Carrsville school board race is a bellwether

Published 5:36 pm Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Is the uproar over Isle of Wight County Schools’ equity and inclusion movement the product of a few disgruntled parents and taxpayers? Or a much deeper controversy that threatens to blow the lid off public education in the county?

The Carrsville District school board race, for which voting is underway, will tell us soon enough.

Isle of Wight newcomer John Collick’s bid to oust current School Board Chair Jackie Carr is unapologetically motivated by the nationwide backlash against Critical Race Theory, transgender-friendly policies and other gender-identity controversies.

If Collick, who moved to the county in January, defeats Carr, a lifelong county resident, beloved former principal of Carrsville Elementary School and five-year school board member, it will signal a revolution that will in short order reshape the school board and hasten the departure of Superintendent Jim Thornton, whether by his choice or the board’s.

When I lived in neighboring Franklin a decade or so ago and Carrsville Elementary was the envy of public schools throughout Western Tidewater, a harsh word about Jackie Carr would have been heresy on the level of criticizing Mother Teresa herself. Now, Carr is openly ridiculed during public comments at board meetings and in letters to the editor on this page.

The rather abrupt change owes to the recent nationalization of local school board meetings and races across the country — a clear product of our social media age, when parents and other school stakeholders can more quickly organize and enroll a larger audience in their anger.

I’m old enough to remember the aftermath of atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s successful quest in the 1960s to remove mandatory prayer from public schools. Outrage by Christian parents, including my own, lingered for a decade or more, especially in the Deep South. But if it ever disrupted a school board meeting or caused a school board member to lose an election, I don’t remember it.

Carr clearly understands her political vulnerability, evidenced by recent strong denunciations of Critical Race Theory and her parting with Thornton and other board members on Isle of Wight Schools’ adoption of a state-mandated transgender policy. It’s been awkward to watch Carr, an early defender of the equity and inclusion movement, distance herself of late from its more radical tenets.

Yard signs are a risky way to predict political races, but on a weekend drive through southern Isle of Wight, I was struck by the number of Collick signs. They almost always sat next to a Glenn Youngkin sign, a reminder of another first in Isle of Wight School Board politics: the challenger’s running as a proud Republican in an officially nonpartisan race.

This pundit predicts Carr by a whisker in a race that a year ago wouldn’t have been close. In a close race, opponents of “wokeness” will prove themselves a force to be reckoned with in school board politics.

 

Steve Stewart is publisher of The Smithfield Times. His email address is steve.stewart@smithfieldtimes.com.