ST. MARYS — The St. Marys City School District superintendent and a newly elected board member have a difference of opinion regarding whether a comment posted on a community online forum by the board member is “racially insensitive” and “completely inappropriate.”
They also differ regarding when a person ceases being a board member and is just a member of the public.
Superintendent Shawn Brown released a statement Monday to the media regarding a post by Robert W. Valentine on Grand Lake Chat making reference to inner city schools having muggings and rapes and ending with teachers having to fear repercussions from “Brother Deonta” for issuing a poor grade.
“The St. Marys City School District has been made aware that on February 13 and 15, recently elected St. Marys School Board member Bob Valentine posted racially insensitive and completely inappropriate comments on a local social media website,” Brown wrote in a statement. “While Mr. Valentine stated in his post that ‘all statements and opinions rendered by RWV … are his own and do not reflect any opinion or position of the St Marys City School Board’ the district feels compelled to affirmatively state its displeasure and disappointment in Mr. Valentine’s disturbing remarks. His comments are contrary to our school’s mission and, frankly, are an embarrassment to the district.”
Brown said he was made aware of the post on Grand Lake Chat by board members, teachers union representatives and community members and he “wanted to jump in front of it and state that the administration doesn’t think those comments are appropriate and we certainly don’t support those ideas and thoughts.”
The superintendent said he does not possess any power to discipline Valentine, who was elected to the school board in November. The board meets Wednesday night and members may discuss the matter, Brown said, and their only recourse is they can request Valentine resign.
Brown said he has previously informed board members about the extent of their role.
“We’ve had this discussion before with other board members as a group that whether you like it or not you are a board member 24 hours a day, seven days a week and to be careful what you say and what you put in writing,” Brown said Tuesday. “I also am not infringing on his right to free speech, I am just asking him to be cautious of what he states. My contention is — right or wrong, legal or illegal — is he is always a board member.”
Valentine confirmed he wrote the post under the initials “RWV” primarily addressing school teachers’ salaries when he included the comment, “Most teachers are in this school district because they want to be here. Sure, you can go to the inner city and possibly get a little more but take a look at the cost of living there, to say nothing of getting mugged, raped and your throat slit all for giving Brother Deonta a bad grade.”
Valentine said he doesn’t believe the comment was inappropriate or racially insensitive.
“There were no racial comments made. I said on the website that when someone challenged me on that, that the only reason I used the name that I did is that I know people of multiple races that use that name,” Valentine said. “That is not a racial statement in my opinion. It is a matter of fact that in the inner schools, they have problems with muggings and rapes as well as murders. It’s a matter of fact, not a matter of race.
“It was never intended to be racial in its content and I chose that name because it is a multi-racial name,” he added. “If I had used another name, such as Bob, I don’t believe anyone would have complained. I am just trying to put it into context of where I am talking about. Others are injecting their own personal prejudices into my remarks. I am not a prejudiced person and I am not a racist person.”
After searching sites on the Internet, he found the name could be used by males and females. He also defended using the word brother, saying, “I believe all the people in this world are my brothers and sisters and race has nothing to do with it. I get that from Christian heritage.”
Valentine also said Brown should not be issuing such a statement to a board members because “he is not any board member’s supervisor so he has no right to say anything about that. The board has the right to tell him [Brown] what the policies will be and the board retains that right.”
After attending an Ohio School Boards Association meeting, Valentine said he was informed as a board member his only power is his vote when he is “in an official session, conducting board business whether that be committee liaison, board meeting or whatever. At any other time, I am John Doe citizen.
“I am wondering how we can have it both ways and that is what Mr. Brown is attempting to do.”