The Virginia Beach School Board Throws a Fit

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.

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31 responses to “The Virginia Beach School Board Throws a Fit

  1. aw, this is standard board dynamics… we got that up my way – all day long. When they don’t like each other – it goes downhill from there….

    was there anything specific argued in the policy debate? I’m not even sure I understood what items were disagreed on.

    But again – board members “acting up”… ??? pretty standard up our way…

  2. The quality of people running and being elected to office (at all levels) seems to have declined in recent years. While I don’t really have an explanation I suspect that social media may be a contributor.

  3. aka – “here’s what I would say to you in front of others – if I didn’t have to say it to your face” Magical.

    • I started sitting through local government meetings in the 70s, and it is hard to imagine what Sherlock witnessed topped some of the one’s I’ve seen. And then I came to the General Assembly…I think Sherlock has just spent too much of his life in an environment where they saw the stripes on his sleeve or star on the other guy’s sleeve and everybody toned it down.

      My son when a first looey was in joint forces situation and got a bit jocular once with the captain on the other end of the phone. Sadly for my son it was a Navy captain, not USAF…..

      One of the nastiest local government fights I ever saw was an Alleghany County BoS squabble over a deer damage stamp claim. Some guy seeking to tap the fund because deer on his (unposted) land had gotten into corn. Some of the board were not going to pay him, no way. It is when I coined Haner’s First Law of Government Finance: The amount of time, energy and anger spent over a financial decision is inversely proportion to the amount of money involved.

  4. Knew a Army Sargeant once. Was waiting as a crosswalk at an Army Base golf course.

    The golfers stopped in the crosswalk and had a conversation.

    A “finger” was proffered by the Sargeant.

    Up on multiple charges that afternoon…

    Yes.. Sherlock is on the innocent side I agree! but odd he’s okay with Trumps antics… geeze…

  5. Aaron Burr killed Hamilton in a duel. We don’t do that any more either. Before more testosterone and old war stories are expended, it’s ok to demand adult oversight of our schools, boys, it really is.

  6. In this Covid reality school boards are making big decisions without the public having a chance to give their input. I see it happening in Fauquier and Loudoun. I would like to see all decisions by local and state government put on hold, except for day to day operation decisions. Elected leaders cannot be trusted in the current climate. Budget season for school boards begins in February. What if they get to operate and pass budgets in the present vacuum of no public voice?

  7. They cannot say they are Conservative?

  8. Right, but you can run as a Conservative, a fiscal Conservative. and they do.

  9. If you want to feel better about yourself and less embarrassed, take a look at any of the Prince William County Board meeting from January to the present. Each one is a ten to twelve hour hyperpartisan shit-show of incompetence, ineptitude, boorish behavior, grandstanding and amateurish behavior that would make Virginia Beach look sane and most HOA boards professional.

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