Posted on December 22, 2020

3 Prince William Supervisors Walked Out of Unconscious Bias Training in Protest

Jenny Gathright, DCist, December 18, 2020

A debate over racism is playing out on the Prince William County Board of Supervisors — this time, in response to a heated school board meeting where three Republican supervisors walked out to protest a presentation about unconscious bias training.

To some, the incident illustrates a larger issue in the politically divided but increasingly liberal county. Critics say the Republicans on the board seem more interested in making political statements than in doing the hard work of local governance and accepting the realities of the county’s racial diversity. Republicans say the emphasis on anti-racist training is a distraction from more important issues facing the county.

The tension surfaced during a joint meeting between the Prince William County School Board and the Board of Supervisors. One item on the agenda was a presentation titled “Raising Awareness of Unconscious Bias to Foster Inclusivity and Equity.”

School Board Vice Chair Loree Williams said the goal of the presentation was to learn about implicit bias, especially given that the county and its public schools are majority-minority.

As soon as the topic was introduced, several Republican members of the Board of Supervisors took issue with it.

“I think this is frankly highly insulting, because you’re insinuating that somehow members of the board of county supervisors hold these implicit biases against different racial groups,” said Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland.

“Your objection is noted,” responded Williams. “But implicit bias is something that every human being walking the earth has… it’s not specific to you personally or to your board. It’s just good leadership.”

“I’m going to pack up and leave, because I’m offended that you find that I need to be trained, and that this is also a priority to you…this is all about Critical Race Theory, anti-Americanism, and I am leaving,” said Brentville District Supervisor Jeanine Lawson.


Eventually, three Republican supervisors — Candland, Lawson, and Coles Supervisor Yesli Vega — left the meeting. Other members of the boards applauded the training and said they were looking forward to learning more about implicit bias.


Meanwhile, the Republican supervisors posted a video on Candland’s Facebook page sharing their objections.

“We should be using this time to talk about the critical issues facing kids of Prince William County, and I think it’s an absolute disgrace that the school board took time and resources … to talk about this issue,” said Candland.

“I felt that it was important to walk out and not sit there because I refuse to legitimize this notion that we are all somehow racist,” said Vega. “This is not the time nor the place to have this discussion.”

In the week since, the walkout has continued to generate debate and highlight the ideological divides on the Board of Supervisors and among county residents.

{snip} Some members of the public, like a man who identified himself as Bob Hand, expressed support for the Republican supervisors.

“Walking out of the school board meeting last week? That’s heroism,” he said, adding that it was a sign that the supervisors were standing up for what they believed in.


Prince William County, along with the rest of the state, has grown more Democratic. Democrats flipped the Board of Supervisors and gained a 5-3 majority in last year’s election. Corey Stewart, the former chair of the County Board of Supervisors, built his political career on anti-immigrant policies. This year, a year after Stewart left politics, the county’s jail board voted to end the collaboration with Immigration and Customs Enforcement that he had championed. 


And this is not the first time Republican members of the Board of Supervisors have clashed with other members of the board over race-related matters in recent months. One such clash happened during a tense June meeting where the board’s four Black supervisors read a proclamation declaring that Black lives matter. Lawson and Vega both ultimately supported the resolution, but the two supervisors pushed back on it during discussion, according to reporting in the Prince William Times. {snip}