Tied vote pushes rainbow F controversy into fourth month

Tied vote pushes rainbow F controversy into fourth month

By Ruthann Carr, correspondent

Even after a month of study, the Fluvanna School Board still isn’t any closer to an answer about allowing the Alliance Club to rainbow-color the Fluco logo.

With Andrew Pullen (Columbia) absent from Wednesday’s (Dec. 19) meeting, the four members split the vote. The matter will be taken up at the Jan. 9 meeting.

Pullen did not respond to requests for comment as to why he did not attend.

Perrie Johnson (Fork Union) and Shirley Stewart (Rivanna) voted to allow the rainbow logo; Charles Rittenhouse (Cunningham) and Brenda Pace (Palmyra) voted against.

The Alliance Club is a school-sanctioned group supporting LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) students and their allies.

In an October closed session meeting, Superintendent Chuck Winkler presented to the Board the club’s request to create a rainbow F logo for the group to use to “encourage a safe, accepting space in our school.” Originally the group wanted to offer stickers to teachers and staff to display in their room as a “safe space” for LGBTQ students.

Somehow Rob Schilling, a radio host and blogger for the conservative Bearing Drift website, got hold of a color picture of the formal request letter. On Nov. 2, five days before the request was brought before the public in an open meeting, Schilling posted a column entitled “The culture wars come to Fluvanna.”

By the time the issue was addressed in the November meeting, the Alliance Club amended the request to say they would not offer stickers made with the revised logo to teachers and would not use it to make money.

Many parents and other community members spoke their mind during the November meeting public comments. Of those who spoke, about one-quarter was against the logo change.

The one uniting issue between both sides seemed to be anger at who passed along the request letter to Schilling. Almost every speaker asked for an investigation.

A much smaller and less vocal crowd attended Wednesday’s meeting. At the beginning, Chair Johnson read a message from the board:

“Every year, all members of the Fluvanna County School Board approve a Code of Conduct whereby we renew our commitment to advocate for students and staff, and to improve public education. The code includes a specific provision with respect to honoring the confidentiality of privileged information.

We understand that there have been some recent concerns regarding privileged information being shared inappropriately with a local radio show host. The Board has conducted an inquiry, beginning more than a month ago. Based on the findings, the Fluvanna County School Board states that no School Board member gave any confidential information to this outlet. Furthermore, no Fluvanna County School Board member has any knowledge of who shared this information with this media outlet or any public entity.

The board respectfully understands that even the perception of a member violating the tenets encompassed within the Code of Conduct raises questions about the integrity of all that we do. Given this sentiment, it has compelled us to investigate the situation and share this information with you tonight.”

Several people spoke, upset with the conclusion.

Andrea Overweg: “I feel very strongly that any investigation should be a little more transparent. I believe that people sitting up here pointing and saying ‘We didn’t do it’ is nebulous and not sufficient. What happened is absolutely the most horrible thing that could happen to children already vulnerable, marginalized, subject to bullying, subject to ridicule. I am very displeased. And had this been my child, we would have sought legal recourse. I feel very strongly an investigation is owed to the community with a conclusion, not just ‘The board didn’t do it.’ I find that to be inadequate and an apology is inadequate reparation for the damage wrought…  I want more from the investigation…. I believe there’s only two options… whoever leaked it is removed from that position of trust or they recuse themselves with honor… Somebody leaked this when no one was looking. This is wrong. Wrong is wrong. And Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the greatest civil rights leaders we’ve ever known, said, ‘The time is always right to do what is right.’ Now you know how I feel. The time is right now to take action.”

Melissa Irvin: “I have no faith in any integrity of any investigation that you claim to have made. I urge you to get a third party in here to do this investigation.”

John Atkins: “In 2012 I came out to myself. I had no one – no one to go to. I was varsity captain of the Fluvanna County swim team and I had no one. I was an Eagle Scout of Boy Scout Troop 154. I was on the executive board of the student government association and I felt like I did not belong at this school. I had no place to go. It is your duty as members of this board to understand you’re here to develop; you’re here to nurture; you’re here to be a safe space for all students.”

