HANOVER COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — The Hanover County Board of Supervisors is reviewing allegations that a school board member improperly disclosed a student’s information using their personal email account, a potential violation of federal law that could lead to their removal.
The revelation came Wednesday during the county attorney’s presentation to the supervisors about the removal process of the board’s appointees, specifically Hanover School Board members, requested by Board Chairwoman Angela Kelly-Wiecek last month.
County attorney Dennis Walter and the supervisors did not share which school board member the claims were made against or if they were unsupported. Supervisors said they were awaiting more details on the accusations.
“At the Board’s direction, a request for additional information regarding this allegation has been sent, including whether School Board policies related to student/parent notification were followed,” a slide from Walter’s presentation stated.
Kelly-Wiecek said in August that the request for the presentation was “relative to a longtime appointee,” but did not share additional details.
Hanover County School Board Chairman John Axselle III, the longest-serving member on the current board, reached out to a top legal strategist for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) before he tried to set a meeting between the board and the organization.
In May, 8News reported on the emails Axselle sent to ADF, which included messages from his personal Gmail account.
Hanover’s school board approved a plan to have ADF, which some have classified as an “anti-LGBTQ hate group,” review the district’s policy regarding the treatment of LGBTQ students. The organization helped craft the school board’s recently approved bathroom and locker room policy for transgender students.
Axselle did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the board for this story.
Many county supervisors asked Walter general questions about the legal process of removing school board members, including their options and authority. Supervisor Sean Davis referenced ADF, saying that he was advised that the allegations were not tied to emails to the organization but over the school board member’s use of their personal account.
Walter said communications between the school board and organizations acting as legal counsel, including ADF, could be protected under federal privacy laws. But he said allegations of the school board member’s use of a personal email account could be a violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA).
While Walter avoided directly addressing specifics brought up by supervisors, he said the allegations were serious enough to investigate. He did say Wednesday that he was not aware of any FERPA complaints being filed against school board members following the allegations.
If the board aims to ultimately seek the removal of a school board member, a petition must be filed in Hanover Circuit Court and signed by the supervisor who appointed the school board member or by a majority of the Board of Supervisors under the penalty of perjury.
The case could go to trial if a majority of the supervisors sign a petition, but Walter informed the board Wednesday that most reported cases of such removal efforts are unsuccessful.
Unlike most school boards in Virginia, Hanover’s is made up of members not elected by voters but appointed by the county’s Board of Supervisors. According to a list provided to 8News by Hanover Schools’ spokesperson Chris Whitley, here’s when each school board member was first appointed:
- John F. Axselle III, Beaverdam District: Appointed in 1995
- Robert J. (Bob) May, South Anna District: Appointed in 2021
- Ola J. Hawkins, Ashland District: Appointed in 2016
- Robert L. Hundley, Jr., Chickahominy District: Appointed in 2004
- Steven Ikenberry, Cold Harbor District: Appointed in 2021
- John E. Redd, Jr., Mechanicsville District: Appointed in 1981 (served one term); appointed in 2022
- George E. Sutton, Henry District: Appointed in 2019
Stay with 8News for updates to this developing story.