Parents react to petitions to recall Virginia Beach school board members

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Posted at 9:06 PM, Sep 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-29 22:59:22-04

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Virginia Beach families are demanding change to the Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS) school board. Folks have created petitions to recall 6 of the 11 school board members.

They include Carolyn Rye, Kimberly Melnyk, Beverly Anderson, Dorothy “Dottie” Holtz, Jessica Owens and Trenace Riggs.

“This system belongs to the taxpayers of Virginia Beach,” Virginia Beach grandparent Thomas Conant told News 3.

Conant is passionate about school board meetings. He said his granddaughter sparked his motivation to get behind the microphone.

“[She] was robbed of her senior year, and all of the different courses that she’d been waiting for, for three years, and how disappointed she was,” he said. “That’s why I came out. Just to open the schools.”

Conant is one of many who’ve signed the petitions. One website stating students learning at home throughout the pandemic and decisions made by VBCPS school board members, adding, “These decisions harmed children and caused a major educational setback for students."

“We’d like them to listen,” Conant said. “We have tried to get the school board to think reasonably about some of the issues that they’re voting on.”

Other parents, like Merrilee Gasser, are considering whether to put pen to paper.

“If you’re not letting parents have a say in our kids’ education, then we have to get you out of there to let someone else who does respect our voice make those decisions,” Gasser said.

However, Virginia Beach parents like Tonya Rivers believe the petition is all smoke and mirrors.

“I think that it’s unnecessary. Really,” Rivers told News 3. “This wasn’t just localized to Virginia Beach. The whole nation was basically going virtual trying to find their way. Trying to figure out what’s best.”

Virginia Beach attorney Jeff Marks, Chair of the Virginia Beach Electoral Board, has experience in working on election-related cases.

“It really is not an electoral process, it’s a process that’s really a judicial process,” Marks said.

As to how many signatures are needed on a petition to recall an elected official, Marks told News 3 it’s 10 percent of the total number of voters casting a ballot for that specific race in the last election.

“Once you get that number, then the next step involves the judiciary,” he added.

Marks said this would involve the petition being filed at the city's circuit court to be presented.

When talking with News 3, Marks also weighed in with his opinion regarding recall petitions.

“This is a recall that’s decided, not by the electorate, but by a circuit court judge,” Marks said. “I think, because of that, my experience and understanding is that there’s some reluctance by the judiciary to interject their opinion.”

If recall efforts were to move further, as to whether a special election would be held, Marks said that would need to be determined.

News 3 reached out to each of the six school board members named in the petition.

Anderson, an At-Large member, responded in a statement, saying in part, "The group’s written reasoning for the recall fails to mention the safety mitigations that the school system, CDC and Governor put into place during the pandemic. As school board members it’s our job to think of the safety of all students, teachers and staff when making decisions for the school system."

News also 3 heard back from Melnyk, who said she had no comment on the matter.