'This witch hunt is personal': School board votes to censure member in tense New Hanover meeting

·4 min read
Judy Justice speaks during a special board meeting Friday Jan. 14, 2022. During the meeting, the board voted 5-2 to censure Justice for breaking its code of ethics. [KEN BLEVINS/STARNEWS]
Judy Justice speaks during a special board meeting Friday Jan. 14, 2022. During the meeting, the board voted 5-2 to censure Justice for breaking its code of ethics. [KEN BLEVINS/STARNEWS]

A New Hanover County Board of Education member said a resolution to censure her won’t deter her from her mission to hold those on the board, and in the school district, accountable.

The board passed a resolution to censure member Judy Justice in a 5-2 vote Friday afternoon after Justice was accused of revealing confidential personnel information to someone who was not permitted to have it. Justice said after the meeting she felt the move was personal, and she plans to continue pushing for more transparency from the district going forward.

“I’m fighting the battles trying to help the district, and when they fight me, they’re in essence fighting against doing good things for the district,” Justice said.

Justice and board Vice Chairwoman Stephanie Walker were the only two members to vote against the censure. A censure does not result in any action – it's simply a tool to let Justice know the board does not support or agree with her actions.

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Kraybill said after the meeting she was made aware of allegations Justice had violated the code of ethics by disclosing personnel information in the fall. The board previously passed a vote of no confidence in June after then-Chairwoman Stefanie Adams accused Justice of lying during a board meeting.

During Friday's meeting, the board went into a closed session to discuss personnel matters that could not be disclosed to the public. After, Justice was given a chance to address the board and the public and brought forth a list of 10 ways other board members had violated the board’s code of ethics that had gone unaddressed.

“This witch hunt is personal and everyone on this (board) knows it,” Justice said during her statement. “It is time we did our job for the people and serve the people, not some people’s individual agendas.”

Justice also alleged Superintendent Charles Foust had accused her of harassing him. Attorney Colin Shive interrupted Justice, saying he would advise her to “move on from that subject” to avoid revealing further personnel information. Kraybill said the subject was not “germane to the topic at hand.”

Justice went on to say it was her first amendment right to bring up the accusation and said she had no intention of bringing up confidential personnel information.

As Justice continued her statement about the alleged harassment, Foust interrupted her, saying he had 275 emails to prove she had harassed him.

“I will provide emails if that’s what you want,” Foust said. “You cannot and you will not do that.”

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Justice said the emails she sent him had to do with her asking him to do his job. She said after the meeting Foust has not communicated with her in months, though it’s district policy that the superintendent communicates regularly with members of the board. She alleged he does not respond to her emails or phone calls, and said that’s concerning as she was elected to represent the public before the school district.

Kraybill quickly called the meeting to recess, and she and Foust went to a separate room to speak with Shive. When they returned, Shive called Justice back and spoke with her for several minutes behind closed doors. Walker also went with Justice to speak with Shive.

When Justice returned, she said she felt the censure vote was taking away from important issues going on in the district, like the continued strain on staff and students from the COVID-19 pandemic and decades of sexual abuse allegations against former teachers and administrators.

Several community members attended the meeting as well, holding signs reading “I support Judy” and attempting to speak with board members while they recessed.

“How is this what’s best for the kids?” one audience member asked the board, but did not receive a response.

Kraybill said after the meeting the vote was not personal, and she hopes the board can be unified moving forward to get to those important topics impacting the district.

“The community has been very critical of this board, and boards before us about not being transparent, not handling issues in a timely manner," Kraybill said. “When I found out that this had occurred, I just said we need to jump on it and get it resolved.”

“We've got that behind us, and we should be ready to go,” she said.

Reporter Sydney Hoover can be reached at 910-343-2339 or shoover@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Wilmington StarNews: New Hanover school board censures member over code of ethics

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