Spotsylvania School Board votes to rescind reprimand of Phelps

by | May 22, 2024 | ALLFFP, Schools & Education, Spotsylvania

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and in the mind of one Spotsylvania County School Board member, it could not come at a better time. 

Following a marathon Monday evening meeting that did not end until 2 a.m. Tuesday morning, it is not likely the well-being of the school division got any better, either. 

“Frankly, all of our mental health and everybody associated with this school division is in question,” Courtland District board member Carol Medawar said. “So, we just need to work on it.” 

The most heated item of business at the meeting was the reprimand of Lee Hill District representative Lisa Phelps.  

The board voted 6-1 to rescind the reprimand and instead have each member come to the next meeting with at least one thing that they individually can do better to make the public body operate more efficiently. 

Nicole Cole of the Battlefield District voted against the motion introduced by Livingston District representative Megan Jackson. 

Phelps acknowledged that she committed two of the main infractions that were cited in the reprimand, but board members said that disciplining her would be ineffective because she would remain unbothered. 

Phelps admitted that during a January meeting she referred to former school board member Dawn Shelley as “Jezebel” — a character in the Bible associated with idolatry and sexual immorality — and that she wore her Spotsylvania County Public Schools shirt to a political function last fall. 

In Cole’s motion to reprimand Phelps, she stated that the first incident violates the code of ethics section concerning sexual or verbal harassment. Cole said that wearing the shirt goes against board members’ pledge to refrain from using the board for personal or partisan gain. 

Phelps said she can wear whatever she wants and that the term used to describe Shelley is “freedom of speech.”

In a telephone interview, Phelps admitted to forwarding emails to a website that operates a Facebook page that regularly denigrates other board members, which was another reason for the reprimand. Emails obtained by the Free Press show that Phelps forwarded several communications on a variety of topics to operators of the website. The reprimand stated that the emails contained “privileged information,” but Phelps stressed that there were no closed session items in the emails. 

Four members of the board who voted in favor of the reprimand changed their stance to support Jackson’s motion. 

Belen Rodas of the Chancellor District said she was skeptical when she initially voted. Jackson said she was, as well. They both said Phelps’ boisterousness at the meeting made them rethink rescinding their initial vote, but in the end, they did not think the reprimand would prove productive. 

“I think reprimands, censures and methods of governing ourselves only matter if they matter to the people up here, and I don’t know that they do,” Rodas said. 

The board also voted 5-0, with Phelps and Berkeley District representative April Gillespie abstaining, to reaffirm a resolution on the code of ethics it agreed to in the winter. 

Gillespie stood at the dais and ripped the resolution into several pieces to express her displeasure, stating: “I’ll just let the public know this is what I think about this document.” 

Gillespie said it is a waste of time to police elected officials, and that board members should focus on students and staff. 

“You can censure me. You can take me to court. You can do whatever you’ve got to do,” Gillespie said. “But you’re going to hear me because I’m an elected official. I can be here, and I can speak … I don’t care if I’ve got to yell it all the way from Partlow. You’re going to hear me and that’s just a fact.” 

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