With the 2022 general election just weeks away, campaign season is in full swing. Just like clockwork we are seeing some politicians trying to rebrand themselves in order to win.
One of the individuals working hardest to whitewash his public image is Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools District 6 school board member Sean Strain.
Since his election to the school board in 2017, Strain has regularly found himself in the middle of controversy thanks in large part to his frequently unpopular views on public education in our community coupled with his disrespectful treatment of others.
Strain is now attempting to portray himself as a thoughtful, nonpartisan leader who just wants to unite people:
For casual followers of CMS and local politics, this chameleon act might be convincing. But for those who have paid close attention to Strain’s 5 years on the board it’s completely absurd.
What follows is a stack of primary source documents laying out in detail why Sean Strain needs to be replaced on the Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education.
1: Hostile relationships with colleagues:
From the very beginning of his time on the board, Strain’s inability to cultivate courteous, respectful relationships with colleagues has been clear.
In 2018 Strain was upset about CMS issuing a press release without his consent. Referring to then-board chair Mary McCray, one of Strain’s Facebook friends wrote “Me thinks that you should buy a muzzle for Mary McCray” on his Facebook page.
Not only did Strain fail to condemn his friend’s use of animal imagery to describe the African American female chair of the Board of Education, he participated in the banter, adding “Me thinks that Ms Mary has some splainin’ to do.”
In January 2021 the CMS Board of Education met to consider Superintendent Earnest Winston’s recommendation that remote learning be extended for CMS students. The recommendation came two days after Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris advised schools to remain virtual due to the community’s “exponential growth” in COVID hospitalizations and deaths.
During the meeting, Strain launched into a demeaning, badgering line of questioning of Superintendent Winston (begins at 16:47 here) which reached its lowest point with Strain talking about Winston kissing Harris’s ring and saying “Yes ma’am, Gibbie.” It was appalling to hear a white man to portray the African American leader of our school district in this subservient manner before a white woman.
Finally, in contrast with his gentle “non-partisan leadership” makeover, the below November, 2021 email (obtained via public records request) shows Strain bashing his colleagues on the board as “partisan hacks” with “little to no interest in the plight they have served upon our county’s youth” and repeatedly referring to the importance of voting for “conservative values.”sean-strain-bashing-colleagues-pdf
2. Problematic views on racial equity:
There have been numerous examples of BOE member Sean Strain’s problematic views on race and racial equity throughout his first term on the board.
According to this 2018 op-ed by Justin Perry, in a 2018 policy committee meeting Strain proposed delaying discussion of an equity committee for more than a year and used the “All Lives Matter”-like phrase “equity for all” in his proposal:
“Strain’s proposal discussed ‘equity for all students’ and initially called for delaying any discussion of an equity committee until December 2019, when a new school board will be elected.”
“Equity for all” been a common Sean Strain slogan during his time on the board:
The problem with championing “equity for all” is that it takes the focus away from those who have been denied equity (CMS’s students and families of color in this context). And recognizing that absence of equity is the first step in addressing it.
In a September, 2022 Student Outcomes Focused Governance document, Strain mentioned his concern that by focusing too much on Black and Hispanic students we might abandon other subgroups:
Strain’s social media activity also demonstrates his opinion that structural racism isn’t real, and that our schools are hotbeds of activism.
This post from the fringe right wing Moms for Liberty Mecklenburg Facebook group shows Strain feels the deaths of Trayvon Martin and George Floyd had nothing to do with systemic racism:
It also appears to show Strain’s view that Social Emotional Learning (SEL), the part of the school day where students learn how to interact with each other in positive, healthy ways and develop the skills they need to be successful in school and beyond, is just a way of sneaking Critical Race Theory past the public.
3. Opposition to free expression/educator voice
In the year or so before Sean Strain was elected I had been working with board members and CMS staff to advocate for a statement in support of district employees’ rights to speak out about matters of workplace concern.
The statement that was eventually developed read, in part “The Board welcomes employee input and celebrates every CMS employee’s right to respectfully share their views and ideas. The Board will act to ensure that employees feel free to express their views without fear of retribution.”
Shortly after Strain was elected I reached out to him to congratulate him and give him a heads up about the statement which would eventually be read from the dais in February 2018. This was our exchange:
Strain’s response was cordial enough, but what stood out most to me was his remark that CMS needed “guidelines for how to most effectively, and appropriately, speak out.” To me that indicated he felt there needed to be external controls over how educators express their personal views.
In the years since he took his seat on the board I have experienced Strain’s disdain for educators’ free expression on multiple occasions, much of it after the COVID-19 pandemic started.
From the very beginning of the pandemic I have been an outspoken advocate for prioritizing student and staff health and safety. In the summer of 2020 I published a blog post which quoted the CDC Director’s guidelines for determining whether schools should move to virtual learning. The post was written outside work hours (during summer break) and posted on my personal website.
Shortly afterwards, Strain sent this email to Superintendent Earnest Winston and Deputy Superintendent Matthew Hayes:
Board Chair Elyse Dashew’s excellent reply to Strain’s effort to get the superintendent to silence me noted “several occasions” where Strain had previously “attempted to apply pressure to censor [my] writing.”
Around that same time, Strain was using his CMS email to convince parents that I was personally responsible for school buildings remaining closed.
This vibe continued throughout the fall and winter of school year 2020-21, culminating with social media calls for me to be followed in public and a man showing up with a bullhorn and sign outside my house and frightening my wife and young child while I wasn’t home.
Our community deserves to have a school board that has healthy, respectful working relationships among elected members and with executive school district staff. Racial equity has to be valued by each board member as they are representing families in a very diverse district. And we also need board members who respect the first-hand insight professional educators bring to conversations about public education in Mecklenburg County.
For those reasons and more, Sean Strain needs to be replaced on the Board of Education.
Summer Nunn is running to replace Mr. Strain in District 6 and has earned the endorsement of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Association of Educators. You can read Summer’s Charlotte Observer candidate profile here and find more information about her campaign on her website here.
Early voting begins Thursday, October 20, and runs through November 5. You can find a list of early voting locations in Mecklenburg County below: