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EXCLUSIVE: Abrar Omeish bows out of school board race to work with youth-focused legal nonprofit

Fairfax County School Board At-Large Representative Abrar Omeish at a Girl Scouts President’s Circle dinner (courtesy Abrar Omeish)

The Fairfax County School Board will have a lot of new faces next year — and perhaps, a couple of members reemerging from its past.

The latest member to opt out of a reelection bid is at-large member Abrar Omeish, who told FFXnow that she has instead accepted a job with a nonprofit that focuses on youth law and advocacy.

She will also serve on the board of a national youth organization, though she’s not able to publicly announce the exact positions yet.

In a statement on her decision, Omeish cited frustrations with the legal and public relations battles that she says have undermined the school board’s efforts to further equity and inclusion.

“Because of how stifling these investigations have been on the ability of our school system to implement real change, I have accepted an offer to fight the very legal battles that have bled our system and so many others on a national level,” she said. “My work will allow school systems across the country to pass more equitable and inclusive policies without fearing the legal threats of lawsuits and investigations, fighting for every child in the nation.”

Elected to the school board in 2019 at 24 years old, Omeish was one of the first Muslim women and the youngest person at the time to win elected office in Virginia.

Sharing supportive comments from current and former students, she says her proudest accomplishments while on the board include advocating for free virtual tutoring and mental health services for students, the addition of more religious holidays to the school calendar, and support for expanded language translation services.

However, Omeish has clashed at times with her colleagues on the school board, some of whom publicly criticized her for calling Israel’s treatment of Palestinians “apartheid.” In addition, the student-led LGBTQ advocacy group, Pride Liberation Project, accused her in 2021 of making “bigoted comments” during a phone call, for which she later apologized.

Fairfax County Public Schools as a whole has faced political and legal challenges over the past few years, from the ongoing lawsuit over Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology’s admissions process to a federal review of its special education services during Covid and a state investigation of its handling of National Merit Scholarship commendations.

Omeish was one of three school board members targeted by recall campaigns in 2021 led by parents who opposed school closures for the pandemic. The petition against Omeish didn’t get enough signatures to reach court, while ones against Springfield District Representative Laura Jane Cohen and Dranesville District Representative Elaine Tholen were dismissed.

Still, Omeish says she remains “proud of all that my team has been able to accomplish and bring to benefit Fairfax County.”

“I will remain a voice in our community and in FCPS — the system I grew up in and still have family in, the system I came to serve and love — to see much of what I will fight for come to life at the local level in my own home,” Omeish said. “For now, I will remain laser-focused on giving everything I have to this work. We still have a bright eight months ahead to do all that we can for our kids, and I still have a few ideas left for what I hope to accomplish.”

Even with Omeish withdrawing, the race for the board’s three at-large seats remains crowded, with 10 candidates in the running — including former members Ilryong Moon and Ryan McElveen, who had both stepped down at the end of 2019.

When officially announcing his candidacy today (Thursday), McElveen said he will advocate for “gun violence prevention, universal pre-kindergarten, free and healthy meals for every student, and solar panels on every school” if elected again.

“I see in the eyes of my daughters and all of our students that our best days are ahead of us,” he said. “As a county, we need to reset, reorient our priorities, and rebuild. I am ready to take on that challenge and work with our community to bring the joy back to education.”

Only three members of the 12-person school board will seek reelection to their current seats this November: Melanie Meren (Hunter Mill), Karl Frisch (Providence), and Ricardy Anderson (Mason).

At-large member and current board chair Rachna Sizemore-Heizer could return as the successor to Braddock District Representative Megan McLaughlin, who will join Tholen, Tamara Derenak Kaufax (Franconia) and Karen Corbett Sanders (Mount Vernon) in retiring.

Cohen, at-large member Karen Keys-Gamarra and Stella Pekarsky (Sully) have launched campaigns for General Assembly seats.

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