Edwards, Republican panel talk ‘leftist agenda’ in schools

ELEPHANTS IN THE ROOM: Michael Whatley, left, chairman of the N.C. Republican Party , moderated a panel at The 2nd Act in Hendersonville with, from left, Henderson County Board of Commissioners candidate Amy Lynn Holt; state Sen. Chuck Edwards; Hendersonville City Council member Jennifer Hensley; state Rep. Tim Moffitt; and N.C. Republican Party Vice Chair Susan Mills. Photo by Jessica Wakeman

The N.C. Republican Party’s Aug. 17 panel discussion in Hendersonville was billed with the theme of “Family First.” For Chuck Edwards — the Republican state senator for District 48 and nominee for North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District — and other local GOP leaders, those words primarily meant driving conservative change in public education.

Among the priorities shared by the panel were divesting powers held by the N.C. Board of Education, encouraging parents to join local boards of education and eliminating discussion of gender identity in the classroom. Participants included Edwards; Henderson County Board of Public Education Vice Chairperson Amy Lynn Holt*; Hendersonville City Council member Jennifer Hensley; state District 117 Rep. Tim Moffitt; and N.C. Republican Party Vice Chair Susan Mills, who is also a teacher.

NCGOP Chair Michael Whatley moderated the panel at The 2nd Act, a Hendersonville cafe and bar, for an audience of roughly 50 people. About 20 protesters gathered outside the event in the rain, holding signs in support of reproductive rights and denouncing former President Donald Trump.

‘Stop talking about pronouns’

Gender identity discussions in schools were brought up twice during the panel. While criticizing the federal government’s role in education, Edwards said, “We’ve got to change the conversation. … We’ve got to stop talking about pronouns and start talking about protons,” he said, to audience applause.

Education should focus on “preparing children for jobs in the future,” Edwards continued.

Later during the discussion, Whatley asked Holt, who is currently vice chair of the Henderson County Board of Public Education, “How important is it for us to have engagement on the school board — not just with the school board — as conservatives?”

Holt responded, “That’s the most important thing we’re going to do, is raise these kids up and teach them how to read, how to write, how to do the right thing, how to have their own mind and their own thoughts and not be subjected to this figurehead in front of them all day, telling them that you must call Susie ‘Sam’ because that’s what Susie wants to be called.”

Holt continued, “That has no place in education. It’s not what we need to be doing for our children.”

Abolish the board

Whatley praised Republican Catherine Truitt, the elected head of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, as “a fantastic superintendent of public education.” But, he continued, “We also have a school board that is run by [Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper] and making decisions in terms of agendas and programs that the schools would have to follow all across the state.”

(Of the 20 members of the N.C. State Board of Education, 11 are gubernatorial appointments approved by the state legislature. The composition of the board is dictated by the state constitution.)

Whatley asked Edwards whether the state’s top educational board needs structural reform.

“My preference is that we abolish the State Board of Education,” the state senator replied, to approval from the audience. He called the board “unaccountable” to the public and declared, “They tend to bully the elected leaders of the education [system].”

Edwards shared that he has an unfiled bill on his desk in Raleigh to amend the state constitution, dismantle the state board and transfer its power to the state superintendent. (In a follow-up email, Edwards said he hasn’t filed the bill because he was unable to secure the votes needed for it to pass.) He then turned to Moffitt, who is running for the District 48 seat Edwards is vacating to run for Congress, and said he would be happy to hand that bill over.

Concurred Moffitt, “Structural reform is needed from top to bottom.”

‘Leftist agenda’

Earlier in the discussion, Whatley addressed Holt while discussing parental involvement in public education. “I’ve been stung over the last two years as I’ve heard Democrat after Democrat after Democrat say that we don’t need parents involved in the education decisions for their children,” Whatley said.

Holt responded, to enthusiastic support from the audience, “There’s going to be nothing in your life that’s more important than that, to be involved in your children’s education. And that includes going to board meetings, speaking up, emailing, showing up in the classroom.”

Holt then referenced “an issue in a classroom with an assignment that came from … a teacher within Henderson County” regarding a New York Times article about Trump.

“That was the only resource they were allowed to use — it was unacceptable,” she claimed. “But if we don’t find out about those things, there’s not a way for us to handle it. So we’ve got to have parents speaking out, telling us what’s going on, so that we can stop this leftist agenda.”

One topic that drew considerable discussion among panelists was Panorama surveys. The feedback tool, employed in at least 10 North Carolina school districts, is designed to assess social-emotional learning and mental health. (Panorama has partnered with Asheville City Schools since 2021, according to ACS mental health liaison Luke Mackenzie. The company has partnered with Buncombe County Schools since spring 2019, says spokesperson Stacia Harris.)

