Tourism authority: Move of national schools meeting is the first negative effect of HB2 on Rowan County

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 28, 2017

By Rebecca Rider

SALISBURY — A national education coalition’s decision to pull its biannual conference out of Salisbury is the first time Rowan County has been directly affected by the controversial “bathroom bill,” officials from the local tourism authority said Friday.

“It’s the first that we are at all aware of,” said James Meacham, CEO of the Salisbury-Rowan Visitors and Conventions Bureau.

The coalition cited travel bans imposed by other states because of House Bill 2 as its primary reason for its decision to cancel its meeting here.

The Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools had scheduled an April 6 conference hosted by Rowan-Salisbury Schools, which is also a member of the league.

Meacham said the cancellation will have a “minimal” impact on the local economy. The league, which comprises 86 school districts, would have spent approximately $50 per person for the day.

“So this would have been a minimal loss of a little under $5,000,” Meacham said.

That number includes food, transportation and the cost of putting on the conference itself.

Meacham said it’s likely that nearly all of those attending would have spent the night in the Charlotte area.

Meacham said he knows of no other negative impacts for Rowan County associated with HB2. In fact, he said, 2016 was a “banner year” for tourism here.

Superintendent Lynn Moody said she received notice last week that the league would move the meeting because many of its members are forbidden to travel to North Carolina on business because of HB2.

The bill mandates that people must use the restroom that coincides with the gender listed on their birth certificates.

In a statement to the Post, Sara Schapiro, senior director for the league, said she thinks the work Rowan-Salisbury Schools is doing is “exemplary.”

“Unfortunately, as we were planning the league’s biannual meeting, it came to light that 24 of our districts would not be able to attend due to travel bans associated with HB2,” she said. That’s over a quarter of our membership (86 districts total). … Digital Promise is a bipartisan organization, and our decision to move the meeting had nothing to do with politics. It was simply a decision to make sure that all 86 of our members would have the opportunity to attend the biannual meeting.”


Elected officials also weighed in on the decision to move the conference. Board of Education Chairman Josh Wagner said Thursday that the decision is detrimental to students and teachers who have spent months preparing for the conference.

State Sen. Andrew Brock, a Republican who represents Rowan, Iredell and Davie counties, wrote in an email: “I am disappointed that convention organizers decided to break their commitment to our schools and to everyone who worked hard to welcome them to Rowan County, especially since the federal government along with the majority of other states — including Ohio, where they decided to relocate — have nondiscrimination policies either similar to or not as strong as North Carolina’s.”

Rep. Carl Ford, a Republican who represents Rowan and Cabarrus counties, said the move will not change his stance on the bill.

“I hate that they decided to pull out based on a political issue,” he said, “and they must not agree on the safety of women and children.”

“My understanding of the problem is that some of the participants were restricted by their state’s travel ban,” said Rep. Harry Warren, a Republican who represents Rowan County. “So it doesn’t reflect a rejection by the participants of anything that’s going on in the state.”

Shapiro said the league has not given up on visiting Salisbury.

“We look forward to bringing the group to North Carolina — and to the amazing schools in Rowan-Salisbury, Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Rock Hill, S.C. — when all of our districts are able to be there,” she said.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.