School Board Matters, January 11, 2024 meeting
School Board meetings are 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.
Please take a moment check out our blog to familiarize yourself with the new 2024 Fairfax County School Board.
The new school board started off with tough votes on the agenda regarding student assaults, showing that they are prepared to make the hard choices to ensure the safety and discipline of FCPS students and staff. Then, the board voted unanimously on the new Chair (Mr. Karl Frisch), Vice Chair (Ms. Melanie Meren), and Committee Assignments.
Public input included sincere students, parents, and community members speaking about concerns or wishing the new School Board well, including:
A middle school student requested more gluten-free food options in schools for students with Celiacs disease, because right now there is one hot gluten-free meal a month (nachos) and the salad bar.
An active PTA and community volunteer and parent from Herndon middle and high school who supports the Strategic Plan with equity at the center of the plan. She asks them to address the numerous inequities on all academic factors between Herndon middle and nearby middle schools. She submits a report to the clerk and offers a dire picture that needs to be addressed.
Cheryl Binkley, President of 4 Public Education, gave a moving speech about how public schools had given her sustenance and salvation during trying times in her life. She thanks the new School Board for standing up to ensure that FCPS can offer similar opportunities and refuge for our county’s students and teachers.
Robert Rigby spoke about the terrible happenings in Shenandoah and Rockingham counties where the school boards are banning books, outing kids, misgendering students, and removing the privacy of students. Firmly, he asked that this new School Board stand up for our schools, because appeasement does not work.
Of course, there was the usual crowd of angry people making dubious claims, sharing disinformation, and/or attacking the school board. One particularly egregious speech by a failed political candidate maligned the students, parents, and community members of the Family Life Education (FLE) committee; Unitarian Universalists; Catholics; and other people of faith while purposefully misrepresenting the words and actions of the same. (How do I that the speaker was untruthful? I just so happen to be a member of the FLE committee. I do not know this speaker's intent--other than ill intent--or why he misrepresented the words, actions, and intentions of close to 25 other people in the room. I guess only time will tell.)
There was also a speech by a well-known parent who is running a recall campaign; however, this recall is unlikely to be successful based on the number of signatures required (nearly 3,000), Virginia law, and recent precedent.
A parent new to FCPS school board meetings expressed concern and surprise about the political nature of so many of the speakers. Another audience member commented that all of the angriest speakers left after public input, which means that they missed the hardest work of a school board.
School Board Business
Academic Matters: Dr. Reid shared a comprehensive presentation on graduation rates and diploma outcomes that shows some improvement in increased graduation and reduced dropout rates since 2019 despite the loss of flexibility offered during the pandemic. Dr. Anderson and other school board members asked hard and revealing questions about the presentation including about the disparity of rates for lower income, disabled, and English as a second language (ESOL) students.
Student Representative Matters: Ms. Karim shared expectations of collaboration with the new school board and shared information about SEAL activities, Navigant difficulties, the need to include ESOL student perspective, school security, and more.
Superintendent Matters: Dr. Reid welcomes the new board and shares happenings around the county.
Proposed 2025-29 Capital Improvement Program (CIP): There was a thorough discussion of the current CIP that was presented by Ms. Szymanski, the Chief of Facilities Services and Capital Programs. This presentation revealed that the 37 year lag has increased to a 42 year lag in improvement projects which inspired significant discussion. The public can provide in-person input on this draft plan on 1/18/24 to the School Board.
Consent Agenda: Typically, the consent agenda is agreed to; however, newly elected school board member from Mt. Vernon, Mr. Matteo Dunne challenged six of the eleven items based on his experience as a procurement expert (wow!!). A friend observed that Mr. Dunne “brought up some excellent points, and it started a very thoughtful dialog in which people really listened to each other and worked through a challenging topic to get to some very good conclusions about what needs to be done.”
Board Matters: Each School Board member gave a succinct personal statement to introduce themselves to the audience, some of which were quite moving. I strongly suggest you listen to see what caring, knowledgeable people have been elected to our board.
This was the first meeting of the School Board elected in 2024, and it adjourned at approximately 11:04 pm.
Observations of those remaining in the room agreed that everyone was genuinely open and respectful and willing to do the serious work of the School Board. A couple of people remarked how different the meeting would have been if some of the earlier speakers, who were also candidates, had won.