Home Update: Augusta County School Board punts on removing ‘offensive’ art from art show
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Update: Augusta County School Board punts on removing ‘offensive’ art from art show

not enough to save you2
Photo: Facebook

Update: Saturday, 10:56 p.m. According to a report from Augusta County resident Randall Wolf, the Augusta County School Board decided, after a closed session that dragged past 10:30 p.m., “not to take action on the work tonight. They will review and set policy in the future for artwork.”

We are learning more about the emergency meeting of the Augusta County School Board called for 9 p.m. Saturday night – it’s about a piece of art from a senior at Fort Defiance High School who identifies as queer that two school board members have decided is offensive, and are trying to block from being featured in an art show at the high school on Sunday.

“Several people have reached out to me regarding the art show on Sunday at Fort Defiance High School and a specific piece of art that is slated to be in the show. This particular piece of art is seen as offensive to some, including myself,” Timothy Simmons, who represents the Pastures District on the school board, wrote on his Facebook page on Saturday.

“A few of us on the school board have argued that this work (painting over pages from the Bible with a message that lies at the heart of the Christian gospel) is against our policies of ‘harassment or discrimination based on gender, perceived race, religion.’ Something that ‘has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working or educational environment,’” Sharon Griffin, who represents the North River District on the school board, wrote on the Facebook page of a private group that goes by United Parents of Augusta County.

The artwork, shared here, entirely because these two school board members are trying to get at least two more to join them in voting to censor it, is slated to be part of an exhibit at a fine arts show on Sunday that is slated to begin at 12:30 p.m.

The artist explained her work, which she titled “Not Enough to Save You,” in an artist statement that was shared on the United Parents of Augusta County Facebook page.

“This piece is representative of the idea that growing up queer meant you couldn’t be saved by God,” the student wrote. “I grew up in a religious background, and that influenced this project. The idea of the glowing red cross is to represent evil in the eyes of God, and the bleeding rainbow represents devotion vs. identity. Overall, the piece gets across the message I want it to, even if it is a little in your face.”

United Parents of Augusta County Facebook group The school board is slated to meet at 9 p.m. at the Augusta County Government Center, and then immediately go into closed session to discuss “student matters,” according to a call for the meeting sent out to members of the media Saturday afternoon.

The reason for going into closed session, according to Simmons, writing on his Facebook page, in response to a question from a county resident, is “student matters and legal matters both qualify for closed sessions.”

It would seem more to the point that the board members pushing this matter, Simmons and Griffin, are trying to use the closed-meeting exemption in the Freedom of Information Act as a cover for having something that they’ve each already discussed in public from getting any further public scrutiny.

Simmons wrote on his Facebook page that the board is “working with our legal counsel” to review its options, and added that he will “be asking for a review on the process for approving pieces that are included in the art shows. Is there a process in place and, if so, how do we honor students’ free speech while also creating a culture of respect within our schools?”

Griffin, in her post on the United Parents of Augusta County page, urged people reading her post who are “concerned about this offensive content, and live in districts represented by John Ward, Donna Wells, David Shiflett or Tim Swortzel, please contact them this afternoon and ask them to vote to not let this artwork be displayed tomorrow.”

“These four seem to think this artwork has to be allowed based on the student’s right to free speech,” Griffin wrote.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].