Powhatan School Board removes the word 'equitable' and hate speech definition from student policy

Posted at 10:47 AM, Jun 19, 2024

POWHATAN COUNTY, Va. -- The Powhatan County School Board voted to approve changes to the Students' Rights and Responsibilities draft policy after allegations of racism within district schools. But the changes were not necessarily those that the majority of concerned community members who spoke at Tuesday night's meeting wanted school board members to make.

Three months after the local NAACP chapter demanded the school system take action following an incident at the high school, Powhatan school leaders voted to approve the following changes:

  • The removal of the word "equitable" from the policy

It now reads a safe school environment, "Provides the resources, services, and supports to every school community to ensure *access to education and to achieve *personalized outcomes in education for all students."
These changes were made after some community members said "equitable" was a trigger word.

  • Definitions for hate speech were deleted from the policy

Board members said specific definitions or examples may "put the board in a box" and make it harder to discipline.

  • Definitions for assault and battery were added to the policy
  • Cell phone use was banned during the school day — including during the lunch period

The majority of the people who spoke at Tuesday's meeting expressed their displeasure with the Powhatan School Board's vote.
They said they feared discrimination would continue without the board providing examples of discrimination and without providing definitions of hate speech.

"Without guidelines, definitions, and examples, these problems will continue," one community member said at the meeting.

"Powhatan County Public Schools continue to minimize the voices of the students parents and community," another community member added.

WATCH: Powhatan students say they 'feel alone,' still face discrimination in classrooms

Powhatan students say they 'feel alone,' still face discrimination in classrooms

The outcry for change grew louder in recent months after some students and families came forward sharing alleged incidents of discrimination taking place in the classroom. They claim it has created a culture where that behavior is accepted and the consequences are not adequate enough to impact change.

"If you make a choice to not define it for students, how are they supposed to govern themselves by it," a third community member said.

One community member did speak in favor of the school board's action.

"I have seen nothing but due process and every step of the way," that community member said.

After the vote, the NAACP issued a statement saying the School Board made policy based on political trigger words instead of best practices for children and regard to the law.

Powhatan School Board member Michele Ward called the issue one that the school board took seriously.

"Any ugly words will be addressed as far as discipline is concerned," Powhatan School Board member Michele Ward said during the meeting.

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