The House of the Spirits" will be held in courtroom one of
the Watauga County Courthouse at 842 West King Street instead of at the Board of Education/Margaret
Gragg Education Center as originally planned.
The members of the Board of Education changed the venue for the meeting based on the recommendations of local law enforcement.
The meeting will still take place at the original time of 7:00 p.m. on Thursday and doors to the building will open at 6:00 p.m.
The courthouse provides seating for approximately 205 people, about twice the capacity of the original location. Tickets will not be required to attend the meeting, though admission may be limited if required to comply with fire safety standards.
The meeting is not a forum for public
comments. Only the teacher in whose class the book is used and the parent who is appealing its use
will make statements to the Board of Education.
Below is a story published
today about the previous location of the Board of Education meeting on Thursday and the board's
decision to require tickets for admission to the meeting.
The Watauga County Board of Education's decision to require tickets to attend Thursday's hearing on the third and final appeal concerning a curriculum challenge to the book, "The House of the Spirits," was made after obtaining legal counsel, a school board member said on Wednesday.
Ron Henries, a member of the board of education, confirmed that the board consulted an attorney before deciding to issue tickets to the hearing, and that the decision does not violate North Carolina's open meetings law.
"I believe it was Chris Campbell," Henries said, whom the board consulted for legal advice.
Watauga County Schools is a client of Campbell, who specializes in education law. In the past, the board has consulted Campbell concerning other issues, including personnel matters regarding former Watauga County Schools Superintendent David Kafitz.
Watauga County Schools said in a release Tuesday that the free tickets would
be required to attend the hearing "to ensure safe conditions for the appeal."
Unlike previous meetings concerning the book challenge, public comments will not be allowed at Thursday's meeting, which is "for board members to hear directly from the teacher who uses the book (Mary Kent Whitaker) and the parent (Chastity Lesesne) who opposes its use," the release stated.
Amanda Martin, an attorney who specializes in media law and who is affiliated with the North Carolina Press Association, said Wednesday that the school board's ticketing decision is an "OK procedure."
Citing a similar case,
Garlock v. Wake County Board of Education from 2011, Martin said that it appears that the Watauga
County Board of Education is acting within its authority to issue tickets in order to account for
an anticipated large crowd.
A relevant ruling from the 2011 case includes a school board's intent to provide "reasonable access" to allow the public to attend, which includes the use of tickets, as long as sufficient notice is given. A school board is also under no obligation to accommodate every person who wishes to attend.
"It's not unreasonable to have tickets," Martin said.
Although a crowd is expected at Thursday's hearing, Henries emphasized that it is not a forum for public comment.
"We've had other input up to this point," Henries said.
Unlike a recent meeting that allowed for public comment which was moved to the Watauga High School auditorium to accommodate a large number of people, Thursday's meeting will be held at the Watauga County Board of Education/Margaret Gragg Education Center.
Henries said the auditorium would not be used Thursday because, based on past experiences, the acoustics of the room could prevent the stenographer from capturing a complete record, and some board members were unable to clearly hear one another during the board's last use of the facility.
"This is a hearing that involves only two people," Henries said. "And we want to hear them. ... We will make our decision (about the book challenge) where those decisions are always made."
Tickets to the event will be available at the board of education, located on
Pioneer Trail, just off N.C. 194, with a limit of two tickets per person, beginning at 4:30 p.m.
to the hearing will open at 6 p.m. The hearing begins at 7 p.m.
The board expects that the capacity of the room will be capped at 110 people.