Iredell Free News has filed a lawsuit in Iredell County Superior Court seeking a court order prohibiting the Iredell-Statesville Schools Board of Education from meeting secretly via text message in violation of the N.C. Open Meetings Law.

The complaint, filed Wednesday by attorneys Kenneth B. Darty and Gary W. Thomas, names the I-SS Board collectively and six of the seven board members — Bill Howell, Mike Kubiniec, Anita Kurn, Abby Trent, Brian Sloan and Doug Knight — individually as defendants. Board member Charles Kelly, who did not participate in the board’s secret meetings, was not named as a defendant.

North Carolina law requires “hearings, deliberations and actions” of public bodies to be conducted openly.

According to the complaint, the I-SS Board began meeting secretly via text message on December 19, 2022, and continued to do so on numerous occasions over the next 10 months. The complaint includes more than 200 pages of text messages, which Iredell Free News obtained through a public records request.

During the secret meetings, I-SS Board members discussed an array of school business, including safety protocols, how to garner public support for a new high school, strategies for working with the Iredell County Board of Commissioners, efforts to remove books from school district libraries, the performance of school contractors and more.

Board members also made “disparaging comments about other elected officials, minority students at Statesville High School, and members of the LGBTQ community,” according to the complaint.

“I am absolutely appalled that this select group of people would blatantly disregard their oath of office by conducting meetings and discussing school-related business in a group text without the benefit of an open forum,” Darty said. “Their conduct is not only illegal but erodes any confidence that the public has in their ability to effectively serve as board members. And for the board members to make suggestive comments about race should disqualify them from serving.

“We are supposed to live in a progressive society, and this type of conduct is what went on behind closed doors 50 years ago, and they must be held accountable,” he added.

The complaint asks the court to set an immediate hearing and “declare that the policies and practices of the Defendants are in violation of the Open Meetings Law.”

The complaint also asks the court to:

♦ Enjoin the I-SS Board for failing to comply with Open Meetings Law procedure mandates, including notice and minutes requirements, and order that all meetings be held in a public venue;

♦ Enter an order requiring the board to comply with the Open Meetings Law; and

♦ Require the board to provide complete copies of all text messages among and between the defendants from December 19, 2022, through the date of the court hearing without any redactions; and

♦ Order the defendants to pay court costs and the plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees.

“I am hopeful that by filing this lawsuit, the citizens of Iredell County who pay taxes to fund the school system will be represented by board members who follow the law as they expect students to do,” Darty said.

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