The Dare Ed Board candidates on the issues 

By on November 6, 2022

Some clear disagreements over Critical Race Theory, values in the system

The newly elected Dare County Board of Education will take office in at a time of transition and some turmoil in the county’s public school system.

The educational impacts of the COVID pandemic are still being felt in the district. Last June, amid considerable controversy, Superintendent John Farrelly suddenly resigned, with key members of his senior staff also exiting. The appointment of his permanent successor, Steve Basnight, was just announced on Nov. 2.

And during the past few years, divisions over COVID restrictions, school curriculum, and more broadly, the role of parents, have at times generated tense and impassioned protests at board of education meetings.

Perhaps due in part to these challenges, all three incumbent school board members up for re-election this fall chose not to run again, although none of them have specified that as a reason.

In District 1, Republican Barry Wickre will succeed retiring Republican Frank Hester. He does not have an opponent. In District 2, the race to succeed retiring Republican Joe Tauber is between Republican Ron Payne and Unaffiliated candidate Jessica Fearns. And the District 3 race to pick the successor to retiring Democrat Margaret Lawler features Republican Matt Brauer facing off against Unaffiliated candidate Marie Russell. Whatever the results, the outcome of the election will go a long way toward determining the direction of the board going forward.

In order to take a deeper look at some of the issues that have surfaced, the Voice emailed the same four questions to all five candidates. The questions ranged from the best way to strengthen the parent-school relationship to whether Critical Race Theory (CRT) is being taught in Dare Schools and whether the schools are indoctrinating students with inappropriate values.

Another question asked whether the new board should have selected the new superintendent. That question was rendered moot with last week’s selection of Basnight, but two candidates expressed a desire to be part of that selection process.

The responses also highlight some significant and clear differences among the candidates, particularly on issues of CRT, curriculum and indoctrination.  All of their answers here have been published without editing.

Voice: What is the one thing you think would be most helpful in strengthening the relationship between parents and the schools?

Jessica Fearns: The one thing we need to do is strengthen lines of communication. Parents, teachers and administrators need streamlined means to communicate as well as the encouragement to do so. All involved need to feel valued and understood. I think in forming more connections, strengthening trust, and being more transparent; we would strengthen the relationship. It would be amazing to see new programs and events created to promote communication on all levels. (Conducting informational sessions or hosting open forums, things like that).

Ron Payne: Open communication. With a new superintendent being named we are on the right track for a new beginning. Great leaders are great listeners and I believe that the new administration will move us forward!

Matt Brauer: I would like to see the board become a conduit for promoting dialogue among the central office, teachers, and parents. Conducting meaningful surveys and sharing the results would allow all parties to make their voices known on a wide range of issues. It would also be helpful to the board to evaluate what the schools are doing well and what areas could use improvement.

Marie Russell: With having a new superintendent in place in December, it will be even more paramount to have open communication between the parents and schools. Mr. Basnight will need to make sure that the flow of communication between parents, teachers and the school Principals continues. I appreciate the weekly newsletters from each individual teacher from each of my children’s classes that are emailed out with the most current information and happenings within the school. The Principals of each school also send a weekly newsletter with important calendar events, as well as drills, lockdowns and PTO information. If DCS can also add in monthly or quarterly open forums for parents and Principals to meet, that might also strengthen the relationships between us all.

Barry Wickre: Establishing a respectful and mindful relationship with parents about their child’s education by encouraging input of concerns, questions, and accountability, and a proper follow up by staff and administration.


Voice: Do you think the new board of education, rather than the outgoing board, should choose the new superintendent? (This question was sent before the selection of Basnight).

Barry Wickre: The selection committee has several outgoing board members on the committee. I believe the selection and vote for the new superintended should be delayed until the new board is seated.

Matt Brauer: I suppose it’s a moot point as the current board of education has already hired a new superintendent. I think Mr. Basnight is a good choice for the job and I look forward to working with him if I am elected.

Marie Russell: The current board has chosen a new Superintendent.

Ron Payne: On Tuesday, November 8th, three new board members will be elected, I was hoping that the new board would be able to a part of the process.

Jessica Fearns: Looks like they’ve made their selection. Congrats to Mr. Basnight.


Voice: Do you believe Critical Race Theory is currently being taught in Dare County Schools?

Marie Russell: As I stated in the League of Women’s Voters Board of Education Forum, the Dare County Schools curriculum is set by the state, and DCS is required to follow it. According to the NCDPI “Critical Race Theory is not included in the State Board’s approved social studies standards nor is it supported by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction”. Therefore, it is not only not being taught in Dare County Schools, it is not being taught in North Carolina.

Matt Brauer: Critical Race Theory is not a mandatory standard of the NC State Board of Education or the NC Department of Public Instruction, but Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is in our schools. SEL is a state education standard that deserves some scrutiny as it shares a good deal of language and terminology with identity politics and the social justice movement. Anyone who wants to learn more about it can visit The cost of this program is substantial and it should be evaluated and monitored by the new board. A recent poll from the Civitas Institute finds that over 70% of North Carolina parents are concerned that schools have become too political. I would much rather keep the focus on reading, writing, math, science/technology, history, and the creative arts – not identity politics.

