Editor's note: This article was last updated July 25 at 7:07 p.m.

BEAUFORT — At the end of Wednesday night’s public hearing on the potential closure of the Marine Science and Technologies Early College High School, attorney Stacey Gahagan of Durham presented a copy of a legal document to Neil Whitford, County Board of Education attorney, seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the imminent closure of the school.

After presenting the document to Mr. Whitford, who made no comment at the time, Ms. Gahagan said she filed for the preliminary injunction, as well as a civil complaint, alleging the school board did not follow due process in the steps to close the school. She further said she filed the complaint, on behalf of MaST students and parents, in Carteret County Superior Court.

“There was a violation of procedural due process rights under the state constitution and a motion for a preliminary injunction to keep the school open and follow the appropriate process according to the law has been filed,” Ms. Gahagan said.

“They essentially voted to close the school during a meeting June 20, and they have not rescinded that vote. They’re now taking steps to listen to parents, but because they have not rescinded that vote the school is technically already closed.”

The complaint seeks a preliminary injunction “staying the implementation of the Board decision pending the outcome of this case and preserving the status quo for the CCPS and MaST school as existed prior to June 18, 2019.”

The complaint also seeks an award for reasonable attorney’s fees and costs to plaintiffs pursuant to N.C. General Statute 6-19.1 and further relief as the court deems just and proper.

Mr. Whitford, in an email statement Thursday, said, “… A response will be filed in due course. In the meantime, the board will meet as scheduled on Monday, July 29, 2019 at 6:00 PM to decide the question of whether MaST will be opened as previously scheduled or whether it will be closed. There has been no final decision on the question.”

He further stated, “There are 8,100 students in the Carteret County Public School System. The school board constantly seeks to provide the best educational opportunities possible to all students, including the 100 MaST students, in a fair and equitable manner within the realities of prudent budgeting. This practice has lifted the Carteret County Public School System to one of the highest achieving school systems in the State.”

During the public hearing Wednesday, 23 students, parents and supporters spoke in favor of keeping MaST open.

In addition, Carteret Community College President Dr. John Hauser offered $180,000 in college institutional funds to keep MaST open for the 2019-20 year. The early college high school is housed on the CCC campus.

The money would come through college bookstore revenues, which Dr. Hauser said can be used to support instruction, student support services, curriculum development, program improvement and instructional equipment.

“This institutional support is in addition to our commitment of faculty resources, supplies and materials,” Dr. Hauser said. “We will continue to provide funding for Carteret Community College faculty salaries based on our full-time equivalent enrollments funded by the State of North Carolina. We will continue to provide operational, facilities, information technology, maintenance and custodial staff support funded by Carteret County. The State of North Carolina and Carteret County funds are not being used to provide support to this $180,000 financial commitment to MaST Early College.”

Dr. Hauser’s statement was met with a round of applause from the overflow crowd filling the County Board of Education boardroom. There was an overflow room set up down the hall for those who couldn’t fit into the room.

Retired CCC President Dr. Joe Barwick, who now serves as chairman of the Carteret County Public School Foundation, also encouraged the board to support MaST.

“History shows that the state has increased its funding for early colleges, magnet and charter schools, and has put in the Republican platform a commitment to support alternatives to and within the traditional public schools,” he said. “Early colleges were designed to be, must be, and in fact are, sustainable through regular FTE (full-time equivalency) and ADM (average daily membership) funding once at capacity, typically five years.”

There were many emotional appeals to keep the school open from students, who sat on the floor of the boardroom.

Rising sophomore Pierce Toledo said, “You started something and now you’re not seeing it through. What’s that supposed to say to us?”

Rising MaST sophomore James Johnson said, “My first year at Marine Science and Technologies Early College High School was 100% positive. Forty-nine of my classmates plus myself wanted to be at MaST and desired to learn. Would you please join our side and fund our beloved school?”

MaST parent Clark Johnson said, “We’re the only county in the state considering closing one of these (early college high schools). How would you react if your child had less than two months notice that their school is closing?”

