Until recently, school board races were lowkey and often uncontested. However, a toxic combination of hot-button social issues, violence in schools, Covid lockdowns, learning loss, mask mandates, the FBI branding some parents “domestic terrorists,” and declining expectations with increasing spending have put schools and students in the middle of the so-called “culture wars.”
Although Southwest Virginia was able to avoid many of the excesses that plagued some Northern Virginia school districts, some ugly tensions have troubled Roanoke County’s Cave Spring School Board race this cycle.
Roanoke County Government has long been known for its quiet, friendly effectiveness. Sadly, however, acts of vandalism and now a Nov. 4 outburst at the Brambleton Center polls are tarnishing that reputation.
By state law, school board candidates cannot be officially affiliated with any political party. However, parties are allowed to endorse candidates, a distinction which some may view as hair-splitting.
In Cave Spring, Shelley Clemons, who has school-aged children in County schools, has been running with a Republican endorsement. The other candidate is Mary Wilson, who is running officially as an independent; some of her detractors however allege she is actually allied with the Democrats.
By last August, Cave Spring residents were seeing some of the Clemons’ signs being vandalized. Some were cut in half with part left standing while other parts were strewn on the ground.
The Roanoke Star has not been notified of any of Wilson’s signs being damaged.
When asked for a statement about the vandalism, on September 5 Clemons wrote: “It has been frustrating, but I try not to let it take me off course. I will continue to work hard …. I’m sure you saw the images on my fb page.
“I had another one cut on Sunday while David and I were door knocking. It was there and then when we came back through it had been destroyed. I assume they wanted me to know they saw me out canvassing and wanted to send a message. As far as comments, they say things on my page that are absurd and full of accusations. There is also a Facebook group (…) and they say terrible things about me and make up things. If someone tries to defend me they delete the comments and kick them out of the group.”
Seeking independent verification for The Roanoke Star reading community, this writer sought entrance into the Facebook group in question. However, despite the page claiming it was for “transparency,” no admission was allowed.
Earlier in the fall, The Roanoke Star emailed both Wilson and Clemons a series of questions about themselves and their priorities. Neither answered the set of questions. Wilson was asked if she had any children in the County school system and also if she had any statements about the vandalism, would condemn it, or call for it to stop. Wilson did respond by email, but said she would only answer her questions if she could first see the questions sent to Clemons. The Roanoke Star explained that both sets of questions were largely the same. However, Wilson never responded again.
Thankfully, in October, Clemons reported that the vandalism against her signs had stopped.
Cave Spring Supervisor Paul Mahoney (R), when asked for a statement, emailed: “Shelley has described for me the problems of vandalizing her signs. I have had three of my signs ‘disappear’ along Brambleton Ave. between 419 and the city limits, and I am unopposed!”
Sadly, things turned nasty again on the last day of early voting, Saturday November 4, at the Brambleton Center polling place where Clemons was at the polls to greet voters and pass out literature, as is the time-honored custom for candidates. A bystander, who wishes to remain anonymous so as not to jeopardize any legal proceedings, witnessed the altercation and gave this account: “An individual approached Shelley Clemons, confronted her, there was a verbal altercation, and the police were called. Shelley did not respond back to the aggressive comments and she handled herself professionally, and multiple people came to her aid. [The altercation] lasted for about five minutes, from the time she [the aggressor] came in until she left. Police were called a bit after 1:00 pm.”
The Roanoke Star has reached out to Clemons and Wilson for their comments about the incident, but neither has responded as of publication time.
Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 7, and polls are open from 6:00 am until 7:00 pm.