New Hanover County Schools Votes to Hire Additional Legal Counsel for Exceptional Children Caseload

Wilmington, North Carolina – The New Hanover County Schools board has voted to hire additional legal counsel to handle exceptional children (EC) matters, following a split between the current representative, Vogel Law Firm, and two attorneys who previously handled the caseload. The decision was prompted by a motion from board member Josie Barnhart, who advocated for seeking different legal counsel for EC cases. Ultimately, the board voted in favor of this move, with some members who had previously opposed hiring Vogel Law Firm now supporting the decision.

Barnhart initially suggested hiring the law firm of Jonathan and Leigha Sink, the attorneys who split from Vogel Law Firm amidst a payment dispute and subsequently sued the firm for breach of contract. However, another board member, Stephanie Kraybill, proposed considering other candidates as well. In response, Barnhart expanded her motion to include the Sink Law Firm or Poyner Spruill Law Firm.

Jonathan Vogel, the attorney whose firm is being replaced, expressed surprise at the decision and defended his firm’s ability to handle EC cases. He also suggested that some board members may have ulterior motives and criticized what he perceived as misinformation being spread about his firm.

The decision to seek additional legal counsel for EC matters comes at a time when Vogel Law Firm’s contract with the school district is up for renewal in June. The board has also voted to release a request for proposals for legal counsel, should they decide not to renew Vogel Law Firm’s contract. An ad hoc committee has been appointed to review applications if more than three are received.

In addition to the discussion surrounding legal counsel, the board also voted on policy 7205, which pertains to professional conduct standards. The policy has been the subject of controversy, with some members expressing concerns about its potential impact on teachers and its restrictions on discussing topics related to sexism, racism, and the Constitution’s historical context. The policy ultimately passed, with a 4-3 vote.

The board meeting also saw calls for the removal of Superintendent Charles Foust, although no vote on the matter took place. Some board members have voiced their desire for new leadership within the school district.

Overall, the decisions made by the New Hanover County Schools board reflect ongoing tensions and disagreements surrounding legal representation and policies related to professional conduct. The search for new legal counsel, the passage of contentious policies, and the potential removal of the superintendent are indicative of the challenges faced by the school district in addressing these issues.