You’ve been served: How citizens are using insurance liability policies to check school board power

SUB: Complaints filed against school boards in Catawba, Dare, Iredell, Johnston and Wake Counties

Members of the Wake County school board are shown in this image from a February meeting.

RALEIGH — Parents and citizens in North Carolina and multiple states around the country have taken to filing complaints against their local school boards through Surety bonds and other insurance policies in order to see changes in masking and school materials policies.  

On Jan. 27, all 10 members of the school board in Scottsdale, Arizona, were served with 10 Notices of Intent each for practicing medicine without a license, child abuse, and inappropriate sexual material in school libraries. Each claim has a liability value of up to $100,000.  

Similarly, last October an Ohio man named Steve Socha told the Indian Creek school board he intended to file a claim against their bonds unless they lifted the mask mandate for students.  

“Either stand down or I personally assure you I’m going to (take action),” Socha said per reporting by the Herald Star. “The wheels of justice will be brought before you. Many of you could be in violation under the laws and statutes. This ends tonight.” 

At its meeting in November, the Indian Creek board dropped the mask policy. 

Parents in North Carolina have taken notice of the bond complaint strategy, and school boards in a handful of districts have been served with complaints, including Catawba, Dare, Iredell, Johnston and Wake counties. Of those districts, only Wake County has resisted changing to a mask-optional policy. 

A parent group in Guilford County tells North State Journal they also have plans to file similar measures against its school board. 

Notices of Intent were filed against Wake County School Board members last month with a main demand that the district remove “all enforcement of policies that require universal masking/masking without parental consent.” 

After being served by citizens in the district, at its Jan. 24 meeting the Catawba bord voted 4-3 to make masks optional starting the following day. 

Iredell’s school board was served at the conclusion of its meeting on Feb. 7 demanding an end to masking, quarantining exclusion rules, and pornographic materials in the district’s schools. On Feb. 14, the board voted to make masks optional on the recommendation of their superintendent.  

In Dare County, the school board was served at its Feb. 8 meeting with 28 Notices of Intent against the district’s Linebacker Errors & Omissions liability policy by the Dare County Citizens for Constitutional Rights (DCCR). At that same meeting, the Dare Board voted six to one to make masks optional effective immediately.  

Facing complaints to be filed by citizens, the Johnston County School board voted 6-1 on Feb. 8 to make masks optional beginning Feb. 21 and will be decided school by school based on positivity rates. At a special called board meeting on Feb. 14, the board revised that decision to simply move the district to mask optional, dropping the previous additional stipulations. 

There is currently no indoor statewide mask mandate in North Carolina, however the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ (NCDHHS) StrongSchools NC toolkit tells districts they “should” require masks for all children ages 5 and up.  

Legislation passed in 2021 also requires districts to adopt a mask policy and to decide on a monthly basis whether or not to alter that policy. The vast majority of districts adopted a policy requiring masks for all staff and students. 

What are Surety bonds? 

Surety Bonds are financial guarantees that bondholders will uphold terms of contracts specified in the bond agreement. All elected officials are required to be bonded and the idea behind these bonds is to protect the public from malpractice or fraud by the officials covered by the bond.  

While complaints in other states have involved Surety bonds, North Carolina has no statutory requirement that local board of education members must have a Surety bond. Instead of holding individual bonds, North Carolina G.S. 115C-42 allows local boards of education to hold liability insurance, and therefore waive its governmental immunity, to cover damages caused by certain actions of agents or employees of the local board.  

That same statute additionally allows for local boards to purchase insurance to cover the payment of claims or judgments against an individual board member when the claim or judgment arises out of acts or omissions made within the scope of the person’s duty as a member of the board. 

A website called “Bonds for the Win” outlines the Surety process, including state codes and violations that can be used in complaints. 

There are three parties involved in a Surety Bond: the principal, the company offering the bond and the obligee.  

A principal is the organization or person purchasing the bond and accepting the obligation to adhere to the terms. If the principal fails to adhere to the terms, the Surety can be held contractually liable. 

The obligee is the person or entity covered by the bond. In most cases, the obligee is a local, state or public official, but it can also be companies or their officials, unions and even contractors.  

To file a Surety bond complaint, a Notice of Intent to file a complaint which includes specific violation claims is sent to the bondholder. Typically, the notice gives a short timeframe for a response. 

