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Meeting on school consolidation could draw large crowd

By Rebecca Rider

rebecca.rider@salisburypost.com

An organizer says he expects a large crowd at a community meeting this evening to discuss a consultants’ proposal to close a half-dozen Rowan-Salisbury School System elementary schools.

The meeting is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. at the Rowan County Fairgrounds on Julian Road.

A Facebook group originally announced the meeting would be held at Faith Elementary School, but organizers say it was moved to the fairgrounds after they were forbidden the use of Faith Elementary by school system Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody.

But an announcement about the meeting on a blog has school system officials worried that the gathering could turn violent. The announcement stated that Board of Education members and Rowan-Salisbury School System administrative staff are not invited, as the group cannot provide security.

“Why would we need security and not others?” school board Chairman Josh Wagner asked in an e-mail to the Post.

Wagner said the wording of the blog post insinuates that there would be violence against board members and staff, should they attend.

“That is really, in my opinion, is very telling about what is going on. It is not about a solution, it is about inciting violence,” he said.

Local Attorney and recent City Council candidate Todd Paris denied the implication. Paris is one of the event’s organizers, and started a secret Facebook group, “Rowan Rural save our schools” after a consultant on Thursday proposed closing up to six of the county’s elementary schools and consolidating their students with other schools.

Cleveland and Woodleaf elementary schools already are slated to be closed and consolidated into a new western Rowan elementary school. The consultant proposed also closing Mt. Ulla, Faith, Morgan and Enochville elementary schools.

The proposal has generated a good deal of conversation on social media, much of it from people unhappy with the possibility of losing their community schools. The Facebook group has more than 5,000 members.

Paris said the blog post mentioned security because he has never organized a group this large, and can’t anticipate what might happen.

“I haven’t met any of these people, I don’t know who’s coming. I know there’s a great deal of anger,” he said.

But anger, he argued, is not the same thing as violence. The meeting, he claimed, will be purely political and democratic, to allow people to speak freely and to elect representatives from each of the affected schools to form a board of directors. Paris said he has experience with a similar grassroots organization, La Resistance.

“That’s what you do in a democracy. You don’t do violence,” he said.

But the main reason the board was not invited, he said, was because it will have its own meetings – which he referred to on Facebook as a “dog and pony show” — to explain its decisions.

“We didn’t invite them because, one, we’re mad at them, and two, they have their own meeting later in the month,” he said.

Fairgrounds manager Johnny Love said he was contacted by the group because they were expecting a large crowd. However, only 59 people have confirmed attendance on the group’s Facebook page.

Responding to Paris’s allegations that the school board is trying to “stifle” the meeting and deny people their First Amendment rights, Wagner said the community is free to meet and discuss the matter as it sees fit. It is the implication that system administration would be greeted with possible violence that he objects to.

The gathering, he said, encourages anger and emotion and makes no mention of solutions.

“All they’re doing is responding in anger, and that’s just disappointing,” he said.

Again, Paris disagreed, and said that violence would not be tolerated.

“There’s a difference between someone being angry and someone being violent. I expect them to be angry, I don’t expect them to be violent,” he said.

In a post made to the group’s Facebook page, Paris said the gathering could “get heated” and he wouldn’t want any of the board members to be injured.

“I just want them to lose their jobs,” he wrote.

Wagner said that the board is “begging” for feedback, but so far has not had anyone come to them with solutions or alternatives to the proposed plan.

The meeting will be held this evening at 7 p.m. at the Rowan County Fairgrounds stadium on Julian Road. Paris stated on Facebook that anyone threatening violence against school board members or school system administrative staff will be ejected from the meeting.

Moody could not be reached for comment.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.

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