Responding to controversial social media post, Story says she will serve out her term, but not run for re-election
Published 9:31 pm Tuesday, March 15, 2022
Sherri Story has decided not to run for re-election as the Chuckatuck Borough representative on the Suffolk School Board.
“I am not running again in November,” Story said via text message Tuesday evening, responding to whether she would heed calls to resign from the board for what the Nansemond-Suffolk branch of the NAACP and others have decried as a racist Facebook post in February about city Parks and Recreation’s Black Joy in the Outdoors events. She said she would not resign.
Story, whose term expires Dec. 31, was elected to the board in 2017. Tyron Riddick (Suffolk Borough), Karen Jenkins (Cypress Borough) and Lorita Mayo (Holy Neck Borough) were all elected to the board in the same year.
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Almost immediately, Story has drawn the ire of other board members, and little has changed over the course of her term, recently being escorted out of a board meeting for not wearing a mask, and not agreeing to accommodations after she asked for a religious exemption from wearing a mask at the board’s meeting earlier this month.
Story was cited in 2019 for violations of board norms and protocols – she did not attend the meeting at which they were approved by the rest of the board.
The violations related to her use of Facebook to discuss issues she sees in Suffolk Public Schools, in violation of one of the protocols, and asking staff members questions about an audit during a public meeting rather than addressing her questions to the superintendent ahead of time, in violation of another protocol.
By a 5-2 vote at a June 2019 meeting, the board approved removing a board member from committees as disciplinary action for a fourth violation. Story and then-board member David Mitnick voted against it.
That came just after Story had hired attorney Kevin Martingayle in the wake of the two disciplinary actions against her she believed to be unfair.
In June 2020, the board voted 5-2 in favor of a censure resolution against Story, with Mitnick joining her in opposing the resolution.
Story filed a pair of lawsuits against the board related to what she said were Freedom of Information Act violations. The board has appealed the first verdict initially handed down in Suffolk Circuit Court to the state Supreme Court. The state Supreme Court in January issued an unpublished opinion stating “that there is reversible error in the judgment of the circuit court.”
The board had appealed the circuit court ruling, saying it erred in awarding mandamus relief by requiring it to seek the advice of the FOIA Advisory Council. The board had said that relief is beyond the scope of the mandamus “because it compels performance of a discretionary act and regulates a general course of conduct” and erred in the finding that its short-form certification of closed meetings violated Virginia FOIA.
Story and her attorney had responded that the relief was proper as a means to prevent future violations.
The state Supreme Court, in its unpublished opinion, said that “contrary to the circuit court’s ruling … nothing requires that the certification of a closed meeting be read aloud during a public meeting.”
The unpublished opinion did say that “it is undisputed that the Board committed multiple VFOIA violations” and that the only issue was whether the circuit court properly determined that Story substantially prevailed on the merits of the case.
“The Court, however, does not reach this issue as some, but not all, of the bas(i)s for the circuit court’s decision to award attorneys’ fees are no longer valid,” the unpublished opinion states. “Accordingly, the Court remands the case to the circuit court to allow it the opportunity to address this issue whether, in light of this Court’s rulings, Story has substantially prevailed on the merits of her case.”
While the appeal was ongoing, she had filed a pair of motions to dismiss the board’s appeal, both of which the state Supreme Court denied.
The parties settled a second lawsuit in February 2021.
Dr. John B. Gordon, who Story along with the rest of the board supported to replace Dr. Deran Whitney as superintendent later in 2019, filed a hostile work complaint against Story in July 2020.
In December 2020, an investigation found his allegations credible, but without enough evidence to support a “legally actionable” case based on race. But because she had disclosed publicly that he had filed the complaint, it “create(d) at least some risk of an actionable retaliation claim.”
In January 2021, the board voted 6-1 to authorize board chairwoman Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck to arrange for Story to have racial sensitivity training and training “relative to maintenance of confidentiality of certain School Board matters.” At that time, Story said she had “never, ever said or written anything racist, nor been involved in any conversations that would point toward me being labeled a racist in my personal life, in my professional life and in my spiritual life.”
In July 2021, Story was the lone vote against giving Gordon a new four-year contract.
In September 2021, Gordon called for a mediation session between him and Story following what he said was her harassment of principals at two schools and entering others without proper administrative escorts. Story did not participate in a mediation session with the superintendent.
She has said multiple times that she felt like other board members were trying to silence her, but Jenkins, during discussion on the vote for the censure resolution, said board members just wanted her to be truthful and that she had continued to violate board norms and protocols.