If the entity served with the notice doesn’t correct the violations within the specified response time, the next step can be filing a “Color of Law” violation notice. The federal Color of Law statute Title 42, U.S.C., Section 14141 is designed to defend the civil rights of citizens and to keep any authority from using its power to willfully deprive a person of their constitutionally protected rights and privileges. 

Once the claim against the Surety bond is filed, the company that issued the bond investigates. If the claim is found valid, the official the claim is filed against can submit a defense or they can provide a solution to the issues raised that includes financial compensation to the claim filer.  

Filing 10 or more separate complaints against the bondholders can result in bond cancellation and make getting a new bond harder. For some elected officials, being unable to obtain a new bond can mean removal from office.

Frustrated parents cast as ‘Qanon conspiracy theorists’ 

A recent report by the Raleigh News and Observer (N&O) attempts to cast the bonds movement, including North Carolina citizens and parents, as being tied to “Qanon.”  

Qanon is defined by the N&O as “an online, often pro-Donald Trump, conspiracy theory based on the fringe belief that the government is run by a group of Satan-worshiping pedophiles including top Democratic lawmakers and a number of celebrities.” 

The N&O report is mainly based on the website Bonds for the Win linking to a YouTube channel allegedly co-run by Bonds for the Win’s apparent co-founder, Miki Klann. That YouTube channel apparently uses a Qanon slogan, “Where we go one, we go all.” The N&O also uses as evidence an article in another publication, VICE news, which claims the Surety bond strategy is being “promoted” by “Qanon influencers.” 

North State Journal has spoken with several individuals and groups in North Carolina engaged in filing such complaints and found no such affiliation to Qanon. 

Complaints against school boards

The Catawba County school board had reinstated its mask police at its Jan. 14 meeting by a vote of 4-3. Citizens in Catawba County followed that vote by serving the board with complaints at its Jan. 24 meeting. The board then voted 4-3 to make masks optional for all students and staff starting the following day. 

Parents in Wake County Public Schools (WCPSS) also served their school board in January. A main demand across notices sent to the WCPSS board demanded the district remove of “all enforcement of policies that require universal masking/masking without parental consent. 

Katie Long, who has two children in the district, served the board on Jan. 18, and told board members during her allotted time for public comments that they had “violated their oath.”  

Born in Vietnam, Long became a legal U.S. Citizen after her parents fled the country after the fall of Saigon. Her service of complaints to the WCPSS board was highlighted in the N&O’s Qanon story, citing Long had refused to speak with their reporter, however she did agree to speak to North State Journal.  

“When we forget where we came from and how we got here in this great nation we call America, we put ourselves at risk of becoming mainstream, like mainstream media,” wrote Long in an email to North State Journal. “We’ve stood by unwillingly, feeling powerless, angry and even afraid while we watched this mainstream media along with many in positions of authority using mainstream media to launch non-stop scare tactics, trying to promote, instill and incite fear in the hearts and minds of us patriots who love our families, our children our great state and our country.” 

“For too long, our families, our children, our future, the future of our great state and our country, have been tortured and sold out for political gains. Enough is enough,” Long wrote. “Not only will I help free the smiles in Wake County, but I will also continue to help save children across this great State we call North Carolina.” 

Long continued, “Hear me, see me, know me, this American mother, this mama lion will not stop fighting for our families, for our children, for our great State we call North Carolina and for America!” #unitedwestand” 

Topics in one set of filings shared with North State Journal included making masks optional, access to all curricular material, interference with Civil Rights, practicing without a medical license, as well as the removal of obscene material, “including, but not limited to,” the book “Gender Queer.”

Complaints filed by parents, including one set by Long, were lodged with the district’s insurance carrier, Liberty Mutual. 

The complaints were refuted by the district and Liberty Mutual rejected the claims stating they were improperly filed against the wrong policy. Wake County Schools has two policies, one for general liability and another errors and omissions policy. The initial complaints had been filed under the general liability insurance and parents tell North State Journal they are in the process of refiling under the proper policy. 

“North Carolina law does require certain public officials, including school board finance officers, to give a bond to cover the “faithful performance” of their duties.  See, e.g., N.C. Gen. Stat. § 115C-442,” WCPSS Communications Director Lisa Luten said in an email to North State Journal. “ The statutes do not, however, require that elected members of public school boards also provide a bond.  Although the Wake County Public School System has elected to carry liability insurance policies, payment under these policies is contingent on the merit of the claims that are asserted.”  

