North Carolina schools chief loses primary to home-schooling parent critical of 'radical agendas'

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina’s public schools superintendent and some state legislators won’t be returning to their positions in 2025 after primary defeats by challengers who questioned their rivals’ commitment to social conservatism or a Democratic agenda.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt narrowly lost Tuesday’s Republican primary to Michele Morrow, a home−schooling parent and conservative activist who has accused public schools of indoctrinating students with left−leaning views on race and gender.

Also on Tuesday, six−term Democratic Sen. Mike Woodard from Durham County, who voted to overturn a few of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes, lost his primary to a self−proclaimed progressive.

Truitt, in her first term as schools’ chief, led the Department of Public Instruction during the COVID−19 pandemic and later recovery, and implemented a new legislature−backed plan to improve reading skills in early grades. She had reelection support from dozens of General Assembly members and North Carolina Republican U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis.

But Morrow, a nurse and former Christian missionary who ran unsuccessfully for the Wake County school board in 2022, accused Truitt of not being conservative enough. Morrow collected support from rural education leaders.

She also criticized Truitt for seeking to briefly delay the implementation of a new “Parents’ Bill of Rights” so that districts would have more time to create new policies, and for continued low reading and math proficiency rates.

In November, Morrow will take on Democrat Maurice “Mo” Green, a former Guilford County schools superintendent and previous head of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. Green won Tuesday’s Democratic primary over two rivals.

Morrow said Wednesday that if elected, she would focus on scholastics over diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and "work to make our schools the safest buildings in our state.”

Republican and unaffiliated voters who picked Morrow “are tired of their taxpayer funds going to push radical agendas in the classroom instead of proven pedagogies," she said Wednesday in an emailed statement.

While the state superintendent is head of the Department of Public Instruction, statewide school policy is left to the State Board of Education, for which the governor makes the most appointments.

Truitt, whose committee outspent Morrow, was Gov. Pat McCrory’s education adviser and chancellor of Western Governors University in North Carolina.

While the election “did not go the way I had hoped, I’m deeply proud of what we accomplished and I am gratified by the support of educators, parents, school and legislative leaders and so many others from across the state,” Truitt wrote on Facebook on Wednesday. Her term ends at the end of the year.

Morrow participated in the march on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to protest Joe Biden as the 2020 presidential winner, but she said she left the area when ordered by authorities and didn’t enter the building, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported.

Republican primaries for two other statewide elected positions were poised to head to May 14 runoffs because the first−place finisher in each failed to receive more than 30% of the vote total.

In the 11−candidate GOP primary for lieutenant governor, Hal Weatherman, a former chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, came in first, followed by Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill. The primary winner will take on Democratic nominee and state Sen. Rachel Hunt.

Jack Clark and Dave Boliek finished first and second, respectively, in the Republican primary for state auditor. The winner will face Democratic incumbent Jessica Holmes.

Second−place candidates in the primaries must formally request runoffs.

In the state legislature, Woodard lost his Democratic primary to Sophia Chitlik, who received the endorsements of influential Durham political committees. Woodard has been in the Senate since 2013 and ran unsuccessfully for Durham mayor last fall.

“Durham deserves a Senator who will have the back of our next Democratic Governor, and not work against their colleagues to overturn his vetoes,” Chitlik said in a statement on the campaign’s website. Chitlik faces a Libertarian Party candidate in November.

Woodard has defended his handful of votes to override Cooper vetoes, saying negotiation is the way to make legislation better.

Another legislator who lost was first−term Rep. Kevin Crutchfield of Cabarrus County, who was defeated by Brian Echevarria in the Republican primary. Echevarria was a nominee for another area House seat in 2022, and has a Democratic rival in the fall.

Gary D. Robertson, The Associated Press

Photo: AP