HANOVER COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — NAACP chapters throughout the Commonwealth are calling for an overhaul of leadership in the Hanover County School Board.
Backed by NAACP presidents from Fairfax, Hampton, Hanover and Roanoke, as well as dozens of community members, Virginia State Conference NAACP President Robert N. Barnette, Jr., led a press conference at the Hanover County Government Complex on Wednesday, detailing a list of demands and the timeframe in which supporters want to see them happen:
- A sincere apology from Mechanicsville District School Board member Johnny Redd regarding alleged comments referring to Hanover NAACP President Pat Jordan as “an angry African American”
- Mandated implicit bias and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion training for the Board of Supervisors and School Board within the next six months
- An elected School Board in all areas of the Commonwealth where appointed School Boards exist, beginning in Hanover County
- Dedicated resources to organizing the “Why We Can’t Wait” campaign, geared toward instituting an elected School Board in Hanover County by the next voting cycle
This comes nearly two months after Redd was named to the School Board, approved in a 5-2 vote by the Board of Supervisors in May. Redd previously served on the School Board from 1980 to 1984.
“We are standing here today to express our outrage at the ongoing, continuing disrespect and dismissive conduct of the Hanover Board of Supervisors, who appointed Johnny Redd for the […] Mechanicsville school board seat,” Barnette said. “Redd’s intentional, inflammatory rhetoric has caused us great concern. The NAACP has been working to ensure that all citizens enjoy equal protection under the Constitution of the United States since 1909.”
Jordan also called out School Board Chair and Beaverdam District representative John Axselle, who, she claimed, made similar inappropriate and derogatory remarks to her in their previous correspondences. NAACP members at the press conference Wednesday argued that Axselle was unfit to serve on the School Board and should step down or be removed from his position.
8News reached out to both Axselle and Redd for comment, but has not received a response.
However, a Hanover County spokesperson sent the following statement:
We are aware of today’s press conference however the discussion topics you have shared, at this point, have not been shared with us. I can tell you Hanover County prides itself in listening to individuals and the concerns they may have. We appreciate and encourage citizen engagement. We can assure you that everyone will be heard, and the comments, thoughts and recommendations made at today’s event will be shared with our Hanover County Board of Supervisors for their consideration. […] We are aware citizens are actively collecting signatures for an elected school board. We support our citizens in the electoral process.
Jordan’s allegations regarding Axselle’s behavior came just over a week after Axselle called on a sheriff’s deputy to remove a speaker from the podium during a School Board meeting’s public comment period. The meeting was specifically called to allow citizens to share their thoughts and concerns regarding the proposed policy on the use of facilities for transgender and nonbinary students in Hanover County Public Schools. In an audio recording of the meeting, resident Wendy Kersey could be heard speaking about local organization Hanover Patriots, while Axselle asked her to stay on topic. Kersey continued to speak over Axselle, raising concerns about another organization, Alliance Defending Freedom, as he conferred with the School Board’s attorney on the protocol for how to proceed. Kersey was then escorted away from the podium by a sheriff’s deputy.
“She had not gotten to the topic that he [Axselle] decided was the topic of the day quick enough for him,” Jordan said. “But later, two men approached the same podium, and they spoke about the Bible. Neither of them [were] escorted from the room, and so, yes, Mr. Axselle represents what we know should not be a part of Hanover County School Board or any office in Hanover County.”
NAACP representatives also used Wednesday’s press conference as an opportunity to spread the word about the Why We Can’t Wait campaign, calling for elected school boards throughout Virginia. Hanover County Public Schools has one of the few remaining school boards in the Commonwealth where members are appointed by the Board of Supervisors.
“Unlike the appointment of Johnny Redd to the School Board, Hanover [NAACP] President Pat Jordan was dually and democratically elected,” Barnette said. “This is a real need for more inclusion of African Americans and women in the Hanover County government.”
Following 8News’ inquiries, a Hanover County spokesperson released a follow-up statement:
Hanover County prides itself in listening to all our residents and the concerns they have. We appreciate and encourage citizen engagement. We assure you that everyone will be heard, and the comments, thoughts and recommendations made at today’s event will be shared with our entire Hanover County Board of Supervisors for their consideration. We cannot speak for Mr. Johnny Redd. He is a school board member. We encourage reaching out to Hanover Schools. As you know, the Hanover County Board of Supervisors does not have the authority under the code of Virginia to implement an elected school Board.
According to the most recent records from the Virginia School Boards Association, of the 131 school divisions in the commonwealth, only 14 are appointed. The rest of the boards are elected.
The school divisions which currently employ the appointment method over elections are:
- Alleghany Highlands County
- Franklin City
- Galax City
- Hanover County
- Hopewell City
- Lexington City
- Lynchburg City
- Manassas Park City
- Martinsville City
- Poquoson City
- Richmond County
- Roanoke City
- Salem City
- Southampton County
“We are aware citizens are collecting signatures for an elected school board. We hold our residents’ desires in high regard, and we respect that process and its eventual outcome,” said Angela Kelly-Wiecek, Chair of the Hanover County Board of Supervisors.