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School Board Matters: Conflict on the Dais

December 4, 2023


School Board meetings have become ground zero for the culture wars. Our “School Board Matters” blog will include analysis and links to video, agenda, and votes that affect you and your student(s), including links to primary source documents to support involvement in your student’s experience and education. We hope this will provide better access to and understanding of the Fairfax County School Board, including their powers and duties, as governed by the Code of Virginia.

Although this blog will primarily focus on Fairfax County, we will share school board meeting reports from around the state, when possible.

 

The 12/4/23 Fairfax County School Board (FCSB) meeting began with a performance of the National Anthem by the Spring Hill Elementary School Select Band. You should listen, because that was one of the best elementary school band performances that I have ever heard–and my own son played in the band in elementary school!


There were six proclamations since the November 20th meeting was canceled due to lack of quorum; however, only four are presented below–please check out the agenda for the rest:

  1. National Inclusive Schools Week Proclamation: Inclusion means more than it did when this effort began in 2001. It now includes ensuring that schools are welcoming to all students who are marginalized due to disability, gender, socio-economic status, cultural heritage, language preference, identity, and other factors. This year’s theme, “Draw Me In,” provides an opportunity to strengthen commitment to inclusive education, & redirect our talent, time and energy to improve outcomes for students & their families. 

  2. Celebrating Our Local Native Tribes & Acknowledging Our Historic Origins Proclamation: From the first settlement of Jamestown, Native American Tribes are the original story of Virginia's sometimes tragic history with its then-over 50,000 native people, through 11 officially-recognized tribes who are indigenous to Virginia. The land known as Fairfax was home to thousands of indigenous people, including the Manahoac, Pamunkey, and Doeg nations. Tribal representatives of local native tribes were in attendance for this proclamation.

  3. National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week Proclamation: Despite the wealth in our county, housing and food insecurity “remain pressing in our community,” particularly as “hunger has surged and the rate of unhoused families with children has increased by 33% in 3 years, with a quarter of those who are unhoused in Fairfax County being children.” This affects their education, opportunity, success, and health.

  4. Honoring the 2023 Citizen Bond Committee and the Mount Vernon-Springfield Chamber of Commerce: “Members of the 2023 Citizen Bond Committee, led by Chairman Len Forkas and Co-Chair Catherine Hosek, and the Mount Vernon-Springfield Chamber of Commerce, led by President Holly Dougherty, have dedicated their time, energy and resources in support of passage of the 2023 $435,000,000 school bond referendum with 68% of the county’s voters voting “yes.” (Bravo! And many thanks from this parent!)

Unfortunately, the proclamations and meeting were somewhat derailed by words chosen by a school board member that referenced global issues in Israel and Palestine during the proclamation honoring local native tribes. Four of the eleven school board members present (one member was online) excused themselves from the room, and many in the audience were dismayed. Responses from other school board members ranged from gentle reminders of the purpose of proclamations to clear and justifiable outrage that politics was inserted into this otherwise respectful occasion. Before the vote, Chairwoman Tholen reminded everyone that the proclamation should be considered separate from the personal remarks by Ms. Omeish, which is likely the primary reason that the proclamation passed. 

As an audience member, I was dismayed that a proclamation would be used to push a unrelated political  agenda. Additionally, I felt that it was disrespectful to the tribal representatives to conflate a proclamation in their honor with the Hamas-Israeli conflict. Isn’t it bad enough that our ancestors perpetrated genocidal activities against the indigenous peoples of this land? Why insult them in person when you are meant to honor them?

Public Input

Since the November election, there are open speaking spots and fewer speakers, yet they are covering critical public school and school board issues like: 

  • A student from Annandale High School who applauds the educators at his school, but expressed strong concern about the heavy weight of tests versus class work (90% versus 10%), which he believes reduces interest in doing class work.

  • Mr. Stuart Gibson, a 16-year former School Board member, condemned hateful social media posts from Ms. Omeish after Oct 7th, including posts that compared Jews to Nazis. He gave hard copies of the posts to the clerk. I’ve seen one of the posts. I’m astonished that a sitting board member in charge of ALL children’s education would post such things on Facebook (note: these were Facebook stories that were up for 24 hours).

  • Representatives from UUCF and Fairfax AHAC declared support for the Hunger and Housing Proclamation. Both asked for continued collaborative community action because students who are hungry and unhomed cannot do their school work, much less focus in school.

  • Two women spoke to Native Tribes proclamation. One asked that people stop erasing the Tauxenent/Doeg and Pamunkey tribes from history and the other reminded the room that the One Fairfax policy is critical for the inclusion of heritage of all people.

School Board Business

Academic Matters: Dr. Reid discusses youth survey results from the 2022-2023 school year which shows moderate improvement based on decreases in students reporting substance use, feeling sad or hopeless, suicidal thoughts or attempts, but persistant food insecurity with little variance since 2010. This generated significant amounts of discussion. (Note: a loss of Wifi and internet required a short 10-minute break.)

  • Strategic Plan Update: Dr. Ried provided an update on Academic Excellence and Growth, goal 3 of the Strategic Plan. 

  • Strategic Plan: Baseline Report presentation on Goal 3 covering priorities related to Academic Excellence in Education (i.e., reading by 3rd Grade, Algebra by 8th Grade, and advanced coursework in High School).

  • Mid-Year Budget Presentation: Presentation by Ms. Burden, FCPS Chief Financial Officer.

  • Action Items: Four action items were on the agenda:

  • McLean Elementary School Capacity/Boundary Issues (formerly known as Kent Gardens ES Capacity Issues). No vote taken.

  • 2024 FCSB State and Federal Legislative Program. Eleven voted yes, one was not present at the vote (Ms. Meren).

  • Strategic Plan Baseline Report: Ten voted yes, one voted no (Ms. Omeish), and one was not present at the vote (Ms. Meren).

  • Revisions to  the Monthly Report on Employee Separation to present disaggregated data, etc. Eleven voted yes, one was not present at the vote (Ms. Meren).

  • Consent Agenda. No objections to approval.

  • New Business: Action will be provided on these items at a future meeting:

  • FY2024 mid-year budget

  • Amendment to policy 2418 (i.e., high-school credit-bearing classes will utilize the 100 point letter grade scale with pluses and minuses)

  • Policy 1421 (guidelines for retaining consultants)

  • Policy 2202 (change role of “parent” to “parent or guardian”).

  • Board Committee Reports: Ms. Keys-Gamarra discussed results of discussion of the engagement process for Capital Improvement Projects.

The meeting adjourned at approximately 11:56pm.

The next meeting will be on 12/14/23 at 7:30pm.

Changes to the School Board Matters Blog

I know that this blog is less detailed than usual, so I apologize if I missed something that you care about. I like to be thorough, but like many of you, I’ve been a little consumed with family crises, the upcoming holiday, normal life, work, and the recent data breach revelations, so bear with me.

We, at 4 Public Education, are having discussions about how to present this information, as this blog is quite time-consuming. If the meetings are nearly 5 hours long, you can imagine how much time must be spent to watch, digest, and analyze what happened.



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