“PTSA PAPERS, PLEASE!!” HENRICO COUNTY, VA PTSA DISCRIMINATES AGAINST PROM MOM OF COLOR”

May 29, 2012 by

Less than a week ago, we were sharing the accolades of Virginia’s “Prom Mom,” Jenny High, who, through her vision and relentless efforts, birthed “PROM BRING IT!,” a school-wide community effort that went viral in the community, to expand to be state-wide, serving nearly 2,000 male and female seniors, and still going strong.

We recently learned that High was unilaterally and illegally removed from Hermitage High School’s PTSA by the newly elected president, Vicky Echevarria, along with the other board members.  In fact, that was one of the first actions that Echevarria took after being elected.  She and the board illegally removed High not only as the chair of the Scholarship Committee, for which she was to serve a two-year term and had only completed her first, but also removed High from the board itself.  When High inquired about the action, Echevarria emailed her the following:

From: “Vicky Echevarria”
Subject: Installation dinner rsvp required
Date: Fri, May 18, 2012 8:57 pm

Jenny,

Everyone was given the option to return next year. What gave me the impression that you weren’t interested?  You never mentioned wanting to return and you’ve made it abundantly clear through most of your correspondence how you feel about the majority of fellow Board members.  It is at the Executive Board’s disgression who will chair any committee and the positions have all been filled for next year.  Since Prom Bring It was such a huge program (and major success) I would think that you’d want to focus all of your time and energy on making it an even bigger success next year.

Sincerely,

 

Vicky

Unfortunately, High was never given the option to return, and why would she have to be given the option when her term, as clearly documented in the PTSA bylaws for standing committee chairs, had not ended.   Echevarria exposed her motives even more for illegally removing High when she added that she was aware of the High’s feelings about the other board members.   High was the only spanish-speaking woman of color on the board until the illegally removal.   Echevarria also clearly degraded High’s intelligence and abilities by advising her that it would be best if she only worked on one project at a time.  It should be noted that the Hermitage PTSA held an installation dinner last week, and while they used PTSA membership dues to give the officers gifts, they failed to even acknowledge the phenomenal efforts that High had made to the school, community, and Commonwealth at large, despite the national recognition that the program had garnered.

High challenged the unilateral decision to remove her from the chair position before her term had ended with Virginia’s State PTSA.  Anne Carson, the Virginia PTSA president, upheld the local PTSA’s illegal action and encouraged High to remain a member and to work with the group.    Needless to say, these actions of the Hermitage PTSA and Virginia PTSA are nothing less than violating the civil rights of a parent and making every effort to systematically cover it up at every level.  This is common practice in Henrico County, and has resulted in numerous lawsuits by every group from Muslims filing civil rights discrimination against the county with the US Department of Justice, to families and educators of color filing complaints against the school district for civil rights violations with the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

Civil rights violations within Henrico County, Virginia is deeply embedded in its cultural and organizational structure.  If you do not look like, speak like, or think like those in leadership, who are clearly becoming more hostile as they become the minority within the county; then you will be ostracized, demonized, and even criminalized in an effort to silence you, whether you are a student, educator, parent, advocate, pastor, resident, or even a PTSA mother that just wanted to make a difference and become involved in her student’s school.

Henrico County, specifically Henrico County Public Schools, does not really want parental involvement and engagement from parents of color.  Instead, they demand complete and total parental obedience and compliance without any regard for the differences, needs, and invaluable voices that parents of color can offer.   A majority of the parents of color that make every effort to be involved in the educational lives of their students are intimidated, harassed, banned, and even threatened with arrest; just for showing up, observing those that educate their children, and voicing their point of view as they advocate for their children in professional and effective manners.   The district has become so hostile toward the views of these parents that Dr. Bondy Shae Gibson, the Executive Director of Special Education for the district, has actually issued a meeting policy indicating that parents have no rights to questions or criticize the qualifications or performance of an educator or they will be escorted out of the school building. The district leaders have clearly forgotten who they work for and are accountable to.

Henrico County Public Schools unapologetically and blatantly establishes a system that ensures that parents of color will not be welcomed in their students schools or even at school board meetings.   Recently, just because an increasing amount of parents of color and parents of special needs students began “becoming engaged” by observing their students’ classrooms, the district created a new policy for classroom observations, limiting access to classrooms and schools, and even going as far as to require “certain” parents, as did Principal Arthur Raymond of Moody Middle School, to repeatedly complete”burdensome”  paperwork that all parents were not required to complete when they arrived at the school.  Raymond’s actions, meant to limit access to the school by certain parents,  are reminiscent of the South’s “Literacy Test” meant to limit people of color from having access to vote.

