Hanover NAACP asks county leaders to reconsider school board appointments

Chapter urges officials to undergo diversity, equity and inclusion training

By: - July 26, 2022 12:02 am

Stonewall Jackson Middle School in Hanover will get a new name. (NBC12)

The Hanover NAACP is asking the county board of supervisors to reconsider the appointment of school board members who the organization says have made comments and taken actions opposed to the school division’s goals and mission.

In a Monday open letter, the chapter also asked the supervisors, along with the school board, to participate in professional development instruction in diversity, equity and inclusion related to public education.

Hanover is one of a handful of localities in Virginia where school board members are appointed rather than elected. Each board member is appointed by one of the seven county supervisors and serves a four-year term.

“A new direction is needed,” said Patricia Hunter-Jordan, president of the Hanover NAACP, in the Monday letter. 

“Hanover County’s future will be brighter and more successful with a school division whose board exemplifies and prioritizes diversity, inclusion, and equity,” she wrote. 

The NAACP chapter claimed that certain members of the school board “failed to show respect and understanding of true and inclusive American and Hanover history, and recent current events as they relate to a diverse population, specifically Black and brown students,” “publicly shared false health information” and showed “unwillingness to separate religion from division policy decisions and interactions with the public.”

The chapter pointed in particular to the school board advocating for the removal from school libraries of a book by a Black author that described the experiences of Black Americans and its legal and policy consultation with two anti-LGBTQ groups, the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Family Foundation.

The organization also said it was concerned with the “non-transparent” appointment process, specifically with the appointment of School Board Member John Redd of the Mechanicsville District, who declined to comment on the chapter’s claims to the Virginia Mercury. 

Redd previously served on the school board in the early 1980s before being appointed with a 5-2 vote by the Board of Supervisors last year.

Monday’s open letter said that emails obtained through a Virginia Freedom of Information Act request “show that Mr. Redd’s motivation to seek the seat was in part sparked by his anger over the name changes” made to division schools in 2020. 

In that year, the Hanover School Board renamed two schools formerly known as Lee-Davis High School and Stonewall Jackson Middle School to Mechanicsville and Bell Creek, respectively, as part of a broader push across the state to rename public institutions honoring Confederate officers. 

The chapter claimed that Redd is “unwilling or unable to understand the harm inflicted by the schools’ original names” and  is determined to “punish the community for his hurt feelings through petty agitation over school names in the future.” 

Additionally, the chapter claimed the emails show Redd’s “contempt and harsh religion-based judgment toward not only those who seek social justice and inclusive, honest history instruction … but also toward members of the LGBTQ community, with special venom directed at transgender students.”

The Hanover School Board is currently facing a lawsuit for failing to adopt policies protecting transgender students in accordance with state law and the Virginia Department of Education’s model policies.

Redd was not the only school board member identified in the Monday letter. The Hanover NAACP also claimed that School Board Chair John Axselle III referred to Black people as “colored people” in a 2021 meeting with a parent, opposed students reading stories from diverse perspectives and did not see a benefit in diversifying teaching staff to increase minority representation.

Axselle did not immediately respond for comment.

Hanover NAACP Open Letter HCPS Board H BoS

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Nathaniel Cline
Nathaniel Cline

Nathaniel is an award-winning journalist who's been covering news across the country since 2007, including politics at The Loudoun Times-Mirror and The Northern Neck News in Virginia as well as sports for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio. He has also hosted podcasts, worked as a television analyst for Spectrum Sports, and appeared as a panelist for conferences and educational programs. A graduate of Bowie State University, Nathaniel grew up in Hawaii and the United Kingdom as a military brat. Five things he must have before leaving home: his cellphone, Black Panther water bottle, hand sanitizer, wedding ring and Philadelphia Eagles keychain.