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Teacher Christine Melendez, a member of the Chesterfield Education Association, decorated her car with signs supporting a virtual start to the school year ahead of a School Board meeting this month.

Two days after the Chesterfield County School Board approved a virtual learning reopening plan, the Board of Supervisors announced an audit of the school system and the Chesterfield Education Association.

The reason for the audit stems from bullying allegations toward Chesterfield teachers who wished to return to the classroom come September, according to Chesterfield Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Leslie Haley.

Some teachers have claimed they were bullied by both school system staff and the teachers union, added Haley, who announced her request of the audit during the July 22 meeting of the supervisors.

The School Board voted 4-1 to begin the school year online during its July 20 meeting only a few hours after Superintendent Merv Daugherty recommended a virtual start.

When asked if teachers have approached the school system about the allegations, a schools spokesman responded with the language of School Board Policy 5015 , which states:

“The School Board prohibits abusive work environments in the school division. Any school board employee who contributes to an abusive work environment will be appropriately disciplined. Retaliation or reprisal against school board employees who make allegations of abusive work environment or assist in the investigation of allegations of abusive work environments is prohibited.”

Haley found it “troubling … that there was bullying going on [and] harassment going on by members of your [Daugherty’s] department and the CEA,” she said during the meeting.

In an interview Tuesday evening, Haley said, “I’m hoping this reveals nothing, but if it’s actually happening we need to stop it.”

Without hesitation, Daugherty agreed to the audit on July 22.

“I support you 100% in that issue. I would be appalled if any of my staff did that,” Daugherty said during the supervisors’ meeting. “If we have to sign a letter of agreement or an MOU [Memorandum of Understanding], I will.”

During the public comment period of the July 20 School Board meeting, Meg Herring, a Chesterfield parent who was in favor of having the option to return to school and mentioned the alleged bullying, spoke “to advocate for the teachers who have personally reached out to me because they are afraid to speak up.”

“Younger, underrepresented teachers want to return to the classroom but fear bullying to speak out,” Herring said.

According to Herring, teachers said Sonia Smith, president of the teachers union, deleted opposing comments off a Facebook Live feed and “called out people inappropriately that were commenting in dissent of her opinion.”

In recent weeks, a fellow administrator of the page “caught comments of micro and macro aggressions,” directed at both Smith and the union, Smith said in an interview Tuesday. The administrator deleted those comments and banned the people who wrote them because of how vile the language was, Smith said.

“What I do for educators and school employees, how I advocate for them has come into question,” Smith said.

Smith added that the “Chesterfield Education Association Facebook page is a space for members and potential members, Chesterfield school employees.”

The teachers union called for a virtual start to the school year in a statement earlier this month. Smith said pushback occurred for teaming up with the Richmond Education Association regarding school reopening. Smith said there’s “cross-pollination” between the two unions, with some Chesterfield teachers living in Richmond and vice versa.

Some people also took issue with the union’s former Facebook profile photo of a raised fist gripping a pencil, Smith said.

As a racial and social justice awakening continues to grow throughout the country, a symbol of a Black raised fist is being used with the Black Lives Matter movement.

“The fist gripping the pencil was equated with the Black Lives Matter movement,” Smith said. “People were saying the union was potentially communist and Marxist [because of the profile photo].”

The first stage of the audit — gathering information from Chesterfield teachers and school staff — is underway by the county’s internal audit department, which routinely audits both county departments and the school system, Haley said. There is no cost to the audit and no concrete timeline at this time.

While Supervisor Jim Holland “eagerly awaits” the audit results as “there is no place in our county and school system for bullying,” he has opposed the audit of the teachers union.

The CEA “is not a county agency or department so the Board [of Supervisors] does not have standing to audit them in my opinion,” Holland said.

But Haley said since the board members of the teachers union are county teachers, “they are subject to the same policies” as any other county employee.

Smith said auditing the union “is an overreach of government.”

“I respect my superintendent saying he is all in, I get it because there is nothing to hide. There is no bullying.”

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