As is customary, the Pulaski County Board of Supervisors held a closed session last Monday (June 28) prior to their regular monthly meeting. Topics of discussion for the closed session included personnel, legal consultation and legal matters.
Nothing out of the ordinary for the board, except for the subject of the legal matter discussion – School Superintendent Dr. Kevin Siers.
At the beginning of the meeting, Supervisor Laura Walters (Ingles) motioned that a discussion on Siers be placed on the public meeting agenda. Supervisor Dirk Compton (Draper) seconded the motion. The motion was approved on a 4-0 vote, with Supervisor John Travis (Massie) absent for the meeting.
The reasoning behind the discussion on Siers were first put forth by County Administrator Jonathan Sweet and Board Chairman Joe Guthrie.
The comments made by Siers that both Guthrie and Sweet saw as being disparaging of the county were included in emails obtained by citizens in a Freedom of Information Act request that have now been made public through a variety of social media pages – including an anonymous Facebook page called “Pulaski County, VA School Board Watch.”
The emails were from Siers to officials in the Virginia Department of Education and centered around the local school division’s Equity Plan work.
“It has recently come to the Board of Supervisors’ attention that Pulaski County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Kevin Siers has prepared and sent communications to state officials at the Virginia Department of Education that were false, inappropriately disparaging, appear to us to be selfishly misleading, purposefully inaccurate, grossly exaggerated, and potentially harmful to the county in general. In these communications, he appears to make an effort to paint the Board of Supervisors in an unfair and negative light,” Guthrie stated.
“It is, however, the words that he used to describe the citizens of Pulaski County that we consider to be the most appalling. He used an analogy of war to describe our citizens’ use of their First Amendment rights. He correlated our community’s public discourse to a “Klan rally.” He has written blatantly false statements to the state about our local law enforcement officers. Those false statements appear to have been designed to sensationalize a narrative to a state official that School Board meetings were not safe because of our own local law enforcement officers. This was not true and is not fair to the fine men and women in law enforcement who risk their lives to keep us safe,” Guthrie continued.
“Siers flippantly said that Pulaski County is worse than a Syrian warzone because our citizens chose to exercise the rights which soldiers have fought for and even sacrificed their lives to protect. He references “rules of engagement” and calls those who disagree or questions him his “opposition,” and said that our Pulaski County neighbors, friends clergy are “fueled by ignorance, hate and fear.”
“What Siers did with his hyperbole and inaccurate statements, is to depict to Richmond that this county and its citizens are something we are not. It appears he wanted the Virginia Department of Education to think this of all of us because he was asking them for reinforcements to help fight his war. He asks for state resources to support him tackling the changes and squelching his opposition that “almost certainly will be springing up throughout the state in the coming months, especially in Southwest Virginia.”
“Ironically, in his purported spirit of equity, he appears to discriminate against and demonize everyone who dares to simply question him or even seeks information about what new proposed policies may entail.”
Guthrie said the Board of Supervisors members voluntarily reached out to meet with Siers to gain some understanding of what his proposed policies were in order to be able to knowledgably share that information with constituents when asked.
“The Board of Supervisors has not taken a position on any matter of school board policy, nor does the Board intend to even consider taking a position,” Guthrie added.
“At this time, the Pulaski County Board of Supervisors publicly denounces the divisive rhetoric that Kevin Siers has communicated to the Commonwealth of Virginia about the Board of Supervisors, our teachers, our local law enforcement officers, our county’s clergy, and the citizens of Pulaski County in general. Furthermore, the Board of Supervisors respectfully requests the Pulaski County School Board to swiftly and appropriately address this matter with Siers to better ensure that one individual’s actions and words do not negatively impact our teachers’ work environment, our students’ education, our businesses’ commerce, our County’s reputation in Richmond and beyond, and our citizens’ integrity and character. The Board wants it to be known and wants to be clear: Kevin Siers does not speak for the Board of Supervisors and he does not speak for Pulaski County,” Guthrie stated.
“It is our hope that the challenges that this nation, this state and this county face will bring our community closer together, rather than having one man’s rhetoric tear us apart. We hope and pray that the damage Siers has caused this community is not irreparable, and that with appropriate actions taken by the school board, we can begin to re-establish trust and mutual respect for the benefit of the teachers, the students, the school system and the entire County of Pulaski.”
Ingles Supervisor Laura Walters said she completely supports Guthrie’s statement, and noted that Siers had in subsequent emails to supervisors and Sheriff Mike Worrell admitted to misinformation and falsehoods in his emails.
She noted she fears what other comments he may have made to state officials that the supervisors don’t know about.
She added that Siers’ conduct in his emails represented “the most unprofessional behavior I have ever encountered in a public professional.”
Draper Supervisor Dirk Compton said he, as a retired State Trooper, is troubled about Siers’ comments about the sheriff’s office.
“We need to correct the record with folks in Richmond,” Compton said.
Sheriff Worrell told the supervisors that when he read Siers’ statements he was “at a loss for words.” He called the statements a “blatant lie,” and said he didn’t know what the motivation for the statements was.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Justin Griffith described how his office had worked with the Sheriff’s Office to coordinate how to provide security at different meetings of not only the school board, but other public meetings in the county.
Guthrie closed the discussion, saying the board would refer the matter to the School Board to “handle as they see fit.”
By MIKE WILLIAMS, The Patriot
Statement from the PCPS Superintendent Dr. Kevin Siers
As the result of a FOIA request, my correspondence concerning Pulaski County Public Schools’ implementation of the district’s equity goals and the Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students in Virginia’s Public Schools were recently made available to the public. Pulaski County’s Board of Supervisors referenced portions of these emails in a public meeting that was held earlier this week. While I would have preferred a conversation between the two elected bodies concerning these initiatives, the challenges of implementing them and the partnership the two boards have to ensure safety and improve educational opportunities of all students of Pulaski County Public Schools, that opportunity was not afforded to me or the school board. Thus, I must try to address a few of the concerns in a written statement.
This correspondence is now public and I urge concerned citizens to read for themselves the conversations in their entirety. Bits and pieces of them taken out of context might seem concerning, but taken as a whole they illustrate the desire of the superintendent and the board to work with the community to explain the new initiatives and policies and to use requested resources and advice from the Virginia Department of Education to help community members understand their importance. While I do regret some of the wording and hyperbole that was used in some of the emails that have been released, I know that the messages were sent with an honest and sincere intent to make VDOE officials aware of the issues being created in our part of the state by their guidance and advocate for a better local approach for addressing our issues of inequity. Again, I invite concerned citizens to read all of the referenced emails in their entirety for a broader perspective.
It is unfortunate that recent focus has turned to the private correspondence of one person when it should be on the students, their safety, and their educational opportunities. When the most disadvantaged and forgotten students succeed, everyone in Pulaski County benefits. When every student feels valued and secure in school, we ensure the success of that next generation. Speaking for myself and the school board, we look forward to continuing productive partnerships with the community, law enforcement, and the Board of Supervisors.