Speaker protests end of 'Sold Out' program
by Kellen Short
The Watauga County Board of Education received a lengthy presentation Monday from motivational speaker Roman Gabriel III, who expressed frustration that his drug and alcohol abstinence program had been discontinued in the schools.
Gabriel said his free "Sold Out" program had been extremely successful among young people and questioned whether the school system's refusal to invite him back had anything to do with his devout Christianity.
"On the weekends, I am an evangelist, but when I am in schools, that is not what I do," he said.
Several board members said Monday that they were not aware that Gabriel's presentation was no longer being offered in the schools and pledged to discuss the issue further.
Gabriel said his program, now offered in several states, was
intended to encourage youth to set goals, persevere, get involved in
extracurriculars and find their passions while remaining drug- and alcohol-free.
He said it was especially important as programs such as DARE, or Drug Abuse Resistance Education, were reduced and eliminated across the state.
The 45-minute programs often feature professional or college athletes, coaches or others who share their stories and take questions. Students are also offered an opportunity to make an online pledge to remain drug and alcohol abstinent, he said.
Gabriel said he typically offers the free presentation to middle school students in the fall and high school students in the spring, including a pre-prom program in April at Watauga High.
But Gabriel said he's had to fight the last three years to
get into his local school system, Watauga County Schools.
He said he was informed recently by representatives of Watauga High School that they no longer wished to host the program.
Gabriel said he was confused by the reasons stated, including that the discussion took away from instructional time and lacked measurable evidence of effectiveness.
He said he was told repeatedly when he did speak in Watauga County Schools "not to say the word 'God.'"
"Is the problem really about taking scholastic time out ... or is it really that I'm a Christian?" he said. "I find that despicable if that's what it really is, because I don't see any other reason why."
Gabriel said he does not mention his faith during WCS programs, although his featured athletes will occasionally do so.
He also offers programs through "Sold Out Youth Ministries" with the goal of "reaching youth and family with the Gospel message using the passion of sports," according to the organization's Facebook page.
School board Vice Chairwoman Delora Hodges said she appreciated the Sold Out program and said she didn't think Gabriel was turned down because of fears he would mention God in the schools.
"I certainly hope that is not the reason that you were not allowed in," she said.
Board member Barbara Kinsey said she didn't like the "accusatory tone" Gabriel had Monday, noting that most of the current board members were relatively new and had never been addressed by him.
"I feel like we're hearing you," Kinsey said, adding that the board would need time to discuss the issue.
School board Chairman Lee Warren said he was not aware that the program was discontinued here, while board member Ron Henries said he didn't think the board had been responsible for such decisions in the past.
"Generally speaking, the schools make the contacts for speakers and assemblies," Henries said.
Watauga County resident Bill Dotson also spoke in support of Sold Out during public comment, saying it made no sense to "dump" a free program on drug and alcohol issues.
"These things mean something, and I hope the board would recognize that they do," he said.
The board took no action after the presentation.
At its meeting Monday, the board of education also:
-- Selected Warren to continue as chairman and Hodges to continue as vice chairman.
-- Received the 2013 fiscal year audit report from Bill Combs, who reported a clean audit. He praised the school system for its strong accountability.
-- Recognized Jennifer Combs as she approaches retirement after 14 years of service as board clerk and administrative assistant to the superintendent. They also recognized Kerin Kiser, who will fill her position. "What a beautiful thing that someone can retire at the same time as her spouse," interim Superintendent David Fonseca said.
-- Recognized DAR student essay winners Anna Jensen and Savannah Hess, as well as the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution for its support of students during the years.
-- Received comments from Watauga High School parent and PTO president Lynn Schlenker about the importance of "supporting our students' right to read."
-- Declared as surplus a project house being assembled by Watauga High School students.
-- Approved a tentative 2014-15 school calendar, which begins the year on Aug. 19, 2014.
-- Reviewed a first reading of anti-bullying policy changes and a second reading of parental involvement policy changes.
-- Met in closed session to discuss attorney/client matters, reportable student offenses, student records and personnel. Schools spokesman Marshall Ashcraft said no action was taken after closed session.