In another instance, when parents of color and those with special needs students, began attending monthly school board meetings in order to speak out during the public comment time, the board changed their policy to limit time to four minutes, and added that anyone that went over the four minute time frame would be arrested for trespassing.  They also noted that they would never respond to any speaker and that they would receive a “letter” from the board regarding their comments.  Despite several speakers, who were not of color, going over the four minute limit, none of them were arrested. We have never heard of anyone receiving a letter from the board following their comments either. The board continues to create coward-like policies meant to protect them from public scrutiny and being held accountable for their actions. They, too, have forgotten who they were elected to serve, and as a result, an increasing number of voters, in all districts within Henrico, are supporting the concept of a recall election for the entire board.

The lines have been drawn in the concrete in Henrico County, Virginia.   We are no longer in 2012.  The leaders of this county have willingly taken us back to Virginia in 1950, and are pleased as punch to be able to do so.   Civil rights for students, people of color, women, those with exceptional needs, and many others are none existent in this county.  Henrico’s primary goal is to cover-up, not eliminate the ugly, festering boil of discrimination and oppression that is rampant within a county, whose Commonwealth has earned an “F” in integrity, inclusion, and diversity.   Since they have resorted back to the tactics of the Jim Crow, Willie Lynch terrorism, separate is equal, exclusion, banning, threats of arrests, false arrest, and more; then we must do the same by protesting, civil disobedience, and starting our own while we fight to get back into what we know is rightfully ours and our children.  We will do so until the school board, PTSA, courts, and others no longer relinquish us back to second-class citizen status just because they think they can or because they are threatened and intimidated by who we are, what we stand for, and what we expect.

We can expect to see more and more acts of civil disobedience within Henrico County and beyond as those that are being violated take a stand to be heard.   Those whose arrogance is only equal to their ignorance, can expect that there is no longer “business as usual” in Henrico.  This revolution is just beginning.   We were all inspired by an anonymous flyer that was found in a local Henrico business, protesting the removal of High, which sums up the extent of the community outrage at the blatant atmosphere of injustice and discrimination, which will no longer go unaddressed.  Apple Annie writes:

            Prom Mom Jenny High’s recent claim to fame was providing over 1000 formal gowns and tuxedos to deserving, worthyand anxious senior and juniors in Henrico County.  She started out focusing on Hermitage High school students but later saw and experienced a greater audience with greater needs.  She has reached as far as Manassas Virginia and still going.  Okay, I think she deserves an “A” grade

            Although she sits on the Hermitage High School PTSA board the idea was presented to them and not well received, so she proceeded without their grace.  Ms High; “Prom Mom” is what they call her now, by the thousands of parents, students, vendors, politicians and volunteers that bought into her dream and are better for it.

            She formed her own committee, forged her own partnerships and collaborations and provided her own monies to see this to previsions.  She in 4 months produced more with less than the Hermitage High School PTSA did in 5 years. 

            Her ragtag band of parents, students, school and vendors worked tirelessly to see Prom Bring It’ come to life on March 31st of this year.  Prom Bring It, became so big that she is still serving and thinking about expanding throughout the year.  She is recent recipient of the “Purple Dress Awards; Virginia being a 1st ever winner graciously provided additional monies for Hermitage seniors in the form of scholarships, all while works full time, provides for her husband and 2 kids and 2 dogs.  However, none of this was good enough for the Hermitage High School PTSA board or Interim President Vicki Eschevarria and past President and current School Board member Beverly Cocke.

            The Hermitage High School PTSA is known for their “Party All Night” event that this year got a little more than a handful of students for one night that is believed to have sunk over 5,000 dollars worth of membership monies into it and still charged the kids 5.00 admission.  Ok, I think they deserve a “D” for poor management and misappropriation of funds.

            Ok, now fast forward to Jenny High, Prom Mom who received no monetary or physical support from the Hermitage High School PTSA and her service produced community service hours for students, stable partnerships for the community and monies (Purple Dress Award) for the causes related to the mission of the PTSA. Again she deserves an “A” for sticking to the mission of the PTSA board and limited overhead and liabilities.

Prom Mom = A

Hermitage High School PTSA = D

Where should our monies go in the future?

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