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Racism, the School Board, and Griffin

In today’s Progress, James Fernald provides an update on last night’s school board meeting, at which Superintendent Scottie Griffin resigned from her position.

After reading the piece, I’m inclined to agree with others who have said that things are going to get worse before they get better. There is great potential for this to get uglier than it has so far. The first red flag is that the 5-2 vote to accept Griffin’s resignation was almost, but not require, along racial lines — the two dissenting votes were cast by Muriel Wiggins and Bill Igbani, two of the three blackschool board members. Accurately or not, this provides the public impression that votes were cast for reasons of race. Igbani said, after the meeting, that he intends to leave the school board before too long — again, a red flag.

After the announcement came, Rev. R.A. Johnson — a strident supporter of Griffin and a harsh critic of those who have questioned Griffin’s qualifications and methods — declared: “Don’t think you can hire somebody black and that’s going to satisfy us.” This calls attention to the bind that the school board is in: if the next superintendent is black, there will be accusations of tokenism; if s/he is white, there will be further accusations of racism.

In the meantime, Dr. Griffin remains the superintendent until June 30, and it’s sure to be an uncomfortable two months.

In this week’s Hook, Courteney Stuart has further revelations about Griffin’s background, including that she’s held seven positions in the past decade, and left four of them midway through the school year, which is quite uncommon. It turns out that the school board knew nothing about her resume or her two legal cases, because they — rather appallingly — counted on the recruiting firm to take care of that. According to the board’s attorney, they may consider taking legal action against the search firm.

All of that may be beside the point, though — if her resignation is perceived to have been forced because of her race, the facts are unlikely to persuade those who see nothing more than institutional racism.

It’s not surprising that Igbani plans on leaving the school board. What’s surprising is that they’re not all planning on quitting.

Griffin Attempts to Fire Purnell

The ongoing saga of Superintendent Scottie Griffin just got uglier. You’ll recall Assistant Superintended Laura Purnell blew the whistle on Griffin in a lengthy letter to the school board last month. Now Griffin is attempting to give Purnell the boot by eliminating her position in June, and has asked the school board to do so during their Thursday meeting, the Progress reports. In Purnell’s letter, she acknowledged that in becoming a whistleblower, she knew that she was risking her job, but felt that it was more important that she say something than that she keep her job safe. Nearly all of the officials that the Progress interviewed said that Purnell should be protected from being fired. The decision rests with the school board, not Griffin.

The letter in question, by the way, seems to have been validated: the Progress, for the first time, quotes from the letter, and attributes it to being authored by Purnell, rather than allegedly by Purnell. It’s also noteworthy that James Fernald is not the only reporter that received credit for this: veteran political analyst Bob Gibson has been brought in, a sign that this story is getting bigger and more politically sensitive.

I expect that things are only going to get worse from here. Should the overall issue of Griffin vs. some parents be reframed as Griffin vs. Purnell, the assistant superintendent may find herself painted as a liar or a racist. Some teachers, many of whom are preparing to sign their contracts for next year, may see the result of Thursday’s meeting as a sign of whether or not they should continue to teach in the Charlottesville school system. If the board doesn’t fire Purnell, Griffin may break her public silence and stop speaking through surrogates, which would certainly take things up a notch.

Purnell’s Letter to Griffin

There’s a whole kerfuffle over a letter circulating via e-mail, allegedly written by Charlottesville Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Laura Purnell, as James Fernald and Josh Barney report in today’s Progress. Purnell wrote a nasty criticism of beleaguered Charlottesville Superintendent Scottie Griffin, and ended up writing a letter of apology to Griffin. Griffin released the letter of apology publicly, but would not release the letter that made the apology necessary. To that end, keep reading to see the original letter in question, thanks to pseudonymous submitter “DumpHer.”

Continue reading ‘Purnell’s Letter to Griffin’

Turner: Griffin Victim of Sexism, Racism

Responding to criticism of the rather unorthodox proposals of new Charlottesville school superintendent Scottie Griffin, the always-calming UVa Dean Rick Turner declared in a speech at the Rotunda yesterday that “she’s being dragged through the mud because she’s black and female,” helpfully pointing out that he doesn’t “think white people in Charlottesville will do anything for black folks.” Turner believes that, if Griffin were a white man, everybody would be fine with her proposal, which would cut five student-contact positions and replace them with four administrators. Kate Andrews has the story in today’s Progress.

Rick Turner: A Secret Pact Bars Blacks from Downtown

Remember Rick Turner? The former UVA Dean of African-American Affairs retired in 2006 after lying to federal investigators in a drug case. (The details of that sordid affair never became public.) That humiliation appeared to be the end of his public life, one that had become increasingly noisy in the prior couple of years. In 2005 alone he defended the stunningly incompetent school superintendent Scottie Griffin as a victim of race hatred, declared that teachers and the school bard are racist, that firing Griffin would be a “lynching”, that black people have a “slave-like mentality”, and that UVA students were guilty of “racial terrorism”. Again, that’s just in 2005.

Well, Turner’s emerged in public to again light a fire and throw some gasoline it, this time informing City Council that downtown has way too many white people, Graham Moomaw wrote in the Progress last week, and accusing downtown business owners of having a secret pact to refuse to hire African-Americans. Turner, the head of the Albemarle-Charlottesville branch of the NAACP, provided no evidence to support his claims. Councilors Holly Edwards, David Brown, and Dave Norris thanked Turner for his comments. (Turner once called for then-mayor Brown to resign for meeting with school principals.) His remarks can be watched, starting at the 43:14 mark. Downtown business owners aren’t thrilled with the accusations. Chamber president Tim Hulbert complained that “[i]It’s just not helpful…when anyone calls out a whole group of people and paints them with a brush that’s inaccurate.” Downtown Business Association co-chair Bob Stroh was reduced to stating the obvious, that “the part about the secret code and that kind of stuff is…not true.”