IW School Board reorganizes

Published 4:55 pm Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Isle of Wight County’s School Board unanimously elected Denise Tynes as its new chairwoman on Jan. 6 after seeing four of its five seats change hands last year.

Michael Cunningham, who was elected to the board’s Hardy District seat last November — now known as District 3 under new county-wide redistricting maps — will serve as vice chairman, also by unanimous vote.

The board then voted 4-1 to reappoint Tracey Reutt as its board clerk.

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Newly-elected District 1 board member John Collick, whose district was formerly known as Carrsville, had tried to nominate the board’s deputy clerk, Jessica Whitlow, to the role instead.

Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton objected to Collick’s motion, stating that per state law, the superintendent has the sole discretion to nominate the clerk — with the board’s only role in the process being to vote “yea” or “nay” on that person. School Board Attorney Pakapon “Pak” Phinyowattanachip concurred with Thornton’s interpretation of state law.

Matters became even more heated when it came time to discuss readopting a list of 11 protocols board members are to follow.

The list, which is unchanged from the 2021 protocol document, states that “phone calls are the preferred method of communication” among board members and between the board and school staff, and that board members should “never use ‘reply all’” when sending emails — provisions Collick accused of bypassing Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act.

“Why would we want to use phone calls as the primary means except to get around the FOIA rules?” Collick asked.

Thornton again objected.

“I take offense to Mr. Collick’s comment that we are trying to avoid FOIA,” Thornton said.

The protocols, he said, were put in place by past boards with input by the Virginia School Boards Association and are “generally used by most boards.”

In addition to making it easier for school staff to notify board members of an emergency, the protocol also protects board members from running afoul of Virginia’s open meeting requirements, Thornton said, which require public notification in all instances where three or more board members are discussing school business.

“If any of your board members email more than one of you, you now have conducted a meeting,” Thornton said.

District 2 member Michael Vines, whose district was formerly known as Windsor, agreed with Collick’s preference for emails, stating phone calls “can be misconstrued.”

Tynes then called the decision to call versus email a “personal choice.”

“I drive often, it takes me an hour to get to work, so if I have to make a phone call, I have to make a phone call,” added Renee Dial, who was appointed last year to fill the board’s Newport District seat, now known as District 4.

The board then discussed whether to add text messages as an option, which Phinyowattanachip said would be “a nightmare” for FOIA compliance because there’s no way to archive texts if a cell phone is lost or destroyed.

The board ultimately voted unanimously to table taking action on the protocols until February.

Collick had also suggested tabling the board’s vote on its code of ethics, but ended up voting with his fellow board members to approve it. He said while he had no objections to the document’s content, he’d have preferred the matter be left for a meeting with a public comment period — which the Jan. 6 meeting did not have by virtue of being a work session.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with an additional statement by District 2 member Michael Vines.