WILLIAMSBURG — During the Oct. 19 Williamsburg-James City County (WJCC) School Board meeting, several board members responded to remarks made during the citizen comments portion, which accused the Board of not listening to the school community’s concerns.
A number of speakers stepped up to address the board on several controversial topics within the school division including mask mandates, Critical Race Theory (CRT), and transgender bathroom policies.
While speakers included students and parents of students in the school division, there were some who noted that they did not have children in the division, but were members of the WJCC.
One speaker, Susan Franz, said that the school board is complicit in, “enforcing mask mandate, supporting all gender bathrooms, carrying pornographic content in libraries, teaching critical race theory and eventually requiring [COVID-19] injections for all students and staff.”
“Compliance is the way the Holocaust happened,” she said. “I want to think the best of you, that you are good people. Unfortunately, just as in the days of the Holocaust, I am concerned that you are good people who will do nothing.”
Another speaker, Brenda Abbott, said that there is a lack of understanding between school officials and the community.
“I’m really concerned that what I see happening around the country is a total disconnect between those on the board, those who are teaching, those who are elected officials, assigned officials, politicians running for office and parents in the public,” she said.
Several speakers accused the board of bullying and silencing the voice of the community.
“You attempt to push an agenda that very few educated people agree with, you speak about citizens of this community that you claim to represent with such disdain that it’s appalling,” John Slokovitz said. “You treat this room and the people in it as though it is in your control.”
Board member Lisa Ownby took umbrage with some of the comments made, and agreed that there is a disconnect in the community, but not from the board.
She noted that most of the members of the board, including herself, have been actively involved in the school system and have all had graduated students from the division.
“For anyone to say that we are disconnected and don’t understand what’s happening in our buildings is just wrong,” Ownby said. “We didn’t just move here last March. We didn’t just come to this dais from Loudon County. We’re fully invested. These are not just students. They’re our children. So the disconnect for me, and I’ve said this now since June, is that hyperbolic, national, partisan, political issues are being brought before this dais that have zero to do with this community.”
Ownby said that the community should redirect its concerns toward other issues going on within the school system, including teacher burnout and learning loss among students.
“The issues aren’t CRT, which our superintendent has made very clear is not being taught,” she said. “And I encourage the community to understand what that is. It’s not happening in our division.”
Ownby emphasized the stress that teachers are being put under this year.
“This community needs to understand, we’re going to run off our teachers,” she said. “We’re going to run them off. We’re looking at K-12 collapsing. We need to be supportive of our teachers, of our administers, of our school board. Not bringing partisan issues to this board and telling us that we don’t care about our students.”
“So yeah, there is a disconnect,” she added. “There is a very big disconnect.”
She also addressed speakers who do not have children in the school division.
“The people who come here who openly say they don’t have kids in our division, I still have children in this division, so I’m not disconnected to what’s happening in our classrooms. Not at all,” she said, “But I have to question, if you’ve just moved here last March and you’ve never stepped foot in our buildings, do you really know what’s happening in our buildings?”
Chairman Jim Kelly also addressed the statements made regarding the board not listening to public comment, saying that he has heard from members of the community who have expressed that they are too intimidated to speak during the public comments portion.
“I have heard from members of the public saying that they wouldn’t come here and speak their opinion because there is so much other opinion in the audience that is vocal and intimidating,” he said. “And thats not what we want, this board wants to hear everybody’s opinion.”
Kelly concluded by saying that the members of the board are citizens, just like everyone else.
“To say that we are disconnected from the community? We are the community, we’re part of the community, we live where you live,” he said.