NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) – School board members in New Hanover County had plenty of questions about a proposed expansion of the immersion program at Forest Hills Elementary Tuesday night, but one board member did not want to answer any of our questions.
The principal of Forest Hills said she would like to offer Mandarin at the school, and board members discussed the details like cost. At one point, Dr. Derrick Hickey made the following comment:
"The Chinese make all the materials, so I think it would be cheaper."
When approached for comment about what he meant with that statement after the work session, Hickey said "pass." He directed the questions to Chairman Don Hayes. We explained that Hickey needed to clarify his comments. Again, our request for clarification was denied.
On his way out the door, Hickey said he "was about to get misquoted on the news."
A third request for an explanation proved to be the charm.
"I was joking that many things are made in China and it could be cheaper," said Hickey. "Materials made in China on a mass scale."
When asked if he would make the same joke in front of students of Chinese descent, Hickey drove away.
Hickey later commented on this story with an updated clarification of what he meant, saying that this was a "lighthearted comment" and economic discussion and not a joke.
"Craig: On a night where so many important issues were discussed, it is disappointing to see that you choose to try to create a salacious news story from a lighthearted comment between board members. There are real issues in our county schools. In particular, our teachers feel unsupported and feel threatened by recent legislative changes that affect every aspect of their jobs. The board is working and will continue to work to try to allay the fear in the education community and to ensure that this change does not affect the teachers in our county negatively. Our teachers work hard and deserve a tremendous amount of credit. While you may agree with my position, that is not an excuse to sandbag the education community or its issues with this type of distraction. I regret if you do not understand China's labor market providing them a cost advantage and misconstrue my comment as "racist"," Derrick Hickey wrote in an email.
Most of the school board was gone after the interaction, but Chairman Hayes said he remembered hearing part of Hickey's comment. He said he did not find it offensive.
Hickey said the comment did not reflect his feelings about the immersion program. He said he is in support of it.
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