The Spotsylvania County School Board appointed a new acting superintendent Tuesday night. That decision, however, played second fiddle to contentious arguments regarding the proposed condemnation of a social media post by board member Nicole Cole.
The board voted 4–1, with one abstention, to approve Spotsylvania High School Principal Kelly Guempel to replace current Acting Superintendent Carol Flenard, who leaves July 1. Flenard replaced former Superintendent Scott Baker, who was fired by the board in January.
The vote for Guempel came after the board spent close to two hours, in open session, addressing the May 25 social media post.
The board traded barbs about other members’ comments and actions before finally entering closed session to discuss Cole’s social media post.
When members emerged from the closed session, Cole did not return, leaving the remaining six members to discuss and vote on the motion to condemn the Facebook post.
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The board voted to condemn Cole’s post, 4–1, with Dawn Shelley dissenting and Lorita Daniels abstaining. Board Chairman Kirk Twigg, Rabih Abuismail, Lisa Phelps and April Gillespie voted in favor of the condemnation.
On June 13, the board approved a motion by Abuismail to schedule the special meeting to discuss the social media post made by Cole shortly after the deadly mass school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
The statement, which Cole posted to her personal Facebook page and has since deleted, attributed the shooting to white nationalist sentiments. During public comments at that meeting, numerous speakers read the post aloud, decried it as racist and offensive and called for Cole to be censured.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, Cole and Shelley challenged the closed session on several fronts. Cole said there needed to be a specific reason so the public could understand why the board was going into closed session.
Cole and Shelley asked several times for School Board attorney Brad King to address questions they had, but he was not in the meeting room.
Twigg spoke on the phone with the attorney during the meeting, to Shelley’s objections, and said King would talk with the board during closed session.
The public has a right to know the reason for the closed session, Cole said before addressing Twigg directly.
“You’re violating my rights, and I can sue you,” she said.
Following the closed session, Shelley referenced Cole’s social media post and asked if any of the board members condone white nationalism. None responded immediately, but Abuismail later pointed out that he emigrated from Lebanon to the U.S. to enjoy the country’s freedoms.
“It’s funny and super ironic that you ask us as board members if we support white nationalism, when you’re asking an immigrant this question, not a white nationalist,” he said.
Abuismail also said he would rather discuss issues like Cole’s post between members in closed session “rather than standing outside giving speeches in front of ‘recall Twigg’ and ‘recall Rabih’ signs.”
Daniels said Cole used her First Amendment right to make the comment, even if it was political.
She also lamented the state of the school board.
“We’re dealing with politics,” she said.
Daniels said other members have made suspect comments, and those have been handled differently. She added that the board had a chance to handle Cole’s post in closed session without public discussion.
“We’re continually creating divisiveness on this school board,” Daniels continued. “We as a board, we need to continue to work together as a cohesive body. And I have no idea how we’re going to do that, because we continue to create issues, political issues, political dissension. Whatever you want to call it, we keep doing it over and over on the dais. It’s inappropriate. It’s not fair to our students, it’s not fair to the teachers, it is not fair to the administrators.”
Daniels said the public needs to “call out” the board when it doesn’t do the right thing.
“I’m gonna keep trying to pull this board together,” she said.
Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436