RALEIGH — State Board of Education member James Ford resigned his seat at the Sept. 7 meeting five years into his seven-year term.
Ford was the 2014-15 North Carolina Teacher of the Year and had been appointed to the board in October 2018 by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.
The board read aloud a resolution honoring Ford.
“Board members pay tribute to Dr. Ford’s personal commitment to the children of North Carolina and recognize his dedication to equity, representation, inclusion and diversity as a self-professed equity warrior,” the resolution reads in part.
During remarks following the reading of the resolution honoring him, Ford said serving on the board was the “privilege of his life” and credited the board with its work during the pandemic.
“Most particularly, I want to give this state board credit because we led through one of the most disruptive periods of public education in recent memory — the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Ford. “That was tough, highly politicized and a lot of us, I mean, I have four kids in the system myself just trying to make it through, but we did the best that we could.
“And I was proud to be a part of that effort, will be proud of all those things that we accomplished during this time. But I think five years is enough. … I do,” Ford said. “I’m gonna take this time to focus on myself, focus on my family — I had a lot of irons in the fire, and I think now is my moment to take a little bit of rest.”
As he wound down his comments, Ford said the board would see him around and he would still be leading his “educational justice” organization, the Center for Racial Equity and Education, also known by the acronym CREED.
“I’ll be listening to the meeting, and I may have something to say every now and again,” Ford said. “But I hope that y’all know that even where there was disagreement, even where there was genuine conflict, right, then inherently I hope that I demonstrated the respect that was due to everyone, and I want to make sure that I convey that to everybody because that really is my modus operandi, right?”
While not directly mentioning a particular member, Ford’s comment can be linked to heated interactions with Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson over additions to the state’s social studies standards such as ideological racial and social justice topics as well as themes found in Critical Race Theory.
During one charged debate on the revisions in early 2021, Ford defended the standards, arguing there was “no legitimate debate to be had” over whether systemic racism existed or not, and said to pretend there is was like debating “whether or not the Earth is flat.”
In response to suggested changes and Ford’s comments, Robinson said he disagreed with the overall tone of the standards.
“I think they are politically charged. I think they are divisive, and I think they, quite frankly, smack of a lot of leftist dogma,” Robinson said while also criticizing “code words” in the standards like “systemic racism,” which he said gives students a negative view of their country. Robinson also stated that the “system of government we have in this nation is not systemically racist. In fact, it is not racist at all.”
A month later, the revised standards were approved by the board. Just before the vote, Ford attempted a substitute motion to use a different version of the revisions that included the previously objected-to terms like “systemic racism” and “gender identity.”
The former teacher of the year is also known for controversial posts on social media, including an August 2020 post on X, then Twitter, in which he equated swing and moderate voters to “white supremacy.”
Ford had also tweeted near the end of June 2020 about knowing “extremely nice racists.” The tweet coincided with violent rioting in cities across North Carolina as well as nationwide over the death of George Floyd.
“FYI – I know some EXTREMELY nice racists. Frfr. Some of the most pleasant people you ever met. They are congenial, personable, even charismatic,” Ford wrote in the post. “This does *not* change anything about the fact they are functionally racist. Just felt the need to say that.”
Ford is the third State Board of Education member to resign their seat over the past two years.
Member Todd Chasteen resigned on Feb. 1, 2022, citing the revisions to the state’s social studies standards and a “trajectory away from education and towards activism” in his resignation letter.
In May 2023, member Amy White surprised the board by announcing her resignation ahead of the end of her term.