Four EBR School Board members call on Connie Bernard to resign, will start recall petition

Nearly half of EBR School Board calls for resignation of Connie Bernard, but she says she's staying put

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Tramelle Howard, vice president of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, and three other board members are calling for the resignation of fellow board member Connie Bernard.

This comes just days after activist, Gary Chambers, shared a video that has since gone viral.

Bernard was reportedly caught online shopping during the intense debate over whether to rename Lee High School in Baton Rouge.

“I’m going to talk about you Connie, sitting over there shopping while we talking about Robert E. Lee. This is a picture of you shopping while we’re talking about racism and history in this country,” said Chambers at the meeting.

Howard was joined by three other school board members at a news conference Monday, June 22. The four board members are calling for Bernard to resign before 12 p.m. on Tuesday, June 23, or they will collect signatures for a petition for her resignation.

School board members explained during the news conference that the school board cannot remove a member from office.

“We as a board cannot remove a sitting board member, but we can demand the resignation, which we stand before you today doing so,” said Howard.

Howard said that if Bernard does not resign, volunteers will go door to door in her district to get enough signatures from her constituents for a recall petition.

“We are going to walk every single house in her community. Volunteers have already begun to sign up. And there’s people all over the nation that have said they’re going to help out, to make sure we knock on every single door to make this happen,” said Dadrius Lannus, District 2 school board member.

Bernard said in a statement late Monday afternoon that she would not resign from the school board.

FULL VIDEO: EBR Parish School Board VP, 3 other members call for Connie Bernard to resign

”I think it’s time as a collective community that we start the healing process to deal with social injustice and racism and, in this moment, I think that starts with our colleague, Ms. Bernard, resigning,” Howard said.

Bernard has come under criticism after she initially defended the name of Lee High School in Baton Rouge and the Confederate general it was named after.

Bernard was also seen shopping online as she attended a recent school board meeting in which the possible renaming of Lee High School was being discussed.

Some of the board members say Bernard should’ve stepped down two years ago after a video shows her allegedly choking a young man.

“The tipping point was two years ago when she walked inside someone’s house without permission, without consent after she was told to leave, and she choked a 17-year-old child,” said Lanus.

Board members, Dawn Collins and Evelyn Ware-Jackson, were on the school board at the time of that incident, but nothing came of it.

“There really wasn’t enough interest in the area where Mrs. Bernard lives to generate a recall petition, and I don’t believe there was enough interest of the majority of the board to take any action or to make any statements,” said Ware-Jackson.

The board unanimously voted in favor of forming a committee to consider changing the name of the school.

The four board members would need 33% of the people who live in Bernard’s district to sign the petition within the next three months.

The president of the East Baton Rouge School Board, Michael Gaudet, issued the following statement to WAFB Monday, June 22:

“It is my honor and privilege to serve you on the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, a body that is entrusted with oversight of the education within the East Baton Rouge Public School System. It is a responsibility that I take very seriously and I remember daily that we do it for the betterment of our most precious gift, the children that we educate. As such, we not only have the responsibility to provide them with quality education but also to listen to the voices of all stakeholders: students, parents, staff and the public at large.

This responsibility was not met by Board Member Connie Bernard during the June 18, 2020 Regular Board meeting. During that meeting, while having an important discussion regarding the renaming of Lee High Magnet School, Board Member Bernard was observed performing actions that convey disinterest and apathy. This discussion touched on many serious topics including the legacy of slavery, corruption, and the continued effects of institutional racism in our society and school system. With the interest of the school system at heart, many members of the community dedicated their time and made themselves vulnerable by sharing their feelings that night on these topics in a public way. Ms. Bernard’s disengagement at such an important juncture was insensitive and disrespectful. It will be impossible to mend our school system if we behave in this way.

As we move forward, it must be with greater compassion, understanding, and respect for one another. In order to start this progress, I will be introducing the following resolution to the EBRPS Board at the next available opportunity:

School Board Commitment to Equity and Eradicating Racism

RECITALS

WHEREAS, as school board members we are committed to actively interrupting systemic racism and eliminating inequities in our education system;

WHEREAS, this racism and disregard of human dignity and life reflect and perpetuate a system within which students, families, and staff of color are hindered by both explicit actions as well as unconscious bias;

WHEREAS, our community and nation’s future require that this systemic, institutional bias be dismantled, to promote equity, and ensure ALL children and families are able to thrive;

WHEREAS, education is a key lever for creating this more equitable and anti-racist community, nation, and world;

WHEREAS, our district is committed to promoting equity within and across our schools, in conversation and partnership with students, families, staff, and community stakeholders;

WHEREAS, in moving from planning to action, our district is committed to drawing on the perspective and feedback from the collection of diverse voices to identify concrete actions that must be taken to advance this work, and continuing to ensure that these voices are elevated in decision-making processes.

WHEREAS, as a school board and district we value each and every student, family, and staff member and are committed to creating an equitable and anti-racist system that honors and elevates all.

WHEREAS, we recognize that the experiences and outcomes in our district are not consistent for historically underserved and marginalized groups.

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, by the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board that:

1. The East Baton Rouge Public School Board commits to its own work as individuals and our collective work overseeing the district in continuing to become equitable and anti-racist in behaviors, actions, and policies. This will include, at a minimum, the undertaking as a group the Dialogue on Race educational course (or a similarly focused educational process) during the fall of 2020.

2. The East Baton Rouge Public School Board calls on and commits to working with our local governmental agencies to strengthen the collective work of diversity, equity, and inclusion in our community.

LET IT FURTHER BE RESOLVED, that the East Baton Rouge Public School Board shall take specific action to revise its governance tools - goals, procedures, and budget - to reflect this focus on equity and anti-racism:

3. The East Baton Rouge Public School Board commits to completing a full revision of its Strategic Plan prior to the commencement of the 2021-2022 school year, holding diversity, equity, and inclusion at the center of this work. These revised goals will allow monitoring and transparency of progress by the Board and stakeholders.

4. The East Baton Rouge Public School Board commits to reviewing and revising all existing School Board Policies over the course of the 2020-21 school year, adopting revisions to each as necessary to ensure a focus on equity and anti-racism across all policies.

5. The East Baton Rouge Public School Board commits to holding these resolutions at the center when reviewing and approving the district budget to ensure adequate funding to support this work.

I remain dedicated to this work of advancing the progress toward greater understanding and empathy across all members of the entire Baton Rouge community.”

Michael Gaudet

District 7

East Baton Rouge Public School Board

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