Craven School Board deadlocks on motion to reject beekeeping program at New Bern High

Local beekeepers work during a recent hive inspection at the Craven County N.C. Cooperative Extension building. New Bern High School is seeking permission to begin their own beekeeping program.

To bee or not to bee? 

That’s the question that came before the Craven County Board of Education last week following a request from staff to begin a beekeeping program at New Bern High School. 

The request was made by Jessica Nelson, New Bern High School’s animal science agriculture teacher, who made a presentation before the board at their April 18 meeting.

Nelson said she has been working to implement beehives on the school’s campus since last year, when she received a $1,500 NC Beekeeping Grant. The program would be part of her class’s Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) or work-based learning, where students gain experience with different careers through a hands-on approach, she told the board.

“We’re looking at a program where students would be able to work with the bees on campus and learn how to care for bees, harvest honey and sell bees and honey and split hives,” Nelson explained. 

Nelson said the plan was to start the beekeeping program as a SAE in the Veterinary Science class at the beginning of the 2023-24 school year after permission forms were distributed to students. Jones, Pitt and Pamlico counties are each starting similar beekeeping programs, she noted. 

Nelson said she has partnered with the Craven-Pamlico Beekeeper Association as well as Pop Pop’s Bees in Vanceboro, Reeves Bees in Jones County, and local NC certified beekeeper Joan Bjork, who have each agreed to work with students in the NBHS program. 

According to Nelson, the beehives would be located within the livestock area on campus behind two fences with locks. The sides of the second fence would be solid so the bees could fly out and over the students and then come down to collect pollen.

Nelson said a full safety plan for the beekeeping program was approved by Superintendent Wendy Miller. Individuals known to have allergies to bees will not work directly with the hives but might help to harvest the honey. Nelson said she would carry an EpiPen at all times when the students are working with the bees and would have a walkie talkie to communicate with the school nurse if necessary.

Nelson stressed that no students would be allowed to enter the hive area without her or  a trained beekeeper present. The students would also be required to wear protective gear when working with the bees.

“There are different breeds of bees and we’re looking at getting the Italian bees that are the calmer bees,” she explained. “They’re a little more docile and they’re not really going to mess with you unless you’ve done something to cause that.”

According to Nelson, signs would be posted notifying visitors about the hives and the grass around the area would be maintained by her, not the school’s facilities department. 

NBHS Agriculture student Abigail Moore recently attended a beekeeping training program with Nelson.

“We learned basically everything there is to know about bees,” Moore said. “We learned what kind of bees, the anatomy of a bee, how to work with bees, how to filter honey. It was a big opportunity.”

NBHS Principal Jerry Simmons said the beekeeping program would provide “equitable access” for students who are not able to attend those activities during non-school hours.

“This is something that will make our students more marketable when they go out into the real world,” he told the board.

Board members, however, were divided in their support for the program. 

Jennifer Dacey said she was concerned that the hives would be only 50-yards from the school’s track.

“I have to consider the possible risks of folks just walking out there near this hive and then the possibility of a situation where we have a track meet and we have folks over on the track who are not from New Bern High School,” she said.

“Most bees, they stay in the hive after a certain hour,” Nelson responded. “So when the track meets would be going on they’re normally not out flying around unless something has occurred.”

Kelli Muse said she had sent a long email to Miller outlining her concerns about the beekeeping program.

“If this was in sustainable ag I could probably justify this but it doesn’t really align with the curriculum. Butchering pigs and cows would probably go more with what you’re actually teaching,” she told Nelson.

Lauren Kitzinger raised concerns about nearby animals that are part of the ag program.

“What about the goats, what if they sting the goats?” Kitzinger asked. “I’m serious, I’m dead serious.”

A motion by Muse to not accept implementation of the beekeeping program failed on a split 3-3 vote. Muse, Dacey and Brent Manning voted in favor of the motion, while Kitzinger, Carr Ipock and Scott Murphy voted against it. Board member Naomi Clark did not attend the meeting. 

The board agreed to allow Nelson to present more information on similar programs during the board’s May meeting. 

By Todd Wetherington, co-editor. Send an email with questions or comments.