School Board meetings have become ground zero for the culture wars, so 4 Public Education is introducing a new blog called “School Board Matters” for 2023-24. It 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 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, as possible.
Fairfax County School Board Meeting: September 14, 2023
The 9/14/23 Fairfax County School Board meeting began by commending Mr. Daniel Aminoff for his years of service to FCPS related to facilities planning and capital improvement, and proclamations celebrating Lake Braddock High School’s 50th anniversary and the Virginia School Board Association Business Honor Roll recipients (Children’s Science Center, Greater Washington Partnership, and Real Food for Kids).
Students were on fire! Six students from Langley High School who advocated for making volleyball a varsity sport in FCPS based on high interest level, and immeasurable health and academic benefits. A brave 6th grader from the Climate Change Initiative advocated for reduction in disposable plastic utensils and a return to sustainable utensils, because if one-half of students used plastic utensils every day, it would be the equivalent of two statues of liberty in landfills after a year. (Wow!)
Other speakers gave passionate input, including a parent advocating against de facto segregation of Black and Hispanic students who are more likely to be assigned to split-feeder schools. Jennifer Litton Tidd advocated for trusted relationships between students and their school, since 57% of CPS abuse reports come from schools and 77% of child abuse is by parents. She also shared statistics that show that LGBTQIA youth are more likely to be abused, abandoned, or neglected by their parents. A small group of people booed this speech, which was surprising, since one would hope everyone should be against child-abuse and child neglect.
There was a speech against book banning, because censorship tends to remove diverse books which results in lack of empathy and othering of marginalized groups. In contrast, there was another parent speech that supported removing Toni Morrison’s Beloved from high school shelves, which included a reading of graphic descriptions of rape and abuse of an 11 year-old child.
Although, I strongly oppose book censorship, I was deeply disturbed that an adult would choose to read graphic descriptions of child sexual abuse to an audience that contained dozens of students and adults, many of whom may have personal stories about and trauma from such abuse. I choose not to read books containing scenes of child physical or sexual abuse, because I find them traumatizing, not salacious. The beauty of books is that one can choose what to read or not to read. Being read to in a public meeting removes that choice. Banning books also removes that choice.
4 Public Education founders, Marianne Burke and Vanessa Hall spoke regarding false political claims about the decline in SAT scores and the need to focus on safety and inclusion to enable students to succeed academically and socially, respectively.
Finally, there were technical difficulties during both Ms. Burke’s speech and a parent’s video input, the latter took twelve minutes to resolve, so the meeting was adjourned for a short recess.
There was a surprising altercation in the parking lot afterward when a school board candidate blocked Dr. Burke, and then accused her of racism, because her speech shared the well-known bias of SATs against low income test-takers that results in lower standardized test scores. He then went to twitter to push this lie and impugn her character, possibly as a campaign tactic. The full text of Dr. Burke’s speech can be found here. Feel free to determine whether such data should be suppressed as racist.
Unfortunately, this was not the only altercation after the School Board meeting; therefore, as we enter election season, please be aware that tensions are heightened. Candidates and their supporters may approach you; however, it is easy to see who has genuine interest or who has ill intent. Here are tips to remaining safe at school board meetings wherever you are:
Maintain situational awareness as you enter and exit school board meetings.
Be clear about your boundaries. For example, if you don’t want to talk, clearly state that.
Be aware that people may be recording you, so behave accordingly and use appropriate language.
Ask security or other trusted people to walk you to your car.
If something happens, document it immediately and report it to security, as appropriate.
School Board Business
Following public input came a presentation by Dr. Reid about Compensatory Services for Special Education which covers compensatory services families paid for out of pocket during the pandemic for special education services for 6,266 eligible students. Staff members have worked diligently to assess and implement these services. Families have had to be patient with delays.
Student Representative Matters: First, Ms. Karim honored those who were affected by the events of September 11th before launching into discussions of student-led initiatives:
Limited availability of STEM activities for students across the county, and the establishment of Technology and Youth Empowerment (TYE) to bridge the gap among elementary schools for STEM opportunities.
A compilation of student perspectives on equity and grading and recommendations for change.
45 schools have adopted Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) free lunch access for all students. It is imperative that the rest of the schools in Fairfax County work to adopt this initiative so that no student goes hungry.
The need to accommodate midday prayers with dedicated prayer spaces that are free from prejudice or questions by staff.
Renaming of W.T. Woodson High School to align the school name with FCPS values. Carter G. Woodson is one figure being seriously considered for the renaming.
Superintendent Matters: Dr. Reid introduced the new Chief of Facilities Services and Capital Programs, Ms. Janice Symanski). She also shared a colorful data-filled evaluation of 2023 Opening of Schools for 2023 and announced the 264 National Merit Semi-Finalists who hail from 15 schools–this is the most students Fairfax County has ever had as semi-finalists.
The Fairfax County Electoral Board asked that the FCPS school calendar be revised for March 25, 2024, since it is Presidential Primary day (mark your calendars!) since election activities would pose security and logistical interference with student education.
School board members described concerns with return to school, including: transportation issues, using instructional leaders to direct traffic at schools, HVAC issues across a number of schools that required chillers and emergency HVAC repairs during the recent heat wave. One member asked why there was not a more detailed report, as they have received previously.
Around 11:30 pm, the school board unanimously approved the revisions to the Strategic Governance Manual revisions.
It is important to note that this meeting had an hour of proclamations before public input began. An hour. With so many eyes on these meetings, there is universal agreement that these proclamations are taking too long, eating into the valuable time of dozens of citizens, employees, and the work of the school board. Nevertheless, these proclamations are important.
Although we need to acknowledge heritage months and celebrate accomplishments of students, adults, and groups in our school system, we also need to respect everyone’s time. It would be great if the school board could consider the length of their public comments.