Brewer endorsement doesn’t violate School Board policy, chairman contends

Published 5:48 pm Tuesday, March 28, 2023

A new School Board policy prohibiting employees of Isle of Wight County Schools from endorsing politicians doesn’t preclude board members themselves from doing so, according to Board Chairman John Collick.

Collick, on March 9, defended his recent endorsement of a Republican state Senate candidate after speakers, during the meeting’s public comment period, accused him and two other members of the board’s conservative majority of being beholden to political interests.

Collick, who’d secured the endorsement of the county’s Republican Party when he ran for his School Board seat in 2021, endorsed Del. Emily Brewer, R-Isle of Wight, a week prior to the meeting in her bid for the newly created Senate District 17. Collick contended on March 9 that he made the endorsement in his “personal capacity.”

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School Board Policy INB pertains to the teaching of controversial topics. Under revisions Collick, Vice Chairman Jason Maresh and board member Mark Wooster voted 3-2 to approve, Isle of Wight educators are now barred from teaching students about “systemic racism” or endorsing “any political party, candidate or ideology in the performance of their duties.”

“As a pastor, I would never tell my people, ‘do as I say do, not as I do,’” said the Rev. Willie Williams.

Matt Ployd, a Smithfield High School teacher, contended the board would be in “immediate violation” of its own changes to Policy INB.

It’s the “in the performance of their duties” part of the policy that’s key to Collick.

“In our positions as School Board members, we do not discuss politics; in our personal lives, we can, just as our teachers can in their personal lives,” Collick said, adding he would “continue” to do so in the future.

Brewer announced Collick’s endorsement on March 2, issuing a press release identifying him as an Isle of Wight County School Board member.

“Emily supports the banning of teaching ‘inherently divisive concepts’ in Virginia schools and to prohibit biological boys from competing in girls’ sports, particularly when scholarships are at stake,” Collick said in Brewer’s press release. “Emily’s position is perfectly aligned with my own.”

Collick, in 2021, had campaigned on a platform of opposition to transgender student policies and Critical Race Theory, which argues American laws and institutions have perpetuated inequalities among minorities.

According to Virginia Department of Education spokesman Charles Pyle, School Board members are not “employees” of their school divisions under Virginia law. School division staff, rather, are “employees of the board.”

At the same meeting, board member Denise Tynes – who, along with Michael Cunningham voted to oppose the Policy INB changes – took issue with Maresh having accepted a non-monetary donation last fall from the Middle Resolution PAC, a political action committee that, according to its website, is “committed to identifying and electing qualified candidates who align with core conservative principles.”

“When you start taking donations from private businesses and organizations … and political PACs, I do have a concern with that,” Tynes said, contending such donations could result in organizations believing they “own” their donors.

“Nobody owns me,” Collick objected.

Maresh, in a February statement to the Times, denied being swayed by the Middle Resolution donation, which consisted of design services for his campaign website.

“I’ve maintained conservative values and positions long before I decided to run for school board and long before Middle Resolution provided me with a donation in the form of web design services,” Maresh said. 

Wooster stated that as a civilian Navy firefighter and paramedic, he is covered under the Hatch Act, a federal law that prohibits certain federal employees from soliciting or accepting donations from partisan candidates or groups. The only contribution to Wooster’s campaign marginally connected with a partisan candidate was a $150 cash donation from Angie Sadler, wife of state Senate candidate Hermie Sadler, who’s running against Brewer for the Republican nomination. The September donation was made nearly two months prior to Hermie Sadler’s candidacy announcement.