ISLE OF WIGHT COUNTY, Va. (WAVY) — There’s been a lot of tension lately at Isle of Wight County School Board meetings.
Now, Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton has come forward saying he’s received multiple death threats.
Last year when the school system dug into the results of an equity study, it showed major achievement gaps between white and Black students. To address those issues, Isle of Wight Schools hired an equity coordinator. The equity coordinator provided cultural awareness training to administrators. The school intends for all teachers to go through it this year.
“We’re not telling them what to believe. We’re sharing information for them to process,” said Thornton.
Now, he says they are in the middle of an equity audit with an outside firm. That audit will consist partially of interviews with parents, staff, and community members.
Thornton says the training uses words like bias and white privilege. He says community members obtained those training documents through a Freedom of Information Act request and criticized it, saying it was critical race theory being implemented in adults, and next would be students. Thornton says he is not bringing CRT into schools but the fallout has led to four emailed death threats with context about CRT and the equity and inclusion initiatives.
“It was insinuating my time is coming and then it was signed the last sentence was ‘tick-tock, Jimmy.’ My first name is Jim and it’s not TikTok like the challenge, it was spelled tick-tock, like the clock is ticking, or you can consider it like a bomb ticking,” Thornton explained.
He says some of the emails can’t be tracked because they were using an out-of-country account.
“I’m walked to my car after school board meetings, and no one should have to go through this,” he added.
Thornton says deputies have also put his house on watch and his wife is very concerned for their safety.
Here’s the statement an Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson sent to 10 On Your Side:
“The School Superintendent reached out to Lt. Edwards, who supervises our School Resource Officers and made him aware of a number of emails that his office had received. We reviewed those emails and had discussions with the school system. No official report has been filed beyond the interactions between the school staff and our personnel. That doesn’t mean we, nor the school system, did not take this matter seriously and continue to monitor the status of these communications. We take the safety and security of all our school students, staff and central office personnel very serious.
“The Isle of Wight Sheriff’s office has a home and business security check program. Anyone can request that their home or business be placed on this list and deputies make a point to specifically check that location during their patrol functions. I cannot go into any details as to whose home or business is on that list or for what reasons. I can say that we do not have deputies assigned to specifically monitor any home 24/7.”
Thornton says recently, community members have shifted their focus to two books found in school libraries that were part of the Read Woke Challenge.
The first book of concern, “The Hate You Give” by Angie Thomas, and the second, “Out of Darkness” by Ashley Perez, both contain explicit language that was read out loud by parents, teachers, and community members at the last school board meeting.
“That’s what you’ve put in our schools. A shame on every one of you that endorses this garbage,” said one Windsor man at the school board meeting last Thursday.
Parents also addressed critical race theory and claimed it was being implemented in Isle of Wight schools. Critical race theory is currently not taught in any Virginia K-12 schools.
“Organizations, political parties, academia, education unions, media even some ministries are profiting from the continual stirring of race-based politics this brings me to the dangerous divisive and especially profitable critical race theory. Isle of Wight County schools, though denying, have purchased CRT curriculum under the guise of equity,” said resident Laura Fletcher at Thursday’s school board meeting.
“Maybe we’re not teaching them to be a Democrat racist fast enough. Critical race theory is a … poison. Its primary objective is to separate child from child,” added another man, Karlus Bailey, who spoke at the school board meeting.
During that meeting, one board member resigned and another announced she would not run for re-election this November. Neither said critical race theory or the books of concern contributed to their decisions, however, before reading her letter announcing she would not seek re-election, Board Chair Jackie Carr discussed how the school board does not choose what books are approved or put in libraries.
Thornton says parents have been informed there are policy forms they can fill out for a review of the material. So far, he says he’s only received two of them.
“Instead, they come to the school board meeting and scream. They say it’s not political, but almost every speaker at the last meeting was coming up and using Terry McAuliffe’s name. It seems very politically charged,” said Thornton.
Amid the concern at last week’s school board meeting were multiple calls for Thornton to resign.
“I’m 33 years into education. I am coming to the end of my contract. I’d be lying to you if I said I haven’t considered retiring before my contract ends. Who wouldn’t in these conditions?” said Thornton.