Atkins said it was only through the Safe Zone program at Mary Washington College that he found the strength to tell his parents about his sexual identity. He encouraged the board to bring such a program to Fluvanna schools.

After the stalemate vote, other members of the public spoke out:

Eve Gaige: “Children in this county are entitled to safety and support. They are entitled to a School Board that can be trusted to protect them. That trust has been violated. This is about accountability. You are accountable to us. For the board to have a private and opaque investigation into its own integrity and expect the community to accept it is frankly absurd. I urge you to arrange for an independent investigation into this matter and restore the integrity of this board.”

Kerry Murphy-Hammond: “Clearly I’m in favor of the logo. But I’m in favor of any sanctioned group – you brought up the Fellowship of Christian Athletes putting a cross in the middle of the F. What am I missing here? I’m Christian and an ally. I don’t understand that argument. I’ve seen it in camo, the American flag. I’ve seen it on the side of the Kents Store fire truck.”

Craig Edgerton: “I teach theater and speech at the high school… I’m not understanding this trademark thing. The shape of the Fluco F is the logo. I design t-shirts and have been playing with this Fluco F. I’ve made them in white, pink, blue, yellow, purple. It’s not about the color. The Fluco F is the shape. Why are we worrying about the color of the F? I’m wearing a hat here of my favorite baseball team: the Boston Red Sox. I normally wear a red hat. But this is the pride hat. If the Boston Red Sox can show the pride logo why can’t the Flucos? I don’t understand the problem here.”

Haden Parrish: “I’m here to support the logo. I hope you guys will pass it next month… I’d love for us to challenge our own policies of whether or not teachers can display it because it’s ‘political.’ I don’t think supporting a person’s identity is political. Supporting an LGBTQ+ community isn’t a political stance, it’s a stance of humanity and whether we’re going to allow them to express themselves and be who they are in our education system.”

Only Amber Kidd spoke against the rainbow F logo. Before the vote she said, “I want to say to the club that I’m not against them. I feel that every student should feel safe and comfortable in our school system. But by allowing one club to change the logo for its purposes means we would have to allow all the clubs to do it. Allowing this would possibly open doors we could not shut.”

After the vote, she said, “I don’t understand the vote. The legal representation that we have for the School Board is advising you to vote no on this. This could cause legal matters that county taxpayers do not want to deal with.”

After the second round of public comments, Johnson thanked everyone who spoke.

“I’m so proud,” she said. “I’m so proud to live in Fluvanna and be part of this community and people who respect other’s points of view.”

In other board news, Winkler said he wanted the Board to consider a proposal from SunTribe to put solar panels on each of the schools. The Board asked him to bring representatives to the next meeting to discuss their proposal in open session.

Winkler said because of recent issues of losing power at the schools, he is exploring the possibilities and costs of installing generators at the schools and the office.

Gary Greenwood and FCHS were awarded first place from the Virginia Economic Council for their work on innovative lesson design.

Brenda Gilliam, executive director of finance and instruction, gave a presentation on the budget. She said that the utility savings promised by Trane and used to build the 2018 budget have not been realized. They budgeted for a savings of $142,817 and the actual savings was $66,657.

Winkler said when he presented this information to the Board of Supervisors, County Administrator Steve Nichols assured him if the budget was short because of unrealized utility savings, the county would cover the cost.

But Winkler said the board may have to look in other categories of the budget to move money to cover the shortfall.

Gilliam outlined the key proposals in Governor Ralph Northam’s budget:

  • Updating the direct aid accounts for enrollment changes, program participation, and other technical changes in fiscal years 2019 and 2020;
  • Updating sales tax and lottery revenue estimates dedicated to public education in fiscal years 2019 and 2020;
  • Increasing the compensation supplement effective July 1, 2019, from 3.0 percent to 5.0 percent;
  • Providing additional state funding for school counselors in fiscal year 2020;
  • Providing additional state funding to support students that are educationally at-risk in fiscal years 2019 and 2020;
  • Increasing the supplemental lottery per pupil amount in fiscal years 2019 and 2020; and
  • Providing state funding to continue support for students enrolled in the federal Virginia Preschool Initiative Plus program in fiscal year 2020.

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