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Fostering a Welcoming, Inclusive Education Environment in School

Fairfax County School Board Matters: March 7, 2024

School Board Matters in Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS)

Christopher Walken Meme. Three things that are constant in life are: Death, Taxes....and more Cowbell.

First, I want to address the elephant in the room: I was unable to attend in-person last week because I suddenly realized that my tax deadline was less than 24 hours later. I love watching civic engagement in action, but to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin: death and taxes come for everyone. I also did not attend the 2/22 meeting either. I have a family who twisted my arm to miss the "excitement" of a school board meeting.

Nevertheless, here I am…bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to give you some "deets" on the last meeting, but before I do, here is an invitation to a rally next week to celebrate trans visibility, theater, and diverse books in our libraries. It will be hosted by FCPS Pride and Allies, like 4 Public Education. Join us next week at 6pm on March 21, 2024 before the school board meeting at Luther Jackson Middle School.

Trans flags and people celebrating a Rally for Trans Visibility, Theater, and Libraries on 3/21 at 6pm.

The 3/7/24 Fairfax County School Board meeting (see agenda and video) was short on public input and long on critical education discussions. The meeting started promptly at 7pm and the small but mighty Cherry Run Elementary School Cardinal Chorus sang the National Anthem. The FCSB then took difficult votes on student disciplinary actions regarding assault, use of a pellet gun, and unlawful acts. 

Aw heck. I cannot believe that I missed both the Women’s History and Disability Acceptance/National Disabilities Awareness Month proclamations!

  • Women’s History: Ms. Robyn Lady spoke to the theme of “Women Who Advocate for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion” to recognize those “who understand that, for a positive future, we need to eliminate bias and discrimination entirely from our lives and in institutions.” She notes that “women working full time in 2020 on average earn 82 cents for every dollar a man working full-time earns” which results in $10,000 annual earning losses. 

  • Disability Acceptance and Awareness: Mr. Kyle McDaniel shared that 28,000 FCPS students (16%) receive special education services, and that disabled students encounter more difficulties being accepted by peers and participating in school and school activities. (I can attest to this!)

Public Input

Only three signed up for public input, yet they each brought their A-game on critical issues:

  • A sweet, brave 2nd grader spoke about her ADHD, which her mom calls her superpower. She asked that other students learn about disabilities so that they will be kinder and more empathetic. (I am in tears with the beauty and strength of her speech. It was like hearing my own daughter speak about her experiences with ADHD and her desire to be treated with kindness and respect.

  • An ESOL teacher from Bryant Alternative High School spoke of her 9 years of experience as an FCPS Adult ESOL teacher where she was classified as a temporary worker, without benefits and at low pay, despite working 25 hours per week year round. This affects so many employees, and it forces experienced staff to leave or move to other positions.

  • Lawrence Webb, former Falls Church School Board member (and an all-round amazing guy!), spoke about recent Next Door posts that show how “Great Schools” rankings define schools as “good” or “bad,” when really those rankings are akin to redlining some of Fairfax County’s amazing schools. He asked the FCSB to ensure that those schools are funded to the levels that they deserve and need.

School Board Business

Student Representative Matters: Ms. Karim discussed an eye-opening Equity Symposium including a Student Equity Ambassadors Leaders (SEALs) presentation that shared inequities in different schools that sometimes narrow the future opportunities of students (e.g., focusing on vocational and military versus college), and the failure of many students to know about resources like free mental health services (e.g., telehealth) and Awareness is limited and improved communication strategies are needed for Gen Z students, particularly when word of mouth and concise messages on other platforms may work better.

College Board Sole-Source Contract: Ms. Seema Dixit introduced the Sole-Source Contract Amendment to the existing contract for The College Board–the value of which amendment is $3.83 million! Neither Ms. DIxit, nor her second Ms. Marcia St John-Cunning spoke to the amendment (nor would I, if I were them!).

Mr. Ilryung Moon asked pointed questions and commented that The College Board, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, “is in fact making quite a lot of profits.” He asked Dr. Reid to open up conversations with them. She agreed and expressed that she felt the move to on-line testing should involve cost savings that are passed on to FCPS.

Dr. Ricardy Anderson asked for clarification for the public to better understand the issue. Dr. Reid said that The College Board “is the sole provider” for the content exams, PSAT, AP, SAT, etc. which means that they are the only source of these tests for students across the country.

Ms. Lady shared that The College Board demands list of all students who are receiving free and reduced lunch in order to waive testing fees; however, FCPS is unwilling to break student confidentiality, thus the College Board’s inflexibility increases costs to our school system. She added that FCPS is essentially free labor for them because school counselors need to proctor for weeks at a time, despite the College Board’s severe inflexibility to reschedule for sick students.

VOTE to approve amendment: all 11 present (because no school district has any alternative than the College Board).

On a personal note: It feels to many high school parents that The College Board essentially has a monopoly over the schools, parents, students, and colleges. They charge excessive fees to schools, parents, and students for services, when there is LITERALLY no where else to go. They are a sole source provider to all of us, while they mine our personal information and ask our minor children for enormously valuable information about their future plans and family demographics. 

Elementary Language Arts Basal Instructional Resources (K-6): Ms. Noel Klimenko, assistant superintendent, Instructional Services Department (ISD) walked through the process taken and the committee who chose these materials. 4 Public Education’s own Cheryl Binkley (President) was on this committee and has impressive things to say about the committee’s efforts to choose curriculum materials aligned with the Science of Reading with full implementation for School Year 2024-2025. There is much discussion. VOTE to approve purchase of Benchmark Advance, 2022: All 11 present.

Other items:

  • Amending the School Board's Proclamation Process Robust discussion–worth a listen. VOTE to amend the proclamation process: 8 Yes, 3 No (Mr. Moon, Dr. Anderson, and Mr. McElveen)

  • Financial Planning (EL-5) Monitoring Report: Dr. Ried discussed the materials and presented slides regarding financial planning. She shared that her team has received some awards for financial transparency and reporting. (Congratulations!) 

  • VOTE that the Superintendent has made adequate progress: 9 Yes, 2 abstain (Mr. Moon, Mr. McElveen )

  • VOTE to maintain Executive Limitation 5, Financial Planning, as it is currently detailed: 9 Yes, 2 not present (Dr. Anderson and Mr. McDaniel)

Board Committee Reports: Board Members share what their committees are doing.

Board Matters: Please listen to the board reports from each board member. They share interesting and important things from their districts. Really listen to them! I found out that Mr. Frisch visited my son’s school to enjoy his class debating legislation during Student Congress in government class.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight Mr. Frisch’s important comment (see video of his full statement here) in light of a recent lawsuit against FCPS: 

I’ve heard from various members of our community students parents who are worried about recent news they've seen and I want to send a message of reassurance to them Fairfax County Public Schools remains committed to fostering a safe, supportive, welcoming, and inclusive School environment for all students and staff including our transgender and gender expansive students and staff. It is clear that students learn most effectively when they feel safe and supported and respected and accepted for who they are. 

4PE President, Cheryl Binkley, was one of the few audience members at the meeting. Her thoughts on the meeting are incorporated in this document. Many thanks to her presence at the meeting and for her hard work on one of the agenda items. Current and retired teachers are filled with so much useful information–I always appreciate their willingness to educate a "more mature" student like myself.

The meeting adjourned at 10:54 pm after lasting nearly 4 hours.


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