Whatley asked Mills, who is a teacher in Sampson County, about her experience “on the ground.” Mills said schools need to focus on literacy and continued, “One of the things a lot of my time is wasted on is the Panorama survey.”

Panorama surveys solicit student feedback about classroom experiences; how to foster safe learning environments; cooperation among teachers, staff and administrators; and healthy families. Sample questions for a “student check-in,” according to an information sheet on the company’s website, include “What emotion are you feeling the most today?” and “Do you feel bullied by other students?”

Of the Panorama survey, Mills said, “So far, I’ve been able to avoid that in my homeroom.” She told the audience she let her homeroom students know that filling out the Panorama survey is optional and “if you want to play on your phone [instead of take the survey],” students could.

Holt chimed in to say Henderson County Schools no longer conducts Panorama surveys. “They have a leftist agenda that they were trying to push into our schools, and we cut ties with them,” she said. “It’s the voices of parents — that things are being pushed to their children — that brought that up.”

Veto-proof majorities

Although the bulk of the discussion concerned public education, panelists also discussed Republicans’ hopes for state regulatory reform and the need to acquire veto-proof majorities in the General Assembly to pass those reforms.

Both chambers of North Carolina’s state legislature are controlled by Republicans, but Democratic Gov. Cooper is able to veto legislation. A vote from three-fifths of elected officials in the legislature can override the governor’s veto; Republican majorities in the House and Senate currently fall below that threshold.

“We need to have a veto-proof majority,” said Moffitt. He spoke about the Administrative Procedure Act, a state law dictating how agencies create and enforce regulations, which is set to change at the start of 2023.

“As we begin to grant the regulatory authorities back into the legislature, the Democrats are opposed because the Democrats want a strong government,” Moffitt said. “They want to rule every aspect of your life. And they do that through regulations that bypass the legislature at the federal level and at the state level, and we need to stop that from happening.” * Sept. 5, 2022: This article has been updated to state Amy Lynn Holt is Vice Chairperson of the Henderson County Board of Public Education. 


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About Jessica Wakeman
Jessica Wakeman is an Asheville-based reporter for Mountain Xpress. She has been published in Rolling Stone, Glamour, New York magazine's The Cut, Bustle and many other publications. She was raised in Connecticut and holds a Bachelor's degree in journalism from New York University. Follow me @jessicawakeman

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21 thoughts on “Edwards, Republican panel talk ‘leftist agenda’ in schools

  1. Shultz!

    Gaggle of paranoid, fear-mongering pessimists breeding distrust and loathing of their neighbors, all while sporting golden crosses around their necks & fish symbols on their car bumpers. IIRC, I think the bible mentions a special place being carved out just for your kind…

  2. Voirdire

    We find ourselves in our present position here in this fading republic of ours for one reason…. a severely under educated electorate… or as the founding father called them… the rabble. All of them, Washington Jefferson, Hamilton et al were reluctant -to put it mildly- to give them the popular vote. And voila, now we’re there…. and the rabble won’t quit until they’ve torn it all down. You know… what with their delusional call to arms, MAGA! …sigh.

    • Voirdire

      [the] founding fathers… plural …bless their collective souls ;)

    • Peter Robbins

      Contra Edwards, they should not only keep pronouns in the curriculum but add ellipses.

    • MV

      yeah, if we could get rid of the far left and the far right, we could have a decent country…and Democracy.

      • I love how you guys have changed the definition of words. Now a man is a woman, a woman is a man, all white people are racist. Pathetic

        • SpareChange

          So, as a Libertarian who do you think should prescribe or proscribe how an individual chooses to self-identify, present oneself, live their life, and/or determine who they are? Phony hypocrites like Rand Paul, who put on the Libertarian cloak only when it suits their own political interests, and then turn around and presume to legislate and control the most personal of decisions in life?

          As the Libertarian Party has recently proclaimed:
          “In state legislatures across the country, bills have been proposed (and unfortunately in some cases, passed) that would regulate and criminalize the personal medical and life decisions of transgender individuals. Those who long have declared themselves champions of limited government and personal freedom are seeking to insert their own opinions into decisions that should be left to individuals and families… What unites Libertarians over any slogan or soundbite is the shared belief that all individuals deserve to live their lives as they see best and to be free to do so without the interference of an overreaching state that cannot possibly know the love and consideration and struggles that go into such important decisions.”

