© 2024 WHRO Public Media
5200 Hampton Boulevard, Norfolk VA 23508
757.889.9400 | info@whro.org
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

State delegate says Norfolk Public Schools leadership is ignoring safety concerns and refusing meetings with officials

Ryan Murphy
Students at Norfolk's Norview High School say they were targeted for violence because of their race - and their parents say administrators did little to address concerns.

Norfolk Del. Jackie Glass said efforts to meet with Norfolk’s superintendent have gone nowhere.

Del. Jackie Glass says the superintendent of Norfolk Public Schools has refused to meet with her and other members of Norfolk’s General Assembly delegation to talk about addressing violence and other issues in Norfolk’s schools.

Glass appeared before the Norfolk School Board on June 26 saying she’s worried about things she’s seen and heard of in the schools and the response by the district’s leadership.

“What I've been hearing in the community is that NPS leadership is selectively out of touch and has their head in the sand. This belief is reinforced by the actions and inaction sometimes of this very board,” Glass said at the meeting.

She first contacted Superintendent Sharon Byrdsong in January, the same month WHRO published a story featuring the families of several Hispanic students who were harassed and assaulted because of their race. Those families said NPS leadership failed to address the violence and downplayed or outright ignored their concerns.

In the months following that initial report, some of those families and others told WHRO they were contacted by Department of Justice investigators. One mother said an attorney with the DOJ told her in March investigators are looking at the district’s handling of violence against students.

“I believe the cyber bullying, I believe the hate crimes, I believe the safety concerns that the teachers have. I believe that a lot of these things have been verified. But often folks have felt like they have been dismissed and I agree with them,” Glass told the school board.

Glass said she took her concerns public at the school board because she’s tried meet with Byrdsong for six months and gotten nowhere.

Byrdsong refused multiple requests for interviews from WHRO over the last seven months, including a request for this story.

The superintendent has declined to answer questions about the incidents of violence, families’ concerns or what her administration is doing to address them, offering only a single prepared statement through a spokeswoman in response to WHRO’s story about the possibility of Department of Justice investigations in May.

That statement is included in full here, in the interest of transparency:

“Norfolk Public Schools continues its focus upon helping students learn to connect with one another and better respect personal boundaries, in addition to demonstrating respect for differences. These efforts include engaging the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities to provide workshops for students and staff to take place this summer and early fall, along with implementing strategies to help families and students feel welcome and supported in their school communities. 

Norfolk Public Schools’ ESL Family Engagement Specialists continue to increase their partnerships with our schools, helping host family nights and family meetings to share how to proactively contact the school when families have questions/concerns, in addition to sharing how to access school and community resources.

Additionally, Norfolk Public Schools has assisted its schools in developing supports for Hispanic families based upon needs identified at each school. For example, one school hosted a family night that provided Norfolk Public Schools’ families with a resource fair that connected them with available school and community supports. The evening also included student performances, giveaways, and food vendors. 

Pending the final approval of the SY2025 budget, a new division welcome center is being planned for implementation and individual schools have been encouraged to create small welcome spaces in their offices to provide additional support to families for interpretation services and enrollment assistance.”

Glass said Monday she hasn’t heard from Byrdsong since her comments at the school board, but she still hopes they can meet.

“No communication is probably the worst thing you can do. … We shouldn’t have the luxury of doing that,” Glass told WHRO. “To be left with constituents who feel unheard, unvalued, I feel responsible for that, even though that’s not my wheelhouse.”

NOTE: Norfolk Public Schools is a member of the Hampton Roads Educational Telecommunications Association, which holds WHRO’s broadcast license.

Ryan is WHRO’s business and growth reporter. He joined the newsroom in 2021 after eight years at local newspapers, the Daily Press and Virginian-Pilot. Ryan is a Chesapeake native and still tries to hold his breath every time he drives through the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel.

The world changes fast.

Keep up with daily local news from WHRO. Get local news every weekday in your inbox.

Sign-up here.