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Henrico School Board to take part in cultural sensitivity training following Chair’s controversial post

Updated: Mar. 11, 2021 at 12:34 AM EST
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HENRICO Co., Va. (WWBT) - The Henrico County School Board has voted to participate in “culture sensitivity and implicit bias training” following an offensive, now-deleted, social media post by the board Chair in connection to the recent decision by Dr. Seuss Enterprises to stop publishing several books.

On March 2, Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced it would stop publishing six books, including “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” and “If I Ran the Zoo”, because of racist and insensitive imagery.

“These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” Dr. Seuss Enterprises told The Associated Press in a statement that coincided with the late author and illustrator’s birthday.

Days after the announcement, HCPS’s school board Chair Michelle “Micky” Ogburn, shared a viral Facebook post on her personal page from an unknown woman.

Ogburn’s comment above the post read, “I love this and Dr. Seuss books.”

The post that was shared, showed an image of Dr. Seuss’s classic Grinch character raising his middle finger. The photo was accompanied by a poem appearing to dismiss the decision made by the company to stop selling several of its books.

“I looked and read/ I found them splendid/ not one vicious word/ to make me offended,” the poem reads in part.

The Facebook post shared by HCPS Chair Michelle Ogburn
The Facebook post shared by HCPS Chair Michelle Ogburn(Facebook)

It goes on to call several of the Dr. Seuss’s characters “whimsical” including ‘Cat in the Hat’ and ‘The Grinch’.

“60 books to his name,/ For 84 years/ & just now have sent whiners, crying in tears,” the poem continued.

It ends with the writer telling people who support the company’s recent announcement to “go to hell”.

“It is an absolute mistake on my part, that if I could go back in time, see the whole thing, never push the button,” Ogburn said Wednesday following a special closed meeting with the school board.

Ogburn said she saw mention of several classic characters in the poem but claims she didn’t read the full post. Additionally, she said the photo of The Grinch raising his middle finger was not attached at the time.

“I was mortified by what I saw,” she added.

The Three Chopt representative said the post was on her personal page for several hours before she removed it and wrote an apology.

“No matter your age, you can learn from a mistake and own up to it no matter how unintentional or inadvertent that mistake might be,” Ogburn wrote on Facebook March 5. “To anyone who was offended by the past I shared earlier, I sincerely apologize. I didn’t see the whole post or attached picture before sharing. Lesson learned to read it all and think about things through the eyes of others before posting. As soon as I saw the whole post and it was immediately deleted.”

On March 5, Michelle Ogburn posted on her personal Facebook page, viewable by the public, an...
On March 5, Michelle Ogburn posted on her personal Facebook page, viewable by the public, an apology regarding her recently-deleted post.(Facebook)

However, many HCPS parents and community members criticized Ogburn’s sharing of the post and her apology.

Henrico NAACP President Sharon Glover released the following statement Wednesday afternoon:

“The Henrico NAACP is very disappointed in the actions of Three Chopt District representative Micky Ogburn. We understand she has since removed the post and apologized. However, acts such as this, from an individual representing our school board is unacceptable. Mrs. Ogburn’s sharing of the post is a clear indication of how much work is yet to be done. We demand our school board representatives be culturally aware and competent about the complexities of racially charged language, media, memes, and the like. We expect better from our community leaders, especially those that are responsible for making decisions regarding the education of our youth.”

Meanwhile, an online petition was created by a group called “Together We Will Henrico” to hold the school board accountable for racial equity.

“We call on Ms. Ogburn to publicly acknowledge the harm caused by her endorsement of the rejection of concerns raised by County parents, teachers, and students regarding racist depictions of Black and Asian people in certain books by Dr. Seuss,” the petition reads. “The HCPS Student Code of Conduct states that “students must understand that content published online is public, visible, and representative of the author.” It goes on to state that it is expected that all HCPS employees will be “polite and courteous to students, parents and guardians, serving as role models for students.” This is an opportunity for Ms. Ogburn, the School Board, and HCPS leadership to model the standards of accountability set in the Code of Conduct.”

The petition also called on Ogburn to step down as Chair of the school board; she was appointed to the position in January.

“Stepping down would, it could be symbolic in nature, I guess,” Ogburn said. “But I feel like I can lead us in another way, in a more productive way; in a way that causes us to grow and learn from this from a very personal experience that I have.”

On Wednesday, the HCPS school board called a special meeting at 11 a.m. to address the “performance” of Ogburn. Following the closed meeting, Ogburn read a statement as a public apology.

“I know this mistake has caused others pain, and opened wounds I can only imagine,” Ogburn said. “I cannot begin to describe the depth of my regret for that pain and the pain I have caused others; but when we make mistakes, we must own up to them and learn from them.”

Ogburn also answered several questions by local news agencies following the meeting.

Meanwhile, the board voted unanimously to take part in “culture sensitivity and implicit bias training”.

“Many of us have participated in elements as individuals or with our staff, but we haven’t done it collectively as a board,” said Vice Chair, and Tuckahoe board member Marcie Shea. “We felt that was an important piece to sit collectively as a board in this training and have discussions.”

“We can’t just give lip service to this,” Ogburn said. If we’re going to do it, which we committed to do, we want it to be meaningful.”

According to the HCPS website, all full-time staff is required to take part in this online training.

Additionally, the board voted unanimously to host several town halls sometime around Spring Break focused on equity and diversity.

“I feel like I have the opportunity right now to learn from what happened, to grow from it and continue to lead this board and use by experience to do that,” Ogburn said.

According to Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the six books it will stop publishing are:

  • And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street
  • If I Ran the Zoo
  • McElligot’s Pool
  • On Beyond Zebra!
  • Scrambled Eggs Super!
  • The Cat’s Quizzer

The HCPS school board is scheduled to hold its next work session Thursday at 1 p.m.

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