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Representatives tell group to be watchful to keep CRT out of schools

Two Pitt County Board of Education representatives told a conservative group this week that its members need to be watchful to keep critical race theory from being taught in local schools.

“CRT and The 1619 Project are not in our schools, but the parents have got to be eyes for us,” District 6 representative Worth Forbes told members of Concerned Citizens of Eastern North Carolina. “We can’t be in every room and classroom.”

Forbes and District 9 representative Benjie Forrest on Tuesday addressed about two dozen members of the conservative education and advocacy group formerly known as the Eastern North Carolina Tea Party. Forrest said that their appearance at the meeting was to share their individual views as elected representatives and not to serve as spokesmen for the school district.

In recent months, the two have been outspoken in their opposition to the teaching of CRT, which, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, suggests “the law and legal institutions in the United States are inherently racist.” The 1619 Project, according to the York Times Magazine, where it initiated, “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.”

In June, Forrest tried to amend a “Resolution to Improve Student Learning Conditions,” proposed by the Pitt County Association of Educators, to include language opposing the teaching of critical race theory and The 1619 Project. Both the amendment and the resolution were rejected. In August, Forrest and Forbes said they favored a resolution or policy prohibiting the teaching of CRT and The 1619 Project in Pitt County Schools, although some other school board members objected to the idea. No action was taken.

The topic has been discussed among the citizens’ group as well. In July, John Woodard, chief executive officer of Real American News, spoke on critical race theory, telling members “children are being force-fed this garbage.” In August, member D.F. Fleming Jr. shared the group’s objections to CRT with the Board of Education, questioning whether recently revised state standards for social studies contained elements of CRT.

Earlier this month, PCAE President Mario Blanchard countered by asking the board if presenting facts about American history was considered to be teaching critical race theory.

In his remarks to Concerned Citizens, Forrest, a former agriculture teacher, said that neither CRT nor The 1619 Project is part of the school district’s current curriculum.

“That is not to say that some liberal teachers might figure out a way to slip it in,” he said, adding that is why he and Forbes favored a resolution or policy against the teachings. He said some teachers, particularly members of the North Carolina Association of Educators, have “a liberal slant as to what they advocate for and a liberal slant to what they think should go on in a classroom.”

“Those are the ones that you’ve got to watch,” said Forrest, the school board’s longest-tenured member.

Forbes, a former teacher and school administrator, said conservatives should be on guard against the state Board of Education inserting aspects of CRT into state standards. He pointed to Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of House Bill 324 as evidence that the governor supports the teaching.

“That tells you that they’re going to find a way to try to get it in,” Forbes said. “If it was not important to him, he would have signed the bill.”

Cooper vetoed the anti-CRT bill, titled “Ensuring Dignity and Nondiscrimination/Schools,” on Sept. 10.

“The legislature should be focused on supporting teachers, helping students recover lost learning, and investing in our public schools,” Cooper said in a statement. “Instead, this bill pushes calculated, conspiracy-laden politics into public education.”

Concerned Citizens member Kenneth Jones said he sees teaching critical race theory as promoting an ideology rather than providing instruction.

“We’re supposed to be Americans. I don’t care what party you belong to,” he said. “Those children are not supposed to be politicized. They are to be educated not indoctrinated.”

Jones said audio and video feeds were needed in classrooms so that parents and community members could be aware of what was being taught.

Forrest suggested that Concerned Citizens should form its own advocacy group for public schools and identify conservative candidates to run for seats on the Board of Education.

Forbes said parents, who turned out in large numbers in August to weigh in on mask requirements for schools, need to keep coming to school board meetings to speak on issues that matter to them.

“There’s got to be pressure put on where it needs to be,” he said. “We’re putting as much pressure as we can to keep it (CRT) out.”

Forbes said parents who are concerned about assignments that they view as promoting CRT or other ideologies should contact their local school board member.

“If the board member you call doesn’t give you the satisfaction you need, then you can always call me or you can always call Benjie,” he said.

A man who declined to provide his name told the group that he has seen evidence of critical race theory being taught at the charter school his daughter attends. The man, who is white, showed group members a photo of his adopted children, who are black. He said it is inappropriate to talk with younger students about some racial incidents in history.

He shared a picture of a white woman screaming at a black woman during school integration in the 1960s and said his daughter, a kindergarten student, was assigned to share her thoughts on the photo. Other photos sent with her homework showed black people riding in the back of a bus and separate water fountains for black people and white people.

“You can see why I’m upset about it,” he said. “Why are you presenting this to kindergartners? They have no context. They don’t understand what’s going on. Maybe in a history class in high school when the kids can process it. But all of a sudden all of this stuff is popping up. I didn’t want her seeing that. That’s poison.”

Fair weather fun: Organizers expect high times on the midway this weekend

Some of fairest weather a fairgoer could want will shine on the Pitt County American Legion Agricultural Fair as it completes its 101st run in Greenville this weekend.

Gates open at 1 p.m. today and Sunday at the fairgrounds at 3910 Martin Luther King Highway. The event kicked off with a crowd on Tuesday but rains shuttered activities Wednesday.

