NERSBA, Board of Ed end legal fight

Published 7:31 pm Monday, July 15, 2019

A yearlong legal battle between the Beaufort County Board of Education and the Northeast Regional School of Biotechnology and Agriscience has officially come to a close.

Both the BOE and the NERSBA Board of Directors approved a settlement agreement last week that validates the Board of Education’s decision to withdraw from participation in the regional school.

“In order to avoid the uncertainty inherent in litigation, and the attorney’s fees and other expenses that would be associated with the prosecution and defense of the claims and counterclaims in the litigation, including the appellate procedure, and after good-faith negotiation, the parties have agreed to resolve and to settle this litigation,” the settlement reads.

While no new Beaufort County students will be allowed to enroll at NERSBA moving forward, Beaufort County Schools will still be considered a “participating unit” at the school until the last local students graduate.

Also in the agreement, each party will be responsible for the legal costs incurred during the court battle. According to BOE attorney Kim Edwards, the board was defended in this case through an agreement with the North Carolina School Board’s Trust.

“The BOE only had to pay a $5,000 deductible and the trust paid all costs and expenses for the law firm of Brooks, Pierce and McLendon to defend the BOE,” Edwards wrote.

In February 2018, the Board of Education unanimously voted to withdraw from NERSBA. The following month, three legislators, including then-Senator Bill Cook and then-Representative Beverly Boswell, sent a letter to the board urging them to rescind their motion for withdrawal. In May 2018, NERSBA filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction against the board to stop the withdrawal.

In June of last year, the court issued a preliminary injunction against the board, forbidding any further action until the court could make a final decision on the issue.

The board in turn filed two counterclaims in July 2018.

In the meantime, Beaufort County students were allowed to enroll at NERSBA for the 2018-19 school year. On June 10 of this year, Superior Court Judge Cy Grant ruled the BOE’s withdrawal from NERSBA was proper, disposing of the preliminary injunction. The settlement signed last week formally ends the legal entanglement between the two.

“After a year of back and forth, we are happy to be able to have the legal decision made and to move forward with educating our students in Beaufort County to the highest caliber possible,” Walker said. “We’re more than happy to let (currently-enrolled NERSBA students) finish out their term, but we’re also excited about offering some new options for our students in Beaufort County.”

Moving forward, the school system is partnering with Beaufort County Community College to offer courses in agriscience that mirror those offered at NERSBA. During a recent meeting, the BOE selected board member Terry Draper to continue representing the school system on the NERSBA Board of Directors, replacing former NERSBA board member Mac Hodges. The school board will maintain a representative on the NERSBA Board as long as Beaufort County students are attending the school.

According to Edwards, while the case was still in litigation, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted new rules that put a moratorium on any further withdrawals from regional schools by local boards of education for the time being.

“This legislation prevents other school systems from withdrawing from a regional school until the General Assembly provides a statutory process for withdrawal,” Edwards wrote.

Currently, the North Carolina House is considering legislation that would formalize the process for a local school system to seek withdrawal from a regional school. S.B. 301 cleared the N.C. Senate by a vote of 31-19 and is currently under consideration in the N.C. House of Representatives.