CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — When Chesapeake’s new school board chair took his seat on the dais Monday night, he wanted to make clear his stance on recent behavior surrounding school board meetings.
Longtime school board member Harry Murphy was elected chair at the beginning of the meeting with fellow longtime member Tom Mercer being elected vice-chair. Both men have served in their roles before, but never before in a time of such contention.
During an emergency meeting on New Year’s Eve, school security was directed to move two individuals out of the meeting; and for a brief time, the acting chair directed the entire room cleared after several started screaming at board members. In the days after, threats toward school board members on social media were handed over to the Chesapeake Police Department, per a school division spokesperson.
Murphy, who announced recently he would not be seeking a seventh term, said none of it would be tolerated moving forward.
“Any threat to any school board member is a threat to every school board member. Every threat to any member of this board, the superintendent or his staff will be turned over to the Chesapeake police for investigation,” Murphy said.
The topic of face masks for students has led to hostile meetings for much of the last year in more conservative-leaning localities like Chesapeake and Virginia Beach.
Ahead of the meeting, the division sent four “no trespassing” letters to people who were disruptive and “speaking in an obscene manner” on Dec. 31. 10 On Your Side was able to view a copy of one such letter and it stated the individual was “suspended from attending a School Board meeting in person for the remainder of the 2021-2022 school year.”
Several speakers Monday night expressed appreciation for Murphy’s actions.
“Some of us have received online threats and I thank you for your message of when many of you receive threats, it’s a threat to all of us,” Amber Bowmer said. “And I appreciate the increased security. Because it is scary, the threats.”
The board took no action in regard to COVID-19 mitigation efforts Monday night, but Superintendent Dr. Jared Cotton said nine more schools have moved in the direction of possibly having to engage in virtual learning. Six schools are already learning virtually through the end of the week.
The nine schools that could be moved to virtual learning include: Oscar Smith High, Indian River High, Indian River Middle, Camelot Elementary, Deep Creek Elementary, Georgetown Primary, Greenbrier Intermediate, Southwestern Elementary and Treakle Elementary.