Two-hour closed session of HCSB ends abruptly
ASHLAND -- After a two-hour closed session meeting, the Hanover County School Board returned to open session Tuesday, June 23, and abruptly adjourned without taking action on the school name change issue.
Shortly before returning to public session, an announcement was made to phone listeners that the board would return to open session and amend the agenda to take action “regarding the school name changes.”
Technical difficulties delayed that open session by about 30 minutes as officials attempted to re-establish contact with board members Kelly Evko and Sterling Daniel. After several unsuccessful attempts, chair John Axselle gaveled the panel consisting of five members, back into open session.
When the chair began discussing amending the agenda, Daniel and Evko reconnected, and Daniel moved for adjournment.
George Sutton and Norman Sulser voted against the motion to adjourn, which passed 5-2.
Sulser questioned the reasoning for the abrupt adjournment motion, but board attorney Lisa Seward informed the chair that policy does stipulate that adjournment requests be acted upon without discussion.
“I thought we were here to vote,” Sulser said. “We’ve got an important decision to make tonight. Someone has to tell me why we are adjourning and not going to make the vote.”
No one did, and the board adjourned until its regular July 14 meeting.
Local NAACP president Robert Barnette said the inaction was disappointing but would not deter his efforts to force a change in the names and mascots.
“I am disappointed in the inaction of the school board not voting to change the names of Lee-Davis High School and Stonewall Jackson Middle School,” Barnette said. “It’s also disappointing to see the Hanover School Board disregard the Virginia PTA guidance where they said "The Virginia PTA supports renaming school facilities and mascots that are based on Confederate leaders, culturally insensitive depictions of indigenous people as well as other themes, images and iconography that fails to respect, honor and celebrate the diversity of our school communities.’”
The NAACP has announced its decision to appeal a recent decision by federal Judge Robert Payne dismissing the organization’s suit against the Hanover County School Board regarding the names and mascots.
The week before, several protests at various locations throughout the county were held to voice support for the name changes, and Barnette said the message should be clear to school officials that it’s time for a change.
“Finally, if the Hanover County School Board truly cared about addressing institutional racism for all people of color and marginalized communities, then they need to change these school names,” Barnette said. “We have seen other jurisdictions in Virginia and throughout the country do the right thing by removing symbols of a racist past and Hanover School Board needs to follow their example.”
Rachel Levy is an educational activist, teacher and member of Together Hanover, a group that organized two of the recent rallies. She said the inaction by the board sends the wrong message to a public that is keenly watching their actions.
“It undermines more than ever public confidence in the school board as a body to be decisive and make the best decisions, especially in this moment,” Levy said after the meeting.
“I see it as a huge failure as a governing body to do the right thing. This is not the right time on such a basic thing like changing the names and mascots which are demeaning.”
Levy said the decision won’t get any easier for the appointed school board, and said the recent non-action projects an image of a board that has a “crisis of legitimacy.”