by James C. Sherlock
Virginia Beach boasts the fourth largest school district in the state with 87 schools and 69,000 students. Those kids, their teachers and their parents deserve better than what happened last night.
Horror and embarrassment were the most common reactions of the public to last night’s televised meeting of the Virginia Beach School Board (the board). The subject of those concerns was a public, very prolonged and clearly very personal squabble among board members before the agenda was ever considered.
For viewers who tuned in to see the discussions of public policy, not to mention those cooling their heels in the lobby waiting to be called in to speak on the highly controversial school system Equity Policy, it was a spectacle they will never forget.
As background, three members of the Virginia Beach School Board don’t always care for the work of the Superintendent, Aaron Spence. Eight mostly do. Which is fine. It shows that they take oversight of the school system seriously.
But it became clear (again) last night that the two factions really don’t like one another. If they were in high school, they would sit at different tables at lunch and glare.
To give readers a feel for the pre-meeting atmosphere, I offer a couple of examples. One headline in the local paper was “Tensions running high on Virginia Beach School Board after member’s Facebook posts” on July 29, 2019. Another on September 27, 2019 blared “Virginia Beach schools leader claims 2 board members created a “hostile work environment.” I hope he got a hug.
You get the idea.
All we ask is that they conduct the public business of the board efficiently and effectively and with some sense of decorum.
At last night’s televised meeting, they failed those tests so thoroughly that some of them should consider better uses of their time and the public’s. The majority chose the first 30 minutes of the meeting to throw a fit.
One of the members, Laura Hughes, positioned herself in a back corner of the otherwise empty meeting room with what must have been at least 30 feet between herself and the other members. She was not wearing a mask due to physical issues, but promised to put one on if she came anywhere near another member.
Ms. Hughes is part of a three-member minority faction of the board that challenges policies in ways that apparently offend the majority. Her failure to wear a mask was immediately challenged by one of the majority cool kids.
The Chairwoman, Carolyn Rye, a cool kid herself, froze. She clearly didn’t know what to do — enforce a written policy or offer a reasonable accommodation to a fellow board member. A woman who appeared to be an assistant city attorney went to the mike and tried to talk her through it. No luck.
Ms. Rye was speechless and didn’t move for long periods of time. Some viewers, including this one, thought perhaps she had experienced a stroke behind her mask. You could have cut the tension in the room with a knife.
After 30 minutes — watch the tape when it is posted — she recovered long enough to ask shakily for a vote. Told there was no motion, she asked for one.
Mrs. Hughes was sent packing 8-3. It turned out that another member had given her a ride. So she left too. They logged in from home later.
On the agenda was the important issue of the school system equity policy proposed by the Superintendent. Did I mention that one speaker came in without a mask and spoke from the lectern in favor of the equity policy without a challenge from the board?
It ultimately passed 8-3 with board members Carolyn Weems, Victoria Manning and Laura Hughes voting against and the cool kids in favor.
I’ll report on the policy part of the session in another post. That was important enough not to mix a review of the business of the board with this review of the long running soap opera that is the board itself.
Shame on them.There are currently no comments highlighted.