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Augusta County, trying to ban artwork in a closed-door discussion, still doesn’t get it

Augusta County
(© Rex Wholster – stock.adobe.com)

Two members of the Augusta County School Board tried to get the board to remove a piece of artwork that they found “offensive” from a weekend high school art show.

The part of the story where the two tried to stifle a student’s artistic freedom of expression is bad enough.

The way the board discussed the push from the two – behind closed doors – is our sign that Augusta County still doesn’t get it.

“General discussion about what is and isn’t offensive is not fair game,” said Megan Rhyne, the executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, in an email to AFP. “The same is true for the legal advice exemption. There may be some things relative to potential liability between students and schools that call for advice, but again, discussion about what is and isn’t offensive (or what the policy for judging artworks is) should be in public.”

Not only that, but the student artist, Abby Driscoll, told the News Leader in an interview conducted at the art show – nope, the artwork didn’t get removed, despite the best efforts of Timothy Simmons and Sharon Griffin, the two board members who claimed they were offended – said the board didn’t reach out to her to let her know that it would be discussing her artwork, or to invite her to speak on her behalf as the board was discussing its fate.


This is just another example of Augusta County leaders considering themselves to be above the law when it comes to the requirement to conduct public business in public.

The county government has been fighting efforts by AFP and Breaking Through Media to make public the recording of a closed meeting held in 2023 to discuss the resignation of a member of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors from being made public, with only an odd legal reversal by a retired judge who initially ruled that the recording needed to be released preserving the veil of secrecy into what was said by BOS members at that meeting for now.

This issue with the school board isn’t over, by a long shot, not with board members making it clear that they plan to study what they can do to amend existing policies to allow them to ban student artwork from public displays in the future.

Here’s a safe bet: they’ll hash out whatever they’re going to do there behind closed doors, because that’s public business in Augusta County is done.

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].