A request from First Lady Michelle Obama to speak at a Chesterfield County, Va. elementary school during her campaign swing through the Commonwealth today was rejected by county school leaders, citing school policy, a Chesterfield supervisor confirmed to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
“I do believe and think that Mrs. Obama, the first lady, should be allowed to attend a Chesterfield school,” said Dale District Supervisor Jim Holland, who confirmed the Obama campaign request. “I know it’s not school policy. However, I just do not agree with that, because I think it’s an honor for the first lady to visit a school. That’s just my personal opinion as supervisor.”
Chesterfield schools officials refused to discuss the Obama campaign’s request or even confirm whether a request had been made. School system spokesman Shawn Smith did not reply to two email inquiries about the matter Wednesday until after the Times-Dispatch contacted School Board Chairman Patricia M. Carpenter.
“We respectfully decline to comment,” Smith said in an email.
Holland, the only Democrat on the five-member Chesterfield board, was unaware of the Obama campaign request until contacted by a reporter. He then confirmed it after contacting the county administration.
“It was confirmed that (Mrs. Obama) did in fact ask to come to a Chesterfield school,” Holland said. “I don’t know the extent of what their request was, whether it was a political request or whether it was an educational request.”
“If it was official, that would be appropriate,” Holland added. “If it was political, that would be inappropriate.”
Wednesday evening, the school division’s community relations director, Tim Bullis, sent by email a statement regarding the school board’s policy in response to the newspaper’s inquiry.
“If a political campaign were to inquire about the use of a school facility during the school day, the campaign would be referred to a School Board policy 6100, which prohibits the use of school facilities during the school day for political purposes,” Bullis wrote.
Holland said school officials felt that making their denial public would potentially embarrass the Obama campaign.
The Obama campaign said in a statement: “Any time the campaign looks at venues for events, we consider a range of options. The school was only one of several options being considered in the greater Richmond area, and CenterStage theater was ultimately determined to be the best fit for this event.”
Chesterfield’s action follows a similar denial several weeks ago from the University of Virginia, which declined a request from President Barack Obama’s campaign to hold an event on the Charlottesville campus.
In a statement, U.Va. said officials met with members of the campaign about using one of two outdoor venues — the Amphitheater or the Harrison-Small Library plaza.
In denying the request, university officials said holding the event at either site would cause the cancellation or disruption of classes on the second day of the semester and the use of either site would require closing adjacent buildings for the entire day.