          I may not be a capital L libertarian, but on principles they get a lot correct. If you are going to publicly identify that way, it seems you should reacquaint yourself with some of those core principles.

          • They have gone too far to the left and many candidates are a bit over the top. Personally, I hope Ron Desantis runs for president.

  3. kw

    Boy, that’s an enlightened group in that room. Do the doors lock from the outside?

  4. Voirdire

    We seem to have some confusion (…imagine that ;) amongst the dazed and dazzled rabble… so let’s try being, well, as clear as we possibly can and cut to the chase here: Edwards and his trumpian/ FOX ilk…. they’re Russian sympathizers and Putin worshipers…. and they’ll barely deny it. Fascists wannabes… every single one of them. They can’t sign up/ line up the confused and ridiculously gullible rabble fast enough -nor can they dumb them down via their “reformed” school system fast enough.. sigh. Btw, fascist doesn’t mean anything but one thing…. NAZI …last time I checked anyway. Still confused about what’s what and who’s who? (and what gender you’re supposed to be… god help us, lol :) Anyhoo, probably better to figure it out… not sooner or later… but, well, like fast.. real fast.

    • I love it when people make accusations using dead terms like fascists. The last fascist died in 1977 in Spain. His name was Francisco Franco. The last real Nazi gave up in 1945. Why not blame everything on an actual real group that still exists like Socialists, Communists and Antifa?

      • Voirdire

        I believe your man Putin styles himself a Communist. Everyone else in the entire free world -other than the deluded and delusional Qnon Trumpers- knows he is a flat out dictator… to a person. And the Antifa clowns… why do you think they exist? Because of the resurgence of your beloved MAGA fascists here in the U.S.A. Remember how your man Mussolini ended up… at the wrong end of some piano wire despite getting those errant trains to run on time, lol …you know, you being so well versed in world history of the last mid-century ;) That stellar Hendo public school education of yours is showing ;)

        • I don’t know what Putin has to do with the conversation but I came from a socialist/communist nation and the rubbish coming from you sounds exactly what the communist party of Cuba would say to keep the sheep in line.

      • SpareChange

        I’ll be the first to acknowledge that our political language and categories are clumsy and often fail us in communicating thoughts clearly, but that’s very different from arguing that the forces, attitudes and beliefs which fuel fascism simply no longer exist.

        No reasonable person can believe that a political movement/ideology which only one generation ago conquered most of Europe, much of Asia, parts of Africa, spawned sympathetic parties and support in countries across the globe, committed acts of genocide, and resulted in the deaths of 50 to 60 million people, suddenly just vanished from the face of the earth, has no lingering support, and has left no imprint or legacy on our, or any other nation’s, politics. Such things don’t just go away. They may expand and contract, but they are there, and unfortunately have been expanding in the contemporary U.S.

        If it’s purely a semantic problem that’s bugging you, if you think the term fascist is “dead,” unfortunately there are plenty of others which still describe the same essential political forces which today remain all too evident in our politics: authoritarian, autocrat, totalitarian, anti-Semite, jingoist, racist, xenophobe, bigot, we could go on at length, but take your pick.

        • Here’s the definition of fascism.

          fas·​cism | \ ˈfa-ˌshi-zəm also ˈfa-ˌsi- \
          Definition of fascism
          1often capitalized : a political philosophy, movement, or regime (such as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition 2: a tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control early instances of army fascism and brutality

          I have yet to see any of the that in this country. I’ve lived in this great nation since 1965 and have seen many different types of political movements and fascism is one that never caught on and never will because of the checks and balances in our republic. Crying about this fantasy or nightmare while promoting communist ideals (which is the worse form of oppressive government) and acting like you have the moral high ground is not only stupid, its dangerous.

          The left has caused the death of more people than any other form of political movement especially communism with 100 million and counting. No matter how much some people cry about other movements, nothing comes close to the destruction caused by communist, socialist and marxist philosophy. Now in this country everyone has the right to do or believe whatever they want which is why so many risk their lives every day to come here from other countries.

          I remember my parents telling me all the propaganda that the Cuban government would spew and force their citizens to accept. I hear the same rubbish coming from the left every day. Everything they say is a lie. But hey it’s a free country so you can continue believing what you want as long as it doesn’t affect us. You can call yourself whatever pronoun you want, pretend to be what you’re not and pretend to be morally outraged when sane people disagree with you.

          Nobody cares until it’s forced on their children and families.

          • Elise

            And yet everything that the Right says is a lie. Go figure.

          • kw

            Yo, dude, you just described Trump and all his deluded domestic terrorist followers….

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