On October 20th the Gloucester County Board of Supervisors (BOS) and School Board had a joint meeting. Near the end of the meeting, Supervisor Winebarger said the following:
“Dr. Clemons, glad you’re here. I’ve gotten multiple phone calls from parents saying that they’ve heard; and I want you to either tell me yes, or no or maybe so; that Gloucester is going to start requiring a class in black history in order to graduate and that they are going to start to teach history based on 1619 instead of 1609. Tell me it ain’t so.”
For those who do not know, the 1619 date comes from what is known as the 1619 Project, a highly controversial black history piece created by several “journalists” at the New York Times. I strongly believe the Supervisor's, “Tell me it ain’t so.” ending to his question was directed solely at the inclusion of highly questionable content from the 1609 Project; something every American should be concerned about.
Superintendent Clemons responded, but did not actually answer Mr. Winebarger’s question, so Mr. Winebarger sent Superintendent Clemons the following in an email:
“Rick, is Gloucester School Systems one of the 16 pilot programs and will the program be teaching history from 1609 or 1619? Mike”
At this point, nothing appears to be unusual; right? Just a simple conversation between a Supervisor and a School Superintendent. The Superintendent did respond with a partial answer to the Supervisor’s questions, but he also had a lot more to say. The following is the Superintendent's reply to the Supervisor:
Good Morning Mr. Winebarger:
As a follow-up to our conversation from the meeting last night, I will provide the Board of Supervisors and the School Board an outline of the course so all know the framework and contents within. I will make sure all know the periods of history that will be taught. In addition, GCPS is not one of the 16 districts piloting the course this year.
However, I must tell you that as an African American/black man, notwithstanding the fact that I happen to be the Superintendent of Schools in a majority non-minority community, I found your comments last night to be racially insensitive at a minimum if not downright racist in nature, and I am very disappointed, angry and offended by such comments.
Please let me be clear. I have no problem with anyone asking about the course, periods of time or content within. However, your comments around the fact of what you heard and if it was going to be required as a course for graduation is deeply disturbing. My question to you would be, "So what if it was a course needed for graduation?" Would you have a problem with that? Your comments in my view showed an insensitivity to African American History and it came across that it is not good enough or appropriate to teach in this community.
Please know that I do plan to follow up with you, the Board of Supervisors and the Gloucester community on this matter.
In closing, thanks for your time and I hope you have a great day! Sincerely,
I don’t know about you, but I was floored by the Superintendent’s racial attack and the way he attempted to label the Supervisor an insensitive racist. Why would he say such things to someone asking a simple question on behalf of a Constituent? The Superintendent’s comments were nothing less than “race baiting”. (An attempt to deflect a conversation by implementing an assertion that the asker is racist.) I also believe there are political motivations behind the Superintendent’s unacceptable behavior. He, at least five School Board members and four to five Supervisors would love to see Mr. Winebarger leave the BOS. They want him gone because he and Supervisor Bazzani are the only two Supervisors who are constantly fiscally responsible in the way they vote and are more than willing to ask the tough questions. A few days later, the Supervisor sent the following in an email to the Superintendent:
Dear Dr. Clemons,
I have given your email to me dated October 21 some thought, especially given its concerning rhetoric. As the old saying goes, "Don't shoot the messenger". As a Supervisor elected by the citizens of this County, it is my duty to investigate and respond to questions or concerns expressed to me by my constituents. I always ask these questions in public, even though others may do so in private. I have done so in the past and will continue to do so in the future because it is my duty.
At the joint meeting of the School Board and Board of Supervisors on October 20, I relayed to you questions which I had been asked by a constituent. You provided partial answers in the meeting and indicated you would provide follow-up information. As a builder who has worked construction my entire life, I do not have the benefit of multiple degrees - I speak simply and plainly without any hidden agendas. On October 21, the morning after the meeting, I emailed you as a reminder of the information I was seeking. Your email response did not provide answers to enable me to respond to my constituent, but instead expressed your feelings about my question. In the joint meeting of the School Board and Board of Supervisors, the forum is one where the Boards ask the questions and the employees provide the answers. I regret that you attributed any insensitive or offensive meaning to my words - none was intended - it was just a question asked by one of my constituents about a course. I await your response to my inquires.
Your accusation that my "comment in [your] view showed an insensitivity to African American History and it came across that it is not good enough or appropriate to teach in this community" is grossly misguided and false. In my view, American History is the history of the American people. I believe that as Americans we are all a great melting pot and any American history course should highlight the participation of all Americans regardless of race, creed, or color, and the African American experience is absolutely an important part of our history.
