LOUDOUN COUNTY, Va. (7News) — A new petition has more than 800 signatures from people calling on the Loudoun County School Board to cut off people during school board public comment periods the moment hate speech is spoken during school board meetings.
Nineteen-year-old Andrew Pihonak started the online petition after listening to public comment during last week’s school board meeting.
“I mainly started it [the petition] because I’m honestly sick and tired of seeing hateful rhetoric,” said Pihonak. “What was said at the school board meeting last week, I’m sick of seeing it so normal, calls for violence like that. Gay people like me get bullied, harassed, and killed over stuff like this. I’m sick of seeing it so normal.”
Pihonak listened to last week’s Loudoun County School Board meeting as he was eating dinner at home.
“There was one comment, and I was eating my dinner, and I was about to throw up,” said Pihonak.
Pihonak is talking about one person who spoke to the school board regarding the LGBTQ community and related school policies.
“I felt sick to my stomach,” said Pihonak. “I was like why is this allowed? Why is this being broadcasted on the Loudoun County website? Hate speech incites violence. It inspires many people to go out and commit senseless acts of violence against people like me.”
Parent group Loudoun 4 All supports the petition.
“There’s a line that gets crossed when you start targeting specific people or specifics groups of people,” said Meredith Ray, who is a board member for Loudoun 4 All. “That community has been targeted I would say pretty regularly at school board meetings over the last two years. There was one speaker who crossed the line and made people very uncomfortable and even scared.”
“The school board is not the speech police and that’s certainly not my role,” said Loudoun County School Board Member Tiffany Polifko.
“And that’s the furthest thing from my mind right now when it comes to correcting course for the citizens and the stakeholders of Loudoun County Public Schools.”
7News asked all of Loudoun County’s school board members if they support the policy the petition is calling for.
Polifko was the only school board member who answered 7News’s question on if they support a policy to cut off people during public comment when hate speech is spoken.
“Absolutely not,” said Polifko. “Because what is hate speech and who gets to decide what hate speech is. If people can control what you say, they can control what you think and that flies in the face of the United States Constitution and I’m 100 percent opposed to it. As I said before, people might have things to say to me that aren’t kind. But I will always advocate, and I will defend people to the death for their right to be able to say what they believe, what guards their principles, their morals, their ethics, whether I like it or not. That is their right.”
Polifko says the Loudoun County School Board needs to focus on addressing the community’s concerns regarding how Loudoun County Public Schools mishandled two sexual assaults.
“This is beyond what is most important in our community right now which is dealing with what is in front of us regarding these sexual assaults that occurred over the last 18 months,” said Polifko. “My calling for that internal review to be made public in whatever means necessary – that is the most important thing right now. Everything else is just noise. What we are seeing as far as people’s concern about hate speech and public comment and quelling that, that is eyes off the ball. That is noise as far as I am concerned.”
“Furthermore, the First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects any individual's right to free speech,” added Polifko. “They might not have things to say to me or anybody else in that board room that are kind. But that is their right under the First Amendment. That’s such a silly thing for us to be focused on right now when what we really need to be doing is working to restore trust in the community of Loudoun County.”