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Hanover County seeks nominees for 2 school board seats

Hanover County School Board building, reserved parking sign, and several cars
Crixell Matthews
VPM News File
Members of the Hanover School Board are appointed by county supervisors to staggered, four-year terms.

The county remains one of the few in Virginia with an unelected school board.

Hanover County remains one of the few jurisdictions in Virginia where the local governing body is responsible for making appointments to the school board.

As Hanover’s Board of Supervisors seeks to fill two school board seats in the Beaverdam and Henry districts, organizations like the NAACP of Hanover continue to advocate for new people to join the board — rather than the same familiar faces.

“What we want is for everybody to come out and participate in the process, because at some point in time, they will get tired of us calling them out,” said Hanover’s NAACP President Pat Hunter-Jordan.

Members of the Hanover School Board have staggered, four-year terms. Each year, the board of supervisors appoints a school board member for at least one of Hanover’s seven election districts.

Individuals interested in being nominated can submit their name during a public hearing held April 26 or directly to the county administrator’s office. After a public hearing, supervisors will make appointments on May 24.

This year, the board aims to replace acting Chairperson John F. Axselle III of Beaverdam, a longtime appointee, and George E. Sutton of the Henry District. Axselle was first appointed in 1995 — Sutton in 2019.

Virginia has a long, sordid history with an appointed school board system that stems from early 1900s Jim Crow–era politics, according to a 2009 statement penned by the ACLU of Virginia.

It wasn’t until 1947 that the General Assembly passed a law permitting Arlington County to elect its school board members. That decision was later undercut by backlash to the Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. The General Assembly repealed the law allowing elected school boards in the mid-1950s, following the Arlington School Board’s decision to integrate some of its schools.

In 1987, the ACLU of Virginia filed a lawsuit challenging Virginia’s ban on elected school boards. After a round of legal battles, the General Assembly finally passed legislation in 1992 to allow localities to hold referendums asking voters if they’d prefer to elect their school board representatives.

Hunter-Jordan said there have been attempts on behalf of the NAACP to get a referendum via grassroots campaigning, but they have not succeeded. To this day, a coalition of Hanover residents continues to collect eligible voters’ signatures in hopes of reaching the required 10% needed to get a referendum on the ballot.

“We've gotten about a third of the way there, so roughly around 3,000 signatures,” said Tim McDermott, a volunteer with the Hanover Citizens for an Elected School Board. “That's really good progress, but the clock is ticking.”

State code requires McDermott and his coalition to file their petition by mid-July — 111 days prior to the next general election in November 2023. Although the group may not reach their goals this year, McDermott said he’s determined to see change in Hanover.

“I support an elected school board,” he said. “The public has got to have the ability to express their opinion as to whether they do want or do not want. And so that's really what the focus of this group right now is to get enough signatures to get that on the ballot.”

Lyndon German covers Henrico and Hanover counties for VPM News.
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