Since then it’s been blue skies, fun and thrills, and lots of food and entertainment for visitors, and the weather today and Sunday is expected to be just as grand: clear and sunny with light winds and highs 75-80, the National Weather Service reports.

This year’s fair features food favorites like funnel cakes, cotton candy and candied apples, along with performers like the comedic hypnotist Alan Sands; Marc Dobson, the One Man Band; Dakota and Friends Dinosaur Road Show; and “Cousin Minnie,” a tribute to Country Music Hall of Fame member Minnie Pearl.

Powers Great American Midways has brought nearly 40 rides to the midway including two new features: Itsy Bitsy and the Sky Hawk. Both are about 100 feet tall. If that’s not high enough, visitors can ride the ferris wheel or even take a helicopter ride.

The pandemic shut the fair down in 2020. This year, hand sanitizer, formerly most plentiful near livestock exhibits, will be available throughout the fairgrounds. Masks are optional outdoors but are required inside exhibit halls.

The county health department will offer free COVID-19 (Moderna) vaccines for ages 18 and older from 4-8:30 p.m. daily in the exhibit hall.

Continued concerns about COVID have limited some of the traditional agricultural contests, but exhibit halls still have plenty to offer, organizers said. And the livestock areas are full up with prized animals, including lamb, sheep, chickens and cows.

A rabbit show was set for 11 a.m. today followed by a 1 p.m. chicken show and Sunday’s 2 p.m. open goat show.

Young people from 4-H clubs in Pitt, Beaufort and Martin County will take to the arena for the 4-H Livestock Show starting at 6:30 p.m. today.

The midway opens at 2 p.m. today and Sunday. The fair will close at 10:45 p.m. today and at 7:45 p.m. Sunday. General admission is $7. A wristband providing access to all rides is $25. Free parking is available. Visit pittfair.org

Jolly Roger residents voice frustration at plumbing, room issues

Plumbing issues and unfinished infrastructure have raised concerns for parents and residents at a recently opened student housing complex.

The Jolly Roger at the corner of 14th Street and Charles Boulevard opened Aug. 10. Residents said the seven-story, 804-bedroom complex looked like a dream living situation for students, featuring a rooftop pool, 55-inch televisions in every room and other perks like study rooms.

Many residents have since complained what they got instead was far from a dream, peppering social media with posts that jab at the building. The Daily Reflector interviewed several residents.

“We are currently in our third apartment in like a month and a half,” said Kyle Hobbs, a first-year student at East Carolina University. “Our first apartment was on the fifth floor and flooded three times. The first time there was water where the bathtub overflowed. The second time I came home and it was like shampoo water.

“The third time, my roommate’s girlfriend actually called us freaking out ’cause there was sewage and toilet paper all over our belongings. There was probably two inches of poop water everywhere. I have a dog who of course thought he was at the water park and he was jumping all over couches and our bed.”

The apartments the roommates were moved to had exposed nails and other issues, they said. Hobbs’ roommate, Jordan Minshew, said that his girlfriend had an eye infection that worsened as she spent time at the apartment as well. A doctor told her it could be caused by contaminants from sewage in the room, he said.

“They did not notify us that we should not be going into the apartment,” Minshew said of management.

Hobbs and Minshew were not alone. A parent who asked that his name be withheld for fear of retaliation against his son, said the issues are buildingwide.

“I am paying $700 to $900 a month and there is no study room,” the parent said. “There are no televisions, the weight room is unfinished. Everything they advertised does not work.”

“I am hearing and seeing walls being taken out. I just want to know how you can call yourself student living and the study rooms are not even finished.”

An Instagram Reel shared by Old Row Pirates showed the wall issue. Two female students greet each other from their respective bathrooms in separate rooms. A caption reads “How to make new friends: Move to the Jolly Roger.”

For Hobbs and Minshew, their frustration is compounded by the building’s management.

“That night (of the sewage flooding), Jordan had to drive back to New Bern to stay with his girlfriend and I had to drive two-and-a-half hours to Gates because we could not stay in our apartment and the one they gave us was unavailable,” Hobbs said. “The next day was Labor Day so we did not hear from anybody. We had to call the maintenance department to get up with the leasing department because no one would pick up the phone.”

The maintenance department has been extremely helpful despite the issues with the building, Hobbs said.

Minshew said he is trying to get out of his lease, having canceled his enrollment at ECU due to the living situation, but that he has had little luck finding legal aid in town.

“I have contacted eight lawyers in Greenville,” Minshew said. “It is always that most of them in some shape, form or way have something to do with The Jolly Roger and won’t take my case. The one time I got to meet with the head leasing officer I asked to terminate my lease and they told me they could not do that because I had not given them enough time to rectify the situation. I figured three months was enough time.”

Both students said they have not received reimbursement for the situation their combined damages are valued at $1,350.

“They said they were going to reimburse us for all of our damages but we have yet to talk to them,” Minshew said. “Honestly, they have not contacted us. Any time we go into the office to talk to someone who is not a teenager there is no one there to talk to us. Any time he (Property Manager Jeff Oatis) is there it is not for long.”

Hobbs said that he could not share emails of correspondence with management, saying they specifically state that their redistribution is unlawful and strictly prohibited.

