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Tensions surface at Franklin County School Board meeting

Tensions surface at Franklin County School Board meeting

The Franklin County School Board resolved the question of banning the Confederate flag in the student dress code last month in a failed tie vote on a ban.

The reverberations from that decision continued at Monday night’s board meeting as tensions flared.

Member at large Penny Blue, the board’s only African American member, proposed the ban in October and ended up the only member to vote against a revised dress code without the ban in the final vote taken on the matter at the Jan. 13 meeting.

Toward the end of Monday’s meeting, Blue used a period given over to board member concerns to criticize outgoing Superintendent Mark Church. “I as a board member would like to apologize to all the Franklin County citizens that have come out and spoken against the Confederate flag.”

She made reference to interviews she and Church gave to The Washington Post. In the story, Church is quoted as saying that Confederate flags are common in Virginia, and if Franklin County students wear a Confederate flag patch, it’s merely apparel, not a hate symbol.

“It is obvious that he had not heard a word that you said,” Blue continued. “I ask you not to take it personally, because I’ve been on this board for six years, and he has not heard a word that I said.”

At December’s meeting, Church announced his retirement, effective Aug. 1, even though his contract was good through June 2022.

Earlier in the meeting, a heated exchange erupted over a request by Blue to be reimbursed for attending a Jan. 14 class in Richmond offered by the Virginia School Board Association. The class offered training for new board members, board chairs and vice chairs.

According to the Jan. 13 meeting minutes, board chair Julie Nix and vice chair Donna Cosmato questioned why Blue needed the training, but an attempt by Cosmato and Snow Creek representative G.B. Washburn to give Nix authority over which members could attend conference training failed on a 4 to 4 vote.

On Monday, attending via speakerphone from Richmond, Washburn advocated for a procedure to be put in place to make it clear who authorizes VSBA attendance.

“This orientation is so that these meetings can run smoothly,” Blue said. She criticized other members, especially Nix and Cosmato, for not attending.

Washburn made a motion to deny the $329.84 reimbursement for Blue but no members seconded the motion.

Blue made a motion, seconded by Rocky Mount representative Jeff Worley, to approve the accounts payable list including the reimbursement to Blue. The motion passed 6 to 1, with Cosmato voting no. Nix did not attend Monday.

Immediately before the vote, Cosmato attempted to cut off Blue during an exchange with Washburn.

Immediately after the vote, Blue complained to Cosmato about being cut off, as Cosmato attempted to cut her off again, and Cosmato’s husband interjected from the audience, followed by Blue’s sister and others who supported Blue.

“If she stops, I’ll stop, but if we want to roll, we can roll,” Blue said.

The meeting continued mostly as normal soon after.

A presentation that clearly unified everyone in the room was a student film made about the many problems, in terms of outdated equipment and inadequate space, at Franklin County High School’s technology education center, that ends by requesting that residents lobby county officials for improvements.

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