MaST parent Lindsay Webb pointed out that the amount of money needed to keep MaST open was 2% of the school system’s budget.

Beaufort business owner Bucky Oliver also spoke in support of keeping the school open.

“Programs such as this change and perhaps save lives,” Mr. Oliver said.

The school board held the public hearing to take comments on whether to close the school, which allows students to earn college and high school credits simultaneously.

The hearing comes on the heels of a board committee approving an 800-plus page report Monday that contains information on the school and other data members requested. Mr. Whitford said Wednesday an addendum had been added to the report with further information requested by the board.

The report contains statistics on MaST and other county high schools, including financial and student demographic information, as well as academic performance, classes taken and comments from MaST parents and county school principals on how the school’s closure would affect them and their schools. The MaST report can be seen at carteretcountyschools.org.

The next step in the potential closure of MaST will come during a special meeting at 6 p.m. Monday in the school system’s central office, unless the injunction prevents that meeting from happening.

The board is expected to take a final vote on whether to close the school, which was scheduled to open with 100 freshmen and sophomores Wednesday, Aug. 7 for the 2019-20 academic year. Those students remain in limbo as to where they will attend school.

At the end of the public hearing, BOE Chairman Travis Day thanked those in attendance.

“We have a lot to think about and discuss,” Mr. Day said.

The board then approved amending the agenda to meet in closed session to discuss a matter regarding attorney/client privilege. That action was taken prior to Ms. Gahagan handing the copy of the legal documents to Mr. Whitford. No action was taken in open session following the closed session.

It’s been an uphill battle for MaST students and parents, who appealed to the board June 11 to find the funds to keep the school open. The board voted June 20 in a split vote of 4-3 to not use local funds to do so.

Instead, some board members said they wanted to use those funds to save seven teacher positions that may be lost due to federal and state funding cuts.

The board’s action was based on a recommendation by county commissioners during their June 17 meeting that the school board use $245,958 in county funds earmarked for MaST for the 2019-20 year to save the positions.

The current version of the state budget provides $180,000 for the next five years for early college high schools, including MaST, however Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the budget. That means the state operates under the current budget, which did not include funding for MaST.

Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.

(Previous report)

BEAUFORT — At the end of Wednesday night’s public hearing on the potential closure of the Marine Science and Technologies Early College High School, attorney Stacey Gahagan presented a copy of a legal document to Neil Whitford, County Board of Education attorney, seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the imminent closure of the school.

After presenting the document to Mr. Whitford, who made no comment, Ms. Gahagan said she filed the preliminary injunction, as well as a civil complaint, alleging the school board did not follow due process in the steps to close the school. She further said she filed the complaint, on behalf of MaST students and parents, in Carteret County Superior Court.

“There was a violation of procedural due process rights under the state constitution and a motion for a preliminary injunction to keep the school open and follow the appropriate process according to the law has been filed,” Ms. Gahagan said.

“They essentially voted to close the school during a meeting June 20, and they have not rescinded that vote. They’re now taking steps to listen to parents, but because they have not rescinded that vote the school is technically already closed.”

During the public hearing Wednesday, 23 students, parents and supporters spoke in favor of keeping MaST open.

In addition, Carteret Community College President Dr. John Hauser offered an additional $180,000 in college institutional funds to keep MaST open for the 2019-20. The early college high school is housed on the CCC campus.

The money would come through college bookstore revenues, which Dr. Hauser said can be used to support instruction, student support services, curriculum development, program improvement and instructional equipment.

“This institutional support is in addition to our commitment of faculty resources, supplies and materials,” Dr. Hauser said. “We will continue to provide funding for Carteret Community College faculty salaries based on our full-time equivalent enrollments funded by the State of North Carolina. We will continue to provide operational, facilities, information technology, maintenance and custodial staff support funded by Carteret County. The State of North Carolina and Carteret County funds are not being used to provide support to this $180,000 financial commitment to MaST Early College.”

Dr. Hauser’s statement was met with a long round of applause from the overflow crowd filling the County Board of Education boardroom. There was an overflow room set up down the hall for those who couldn’t fit into the room.