Another set of complaints may be coming per an email to the Wake County school board by The Carolina Teachers Association (CTA).  

Amy Marshall, the president of CTA, sent an email to WCPSS board members that parents are citizens exercising their legal rights to file claims “against you personally and individually.” 

Marshall added, “Are you willing to take that individual and personal financial risk by continuing to force your mask mandate on kids and staff in WCPSS?” 

Iredell’s school board was served at the conclusion of its meeting on Feb. 7 demanding an end to masking, quarantining exclusion rules, and pornographic materials in the district’s schools. 

The official video of the meeting cuts out immediately after the adjournment vote which coincided with a woman taking the podium to announce she was serving them with a Notice of Intent. Video taken by attendees posted to Instagram shows the board members appearing to ignore her by packing up their things and exiting the venue.  

As the woman continued to read the notice, someone turned off the lights in the meeting room and law enforcement moved in, blocking access to the board and began trying to usher the remaining attendees out.  

At one point, an unidentified male attendee shouts objections implying law enforcement was threatening to arrest members of the group if they don’t leave the venue.  

“You’re going to have to arrest all of us because none of us are moving,” the man also said. He also said, “we are all ready to go to jail because we are tired of these guys [the board] having masks on the kids.” 

Another male seen in the video told police to “get your arms off of me” and to “leave me alone.” 

North State Journal has reached out to Iredell’s Board Chair Todd Carver for comment. Carver said he could not comment on the documents served to the board at this time as they are of a legal nature. 

Carver did say that the board being served with the documents would have “zero” impact on the board’s mask votes. He said they will continue with their monthly votes through the end of the school year as prescribed by the law passed by the General Assembly in 2021.  

In January, Carver voted to make masks optional and said he would vote the same way this month. 

“We will do our best to respond to whatever they [the General Assembly] does and keep our focus on educating our children as many days out of the school year as we possibly can,” Carver said with regard to Moore’s intention to have the House move forward mask optional legislation for K-12 schools. 

On Feb. 14, the board voted to make masks optional on the recommendation of their superintendent. 

In Dare County, the school board was served at its Feb. 8 meeting with 28 Notices of Intent against the district’s Linebacker Errors & Omissions liability policy by the Dare County Citizens for Constitutional Rights (DCCR). 

“We are giving you ten days to correct your lawlessness or these claims will commence,” Courtney Haynes, a representative of the group told the board. The claims carry a $2,500 deductible.  

Members of the DCCR stepped forward and served the board the documents above objections from a board member that they “can’t do that.” School board member Margaret Lawler yelled “stop” and jumped out of her seat as the board was being served. Lawler later pushed the papers off of the table in front of them and onto the floor. 

“The time has come for you to fix the damage you have caused,” Haynes said in closing. 

At that same meeting, the Dare Board voted six to one to make masks optional effective immediately. Lawler cast the only vote against. 

Facing complaints to be filed by citizens, the Johnston County School board voted 6-1 on Feb. 8 to make masks optional beginning Feb. 21 and will be decided school by school based on positivity rates. At a special called board meeting on Feb. 14, the board revised that decision to simply move the district to mask optional, dropping the previous additional stipulations. 

Parents in the district say the masks should be optional with no stipulations, that there are other grievances that need addressing, and that they intend to proceed with serving complaints against the board’s insurance policy. 

Cara Chester, a parent in Johnston County, attempted to serve the board at a previous board meeting but was unable to get the board to receive the documents. She indicated to North State Journal that she had done a records request with the district to see what kind of bonds or insurance the district holds but that no one responded to her. 

Chester said she decided to try the bond complaint strategy after seeing several videos where parents in other states and districts in North Carolina has been successful.  

“I am really concerned for the kids and what this is doing to them. I believe it’s government overreach” said Chester in an interview with North State Journal. “I am just trying to stand up for all of the kids in Johnston County.” 

On the stipulations the Johnston County board placed on going mask optional, Chester said she believes it should be “mask optional period” with no additional conditions. She added she feels those stipulations will just make it easier for the board to re-mask all of the children. 

“I want them to know that we’re serious and we’re not afraid to take action if we need to,” said Chester.

About A.P. Dillon 656 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_