Fact check: Did Dan Forest miss 'almost half' of education board meetings during pandemic?

During the North Carolina gubernatorial debate, Gov. Roy Cooper said Lt. Gov. Dan Forest had missed "almost half" of the N.C. Board of Education meetings since the pandemic started. Forest said he has "been to almost every one of those meetings." Here's what PolitiFact found.

Posted Updated

Paul Specht
, PolitiFact reporter

Lt. Governor Dan Forest thinks he would be a better governor than Roy Cooper.

But Cooper says Forest hasn’t put in the work needed to hold the office. The two went at it on Oct. 14 in North Carolina’s lone gubernatorial debate.

Cooper said: “The Lieutenant Governor is on the state Board of Education where the state opening plans are discussed and voted on. And while I’m working with them and public health officials, he’s missed almost half of the Board of Education meetings during the pandemic,” Cooper said.

Forest responded by saying “I’ve been to almost every one of those meetings, especially every voting meeting. My staff sits in. My education experts and advisors sit in on all of those meetings, we don’t miss a beat on an education meeting. We never have. We’ve always been present at all of them.”

So what’s the truth here?

We’ll rate Cooper’s statement, since he’s the one bringing up the subject as an attack. He said Forest has missed almost half of North Carolina’s education board meetings during the pandemic.

As it turns out, Cooper’s claim is almost spot-on.

Attendance record

The Board of Education has not uploaded its meeting minutes since March. So we listened to audio files uploaded to YouTube. Then we asked the North Carolina Department of Instruction for attendance records.
Cooper declared a state of emergency because of the coronavirus on March 10, so we’re using that as the start date for the pandemic in North Carolina.

There have been 28 meetings since then, according to Deanna Townsend-Smith, DPI’s director of board operations and policy. Most of them were over an hour long, meaning the board has spent well over 24 hours talking about education policy just in the last eight months.

Forest has missed 13 of the 28 meetings, or 46%.

Forest missed meetings on March 18 and 27. He attended five meetings in a row before missing seven out of 10 from the beginning of May to the end of July. He then missed four in a row between Sept. 3 and Oct. 7.

In some cases, Forest arrived late to meetings but was still counted present.

“Present does not always mean attendance for the entire meeting, but present at some point and time,” Townsend-Smith said.

What Forest missed

It’s unclear why Forest missed the meetings. Neither his office nor his campaign responded to questions from PolitiFact this week.

Forest said during the debate that his experts and advisors “sit in on all” of the meetings.

Staff members can’t vote. And Townsend-Smith told PolitiFact that board members “cannot have anyone attend the meeting on their behalf.”

Forest “may have had someone listening to the meeting on his behalf,” she said, adding “however that is not something that is within my purview and you would need to verify that with the LG’s office.”

Forest has downplayed the threat of the coronavirus, saying the state should reopen schools without a mask mandate. DPI’s records show Forest missed votes that made changes to grading, testing and graduation requirements, set guidelines for remote learning, as well as another vote on grade point averages.

Our ruling

Cooper said Forest has “missed almost half of the board of education meetings during the pandemic.”

We’re not here to say whether or not Forest should have attended the meetings. However, we can say whether Cooper’s stat is correct.

The state Department of Instruction says Forest has missed 13 of 28 meetings since the pandemic started. That means he’s missed 46% of the meetings.

That’s close enough to “half” for us. We rate Cooper’s claim is True.



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