Oatis acknowledged the issues in an email.

“New development construction projects occasionally experience items that require additional attention,” the email said. “We are fully aware of our residents’ concerns and are working diligently with our contractors to remediate each matter. Rest assured, we have a fantastic team of contractors systematically working throughout the building to address all issues. The Jolly Roger is and will continue to be an integral part of the ECU and Greenville communities and we are looking forward to a great year.”

William Mills, chief building inspector for the City of Greenville, said that the city is aware of the situation and letting the building work through its problems. He did not offer further comment.

Hobbs said he is nervous living in the complex.

“Stuff like this with a brand new apartment is something you would not think you would have to worry about,” Hobbs said.

A $1,000 Visa online gift card that was promised at the time of signing a lease also was not distributed to students until recently. The free first month’s rent promised by the complex was also not initially honored according to Hobbs.

“It has been like pulling teeth,” Hobbs said. “It feels like they are trying to get as much money out of us as they can.”

New convenience store gets permit from board of adjustment

A new convenience store chain plans to open a location at a major Greenville Boulevard intersection.

The Greenville Board of Adjustment approved a special-use permit that will allow Baltimore-based Royal Farms to operate a convenience store with gasoline sales, a restaurant with outdoor dining and a car wash at 1600 S.E. Greenville Blvd., at its intersection with 14th Street.

Speedway and Family Fare convenience stores already operate on two corners of the intersection. The new store would be across the boulevard from Speedway, on the intersection’s southeast corner.

The board also modified an existing special-use permit so a former student-housing development can provide market-rate apartments. Both actions occurred during the board’s Thursday meeting.

Royal Farms

The convenience store permit was unanimously approved with more than a dozen conditions that are designed to:

  • Address traffic concerns.
  • Limit the effects of outdoor amplified sound — including not allowing live music in the outdoor dining area.
  • Require opaque fencing or landscaping to shield the outdoor dining area from a nearby residential neighborhood.

Direct outdoor lighting away

  • from nearby streets and residential property, including prohibiting exterior neon lighting and flashing signs.
  • Limit the amount of store space dedicated to selling cigarettes and window space for advertising cigarettes.

Because Greenville Boulevard and East 14th Street are state maintained roads, the N.C. Department of Transportation has to approve the store’s access plans. Plans for stormwater management, erosion control and the final plat mapping out how the store, gas pumps and car wash are positioned on the property must be approved before the city issues a building permit.

“They’ve got a drive-through car wash, gas pumps and of course the main store on 2½ acres,” said Jim Ward, general manager of Ward Holdings. “Most convenience stores are on an acre, acre and quarter or acre and a half. The spacing is beautiful. The parking lot is beautiful. The landscaping is going to be beautiful. It’s not a real dense site. There’s going to be plenty of room and it’s going to show really well.”

Ward said in a later interview that the goal is to have the building plans finalized in early to mid-November with construction beginning sometime after that or early 2022.

Royal Farms operates more than more than 200 stores in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Virginia, according to the company’s website.

Ward Hardings started acquiring property at that location in 2007. He said he’s had multiple inquiries from businesses wanting to build on it, but the proposals weren’t consistent with his vision.

Ward said Royal Farms has what he believes is the perfect plan and it’s a company known for great food and high-quality service.

According to Royal Farms website, it restaurant sells chicken, subs and sandwiches, hamburgers and breakfast items.

Ward said he believes Royal Farms will be a natural gateway for additional commercial and retail development in the area.

Dwight Nelson, an engineer with Rivers and Associates, said the site will have a right in/right out driveway, a full service driveway, a turnway on Greenville Boulevard and a sidewalk.

The Bellamy

The owners of the student housing development said market demands are driving their request to amend the permit that allowed them to build the 308-unit project in 2008.

“There is an amazing amount of growth for regular apartments and there is a diminished interest in student housing since there have been so many projects developed downtown,” said Greenville attorney Phillip R. Dixon, who represented the owners in 2008.

Currently 88.1 percent of student housing is occupied while 98.7 percent of market-rate housing is occupied, Dixon said. Market-rate apartments have seen 10.2 percent growth in rent rates in the last year, while student housing rent rates only have increased by 2.4 percent, he said.

The Bellamy has two market-rate multifamily developments next to it.

The complex had two-bedroom and four-bedroom units. One of the conditions staff placed on the requested change was that no more than three unrelated people can live in a unit. Dixon said this should reduce the amount of traffic on nearby roads.

The request was unanimously approved without discussion. However, early in the proceedings there was confusion over whether two owners of the project should be allowed to speak.

The city has required participants who want to speak during virtual Board of Adjustment meetings to pre-register and submit a participation form. While the speakers said they submitted the forms, they were not received by staff.

Assistant City Attorney Donald Phillips said pre-registration isn’t specifically required in the state laws governing virtual, quasi-judicial meetings. He said when the board met in person, people could sign up when the meeting started.

Lead Planner Elizabeth Blount asked about fairness. An individual who opposed the change was told it was necessary to pre-register and when they didn’t, they weren’t sent the meeting link.

The board decided to only allow Dixon to speak.