Richmond Schools Superintendent Dana T. Bedden disbanded the school system’s multicultural task force Tuesday, saying its recommendations had been received and the emphasis was shifting to implementing them.
“A task force is not in perpetuity,” he said during a meeting in city office space at Southside Plaza, where the school system will create a welcome center for families that need special services, including overcoming language barriers. “My recommendation to the School Board is that we’re disbanding this.”
Three members of the volunteer task force agreed, but the group’s chairman did not, and he continued conducting the meeting after those three, Bedden and four other school employees left.
The task force is “absolutely still in existence,” Charles Willis said about an hour after Bedden made his announcement.
The task force was created in June 2013 by then-Superintendent Yvonne W. Brandon after a series of incidents between black and Hispanic students at Huguenot High School.
The group spent more than a year coming up with recommendations for improving relationships, and it presented a report to Bedden. Among the ideas were opening the welcome center and hiring more interpreters.
Bedden said that since the group was created administratively, it reported to him, not the School Board, and that he held the power to determine its fate.
“It seems to me that the most productive use of your expertise is to help us to make progress in these recommendations,” he said to the group. He invited the members to continue volunteering as the school system began implementing some of the ideas.
Three of those members — Paul Fleisher of the Richmond Peace Education Center; Barbara Ingber of Virginia Commonwealth University; and Mary Wickham of the Sacred Heart Center — agreed with Bedden.
Before he spoke, in fact, they individually recommended that the task force disband itself.
“I think it’s time to dissolve ourselves,” Fleisher said to open the meeting.
He said he was pleased that two key recommendations — the welcome center and the hiring of more interpreters — were being carried out.
After Bedden spoke, Wickham said, “I’m glad to hear that.”
Ingber, too, seemed happy to finish the work.
“We don’t have to be the ones to determine what comes next,” she said. “I think we’ve served our purpose.”
Willis disagreed, at great length and with the support of two School Board members, Mamie L. Taylor, of the 5th District, and Tichi L. Pinkney Eppes, of the 9th District, both of whom arrived after Bedden made his announcement.
Taylor was even more adamant that the task force would continue.
Last month, she and Eppes tried appointing themselves to the task force. They couldn’t garner support from the rest of the School Board, but they have still been participating.
“Don’t try to dissolve something when the community needs it,” Taylor said.
Taylor lectured the task force members who accepted Bedden’s recommendation, telling them at one point that they hadn’t done enough to support the city’s black community.
After they left, she continued insisting that the board, not Bedden, held the power over the task force.
Eppes didn’t say anything during the meeting, but it wasn’t clear if she was permitted to attend. If the task force is an actual board committee, as Taylor contended, Eppes’ participation would be barred under a censure the board imposed on her last month for leaking confidential student information to a vendor.