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Mecklenburg trustees extend Nichols’ contract

South Boston News
Grading work at the site of Mecklenburg's new school complex. / June 17, 2020

The Mecklenburg County School Board approved a two-year contract extension for Superintendent of the School Paul Nichols at the Monday night meeting of trustees in Boydton. Nichols’ contract will run through June 30, 2022.

The lone vote opposing the extension was cast by Board Chair Gavin Honeycutt, who offered no explanation for his vote. Vice Chair Dora Garner and board members Brent Richey, Gloria Smith, Rob Campbell, Wanda Bailey, Lindell Palmer, Ricky Allgood and Glenn Edwards agreed to the contract extension.

The meeting got off to a tense start when Honeycutt criticized fellow trustee Allgood for remarks he made in a closed session held before the regular board meeting. According to Honeycutt, Allgood suggested that the board chair had attempted to recruit a replacement for Nichols without the approval of other trustees.

Honeycutt said Allgood’s comments were not appropriate for a “closed session discussion.” In Virginia, governing bodies can deliberate on a limited range of topics in meetings closed to the public. Those subjects include personnel issues, real estate, privacy, disciplinary, and legal matters, plans to protect the public health and safety, briefings by law enforcement, and discussions of the award of a public contract where open session discussion would adversely affect the bargaining position.

Honeycutt said he considered Allgood’s remarks to be “slanderous and untruthful” and wanted the public to be made aware of them.

Allgood apologized for offending Honeycutt and said he was merely seeking clarification about the truthfulness of a rumor he’d heard regarding Honeycutt’s alleged recruitment efforts.

In other business at the meeting, the footers and stem walls are in place for several buildings at the site of the new secondary school complex under construction in Baskerville, according to the Supervisor of Operations and Maintenance Brian Dalton. Underground utility installation work is ongoing, and grading is completed for the middle school ball fields.

So far, the COVID-19 pandemic has not hindered either the construction schedule or the delivery of supplies, Dalton said. The construction end date is still on schedule for June 24, 2022.

Over the next several months, contractors will pour the concrete slab and begin wall construction for the central utility building, install storm water and sanitary sewer systems and begin grading the first of several parking lots on the property.

In other business, trustees adopted a resolution to oppose racism and other forms of prejudice. The resolution, initially proposed by the Virginia School Board Association, was a response to the death of George Floyd and other African Americans at the hands of police.

The VSBA resolution entitled, “Resolution condemning racism and affirming the division’s commitment to an inclusive school environment for all” expressed sadness and outrage at recent events “that demonstrate prejudice and injustice,” but was framed as a condemnation of injustice aimed at “black people.” Chair Gavin Honeycutt asked for the resolution to be amended to express the board’s opposition to prejudice and injustice “that harms and anguishes all people.” He pointed out that members of the LGBTQ community (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and queer or questioning) are equally subject to discriminatory, prejudicial, and unequal treatment.

The board agreed and in adopting the modified resolution, reaffirmed that racism and hate have no place in Mecklenburg County schools. They called for everyone to be treated with dignity.

The school division is seeking approval from the Virginia Department of Education to expand the fee breakfast and lunch program to all students in kindergarten through grade 12. Currently the program is offered only in the elementary schools. If approved all students, regardless of their ability to pay, would be able to receive free breakfast and lunch.

Non-students will see an increase in the price of meals for the coming school year. Adult lunches will increase from $3.65 to $3.75. The price of breakfast remains unchanged at $0.80.

Trustees also approved updated handbooks for the high and middle schools. The manuals outline attendance policies, student responsibilities, the code of conduct and disciplinary procedures and consequences, dress code, limitations on the use of cell phones while on campus, the school calendar, and other aspects of student life while at school or school activities on or off campus.

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