The Isle of Wight County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton has received multiple death threats, and two members of the school board have announced their departure within the past month. The board and district leaders have come under fire from some parents for decisions about masks, transgender policy, and library books — issues that are being debated in school board public comment periods across Virginia. Thornton told the district is introducing cultural awareness training for teachers this year as part of several equity initiatives.

“We’re not telling them what to believe. We’re sharing information for them to process,” Thornton said.

He also told Wavy that the death threats were linked to fears about Critical Race Theory (CRT), but says the school is not introducing CRT.

School officials and the board have been criticized by the public for two books containing explicit language that was in some of the district’s school libraries; the books were listed in the Read Woke Challenge. The issue of explicit books in school libraries has become a central issue in the gubernatorial race.

The school provides policy forms parents can use for concerns about material, but few people use them. He told Wavy, “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.”

On October 14, school board Chairwoman Jackie Carr announced that she was no longer running for re-election to the school board.

“Serving on the School Board for almost five years has been both an honor and a privilege, and while the past 18 months have been quite challenging, I never shy away from a challenge,” she said in a prepared statement at the board meeting according to The Smithfield Times. “I have always given any job I have done 100 percent and at one time deep down I truly enjoyed the hard work that came along with the School Board. That’s no longer the case. And as I reflect I find that over the past few months the things that should have come first in my life I’ve allowed to take a back seat to the School Board. One thing I don’t want to be is a politician, and because politics has crept its way into our school this seat is no longer where I want to be.”

The Times reported that Carr also read a letter of resignation from absent Board Member Julia Perkins, which stated in part, “I feel it is time for me to retire from being a board member, just as it was once time for me to retire from teaching that I love so much. I look forward to spending more of my time between my home in Windsor, my grandchild’s home in Richmond and my family farm in Louisa County.”

Neither statement provided any clarification over specific issues that triggered the announcements.

Political Background

Perkins has been targeted by an informal petition to recall posted on The petition currently has 43 signatures.

“Numerous items have surfaced through FOIA that indicated the school is altering curriculum through Culturally Relevant Teaching and training teachers using similar ideologies of Critical Race Theory. The equity program training teaches that everyone has implicit bias. That people are privileged based on being white, heterosexual, cisgender. They are making June LGBTQ+(sexual orientation) pride month to include children as young as Kindergarten,” Candice VandeBrake states in the petition.

School board members are non-partisan. But Carr is facing an elections challenge from John Collick, who told The Times in September, “A group of citizens who know my positions on education after my 2020 Congressional Campaign, approached me in the Spring and asked me to run due to their perceptions that money wasn’t being spent judiciously, the Superintendent fires teachers who disagree with him on the smallest issues, and that Critical Race Theory is being implemented in Isle of Wight Schools.”

He said, “Everywhere I have lived, mostly Democrats ran ‘non-partisan’ elections. Once in office, they have often acted against community interests. I found that it was a ‘roll of the dice’ of what the candidates core values were until they were elected — even when they were friends of mine. Therefore, so nobody will be surprised when I vote Conservatively, I am running as a Republican. I don’t believe it will hinder the Board in any way; in fact, it gives them an idea of where I stand.”

He opposes mask mandates and the district’s current equity initiatives which he said are examples of CRT’s influence in the school.

“The School Board did not approve the Woke Challenge at SHS [Smithfield High School],” Carr said in a September Facebook post. “I do not believe these books are appropriate for our students, and I think parents should be aware of the books their children check out from the media center. The growing controversy over what is and what is not appropriate and what parents want and do not want are extreme. We must allow for total transparency, support parental rights, and encourage parental involvement and family engagement.”

Carr was the only member of the board to vote against a transgender policy earlier in the year, The Times reported. She’s also spoken out against CRT, saying in an August post, “I will once again say CRT has NO PLACE in our schools. It is divisive. It puts us in categories as oppressors and oppressed. It has roots to Socialism and Marxism.”

“People are associating CRT directly with equity and it is not. CRT separates us by skin color,” she wrote. “That alone is discrimination and we have several policies that prohibit any kind of discrimination.”

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Isle of Wight County School Board Meeting” by Isle of Wight County Schools.