Jessica Fearns: According to the definition provided by The Outer Banks Voice, and according to a statement made by The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, no. Anyone who asserts otherwise, is misinformed.

Ron Payne: Students have shared with me that CRT and transgender indoctrination are slowly coming in.

Barry Wickre: Based on conversations I have had with high school students I do believe CRT is being taught in Dare County Schools. The schools should be teaching math, science, history, and reading skills. Political beliefs have no place in our schools.


Voice: Do you believe the Dare County Schools are currently indoctrinating students with inappropriate values?

Barry Wickre: Yes – Over the past year I have been reviewing the library books listed on Follett (the online catalog of books in all Dare County Schools). I believe we have had and still do have books that are inappropriate. Also, again based on conversations with students, online information is recommended to students to watch that makes them feel uncomfortable.

Ron Payne: Dare County Schools has no policy, to my knowledge, that endorses the teaching of inappropriate values. My stance has always been that we need to concentrate fully on academic and student success in all subjects. Due to Covid, students are behind in learning and our focus should be on academics and making sure that students are catching up on lost time in the classroom.

Jessica Fearns: The infatuation with this, along with so many other fabricated issues, rather than a focus on the real issues happening in Dare County, is undoubtedly one of the reasons we are having an issue with teacher retention. When I’m on the Board, I’ll be about bringing parents, teachers, administrators and students together to solve problems, not create further divisions. As someone who worked to get 1,200+ signatures to be on the ballot and who has talked to many Dare County residents, I can assure you this is nowhere near a top concern of theirs.

Our students are taught values such as “living the KSCRP way” where they’re taught to understand the importance of kindness, safety, cooperation, and the power of positivity. They’re taught to SOAR: stay safe, offer help, act responsibly, and respect others. Students are taught to ride the wave to success & the 3 Rs: respect, responsibility, resourcefulness. They are taught to think critically, act responsibly, live compassionately, TAKE FLIGHT. Our teachers pour their hearts and souls into our students. The common goal: raise good humans. I am in the schools regularly, I see it in action day in and day out.

If there’s anyone who feels their student is being taught “inappropriate values,” I encourage them to speak up. Please reach out to the administration, please take the proper steps to take action to have the issue resolved. I will always support any parent through that process.

Matt Brauer:  I haven’t seen any signs of indisputable “indoctrination,” but I have some concerns about so-called gender theory and teachers allowing children to choose their own “gender-affirming” pronouns. On the surface, it seems harmless enough, but there are additional considerations beyond poor grammar. If we disregard biology as the primary determinant of a person’s sex, do we then allow biological males to compete in girls’ sports and use the girls’ locker room? I don’t support that and I don’t believe that many parents in Dare County support it.

Marie Russell: I’m not quite sure how to answer this question because it seems so open ended and vague. Who are you referring to that could be indoctrinating children? Teachers? Coaches? Principals? And which specific inappropriate values? As a substitute teacher who is in the classes weekly, I can say with confidence that the teachers and staff in DCS are certainly not “indoctrinating” anyone. Our teachers are teaching the required curriculum set forth by the state, monitored by the Principals and Superintendent, and to suggest otherwise would be pretty insulting to the staff and teachers who are teaching our kids daily. This could be one of the reasons why we are having a teacher retention problem as well. Believing these divisive and polarizing issues that do not affect Dare County Schools isn’t going to move us forward.


Payne and Fearns vie for District 2 seat on Dare Board of Education

Brauer versus Russell for District 3 Ed Board seat


  • Bunny

    Sadly, as expected the straight Republican ticket caries face mask revenge Matt and failed admin Ron to victory. They’ll join fellow Dare to Share players Barry and Carl to form a D2S stranglehold. Congratulations to Chairman Kate, who quarterbacked this heist. Too bad you got burned by the top 7 DCS leaders who saw this coming a year ago and all left before you could take them out. #brilliant

    It’s a sad day for kids in Dare County. But it’s always about the adults isn’t it.


    Tuesday, Nov 8 @ 11:20 pm
  • sandflea

    With the far right crazies controlling the board, I wouldn’t be surprised to see an exodus of good quality teachers. I feel really bad for the kids and teachers (who aren’t able to leave). I wouldn’t be surprised to see some families pulling their kids out of the system and either homeschooling or moving to a more sane education district.
    The kids are going to be taught conspiracy theories, kept from reading books that inspire critical thinking, etc. CRT is not taught in any school in America under the doctoral level.
    There are periods in history where books were banned and ultimately burned. I suggest folks look up those eras and see how it ended up for their society. This is really, really sad.

    Thursday, Nov 10 @ 8:21 am