HANOVER COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — The Hanover NAACP has asked county leaders to reconsider school board picks and to undergo diversity, equity and inclusion training, saying the appointment of the newest member continues a “disturbing pattern” of concerns raised by the local chapter and residents.
In a letter to the county’s board of supervisors and school board, Hanover NAACP President Patricia Hunter-Jordan wrote that comments and actions from some school board members conflict with the district’s goals and mission “to provide a safe, equitable, and inclusive education to a diverse student community.”
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.
“A new direction is needed,” Hunter-Jordan wrote in the July 25 letter. “Hanover County’s future will be brighter and more successful with a School Division whose Board exemplifies AND prioritizes diversity, inclusion, and equity.”
The letter asserts that school board members have not shown respect or understanding “of true and inclusive American and Hanover history and recent current events as they relate to a diverse population, especially Black and Brown students.”
The letter also claims that some members have “publicly shared false health information” and have been unwilling to separate religion from policy decisions and during interactions regarding the school district.
Hunter-Jordan cited responses from John Redd — the newest school board member in Hanover County appointed by Mechanicsville Supervisor Canova Peterson — in a Richmond Times-Dispatch article before he was picked. In the article, Redd said that “a biblical worldview” would be the lens he uses to analyze policies and curricula.
“There is a shift of attention away from core educational objectives with attention being diverted to social issues like CRT, transgender bathrooms or ‘rights’ of one group versus the ‘rights’ of another group,” Redd wrote in response to a question from the Times-Dispatch about the most pressing issues or challenges facing Hanover County schools. “My attention will be focused on returning to the primary purpose of the public schools in Hanover County — education of the students, not indoctrination of the students, not promoting social change that is illogical, immoral and/or ungodly.”
The letter also claims that emails Redd sent to school board members and county supervisors, which the Hanover NAACP says it obtained through a public records request, reveal that his effort to return to the board was in part brought on by “his anger” over the district changing the names of two schools that once honored Confederates.
“These emails show that Mr. Redd is unwilling or unable to understand the harm inflicted by the schools’ original names during the 50 years’ fight to get them changed,” Hunter-Jordan wrote. “Mr. Redd makes it clear that he is determined to punish the community for his hurt feelings through petty agitation over school names in the future.”
The letter alleges the emails also expose Redd’s “contempt and harsh religion-based judgment toward not only those who seek social justice and inclusive, honest history instruction (presumably including members of our Organization) but also toward members of the LGBTQ community, with special venom directed at transgender students.”
The Hanover NAACP did not immediately respond to a request to review the emails and Redd did not respond when 8News reached out for this story.
“It is true that Mr. Redd was not happy with the renaming of Lee-Davis and Stonewall to Mechanicsville and Bell Creek,” Supervisor Peterson said Tuesday in an email to 8News. “He was one of many alumni and residents of eastern Hanover County who felt that the name changes should not take place until such time as the schools are relocated. I was of that same opinion.”
Redd replaced Sterling Daniel, who Hunter-Jordan noted as the third school member who lost their seat after backing the effort to rename the schools.
The local chapter believes Redd is unqualified to serve on the board and unable and unwilling to comply with the code of conduct for school board members and goals set out by the board, Hunter-Jordan wrote.
“I am afraid that Ms. Jordan’s letter inputs a lot of things into Mr. Redd’s statements based on perceptions and not on the fact that he has emphasized that he intends to treat all students equally,” Peterson wrote in the email. “It is true that he openly proclaims his Christian faith. Being a person of faith, whether it be Christian or other, is no impediment to serving our community justly.”
Hunter-Jordan also claims in the letter that John Axselle III, the new school board chair, referred to Black people as “colored people” during a 2021 meeting with a parent and that he has said he sees no benefit in hiring a more diverse teaching staff or for Hanover students to read stories from diverse perspectives.
“While I do not specifically remember making the statement regarding ‘colored people,’ any reference that I would have made in this regard is simply intended to convey that we, as School Board members, have a responsibility to serve the needs of all students, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or otherwise,” Axselle said in a statement through a Hanover schools’ spokesperson. “With regard to the second sentence, I am not familiar with the origin or context of this claim. As School Board members, we collectively believe that each member takes their sworn oath seriously and works to meet the needs of all students to the best of our ability. This includes providing a top-tier education and hiring the best-qualified faculty and staff.”
The Hanover NAACP asked the board of supervisors to “review and reconsider” school board members who have acted in opposition to goals laid out by the district. The chapter also asked that members of both boards take part in diversity, equity and inclusion training related to public education “as a needed good faith action.”
Update: This story has been updated with Axselle’s statement, which came after publication.