HANOVER COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — The Hanover County School Board voted to pause the work of the community advisory board that helped write the district’s equity policy.
The vote came during the school board’s Sept. 13 meeting after Steven Ikenberry and Robert May, two Hanover School Board members who serve as liaisons to the Community Equity Advisory Board, called for changes to the committee to align its goals with the school board’s objectives.
The decision confused some equity board members, including two who said the committee underwent an overhaul before the vote when all of the Black women on the board eligible for another term were not re-appointed.
“I wasn’t too surprised, there were hints leading up to it,” Aleisha Miles, one of those members, told 8News. “They didn’t seem intent on being involved in the work, only to police the board.”
The Community Equity Advisory Board was created, in part, to address a goal outlined in Hanover County Public Schools’ “Long Range Plan” for 2017-2023, which says the school division “will explore opportunities that promote equity and cultural competence, to include parent and community outreach and input” by the fall of 2019.
According to the equity board’s bylaws, members are picked by the school board and serve a two-year term from Sept. 1 of the year they are appointed and “may be appointed for up to two consecutive terms.” Members who serve two consecutive terms can be appointed again after a year has passed.
The equity board can have up to 25 members, but only six members with active terms were on the committee when the school board decided to pause its work during its Sept. 13 meeting, according to a Hanover Schools spokesperson.
Melanie Bowers said she expected to be re-appointed to the board, telling 8News it was common for board members to get more terms, and questioned the school board’s reasoning for pausing the equity committee’s work.
School board members, including Ikenberry and May, declined interview requests for this story, with chairman John F. Axselle III telling 8News he didn’t “have anything further to add” other than the school board’s discussion on Sept. 13.
Ikenberry and May led the discussion, each expressing appreciation for the equity board’s leader but sharing their concerns about the committee’s work and thoughts on how to move forward.
Ikenberry said the equity board started as a superintendent’s committee and that “maybe a do-over” would be needed to shift it to a school board committee, adding that he felt it prevented a team approach and that the equity board’s efficiency and functionality suffered as a result.
“I kind of feel like that’s kind of what’s been missing is that concept of a team, of trying to align our objectives as a school board of seven,” Ikenberry said during the Sept. 13 meeting. “We’ve never been able to do that because again it originated from a superintendent committee and was rolled over without much any changes at all. And so, we’ve never had a hand in any of it at all as far as objectives, goals.”
May said he believed the board “has an important opportunity to be a valuable tool” for the school board, but that there were a “couple things going on” that bothered him. May and Ikenberry also criticized the equity committee for not presenting an annual report or giving annual recommendations to the school board.
“And so, if we can figure out how to do all those things and make this board into something that is useful with purpose, I think it has a valuable place for us,” May said during the school board discussion. “I like Mr. Ikenberry would just say I think we need to consider putting a pause on it for now to give us an opportunity to try to rightsize it and to figure out exactly what we want it to do and give some guidance so that the board knows what we’re wanting to do.”
After a few questions from other members, the school board voted to pause the equity committee’s work and decided to discuss its future in October.
Bowers acknowledged the equity board did not offer recommendations this year but said she was not aware of a specific due date. She added that the board’s past recommendations had not been approved, including having a third party conduct an equity audit and hiring a director of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Bowers said she felt the school board didn’t take a team approach, claiming there were communication issues between the boards, the decision to shift the equity panel to a school board committee was “sprung on” its members and holdups led to late elections for the equity board’s executive committee.
“I don’t know why the board has to start over if the failure to be a team is on their part,” she said of the school board.
Miles told 8News she felt Ikenberry and May didn’t understand the scope of the committee’s work or the true meaning of equity. She also claimed that they weren’t focused throughout the equity board meetings, saying she saw Ikenberry and May talk amongst themselves and on their phones when she and other members were speaking.
“They had equity and equality confused,” Miles said of the two school board members. “They didn’t understand that not all children have the same needs or circumstances.”
While May and Ikenberry did not agree to interviews for this story, they did respond to what Miles told 8News in an email.
“However, we can share that we take all committee assignments and work extremely seriously and have devoted significant time and attention to the work of the CEAB and its members,” May wrote in a statement on behalf of himself and Ikenberry.
When asked where the equity committee would be after the school board’s October workshop discussion, Miles said she felt efforts to disband the panel would be considered.
“These are individuals who didn’t believe in equity, so I’m not too hopeful,” she told 8News.