Column – IW School Board erases half-century of progress

Published 4:52 pm Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Three Isle of Wight School Board members seem to have accomplished what multiple states and the federal government have failed to do during the past century and a half. They have, with a single vote, declared systemic racism in both the United States and each of its states and localities to be non-existent. 

Systemic racism no longer exists because those three School Board members say it no longer exists? And if it doesn’t exist, then it cannot be taught in Isle of Wight public schools. Thus sayeth the three.

The three also have mandated that parents will henceforth fully determine what their children think about controversial issues. Good luck, parents. You have always had that right, of course, and generations of parents before you have tried — and often failed. 

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Their failure is the reason why, a couple of generations ago, there was an upheaval of thinking across the nation that enabled adoption of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But Isle of Wight County parents now have a 3-2 mandate solidly behind you to try once again, if you wish to do so, to put the genie back in the bottle and return the nation to the 1950s. 

Now, this is all with good intentions, mind you. The three have also mandated that in Isle of Wight County there are, henceforth, no victims. No one shall be oppressed, consciously or unconsciously. And thus, no one among us has a right to feel oppressed because of their race, skin color, gender, religion, national origin, medical condition, age, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity or even military status. 

Understand, teachers, that you are prohibited from mentioning that gender thing, or empathizing with those students who have gender identity questions, but those students should certainly not feel discriminated against. Of course not.

The slim School Board majority’s target in all this was originally history. It makes such an easy target. If you are made uncomfortable reading about Jim Crow, then ban it. Don’t like to think about African American slaves being whipped for disobeying their enslavers? Then, don’t teach it. God forbid that Johnny would come home upset because he had learned about such unpleasantness.

While it’s true that history is an easy target for the culture wars, it becomes more difficult with math and science, but not impossible. The genetics that create conditions prompting young people to question their sex are scientific, so now it is genetic science that must be openly questioned.

Likewise, the math and chemistry that drive knowledge of global warming are vulnerable to a School Board declaration. After all, there are few things more controversial, or in local parlance, more “inherently divisive,” than talk of global warming. And few things that go to the heart of the culture wars any quicker.

It might be said of the School Board Three that it is they who sow the wind, but tragically, all of us who will reap the whirlwind.

There is talk — and it’s more than idle chatter — that some good teachers will be leaving Isle of Wight at the end of this year. They have struggled for the past two years to teach students who spent a year outside the classroom during the pandemic. Many of those students returned to school with serious learning deficits. Many of them also returned with serious discipline issues. Having been outside the classroom for more than a year, they no longer know how to play nice, and aren’t inclined to do so.

Teachers — good teachers — are struggling to overcome those obstacles, to restore order, to raise skill levels to pre-pandemic levels. And now, in the midst of those difficulties, a slim majority of the School Board is determined to ban instruction in areas they find uncomfortable.

The exodus may have already begun. During the past 12 months, the county has lost more instructional personnel than it has hired, according to a review of School Board minutes. What occurs during the next couple of months could exacerbate that.

We cannot afford to lose teachers at this point. We should be lifting them up, supporting them as never before, rather than threatening them with censure if they say the wrong thing, upset the wrong parent. For those we inevitably do lose, their loss must be regretted, but those who come to replace them must be welcomed with open arms and a show of solid support. 

If there is a significant teacher loss from our public schools during the coming year — and God, I hope there is not — it will have been the responsibility of the current School Board, not the previous one. 

Isle of Wight has spent the past half-century building one of the region’s finest public school systems. It hasn’t been easy, but dedicated teachers and administrators have made it happen. Are we now willing to throw all that away, along with the future of students now in the system? 


John Edwards is publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times. His email address is