By a lonely act of protest, Betsy DeBry – it’s pronounced “du-bree” – begs a couple of questions.
The first is fairly obvious. What is a grandmother doing standing in front of the Bryan County Board of Education building in Black Creek, holding a sign that reads, “Tyrannical Bryan County School Board will not let me speak at OR even attend a board meeting. Whose rights will they trample on next??? What are they afraid people will say???”
DeBry’s sign display is the latest in a series of claims and counter claims by both DeBry and school officials, whose most recent response to her actions was limited to a one sentence paragraph from Chairman Amy Murphy on behalf of the BoE.
“The Board of Education highly values and continues to welcome public comment from those willing to follow our policies and procedures regarding public participation in our meetings,” it said.
DeBry twice violated those policies, they said.
The first time occurred in September, 2021, when she, like every other speaker at the meeting, went over her allotted 3-minute time limit to speak to the board.
Despite a number of requests – and denials – to speak to the board in January, DeBry tried anyway, and also helped distribute literature in what she called her “act of civil ence.” That action could’ve led to charges being filed against her for disrupting a public meeting, school officials said. Still, in an emailed letter sent Feb. 21 to DeBry from Harben, Hartley and Hawkins, LLP, a Gainesville, Ga.-based law firm representing the school board, DeBry was told the school board will end its ban on her participation from speaking in June, but she “would only be allowed to attend meetings until then” if she signs a letter promising not to disrupt future meetings.
DeBry said she consulted a lawyer about the email and was told her not to sign it.
She hasn’t. While school officials maintain their speaking policy follows state law and guidance from the Georgia School Board Association, DeBry believes otherwise. It’s important to note that DeBry is a co-director, along with retired, Richmond Hill Middle School teacher Lisa Freeman, of the local chapter of Atlanta-based Truth in Education. It calls itself an advocacy group “dedicated to protecting students from questionable educational policies” – in TIE’s view, those include teaching Critical Race Theory and “radical gender ideology,” according to the TIE website. A contract teacher for parents who home school their children,
DeBry said she first became concerned about her kindergarten-age grandson’s education when he developed a speech impediment from wearing a mask in school, and that led to questions on curriculum. Since TIE’s formation in Richmond Hill, Forward Coalition, and its School Action Committee – founded by Adrienne Jackson and Tamara Huff, respectively, have spoken out publicly in support of the school board and school system and its curriculum. They’ve also got a robust social media presence.
While FC and SAC seem diametrically opposed to TIE on a number of issues, DeBry is among a handful of people who’ve repeatedly raised questions about the school board’s public participation policy.
And in that regard, DeBry said she believes all sides should be heard.
“This is not about a particular political agenda,” she said. “It is not about myself. I am not anyone special and very few people even know who I am. I am merely a concerned resident of our great county who wants all people to have access to their elected officials. I am fighting for our speaking rights so that all viewpoints may be heard and expressed to the board. If someone wants a particular viewpoint taught in schools, I may not agree with it, but I certainly agree that they should be able to submit their ideas and be heard.”
School officials have repeatedly maintained their public participation policy is legal, and seeks to address problems at an administrator level whenever possible.
Up next: A comparison of Bryan County Schools policy on public participation with others in the state.