There were many emotional appeals to keep the school open from students, who sat on the floor of the boardroom.

Rising MaST sophomore James Johnson said, “My first year at Marine Science and Technologies Early College High School was 100% positive. Forty-nine of my classmates plus myself wanted to be at MaST and desired to learn. Would you please join our side and fund our beloved school?”

MaST parent Clark Johnson said, “We’re the only county in the state considering closing one of these (early college high schools). How would you react if your child had less than two months notice that their school is closing?”

MaST parent Lindsay Webb pointed out that the amount of money needed to keep MaST open was 2% of the school system’s budget. She further pointed out that although there is a high percentage of students attending the school on free- or reduced-price meals, MaST “has the highest GPA (grade point average) of the county high schools.”

Beaufort business owner Bucky Oliver also spoke in support of keeping the school open.

“Programs such as this change and perhaps save lives,” Mr. Oliver said.

The school board held the public hearing to take comments on whether to close the school, which allows students to earn college and high school credits simultaneously.

The hearing comes on the heels of a board committee approving an 800-plus page report Monday that contains information on the school and other data members requested. Mr. Whitford said Wednesday an addendum had been added to the report with further information that the board requested.

The report contains statistics on MaST and other county high schools, including financial and student demographic information, as well as academic performance, classes taken and comments from MaST parents and county school principals on how the school’s closure would effect them and their schools. The MaST report can be seen at carteretcountyschools.org.

The next step in the potential closure of MaST will come during a special meeting at 6 p.m. Monday in the school system’s central office, unless the injunction prevents that meeting from happening.

The board is expected to take a final vote on whether to close the school, which was scheduled to open with 100 freshmen and sophomores Wednesday, Aug. 7 for the 2019-20 academic year. Those students remain in limbo as to where they will attend school.

At the end of the public hearing, BOE Chairman Travis Day thanked those in attendance.

“We have a lot to think about and discuss,” Mr. Day said.

The board then approved amending the agenda to meet in closed session to discuss a matter regarding attorney/client privilege. That action was taken prior to Ms. Gahagan handing the copy of the legal documents to Mr. Whitford. No action was taken in open session following the closed session.

In the meantime, supporters of MaST have been circulating a petition for people to sign in support or against keeping the school open. It can be found at docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSf2ndiD2Yf0TjNLqNxY_gbymAWv6uuAjMQy5mhFbtFnmZbOUg/viewform.

Ms. Webb said as of Tuesday, 1,614 people had completed the petition, with about 1,580 in support of keeping the school open.

The issue of closing the school has been controversial. Despite pleas from upset MaST parents, students and supporters during the public comment time of the June 11 school board meeting, the board voted June 20 in a split vote of 4-3 to not use local funds to keep the school open.

Instead, some board members said they wanted to use those funds to save seven teacher positions that may be lost due to federal and state funding cuts. The lack of funding for MaST would result in the school’s closure.

The school board’s action was based on a recommendation by county commissioners during their June 17 meeting that the school board use $245,958 in county funds earmarked for MaST for the 2019-20 year to save the positions. The county had allocated $186,000 for MaST the previous year.

Commissioners and school board members cited concerns over whether the General Assembly would provide state funds for MaST. The current version of the state budget provides $180,000 for the next five years for early college high schools. However, Gov. Roy Cooper has vetoed the budget over concerns about lack of increased funding for Medicaid and other issues. While the budget debate continues, the state will operate under the current budget, which did not include funding for MaST. 

Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.

 

(Previous report)

BEAUFORT — At the end of Wednesday night's public hearing on the closure of the Marine Science and Technologies Early College High School, attorney Stacey Gahagan served a copy of a legal document to Neil Whitford, County Board of Education attorney, seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the imminent closure of the school.

She filed a legal claim in Carteret County Civil Superior Court Wednesday on behalf of MaST students, claiming the board did not follow due process in closing the school.

This is a developing story.

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(1) comment

Crabpot

A preliminary injunction and civil complaint have long been expected. The BOE essentially begged for it due to their heavy handed ignorance.

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