More than four decades have passed since Johnny Redd’s first appointment to the Hanover County School Board, but the Hanover native said Wednesday night that he’s just as ready now as he was back then.
Hanover’s Board of Supervisors voted 5-2 to appoint Redd to the Mechanicsville District seat on the School Board, effective July 1. Ashland District’s Faye Pritchard and Board Chair Angela Kelly-Wiecek opposed the appointment.
Redd, a certified public accountant for nearly 50 years, served on the School Board from 1980 to 1984. He and wife, Terry Oatman, have two grown sons. He was among eight candidates vying for the seat — incumbent Sterling Daniel, as well as Kimberly Thurston, Ryan Hudson, Jerry E. McCormick Jr., Paul Heizer, Ryan Martin, Sarah Gragnani-Butler and Redd.
Daniel was not present at Wednesday night’s meeting. After the appointment, Mechanicsville Supervisor Canova W. Peterson thanked him for his service to the school division. Daniel was appointed in March 2020 after the sudden departure of School Board member Roger Bourassa in December 2019. His term ends June 30.
People are also reading…
In explaining his decision to nominate Redd, Peterson said he considered the hundreds of calls, texts and emails he received from constituents. He said he looked at each candidates’ qualities related to both experience in dealing with school matters as well as their “business acumen.”
“It’s about the education and it’s about running the business” of the school division, he said. “I think the person that can best represent Mechanicsville at this time is Johnny Redd.”
Prior to the vote, however, members of the public spoke during the public comment period and most of them spoke out against some candidates’ appointments, particularly candidates they felt were not supportive of transgender students, including Redd.
One parent of a transgender student — Kelly Merrill — likened Redd’s name to a “Neo-Confederate dog whistle.”
“We know he will not support all kids,” Merrill said. “At best he will toe the current School Board line, prioritizing the irrational fears of anti-trans people over the literal safety concerns of transgender children.”
“There is plenty of evidence that this is not what all Hanoverians want,” she said, adding that “most Hanoverians have a heart, and care, and love my child and others like him.”
Hanover parent Jennifer Ailstock addressed the board, taking issue with Redd for his answers in a Richmond Times-Dispatch candidate questionnaire that ran last week, specifically his comments that his “primary purpose of the public schools in Hanover County [is] education of the students, not indoctrination of the students, not promoting social change that is illogical, immoral and/or ungodly.”
“This group has historically been oppressed,” Ailstock said, referring to transgender students. She said actions taken in recent months by the current School Board — including its vote to engage with the conservative Christian legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom — continues to marginalize that group.
“Love thy neighbor,” she said to the board, “all of them.”
Hanover resident Peggy Lavinder told the board that she’s concerned that Redd’s stance on transgender students means “he will find some children immoral for being who they are.”
“Our public schools serve all people,” she said, adding that she’s concerned that Redd will “use his Bible to wield decisions, to wield power over policy and regulations,” and will do that first “before [looking] at professional, experienced, knowledgeable, caring administrators and educators to make their decisions.”
She also commented on the time that’s passed since Redd’s first stint on the School Board.
“Forty years ago,” she said, “is not relevant now.”
Pritchard and Kelly-Wiecek shared their concerns about Redd, with Pritchard saying that Wednesday night was the first time she voted against a fellow board member’s nominee. She said in recent days she’s heard from parents of transgender students who feared that Redd would be nominated.
“I wept for their fear [and] I wept for their concern for their families,” she said. Redd “made it very clear that he cannot equally support all the children in our schools.”
Kelly-Wiecek said she, too, typically approves her fellow board members’ nominees, though she had two concerns with Redd’s nomination. She said having a candidate with a “boots on the ground perspective” of having children currently in the school division was “critically important in this moment.”
She also cautioned whether Redd could work collaboratively with the other School Board members.
“As a member of a seven-member board, you are not the executive — it’s not your way or the highway,” she said. “I am deeply concerned that we may not be choosing the best and the most collaborative individual.”
Kelly-Wiecek said she was “having trouble squaring previous correspondence and recent conversations with the true nature of collaboration that is needed for today’s School Board.”
“Mr. Redd has promised me that that will be him,” she continued, “and I certainly have never wished to be proven wrong more than I am at this moment.”
After his appointment, Redd spoke to the board, saying that he’s open to all ideas, and that he’s already spoken with members of the transgender community.
“I am open to hear from them,” he said. “I’m just happy that we’re getting beyond some of this turmoil, and I hope that we’ll be able to work together.”
Redd will be sworn in prior to July 1. The next School Board meeting is June 14.