Gwinnett County Board of Education Chairwoman Louise Radloff apologized Saturday for a controversial hot mic moment she had at the end of the school board’s meeting this past week.
Radloff could be heard on a still live microphone saying what appeared to be “I could strangle him” to Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks after the meeting adjourned Thursday night. The “him” Radloff referred to was fellow school board member Everton Blair, who is the only African American board member.
Radloff told the Daily Post on Saturday that it was wrong for her to make the remark.
“I was out of order and I have apologized to Mr. Blair,” Radloff said. “It was at the end of a very long meeting.”
The remark came after Blair stood against his fellow board members just before that at the end of the board meeting as his colleagues expressed support for having children return to school next month amid the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m sorry, but I’ve been trying to respect the authority of our collective and recognize the complexity of this issue, and I cannot understand how we can lead in the number of cases in this state and chose not to do something else right now,” Blair told his colleagues.
In quick succession after Blair finished his remarks, Radloff asked if anyone had something to say and then adjourned the meeting. Board members then began to get up from their seats to leave, and Radloff began talking to Wilbanks while the microphones were still on and a live feed was still broadcasting over the internet.
That is when Radloff could be heard making the “strangle” remark to the superintendent, who was still sitting in his chair, as she leaned over next to him. Commenters on social media have claimed to have heard different variations on the phrasing of what was said, however.
Wilbank said in a statement on Friday that she was expressing frustration about “another board member” following disagreement on the board about the district’s decision to move forward with in-school instruction for families who wanted it. He did not specifically say that other board member was Blair.
Blair was the only dissenting voice on the back-to-school matter, however.
Wilbanks said he will “be working with the Board to address this type of behavior,” but did not elaborate on what could happen. Radloff, who was defeated in last month’s Democratic Party primary for her seat, is set to leave the school board when her term expires at the end of this year.
“In conducting board business, school board members do not always agree on the issues before them,” Wilbanks said. “However, there are appropriate ways to express that disagreement. At the end of last night’s meeting, which was one of the toughest in my tenure as superintendent, a Board member made a comment expressing her frustration with another Board member.
“It was a regrettable statement that caused pain and anger for many in our community. That is unacceptable and cannot be condoned.”
Radloff could not be reached for comment Friday morning.
Blair’s mother expressed outrage in comments on a Gwinnett STOPP Facebook video of the end of the board meeting.
“I’m proud of my son for advocating for the children, parents and staff of GCPS,” Fiona Blair said in her Facebook comment. “I am appalled that the chairwoman said, ‘I could strangle him.’ Having already experienced the horrific nightmare of having to bury one of my four children, this stabbed me right in my heart, and I took this threat personally. That was absolutely despicable, Louise Radloff!”
The Gwinnett African American Caucus also spoke out against Radloff’s remark and offered its support for Blair and his stance on starting the school year totally online instead of a mixture of online and in-person instruction.
“The GAAC strongly objects to Radloff’s comment and demands that Member Blair be treated with respect and courtesy by the members of the Board and school district personnel,” the caucus said.
In a statement released after the meeting, Blair compared Radloff’s comments to lynchings of African-Americans. He also continued to assert his opposition to having children return to school for in-person instruction this fall.
“Unfortunately, (Thursday night’s) critical business regarding school reopening has been overshadowed by the remarks of my outgoing colleague, which ignore the permanent stain of lynching in Gwinnett County’s history,” Blair said. “But let me be clear: this is not about me. This is about the health and wellness of our 180,000 students, our 22,000 staff members and the families to which they belong.
“What we experienced at (the) school board meeting was a mockery of the dual crises at hand: a global pandemic and a looming economic recession.”
Wilbanks called the remark “inappropriate” in his statement on Friday, but also offered somewhat of a defense for Radloff.
“The comment, while inappropriate, does not reflect the heart of the Louise Radloff I have known for almost 40 years,” Wilbanks said. “Her actions over several decades are a more accurate reflection of who she is.
“She is a good person and a public servant who has dedicated her life to serving others, and has supported the most diverse clusters in our district during her 48 years on the Board.”