VA School Board Member Who Sent Racist Michelle Obama Emails Refuses to Resign

A couple of weeks back, the national spotlight was briefly on suburban Isle of Wight County, Virginia because of racist emails sent by one of the county’s school board members.

Herb DeGroft, who is white, sent several emails to colleagues with condescending messages about First Lady Michelle Obama. These messages were obviously racially charged.

In one correspondence, there was a photograph of a group of half-clothed African warrior women, and the picture included the caption – “You guessed right. Michelle Obama’s high school reunion.”

Among some of the more vocal opponents of Mr. DeGroft’s continuance as a school board member is the Isle of White County NAACP.

I was curious to find out if Mr. DeGroft, who said that he would be willing to consider stepping down, had actually vacated the position, so I decided to do some digging.

I went to the Isle of Wight Country School Board’s website to see if DeGroft was still listed as a board member, and sure enough, his name, picture and bio are still on the site. I knew there was a possibility that the web manager had just neglected to update the site, and I wanted to believe that there was no possible way this man was still in office.

Well, I was wrong.

After doing a bit of searching, I located the contact information of Dottie Harris, president of the Isle of Wight County NAACP, and one of the most vocal proponents of the removal of Mr. DeGroft from his position.

“He’s lost his credibility with constituents…due the nature of the emails,” said Ms. Harris. “He doesn’t have the Hardy District’s best interest in mind.”

The children of the district all have new iPads, and according to the district’s policy, students are prohibited from downloading or viewing “inappropriate content” on the devices. Students who violate this policy are subject to disciplinary action.

But what about the adults?

“[DeGroft’s] presence [on the school board] will be detrimental to the schools and the constituents, as well as [to] the children,” said Isle of Wight County NAACP President Dottie Harris.

DeGroft claims the emails were politically motivated, and not racially motivated, but Ms. Harris and others who have seen the emails aren’t buying that explanation.

“You just don’t say things like that unless you’re in agreement with what you’re saying.” Ms. Harris says that although DeGroft has apologized, she is still of the opinion that he also needs to vacate his office.

In defending himself, DeGroft told the Daily Press that he did not draft the emails himself, but simply sent them along:

“None of them I initiated, if you look at them. They were all initiated by somebody else.”

Back when the story first received national attention, the members of the school board had just called for DeGroft’s resignation. 4-1, board members voted to have him step down – DeGroft’s was the only dissenting vote. According to the bylaws of the Isle of Wight County School Board, a member can be removed from office in such a manner only by unanimous vote.

And who the heck is going to vote to remove themselves from office? Clearly, they need to amend that portion of their bylaws. Anyone who’s been part of an organization knows that makes no dern sense.

Since the national spotlight has shifted from Isle of Wight, DeGroft has ceased considering resignation (assuming that was actually ever part of the plan). Instead, he has announced that he will not run for re-election when his term expires in November. Prior to his announcement, DeGroft was the unopposed candidate for the seat.

For Dottie Harris and other supporters of a DeGroft ouster, simply waiting for his term to expire is not enough. She is strongly of the opinion that DeGroft needs to go.

Harris and the NAACP are teaming with other community members and organizations to gather support around a petition for the recall and removal of both DeGroft and Byron “Buzz” Bailey, the vice chairman of the Newport District Board of Supervisors member who forwarded the controversial Michelle Obama emails initially sent by DeGroft.

According to NAACP President Harris, 205 signatures are needed in order to initiate a recall in the case of Mr. DeGroft, and the school board member’s opponents have already collected the majority of those signatures.

In the case of Mr. Bailey, 238 signatures are needed in order to initiate a recall, and they currently have obtained over half of those signatures.

Bailey said those involved in calling for DeGroft and Bailey’s removals plan to have collected all signatures by July 1 in order to submit them to the Fifth Judicial District of Virginia courts.

I reached out to Mr. DeGroft yesterday via telephone and email in an effort to allow him the opportunity to tell his side of the story, but at the time of publication, I had yet to hear back from him.

I’ll definitely update if he gets back to me, but I’m not holding my breath.

It seems that Mr. DeGroft wrongly thought that since the national spotlight was no longer on the Isle of Wight, that he could continue in his position and leave the office on his terms – a full six months from now.

Little did Mr. DeGroft know, a pesky little blogger from Pasadena, CA was going to stay on the case until his term is up, or until he has stepped down from office.

DeGroft – you got’s to go!

(code switch: Mr. DeGroft – It is really time you stepped down. You messed up, and you need to own your actions, do the right thing, and resign from your position, effective immediately. Regards, Evan Seymour )

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