ACCOMACK: $10K speaker for teacher opening draws criticism for message, allegations

Accomack Superintendent Rhonda Hall

BY CLARA VAUGHN, Eastern Shore Post —

The speaker at Accomack County Public Schools’ Opening Day program sparked controversy among some teachers attending the school year’s kick-off event.

Luvelle Brown, the Ithaca, N.Y., City School District superintendent and a member of the Ithaca College Board of Trustees, delivered the welcoming address to teachers at the event on Thursday, Aug. 24.

Brown has been an educator since 1997, but more recently sparked controversy when Ithaca community members called for him to resign after he allegedly injured his son and misused his power as superintendent, according to published news reports.

Accomack County School Superintendent Rhonda Hall said the allegations against Brown are “unfounded” and that the school district chose him because “he came highly recommended … (and) vetted through an organization” the school system uses to reserve presenters, called RocketPD.

Local school board candidate Connie Burford said nine teachers contacted her after Brown’s speech to share their disappointment with his message.

“I did not hear his speech. I heard what they had to say about it,” Burford said. “He knew what he was saying was offensive.”

Opening Day is the school system’s division-wide kickoff to the school year for teachers.

Speakers address Accomack County educators during the annual event. Past speakers include Adolph Brown, known for his “Unconscious Bias, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion” addresses, and representatives from the Ron Clark Academy, Hall said.

Many of their talks center on diversity, including Brown’s, she said.

“Some of the teachers … Googled him during his opening session and they found out that there was a CPS (Child Protective Services) allegation against him,” Hall said. “If theylooked at the article, they would see that it was unfounded.”

“This is the way that some of the teachers felt like they wanted to let out some of their frustrations, maybe, because of some of the things that he said,” Hall added.

The Accomack school district booked Brown to speak in February through RocketPD, an organization that helps schools coordinate virtual and in-person courses and sessions, she said.

His three sessions at the Aug. 24 event cost $10,000, “which is very comparable to other speakers with his credentials and credibility,” Hall said.

“He was highly recommended by the organization and he was a presenter who had spoken about diversity and making sure that teachers work with all kids and that they acknowledge diversity,” Hall said.

Allegations against Luvelle Brown date back to February 2020, when Child Protective Services began an investigation into an injury his 8-year-old son sustained that Feb. 23, when Brown was picking his two children up from his ex-wife, who initiated divorce proceedings in 2013.

The case was dismissed, but in February 2021, more than 120 Ithaca community members signed a letter to the president of the Ithaca City School District Board of Education outlining Brown’s alleged abuses of power and calling for an investigation into the superintendent and the board of education, according to an April 2022 article in The Ithacan.

Despite the allegations, Brown has been praised for his work as superintendent, receiving the Dr. Effie H. Jones Humanitarian Award from the School Superintendents Association in 2022.

Brown holds a doctoral degree in education leadership from the University of Virginia. He had served in Virginia’s Albemarle County Public Schools in the superintendent’s cabinet prior to moving to Ithaca’s school district.

“All kids come from a different story and that’s what the speakers usually talk about” during Opening Day, Hall said.

But Burford said one teacher described Brown’s break-out sessions as “awful” and “demoralizing.”

“With all the options that we have out there, we could’ve done a much better job,” she said of the choice of speaker for the event.

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