Following several days of national media attention over a viral video showing local activist Gary Chambers criticizing East Baton Rouge Parish School Board member Connie Bernard, school board members and other local officials are weighing in on the matter.
Some—including Mayor Sharon Weston Broome—call for Bernard’s resignation, while others stop short of doing so, despite agreeing that more needs to be done in Baton Rouge in the area of racial equity.
“As I and others work toward addressing racism in our community, moving toward racial equity and inclusion, her actions set us back and add to the division,” Broome says in an email. “It has a far-reaching impact on how people view our city as an inviting location for families to locate, for business development … Ms. Bernard should resign if she is committed to seeing our city move forward.”
School board member Tramelle Howard will also call for Bernard’s immediate resignation during an afternoon news conference in front of the school board office on South Foster Drive. Howard has invited all of his fellow school board members to the news conference, though he says only two—Dadrius Lanus and Evelyn Ware-Jackson—have responded saying they’ll attend.
“I think it’s the right thing for her to do at this moment,” Howard says of Bernard. “It’s time, there’s a lot of hurt people, and in order for us to begin the healing process, it’s best for her to step down.”
Others skirt around calling for Bernard to resign.
Though he’s not attending the media event, school board member Mike Gaudet will introduce a resolution which, among other actions, would have the board undertake the Dialogue on Race Louisiana educational course offered next fall and complete a full revision of its strategic plan prior to the 2021-2022 school year, holding diversity, equity and inclusion “at the center of this work.”
Gaudet says Bernard’s disengagement at the board meeting was “insensitive and disrespectful,” adding “it will be impossible to mend our school system if we behave in this way.” However, he declines to call for her resignation.
“That’s not a matter for me to decide,” Gaudet tells Daily Report. “That’s up to her constituents in her district.”
The comments come just hours after Chambers appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe talk show and subsequently challenged more local officials to speak up on the matter. He singled out the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, which issued a statement Thursday in support of renaming Lee High School but did not, as of this morning, publicly push for Bernard’s resignation.
BRAC President and CEO Adam Knapp says the chamber has been having internal discussions since last week’s meeting, but stressed the board does not have the power to remove her. Instead, it will either be up to Bernard to resign on her own, or for members of her district to sign a recall petition to drive the process.
“If I lived in her district, I’d be asking myself as a parent, as a taxpayer, is she able to represent me or my district?” Knapp told the Press Club of Baton Rouge during today’s meeting, noting that BRAC’s FuturePAC has never endorsed Bernard.
Meanwhile, Visit Baton Rouge President and CEO Paul Arrigo says the increased national attention on Baton Rouge “shows that leaders and activists in our local community are taking positive steps to eradicate oppression, unite the community as a whole and remain a voice for change.”
Ahead of Lee High’s renaming, the school board has released a public survey seeking community input, which can be accessed here.