Please know that I am ready and willing to have further discussions with you on this issue and encourage you to call me at your earliest convenience.
Supervisor, Petsworth District
The Supervisor’s reply is pretty cut and dry. You certainly can’t blame him for doing what he was elected to do, unlike numerous other elected people in Gloucester County.
The story does not end there. On November 4, 2020, the Superintendent and several school employees spoke during the BOS meeting Public Comment period, publicly attacking Mr. Winebarger, with some attempting to label him a racist. Mr. Winebarger maintained his composure throughout the whole orchestrated ordeal. The same cannot be said about some of the speakers.
Several people in the community told me about the Superintendent’s email to the Supervisor, so I submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the school system asking for all the Superintendent’s emails between October 16, 2020 and November 15, 2020; essentially 30 days’ worth. I was shocked by the following reply from the school system:
“the school division estimates that the cost for accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for the records responsive your request is $2,926.00 based on 5,600 emails and estimated an average of one minute to review each, at the hourly rate of the Superintendent’s Executive Assistant.”
They sure don’t want me or anyone else checking out their emails. That amount is ludicrous and beyond what I am willing to spend on seeking such information, so I revised my request to:
“all emails sent and or received by the Superintendent of GCPS that pertain to, reference, mention and or touch on the "1619 Project" and or African American history and or Black history and or Native American history during the time period of Oct 16, 2020 thru November 15, 2020.”
I received copies of several emails and a bill for $62.94. Like I've said before, transparency isn't cheap in Gloucester County. The entire first part of an email was completely redacted. It appears like the Superintendent forwarded the Supervisor’s question and the Superintendent’s response to someone they claim is exempt from being identified under the “Working Papers” FOIA release exemption. I have received many emails and other documents containing redactions authorized under FOIA, but I have never received any in which the sender, recipients, subject, date and 100% of the content was blacked out. I sure would like to know who the Superintendent forwarded the email to and what his comments were. One can only imagine at this point, but one thing is crystal clear, he does not want the People to know.
Gloucester County has always been a civil place to live and raise children. Of course, we have had our moments and like everywhere, there are a handful of true racists of all skin colors, but overall, most people tend to get along without a lot chaos and drama. It seems the Superintendent does not feel that way. It seems like he thinks there is significant racial divide and inequality in Gloucester and in Gloucester schools and “as an African American/black man, notwithstanding the fact that he happens to be the Superintendent of Schools in a majority non-minority community,” it appears he has done very little over the last several years to adequately blend his little part of the American melting pot into a unified culture of acceptance, instead choosing in this instance to spew unwarranted accusations of racism. In another instance he complained about his child not having a teacher of color since attending Gloucester schools. In still yet another instance of having taxpayers pay for his membership to the National Association of Black Educators. Of all people to complain about ethnic diversity when he is the one person in this community in the best position to cause effective improvements, not only in our schools but in our County as well; if the need truly exists. As for membership in the NABE; didn’t segregation end in the 60’s? Why does the Superintendent feel he must belong to a racially segregated organization? Should there also be separate organizations for each race of educators? The Superintendent certainly does not reflect unity, diversity, equality, integrity, civility and honor; all essential traits necessary to preserve American freedom, liberty, justice and equality for all. Instead, he travels the path of race baiting and exclusion to silence those who do not align with his ideals and agenda and to silence those who question what is taking place in our public school system.
When I attended Gloucester schools from the late 60’s till the late 70’s, we were taught to get along and respect each other, despite, nationality, skin color and financial or academic standing. We were also taught; our personal choices and level of effort would determine our destiny. We had black teachers and white teachers and thought of them all as just teachers. Their color didn’t matter, just like the color of our fellow students didn’t matter. At GHS, Mr. Loring had a class in which the students replicated the cast of “Welcome Back Kotter”. We watched the Jefferson’s, Sanford and Son, All In The Family, Good Times and other shows that offered moral lessons on race relations, among other things. Today Gloucester has an activist school Superintendent who, despite his own career success as a “black man”, is setting a path for racial divide in our community in order to further progress the Socialist/Marxist/Communist movement that is jeopardizing our great Nation. Does anyone really want this kind of drama in Gloucester County? I know I don’t and believe we owe it to the children of Gloucester to put a stop to it sooner than later. Superintendent Clemons was welcomed into this community when he was selected for the job, but I believe because of this instance and other instances in other areas he is responsible for, he has worn that welcome out.
Below I have included a SlideShare presentation of the emails responsive to my FOIA request. I have also included links to the section of the Joint meeting where the Supervisor asked the question and subsequent section of the BOS meeting where the Public Comments were made.
Written By: Kenny Hogge, Sr.