Emails shameful; aftermath bungled

Published 3:40 pm Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Cowardly emails to Dr. Jim Thornton have no place in the debate over Isle of Wight County Schools’ equity and inclusion initiative.

The Isle of Wight Sheriff’s Office likely reached the right conclusion that the emails — sent anonymously by the same person — did not constitute a physical threat under state law. “Tick tock” can just as easily be interpreted as an assessment of the embattled Thornton’s job security as an intent to take his life.

Regardless, the emails are gutless and sophomoric and should be denounced by anyone who believes in a civilized society. Opponents of the school division’s equity and inclusion effort should be the first to call out the emails’ author as pathetic. He or she did a disservice to parents who have sincere concerns about the school division and have been mostly civil in making their points. Unfortunately, those parents have devoted more time to trying to prove Thornton was “lying” about the emails.

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Thornton clearly received the emails in question, but in retrospect, he responded poorly.

If you’re sincerely concerned about your family’s safety, it’s never a good idea to mention a threat in public and especially not as part of an effort to disparage your political opponents. You should simply put the matter in the hands of law enforcement and let them do their job.

Thornton’s continuing insistence that opposition to the equity and inclusion movement is limited to a group of 20 or so rabble-rousers is tone-deaf. The lesson of this month’s election — in which centrist voters flocked in droves to Republican Glenn Youngkin and handed him a gubernatorial victory that was unthinkable just 60 days ago — is that many parents believe public schools have gone too far in imposing on children progressive values on race, sexuality and gender identity.

Thornton underestimates that opposition at his own political risk, as the school board that hires and fires him will be ultimately accountable to the voters. John Collick’s election in the Carrsville District is almost certainly a preview of what’s to come in school board races.

The sheriff’s office is not blameless in the email debacle. Sheriff James Clarke Jr. and his top leadership should have swiftly investigated and communicated to Thornton and the citizenry their conclusion that the emails, while real, were not a criminal act. Instead, they let Thornton twist in the political winds and left the impression for months that he might have been lying.

There are many lessons to be learned from this sordid affair, but no one should shift primary blame from the despicable person who sent the emails.