By Reagan Reese
Loudoun County parents are speaking out against a resident’s petition that calls to ban hate speech from school board meetings following a school board meeting in which parents lambasted school officials over their handling of a sexual assault case.
The petition, signed by several hundred county residents and started by 19-year-old Andrew Pihonak, a Loudoun County resident and member of the LGTBTQ community, calls to “ban hate speech in Loudoun School Board meetings” after a man called homosexuality “immoral” and quoted a violent Bible verse during the public comment period of the Dec. 13 board meeting. Parents present at the meeting and seeking accountability from the school board for a special grand jury report, which found the district failed to alert the community of multiple sexual assaults within the district, told the Daily Caller News Foundation the one comment is not representative of their efforts and that their demands have nothing to do with the LGBTQ community. (RELATED: Special Grand Jury Concludes Loudoun County Public Schools ‘Dropped The Ball’ On Student Safety)
The petition misrepresents parents at the Dec. 13 school board meeting who are focusing on holding the school board accountable, Colin Donniger, a Loudoun County parent, told the DCNF.
“The petition is misleading as it relates to parental comments at the Dec. 13 school board meeting,” Donniger told the DCNF. “Parents, including myself, were there on the 13th to speak out about the utter failure of the Loudoun County Public School administration identified in the special grand jury report. There was very little reference at all in that meeting to gender dysphoria promoting policies, beyond the fact that the perpetrator of the sexual assault was a male who wore a skirt and had access to the women’s bathroom.”
Scott Mineo, a Loudoun County parent, told the DCNF that the comments made by a majority of parents at the school board meeting were about the mistakes the school administration had made, rather than the LGBTQ community.
“The list of unimaginable and unconscionable actions or lack thereof of the Loudoun County Public Schools administration is great,” Mineo told the DCNF. “These items have zero to do with the LGBTQIA+ community but all of us, all of our kids regardless of race, sex, religion. Not everything is about them and the sooner they can realize that, the sooner they can help us fight and expose the Loudoun County Public Schools administration.”
At the Dec. 13 meeting, Loudoun County parents demanded the school board members resign after a special grand jury report revealed that the school board failed to alert the community of multiple sexual assaults that occurred within the school system. Following the release of the report, former Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Ziegler was indicted on three misdemeanor charges, including penalizing an employee for a court appearance and Loudoun County Public Schools Public Information Officer Wayde Byard was indicted with felony perjury.
As of Monday, the petition had more than 900 signatures and stated that “platforming hate speech” leads to violence, such as the bullying, torturing and killing of “oppressed groups of people” such as the LGBTQ community. The petition demands that school board policy be amended so that “the second hate speech is spoken” the person’s public comment period is finished.
Loudoun 4 All, an advocacy organization which works towards equity in the community and launched a “political action committee to protect equity for all students,” endorsed the petition, according to WJLA News.
“There’s a line that gets crossed when you start targeting specific people or specifics groups of people,” Meredith Ray, a Loudoun 4 All board member, told WJLA News. “That community has been targeted I would say pretty regularly at school board meetings over the last two years. There was one speaker who crossed the line and made people very uncomfortable and even scared.”
The petition cites comments from Loudoun County resident Mark Winn who quoted the Bible when encouraging the school to focus on teaching math and language.
“[LGBTQ] behaviors should never have been promoted, taught or encouraged in the schools that you oversee,” Mark Winn, Loudoun County resident, said at the Dec. 13 board meeting. “If any man or woman causes one of these little ones to stumble, it would be better for a millstone to be put around your neck and thrown into the lake,” Winn said, adding, “Get back to reading, writing and arithmetic and quit grooming and pimping.”
The comment, which sparked the petition, was referring to a Bible verse and was misrepresented through the petition, Elicia Brand-Leudemann, a Loudoun County parent and co-founder of Army of Parents, a group which is fighting for parental rights in education, told the DCNF. Loudoun County parents are mainly concerned with the safety of their children which was demonstrated at the meeting, Brand-Leudemann told the DCNF.
“Mark 9:42 was used in a 60-second comment to describe the school board’s actions and lack thereof that put children in harm’s way,” Elicia Brand-Leudemann told the DCNF. “This is not about the LGBTQ community. This is about the safety of all children and the incompetence of the board. It was about demanding accountability from the board. All who were on the board in May of 2021 must resign and the administration must be fired.”
Here are signs lining the parking lot outside of the the Loudoun County School Board meeting.
The school board will be addressing the recent grand jury report which concluded that the public school district mishandled several sexual assault cases involving students.@DailyCaller pic.twitter.com/S7Wlbaub9Y
— Reagan Reese (@reaganreese_) December 13, 2022
Petitioning to “ban hate speech” can have detrimental effects, Xi Van Fleet, a former Loudoun County parent and a survivor of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, told the DCNF.
“Hate speech to me is a very tricky business, because who is to define what is hate?” Van Fleet told the DCNF. “I just want to remind young people like this particular person who started the petition, that banning speech also can get people bullied, tortured and killed. That is what happened in China during the Cultural Revolution where I witnessed people who, just because they say something that is not in line with the party, with Mao, would get silenced and many of them killed.”
Loudoun County School Board and Pihonak did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.