Local News

Wake Mayors: Schools' Speaker Policy 'Condescending'

Posted February 28, 2008 10:25 a.m. EST
Updated February 28, 2008 6:33 p.m. EST

— A Wake County school system policy requiring outside school speakers to abide by certain requirements is condescending and insulting, several area mayors said Thursday.

It was a topic part of a broader closed-door meeting between Board of Education Chairwoman Rosa Gill and local mayors who gathered to discuss how municipalities can be more involved with the school system, including land acquisition and other issues.

"We are elected officials, and we're accountable to the citizens that elected us," Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said. "So being asked to sign a policy saying you won't do anything derogatory or demeaning is a little insulting, because you can't do that anyway from your position."

Other Wake County public officials have expressed similar feelings about the policy, which requires speakers to sign a waiver agreeing to guidelines on subject matter, behavior and appearance.

Sheriff Donnie Harrison, and Apex Mayor Keith Weatherly, have in the past refused to sign the waiver.

"I found it ironic that our sheriff was asked to sign that form," Holly Springs Mayor Dick Sears said. "It just blew my mind."

The policy was put in place last year after former Enloe High School teacher Robert Escamilla invited a speaker who handed out literature unfavorable to Islam, and parents complained.

"It this an overreaction to Enloe? I think so, personally," Sears said. "Is there a better way to do it? I think so, personally."

Gill disagrees and said the policy has nothing to do with the Enloe situation and defends it as a method to help protect students and to have a standard with which all speakers must comply.

"We want to make sure the information being provided to our children is of a standard and that it does not offend any cultural or religious group," Gill said. "I don't think it was an overreaction. I think it was just a matter of putting policy in place to safeguard our kids."

The mayors want the policy rewritten, or amended, but they don't want exemptions.

"I can understand that they're trying to protect the children," Wake Forest Vivian Jones said. "I think that the tone of the policy is insulting and demeaning for anyone."

"If you give exceptions or exemptions to elected officials, it's not fair to them," Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams said. "Everybody needs to be on the same playing field."

Weatherly, who has written the school system expressing concerns, said he wants the issue brought before the school board for public discussion.

"I told them I would be more than happy to take this back to the board and that we discuss it with administration and see what we can do to improve it," Gill said.

Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker was not part of Thursday's meeting. He was out of town.

Escamilla, who was reassigned to an alternative school, has sued the school system, alleging his rights were violated and demanding that the transfer be rescinded. That case is pending.