DeGroft staying on boardPublished 11:44am Saturday, June 1, 2013
BY STEPHEN H. COWLES/STAFF WRITER
SMITHFIELD—Herb DeGroft remains to serve the Hardy District on the Isle of Wight County School Board, in spite of his connection to controversial emails. On Thursday, fellow board members were calling on him 4-1 to resign, with DeGroft voting for himself to stay.
“I’ve had multiple discussions and the majority are asking me ‘Don’t resign,’” DeGroft said later. He has previously said he was undecided, but would abide by the wishes of the majority.
The formal action came two weeks after Isle of Wight NAACP President Dottie Harris publicly revealed to the Board of Supervisors copies of emails containing crude humor. President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama are the subject of several pages.
Harris has asked DeGroft and Supervisor Byron “Buzz” Bailey to resign for their parts in circulating the emails, albeit privately to fellow supervisors and county staff. Failing resignations, she’ll organize recall elections. Harris has also said an anonymous source first sent the pages to school board member Denise Tynes of the Smithfield District, who showed them to her.
The two men have since repeatedly apologized for their actions, but have refused to resign even though both boards have already called for them to leave.
At Thursday’s meeting, DeGroft initially sought to remove the item that would deal with him. He said the school budget was the only topic before the board. Paul Burton, the school’s attorney, said the special meeting was called by Chairman Robert Eley of the Carrsville District, and because it so was publicized, that makes the issue a part of the meeting.
Reiterating his apology to Tynes and School Superintendent Katrise Perera, DeGroft acknowledged his helping circulate the emails was stupid. In his defense, however, he said, “Leaders learn from their mistakes and become better leaders.”
Kent Hildebrand of the Newport District noted the school board’s rules of acceptable use of computers. Those owned by the school system cannot be used to send any materials that could be considered actually or potentially harmful to other users.
Hildebrand agreed DeGroft did not violate any of these policies because the emails came from his own personal computer. But the revelation about DeGroft makes the board’s job harder when it has to deal with violations from staff or students.
“I personally feel that when you [DeGroft] sit on this board,” said Hildebrand, “we’re in a position if any staff member or student comes in front of us with any violation, how can you ask or how can you enforce punishment when it’s known that you have asked for forgiveness? If they ask for forgiveness, what do we do then?”
“I’ve worried about this unfortunate incident,” said Julia Perkins of the Windsor District. She said Hildebrand “very aptly put into words that we are the guardians of those students.” Further, actions such as DeGroft’s can affect how the public perceives the board “either purposely or inadvertently.”
Before voting, DeGroft said, “I’ve appreciated my relationship with the school board,” and added that a former Marine commander once told him, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”