After being advised by their chairman to stop texting each other and after being sued for violating N.C. Open Meetings Laws, Iredell-Statesville Schools Board of Education members have continued to meet regularly via text message and discuss official school business.

Anita Kurn
Mike Kubiniec
Bill Howell

In new text messages obtained by Iredell Free News, the board’s two most prolific texters, Mike Kubiniec and Anita Kurn, showed no concern that the board could be in violation of state law.

“Board members,” Chairman Bill Howell texted on the afternoon of September 29, “my suggestion is to stop making comments. Let’s not give the media something to write about. We are for children and let’s concentrate on them.”

Howell sent that text to the other six board members and Superintendent Jeff James on the same day IFN published an article reporting that the board had continued to meet by text message despite concerns that doing so violated state law.

Kubiniec, who was censured and stripped of his vice chairmanship by other board members last year, told the board members he would not cease messaging other board members.

“My personal view is we are under no obligation to conduct our affairs, conversations and opinions to someone who has no standing, legal or otherwise,” Kubiniec wrote a couple of hours after Howell’s text.

“I will not be intimidated,” he added. “Sharing certain information efficiently is needed for us to serve our students effectively.”

North Carolina law prohibits a quorum of board members — four or more in the case of the I-SS Board — from meeting and discussing official business unless the board has provided notice of the meeting and then meets publicly in open session. State law makes no distinction between in-person meetings and meetings held electronically, according to an analysis by the UNC School of Government.

On October 25, IFN filed a lawsuit in Iredell County Superior Court seeking a court order prohibiting the I-SS Board of Education from meeting secretly via text message in violation of N.C. Open Meetings Laws. The lawsuit has not been scheduled for a hearing.

After Superintendent James texted news about the lawsuit to board members, Kurn expressed some concern — but only about the potential financial cost to the district.

“How much money will this cost the school and take away from the needs of the students and teachers?” Kurn asked.

“Depends on how far it goes,” James replied.

In a text to the board later that day, Kubiniec shared his analysis of the lawsuit in the form of a quote from a WSOC-TV news article: “Legal experts told Channel 9 there are no criminal consequences for violating the open meetings law.”

IFN, which is represented by Statesville attorneys Ken Darty and Carey Parker, attempted to resolve the matter without going to court.

On June 1, the news organization advised I-SS board attorney Dean Shatley that it would not seek a court injunction if the board acknowledged it had violated N.C. Open Meetings Laws on numerous occasions, agreed not to do so in the future, and attended one hour of open meetings law training before July 1.

The board rejected the offer to resolve the matter under those conditions.

In the nine months since that settlement offer — and four months since being served with the lawsuit — the board has continued texting about official school business. It began doing so shortly after new members Kubiniec, Kurn, Brian Sloan and Abby Trent officially joined the board in December of 2022.

Board member Charles Kelly has never participated in the group texts. The latest text messages, which total 62 pages and were sent between September 2 and December 13 of 2023, do not include texts written by Trent.

However, Kubiniec, Kurn, Sloan, Howell and Doug Knight all actively participated.

Unlike the earlier texts — like the time Kurn proposed unruly Statesville High School students fight in a Thunderdome and Sloan said the district could charge admission, the latest batch of texts does not include offensive comments. Several board members also previously shared their distaste for the LGBTQ community in earlier messages.

A common thread throughout the latest texts is Kurn’s ongoing crusade to rid the district’s libraries of books that she believes meet the legal definition of “pervasively vulgar.” She continually asks the superintendent if certain titles — including “Lolita” and “Sold” — are available in I-SS schools.

On September 12, she texted the board a long passage depicting sexually explicit contact between minors, continuing the conversation about the district’s policies about age-appropriate books.

“Would the majority of our community view this as pervasively vulgar for children that are between 13-17 years old?” Kurn asked the other board members and the superintendent.

After Sloan posted an emoji of a character with its head exploding, Knight texted: “Was this book reviewed by the committee?”

“We have 3 (copies) only 8 checkouts in years. It’s in review,” James responded.

Brian Sloan
Doug Knight

Sloan discounted the need for any type of review. “Don’t care if it’s locked in a safe and only the principle has the key,” he texted. “Thid filthy mess shouldn’t be on school grounds.”

Board members also discussed how to handle the ongoing criticism of the district’s handling of controversial books during the public comment portion of their meetings.

“I have a hunch the public still does not have the confidence in our processes and our leadership, so we might be hearing actual excerpts from books at upcoming board meetings,” Kubiniec texted on September 13. “Mostly, they have been talking around the issue, but I am hearing that is going to change.

“That will certainly make us the best ‘show in town.’ … How are you going to react? What are you going to say? What do we do going forward? Rhetorical questions for us to ponder. I believe it’s coming,” he added.

The chairman responded that he was ready. “Bring it on,” he texted, “I will no longer try to stop these people.”

The board’s discussions were not limited to book banning. Members also questioned the Nutrition Department’s $240,000 purchase of a food trailer and again took issue with the Iredell County Board of Commissioners over the new Weathers Creek High School.

Board members also expressed their sadness over the death of a district student in a car crash, shared prep football scores, and questioned staff’s handling of IFN public records requests, among other topics.

I-SS administration provided the latest batch of texts in response to an IFN public records request. Large sections were redacted by the board attorney, as was done in earlier requests.

In addition to seeking an injunction, court costs and attorneys’ fees in the lawsuit, IFN also requests that a judge order the district to provide a copy of all of the board’s text messages, including those redacted by the board attorney.

Related Content

♦ IFN Investigation: Iredell-Statesville Schools Board of Education violated N.C. open meetings law more than 30 times

♦ Viewpoint: An Open Letter to the Iredell-Statesville Schools Board of Education

♦ Letter to the Editor: Iredell-Statesville Schools Board of Education members have demonstrated they are unfit to serve

♦ Viewpoint: This is what happens when voters elect partisan extremists to the school board

♦ Letter to the Editor: Working at Statesville High School is a blessing

♦ Statesville Branch NAACP expresses concerns about I-SS Board of Education’s secret meetings, calls board members’ comments ‘racist’ and hurtful’

♦ Viewpoint: Statesville High students call out I-SS Board of Education for illegal meetings, jokes promoting school violence and attitude toward LGBTQ community

♦ I-SS Board member asks for ‘grace’ following news reports that board met secretly via text message

♦ Statesville resident launches petition drive to pressure I-SS Board members to resign over secret meetings, hurtful comments

♦ Iredell-Statesville Schools Board of Education continues to meet secretly

Iredell Free News seeks court order requiring I-SS Board of Education to follow N.C. Open Meetings Law

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