Spotsylvania School Board votes to record closed sessions following assault allegation

by | Jun 4, 2024 | ALLFFP, Schools & Education, Spotsylvania

After a contentious closed session meeting on May 20 resulted in one Spotsylvania County School Board member filing assault and battery charges against another, the board voted 6-0 Monday to record future gatherings that are not open to the public. 

April Gillespie of the Berkeley District abstained, stating that she agrees with recording closed sessions but needs more information from school board attorney Micah Schwartz before voting. 

Carol Medawar of the Courtland District made the motion, which was seconded by Lee Hill District representative Lisa Phelps. 

It was Phelps who filed an assault and battery charge on Nicole Cole of the Battlefield District, alleging that Cole slammed a door into her shoulder and extended her leg to trip her during the May 20 meeting. 

Cole is set to appear in Spotsylvania General District Court Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. for arraignment on the Class 1 misdemeanor. Cole, who denied Phelps’ allegations, voted in favor of recording closed sessions. 

“I am supportive of it because I do want us having the truth prevail,” Cole said. “But I also feel like it hopefully will curtail behaviors.” 

Medawar said she discussed recording closed sessions with Schwartz, who was not present at Monday’s meeting. 

Her motion did not state whether there will be audio or video recordings or both. Phelps said during a telephone interview that Monday’s closed session to discuss hiring a superintendent was only recorded on audio. 

Medawar said Schwartz explained to her that it is legal to record closed sessions in order to keep minutes, but then the recordings would be destroyed. She said she was also told the minutes may have to be stored for a certain period of time.  

Board Chair Lorita Daniels advised Medawar not to have future private discussions with the school board attorney unless she approved the correspondence. Daniels noted that the division’s policy dictates discussions must be approved by the chair to avoid racking up legal expenses, among other concerns.  

Phelps said last week that Medawar recorded the May 20 closed session. 

“Right now, we’re in a space and climate that this needs to be for everybody to feel safe about what’s happening in closed session,” Medawar said. “For everybody to [know] it’s recorded, perhaps everybody will choose their behavior and their words more carefully and we’ll have a record of what occurred.” 

The board also questioned Monday if Phelps and Gillespie signed confidentiality agreements related to the search for a new superintendent. The other five board members agreed to a confidential search process during a previous meeting — in part to protect candidates from retribution from their current employers. 

Phelps and Gillespie said Monday they had not signed the agreements, which were then placed on their seats at the dais before closed session began. Phelps said Tuesday that she is still reviewing the agreement. Gillespie said she has not signed it, and does not plan to do so, reiterating her stance that board members should police themselves and not each other.

The search firm that the board hired, BWP & Associates, created a timeline for the board to announce the hiring of a candidate by June 17. 

“By me not signing it and them calling it out like that, it just shows the continued targeting and harassment,” Gillespie said. “What does it matter whether I signed it or not? If I [release confidential information], that’s going to fall back on my head and my shoulders.”

Phelps said she emailed Daniels questioning why the agreement was brought up Monday. Cole initially noted that it had not been signed by everyone, and Medawar asked if Phelps and Gillespie planned to sign it.  

“It is known that there are school board members who have not signed the confidentiality statement,” Cole said. “I think that is important for the public to know for it to be transparent.” 

Phelps said she believes the agreement was mentioned to continue a narrative that she is not living up to her responsibilities as a board member. She said it felt like a “gotcha” moment two weeks after a vote to reprimand her was overturned. 

“I’ll read over it, but it’s a piece of paper,” Phelps said. “My experience is that they are weaponizing it, targeting me and the hyperfocus is on me. That is not acceptable.” 

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