When the Haywood County School Board met in closed session on July 15 to address a Facebook post by Superintendent Bill Nolte, its members unanimously voted to do the one thing that would make almost no one happy. They punted the hot potato (acknowledging the mixed metaphor here), by voting to suspend Nolte with pay for 10 days from his daily while he devises a plan to address the issue.
Maybe I should be thankful they didn’t take more drastic action against the man. But I wish with all my heart that they had acted differently, in a way that would allow him to get on with planning what promises to be one of the most difficult years in Haywood County Schools history.
The board took Nolte out of operation right before N.C. Governor Roy Cooper announced a complicated plan to reopen schools. Its a plan that calls for keeping children 6 feet apart, alternating attendance, requiring masks at all times and subjecting teachers to a crazy schedule of alternating classes and potential disease exposure.
To further complicate the school year, parents will have the option of an online learning program where they will not send their students to the school. And as this plan unfolds, our school superintendent is out-of-pocket for 10 days — time he doesn’t have to prepare for this convoluted school year.
In case it isn’t obvious, I am a supporter of Dr. Nolte. I have known the man for 34 years and have witnessed impressive changes in the school system under his leadership. Though he stumbled over this situation big-time, I have never known a superintendent who tried harder to keep parents updated on school decisions, from COVID-19 online learning to snow days.
Now, I know a number of you people out there have racist and insensitive attitudes. I’ve had words with some of you over your use of words and cliches that you consider funny but harmless. I am sick of the attitude among some folks here that, “if that word (phrase, flag, action) doesn’t bother me, it shouldn’t bother you.”
I have NEVER witnessed that attitude with Dr. Nolte. I have seen the opposite, witnessed him visibly furious over an incident in which he believed a child of color was being bullied. (He’s a big guy; that can be memorable.) So I believe him when he says he misunderstood the implications of the Facebook post and meme he shared and that he did not realize it would be offensive.
I believe him because of the way he has conducted his life and career these past 30-plus years. I also say this as someone who has disagreed with him — strongly — at times. The ones among you who drive me to fury are those who persist in certain behaviors because you don’t care that they are insensitive or painful for others.
So I see this as a legitimate problem, but crusaders have gone after the wrong target. He made a mistake. He apologized. Admittedly the apology and defense were awkward, but you know what? That sometimes happens when a person is accused of something they consider heinous.
You accuse me of being a poor writer or a lousy housekeeper, and I will laugh, maybe acknowledge the truth in your words. You accuse me of defiling my Christian identity by being racist, and I will be tempted to fall all over myself out of shock and dismay.
So what should the school board have done?
My ideal school board would have issued a statement sounding something like this:
“The Haywood County Board of Education acknowledges that a post made by Dr. Bill Nolte caused grief for a number of its citizens. Dr. Nolte has acknowledged the same, and apologized.
Given his outstanding history with Haywood County Schools, we do not believe this misunderstanding of a shared post indicates ongoing insensitivity or prejudice on his part. Therefore, we accept Dr. Nolte’s apology and ask him to continue preparing us for a very challenging 2020 school year.
Because this situation has raised concerns in the community, we are asking Dr. Nolte to meet with any and all concerned citizens to discuss issues concerns they see or experience in the school system regarding prejudice.
However, we do ask that Dr. Nolte be allowed to focus on the immediate future on addressing the upcoming school year in light of COVID-19, while setting a schedule for community meetings once the school year is under way. We also commit to attend those community meetings.”
There. Acknowledgement of concerns in our diverse communities without throwing an excellent superintendent under the bus or blighting his character. School board member, please consider such an option when you meet July 22.