BEAUFORT — A group of parents and students have withdrawn their motion for a preliminary injunction seeking a court order to force enrollment of freshmen students this school year at the Marine Science and Technologies Early College High School.
Ann Paradis with Gahagan Paradis PLLC of Durham, the firm representing the group, said in an email Tuesday, “We have not withdrawn the complaint. We have withdrawn the motion for a preliminary injunction,” adding that she is planning to amend the original complaint.
A hearing was originally scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday in Carteret County Civil Superior Court in Beaufort, however MaST plaintiffs filed the paperwork late Friday that withdrew the motion for the injunction.
There was no information on when the amended complaint will be filed or a future hearing set.
Carteret County Board of Education attorney Neil Whitford said Tuesday the school system has filed a motion to dismiss the case and the motion will be scheduled for a hearing at a later date. In addition, he said the Tharrington Smith Law Firm in Raleigh has been engaged to defend the county public school system in this case.
“As the complier of the MaST Study Report (a study completed by the Board of Education in the summer of 2019) last summer, I theoretically could be called as a witness so I recused myself from appearing as trial counsel for our school system in this case,” Mr. Whitford said.
“Tharrington Smith has assigned a team of attorneys to the case and they have been intensively working on the defense since the case was first filed,” he continued. “We are optimistic the case will be dismissed by the court in due course.”
Mr. Whitford further said freshmen students who applied for enrollment at MaST “are being served in their Carteret County attendance zone schools by three of the best high schools in North Carolina. Those fifty students, and all approximately 2,600 county high school students, are being offered the best educational opportunities in the state. Over at MaST, the sophomores and juniors are well into their school year. Their ranks were increased by the open enrollment offered by the school board in June.”
Jaymie Kerstein of Newport, one of the parents who applied for her freshman son to attend MaST, said their attorney was amending the original complaint “based on new information just received.” Neither she nor the attorney said what the new information was.
The original complaint filed asked the board open enrollment to a freshman class pending the outcome of the case and preserve "the status quo for the CCPS and MaST school as existed during the 2019-20 year.”
The complaint further stated the board violated the requirements of N.C. General Statute 115C-72(a)(1), the due process clause of Article I, Section 19 of the N.C. Constitution. It also asked the court to award reasonable attorney’s fees and costs to the plaintiffs and order “such other and further relief as the Court deems just and proper.”
The school board voted in June to not allow a freshman class this year, citing budget concerns. The board voted to allow only sophomores and juniors to continue this year at the school, asking MaST officials to focus on building up those two grades.
Then, the General Assembly agreed in July to allocate $200,000 to the school, which meets on the campus of Carteret Community College in Morehead City and allows students to earn college and high school credits simultaneously.
While parents had hoped that would cause the board to reconsider and reinstate the freshman class, BOE Chairperson John McLean said because the funds weren’t recurring, he and other board members weren’t comfortable doing so. The sole board member who has supported having freshmen at the school is Melissa Ehlers, whose effort to reinstate the freshman class was shot down by lack of a second following her motion at the Aug. 4 BOE meeting.
Then, at the Sept. 1 BOE meeting, school system Finance Officer Kathy Carswell reported the N.C. Department of Public Instruction notified her Aug. 25 that the state agreed to fund the principal’s position at MaST for the 2020-21 academic year. Ms. Carswell said the state agreed to provide $110,000 for the position, however, that may not be provided again next year.
“This is due to this being the first year the state has funded MaST,” Ms. Carswell said.
She had originally planned to use county funds to cover the principal’s position.
At the Aug. 4 board meeting, Ms. Carswell said MaST’s total budget for 2020-21 is $455,958. Of that, $245,958 was scheduled to come from county commissioners, with $200,000 in state Cooperative Innovative High School funding and $10,000 in state textbook funding. She didn’t say how the new $110,000 in state funding would factor into the budget.
MaST has four teaching positions in addition to a guidance counselor, clerical position, a part-time social worker and the principal. The school’s English instructor resigned in August, and the school is in the process of hiring a replacement.
Ms. Kerstein and the group of parents have retained the same firm that represented MaST parents in July 2019 when the BOE voted to close the school over a lack of funding. After standing room-only crowds protested the closure of the school, followed by attorney Stacey Gahagan of Raleigh seeking a preliminary injunction and filing a civil complaint, the board approved keeping the school open for the 2019-20 academic year. In addition, CCC offered funds to keep the school going that year.
Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.