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School Board Franconia District representative Tamara Derenak Kaufax (photo courtesy of Tamara Derenak Kaufax)

Tamara Derenak Kaufax won’t be seeking reelection to the Fairfax County School Board.

The three-term Franconia District representative and current board vice-chair announced this morning that she won’t be running this year via an emailed newsletter.

“I have never taken lightly my responsibility to you — my constituents, neighbors, and friends — to keep our schools strong so our community remains strong. I will continue to work hard for you throughout this year,” Derenak Kaufax wrote. “As I complete this chapter, I am filled with both humility and pride. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support and for this opportunity to serve.”

Her statement didn’t directly address why she made this decision. FFXnow has reached out to Derenak Kaufax but hasn’t heard back, as of publication time.

In the statement, Derenak Kaufax listed a number of accomplishments during her 12-year tenure including implementing later school start times, instituting the school system’s first strategic plan, and establishing an independent Office of the Auditor General.

She’s also been vice-chair now three times and school board chair once, back in 2014.

This announcement now makes it four school board seats that will be open during this election cycle. Last month, Dranesville District school board member Elaine Tholen officially announced she won’t be seeking re-election.

Laura Jane Cohen, who represents Springfield on the school board, also isn’t running because she’s looking to be voted in the Virginia House of Delegates. Neither is Sully District representative Stella Pekarsky, who’s campaigning in the Virginia State Senate’s redrawn 36th District.

Two school board members have said they’ll seek another term. Karl Frisch confirmed earlier this month that he’ll run again to represent the Providence District, and he already has a challenger. Conservative activist Jeff Hoffman has been a vocal critic of the school board, particularly over its policies supporting transgender students.

Hunter Mill District Representative Melanie Meren told FFXnow in December she is running again as well.

The six other school board members have not made an announcement yet if they plan on running in this year’s general election on Nov. 7.

Derenak Kaufax’s full statement is below: Read More

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Conservative Jeff Hoffmann is campaigning to represent Providence District on the Fairfax County School Board (courtesy Jeff Hoffmann for School Board)

The battle over transgender student rights has taken center stage in the race for the Fairfax County School Board’s Providence District seat.

Consultant and Vienna resident Jeff Hoffmann officially launched a campaign on Tuesday (Jan. 17) to challenge incumbent Karl Frisch, who announced last week that he’ll seek a second term in office this November.

“It really is time for change on the School Board in Fairfax County,” Hoffmann wrote in a statement on his decision to run. “The current incumbency has become too comfortable, and they choose to vote a Party line agenda versus listen to us, the parents and other taxpayers who invest a high percentage in education.”

Founder of the Virginia Parents First Coalition, a political action committee (PAC) that says it backs candidates “who believe in traditionally conservative education principles,” Hoffmann drew the local LGBTQ community’s attention this weekend with a stunt phone call to the Inova Pride Clinic, where he claimed to be the stepfather of a transgender kid.

Started last June to coincide with Pride Month, the clinic is the first health facility in Northern Virginia to provide primary care specifically for LGBTQ individuals. It serves patients 12 and older.

As reported by NBC4, Hoffmann told a receptionist at the Falls Church-based clinic on Saturday (Jan. 14) that he was looking to schedule a nurse visit for his transgender stepdaughter based on advice from Fairfax County Public Schools staff and a teacher.

Asking if the clinic works with FCPS Pride, an advocacy group for LGBTQ employees and families in the school system, he said his kid would be accompanied by a teacher but not her unsupportive biological father, an apparent attempt to see if a student could get medical services without their parent’s knowledge.

Admitting that the kid he described in the call doesn’t exist, Hoffmann says he wanted to raise “awareness” that gender-affirming care is available to local adolescents, who he claimed are being referred to the Pride Clinic by FCPS Pride.

FCPS Pride said in a statement on Saturday that some of its members obtain services from the clinic, but the group has no direct affiliation.

“FCPS Pride does not have a relationship with the Inova Pride Clinic, does not operate in schools, and does not give any medical advice or make medical referrals,” the group’s executive board said.

Though he says this is “not a priority issue in my campaign,” Hoffmann has a history of opposing FCPS’s policy supporting the right of trans and gender-expansive students to be treated in accordance with their gender identity, criticizing it as a distraction from issues like addressing learning loss and other impacts of the pandemic.

