CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Manchester Middle School in Chesterfield County canceled the appearance of “a former violent white supremacist” scheduled to speak to seventh and eighth graders Friday.
The decision to uninvite Shannon Foley Martinez, who is described as “a reformed neo-Nazi, white-power skinhead” by her talent agency, came “after careful consideration of some feedback” the school received, according to a message to parents that circulated online.
Martinez has given speeches at schools and other venues on radicalization and her experiences. Her scheduled March 3 presentation at the school was sponsored by the Virginia Holocaust Museum.
Plans to have her speak to students on Friday morning led to criticism from many, including one parent who called out the decision to send out the permission slip for the speech during Black History Month and said she didn’t remember the school taking students out of class to hear from Black speakers.
In the permission form sent to parents, Martinez is identified as a “former violent white supremacist” with 20 years of experience “in developing community resource platforms aimed at inoculating individuals against violence-based lifestyles and ideologies.”
The form also listed the programs Martinez participated in, including the UN Office of Counter Terrorism, her notable appearances and media outlets that have shared her story. The permission slip added that she has helped at-risk communities with dynamic resiliency skills, trained law enforcement and worked with educators and tech companies.
The school set a Feb. 27 deadline for students to return the permission slip, which showed Martinez’s presentation was expected to be from 8:15 a.m. to 9:45 a.m., but the presentation was nixed on Monday.
“We believed that the first hand account of how these organizations function would have brought awareness to our students that could have benefited them as they mature and are confronted with these organizations/individuals in society,” the school wrote in a message to families announcing the cancellation.
“After careful consideration of some feedback that we have received, we have determined that it is not in our best interest at this time to provide this guest speakers session to our students and will not be inviting Ms. Martinez in to speak with our speakers,” the message continued.
The school also noted that central office leadership approved Martinez’s scheduled appearance. Shawn Smith, a Chesterfield County Public Schools spokesperson, shared the school’s message to parents with 8News when asked Monday if Martinez would be speaking and if not, the reasons why.
Before the presentation was canceled, a parent named Stephanie Hewlett messaged Principal David Altizer raising concerns over Martinez speaking at the school.
“As a friend put it earlier (because I’m not the only one who has a problem with this)…basically, if you’re a violent, vile, hateful bigot, and you decide that’s not working out for you, you can then turn around and get paid to talk to the same people that your hate affected and be seen as an expert worthy of delaying their daily education routine…I couldn’t agree more,” the message provided to 8News reads. “That is exactly what this looks like.”
Hewlett also pointed to the middle school’s demographics — state data shows 43% of the student body at the start of the school year was Black, compared to just under 20% white — and the fact the permission slip was sent to families during Black History Month.
“I don’t recall getting a permission slip asking that our children be excused from missing class to hear someone speak on the actual topic of black history,” Hewlett wrote, “perhaps a noteworthy black person who has been out there fighting for our rights all along?”
The Virginia Holocaust Museum acknowledged receiving 8News’ request for an interview or comment regarding the canceled presentation but has yet to provide one.
Update: This story has been updated to include that Chesterfield schools responded to 8News with Manchester Middle School’s message to families, which came after publication.