By Will Huntsberry
While the Wake County Board of Education sat in its monthly work session Tuesday disagreeing about neighborhood schools, a man in Florida walked into a Bay County school board meeting and took school officials hostage at gunpoint.
He fired shots at the superintendent and a security officer, which missed them, before turning the gun on himself.
Threats of physical violence, damage to board members’ personal property, protests and a heated discourse have put Wake County’s school board in the national media in the past year, but the sight of school board members pleading with a gunman has put Wake’s furious, name-calling debate into a clearer perspective, local school officials say.
Yet, some insist the incident won’t change how they conduct their meetings.
Garner school board representative John Tedesco says he has received multiple threats against his life during his year in office. While Tuesday’s hostage crisis was cause for alarm and concern, he does not fear for his own safety.
“We’ve already seen it get heated. We had to step up our security measures here a long time ago,” he said.
Watching more than a half dozen plain-clothed security officers and uniformed Raleigh police officers monitor a packed board room has become routine at the meetings, Tedesco said.
Sound and reasonable
At a meeting in July, 19 people were arrested while protesting the neighborhood schools plan, which Tedesco authored. Several other meetings have been disrupted by citizens as well.
Tedesco has had the hood of his car kicked in and a hate website, which advocated lynching, created on his behalf. He says he decided not to let threats deter him.
“I am a strong man of faith,” said Tedesco. “As the Bible says, there is no authority given to man except under God. In other words, I wouldn’t be here if I weren’t supposed to be and that makes me feel more secure in my role. This is not something I approach lightly or with fear.”
Tedesco says despite disagreements, he wants the discourse in Wake to be sound and reasonable.
“Some people are out there creating a sense that this is a radical issue and it’s not radical. We have about 14,000 school districts in America and 13,900 of them use neighborhood schools,” he said.
Tedesco’s plan would create schools with higher concentrations of poor students in Southeast Raleigh, and it’s uncertain whether giving more resources to those schools, as Tedesco has advocated, will increase their chances of performing well.
He says some of his colleagues have been rattled by the back and forth.
“Some of my female colleagues have expressed concerns about their physical safety and I think I have been respectful and sensitive to that, but those are not my concerns.”
In light of the incident, the school system is revisiting its current plan, says Russ Smith, security director for Wake schools.
“I think we have a good security plan to begin with, but I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t make assessments based on what’s going on in other places.”
Tedesco realizes a better plan won’t guarantee against a similar incident.
“I pray we don’t see something like that here,” said Tedesco. “If something happens, it is God’s will. I believe God has his hand on all of us.”