Equity statement adopted – rancor continues

By Ruthann Carr

The Fluvanna County School Board voted 4-1 to adopt an Antiracism and Equity Statement drafted by an Equity Task Force made up of community members, school staff and administration.

Voting for the measure at the meeting Wed. (Nov. 11) was James Kelley (Palmyra), Perrie Johnson (Fork Union), Andrew Pullen (Columbia) and Shirley Stewart (Rivanna). Charles Rittenhouse (Cunningham) voted no.

During public comments Mozell Booker, who is part of the task force, said racism in the schools is a fact and it must be acknowledged and addressed by the school.

“These issues are well-documented and they’re not new….. Black students are under-represented in advanced classes and over-represented in discipline,” she said. “Students and teachers tell us of a school climate that tolerates bias and racism. We have been presented with reports from both white and black students that racist comments are clearly made and go unchecked by teachers. I’m not here to indict any teacher….. Our statement was meant to send a clear message that racial bias has no place and will not be tolerated in our school system. If you do not believe there is racism in our school system, we want you to vote ‘no’ on the statement.”

Jessica Jackson, who is a teacher and has a daughter in Fluvanna schools, also spoke.

“It appears some of you don’t believe or will not admit that systemic racism exists in Fluvanna schools, and it does,” she said.

Jackson said when then-President Barack Obama planned to speak to students in a television address about the importance of education, Fluvanna schools sent home a letter telling parents about the event. In the letter, the administration offered to let parents opt out their child, so their child didn’t have to listen to the president.

“Prior to President Obama, I was not aware of Fluvanna schools ever sending parents a letter asking them if they wanted to allow their students to hear words of encouragement from an elected official,” Jackson said.

However, year after year Rob Bell, a  member of the Virginia House of Delegates who is white, came to several graduations and spoke to the students, Jackson said.

“Never did I receive a letter asking if I wanted my daughter to listen to Rob Bell,” she said. “It was just assumed he would bring value to the students’ lives. Yet with an African American president there was no assumption he could bring value to the students.”

Melissa Irvin wrote a letter and mentioned her biracial daughter who graduated from Fluvanna schools in 2019.

Irvin said her daughter was traumatized by the bullying and racism she experienced. So much so, she’s getting counseling and fears coming back to Fluvanna because of it.

Andrea Overweg also sent a letter citing what she referred to as “deeply offensive, thoroughly inaccurate and racially insensitive statements,” made by Pullen at the Oct. 14 meeting.

Both Irvin and Overweg requested the Board rebuke or censure Pullen and make him enroll in racial sensitivity training.

Before the vote, Rittenhouse reiterated comments he made at the Oct. 14 meeting.

“We already have multiple policies that address racism, anti-discrimination,” Rittenhouse said. “I don’t know why we’re doing this statement at all… I’ll vote no.”

Stewart said she was excited about the statement and the work that will go forward.

Don Stribling, executive director for human resources, operations and student services also represents the administration on the task force.

Stribling said the next step is for the eight “action committees” led by teachers and members of the community to continue the work addressing racism and disparities in curriculum, discipline, etc.

Pullen said he was never against the statement, he just asked questions.

Many of the questions he asked were not just his, but provided to him – some, he said, “by members of the committee.”

He said people could make up whatever they want to make up about him, “and you already have, but I never said there wasn’t discrimination, I just asked if there had been any reports of discrimination.”

“If these things are happening, in the school system, how come they’re not making it to the Board…I never said these things don’t exist. I asked questions,” Pullen said.

He said he had a hard time using the term “systemic racism.”

If the system is racist, why would you give more policies to that system, he said.

“My point is, if there are people now who are perpetuating this, then who do we get rid of? If these things are happening now, with or without a statement, give it to the School Board and let us get rid of these people.”

Hybrid schooling

In other business Superintendent Chuck Winkler said the hybrid start has been going well with very few problems with mask compliance.

There are fewer students on Schedule B (those attending Thursday and Friday), but it hasn’t yet posed a problem.

The school continues to serve the county’s children 10,000 meals weekly. Of those, they are delivering 600 to those who can’t pick up the meals.

The Board of Supervisors agreed with the school’s request to keep $400,000 from the Fiscal Year 2020 $1.4 million surplus.

Winkler said the money will be used for bathroom repairs and other work needed done at the Abrams building. The rest, added to CARE’s Act money, will pay for six new school buses.

Winter sports

Board discussed the Virginia High School League’s decision to allow winter sports to take place. Winter sports at Fluvanna consist of basketball, sideline cheer, swimming and diving, indoor track and wrestling.

Athletic Director Scott Morris said athletes have been training, but have not yet started to practice.  He explained the mitigation strategies for participants and fans and answered questions.

Morris said track would be held outdoors, and all basketball players, coaches and fans would have to wear masks. Only athletes playing on the court would be maskless.

The Board had many questions about the safety of having students wrestle because of the close contact and potential for disease spread.

Morris said they were still talking about how wrestling can be done safely.


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