Hoffmann’s campaign for school board continues a trend of candidates for local and state offices in Virginia running on anti-LGBTQ and anti-trans platforms, according to FCPS Pride co-president Robert Rigby, Jr. Read More

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Frost Middle School (via Google Maps)

(Updated at 1:30 p.m.) One student allegedly sexually assaulted another in a bathroom at Frost Middle School last week, Fairfax County Public Schools says.

In a letter sent to families and staff, Superintendent Michelle Reid and Frost principal Anthony Harris said that they had been made aware of the incident yesterday (Thursday) and “contacted authorities immediately.”

“The safety of our students is our number one responsibility and we will always take immediate action as soon as we are made aware of any allegations of a crime or safety issue,” Reid and Harris said in the letter, which was first reported by the Fairfax County Times.

The Fairfax County Police Department’s Major Crimes Bureau detectives are now conducting an investigation, including interviews and a review of school surveillance footage.

“Yesterday, our detectives received a report of a sexual assault that occurred Thursday, Jan. 12, at Frost Middle School,” the department told FFXnow. “Preliminarily, a student reported she was sexually assaulted by another student in a bathroom.”

The detectives are “working closely” with FCPS on the investigation, a spokesperson said.

In response to the incident, FCPS has enhanced its “adult support,” including security, in the Fairfax school. Students will also be using “a buddy system” when they go to the bathroom or otherwise leave a classroom.

Reid and Harris said the alleged suspect hasn’t been identified. An FCPS spokesperson said the school system is unable to share any more details, directing further inquiries to the FCPD.

The Major Crimes Bureau can be contacted at 703-246-7800, and the department accepts anonymous tips through Crime Solvers by phone (1-866-411-TIPS) and online.

“Victim specialists from our Victim Services Division have been assigned to ensure the victim receive appropriate resources and assistance,” the FCPD said.

The full letter to the Frost community has been reprinted below. Read More

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Fairfax County Public Schools (file photo)

The new Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) budget could signal big changes for local schools, including extended availability of school counselors and new middle school athletics programs.

Superintendent Dr. Michelle C. Reid presented the budget for the 2023-2024 school year at a meeting last Thursday (Jan. 12).

The $3.5 billion budget is a $249.6 million (7.6%) increase over the approved budget for fiscal year 2023, which began July 1, 2022 and ends June 30.

Reid is requesting an additional $159.6 million from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

Part of that cost comes from an increase in employee compensation.

According to a release from FCPS, the budget includes:

  • $80.9 million to provide a market scale adjustment of 3.0% for all employees.
  • $58.2 million to provide a step increase for all eligible employees.
  • $19.9 million to provide a 1.0% retention bonus for employees hired in FCPS during FY 2023 and remaining employed with FCPS in FY 2024.
  • $4.3 million to provide a step extension for all scales.

Several members of the school board praised the proposed increase for staff compensation.

Another popular item among school board members is funding to provide middle school spring and fall athletic activities.

“You had me at middle school sports,” said Hunter Mill District representative Melanie Meren. “I think about where I grew up and the sports there, and it’s something that’s so missed here…I know this is a significant ask, but we are going to get an incredible investment. I’m eager to work to make this happen.”

Student representative Michele Togbe said the expansion of high school counseling for students into summer break will be a welcome improvement.

“If I could hug a budget, I would hug this budget,” Togbe said. “With the counselors, I think it’s really cool that we’re expanding their contract and their days.”

Other notable investments in the new budget include:

  • Increased access to Pre-K: the budget includes $2 million to provide resources for 10 additional Pre-K classrooms.
  • Support for students with disabilities: the budget includes $2 million to be allocated to the Special Education Compensatory Services Fund to address learning loss caused by the pandemic
  • Changing student enrollment needs: the budget includes a variety of improvements grouped together as “student enrollment needs,” including paying for increased costs in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) programs and free and reduced-price meals, totaling around $65.2 million for 679.2 positions

The Fairfax County budget will be presented on Feb. 21, followed by a joint meeting of the school board and Board of Supervisors on Feb. 28. Public meetings will be held in April followed by final adoption on May 9 for the county budget and May 25 for the school budget.

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Providence District School Board Representative Karl Frisch (courtesy Friends of Karl Frisch)

Karl Frisch will run for a second term representing the Providence District on the Fairfax County School Board.

Frisch announced today that his qualifying paperwork has been approved, and he will seek an endorsement from the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, which can endorse candidates but not officially campaign them in the nonpartisan school board races.

Areas in the Providence District include Tysons, Dunn Loring, Idylwood, Merrifield, Mantua, and Oakton, along with parts of Fairfax, Falls Church, and Vienna.

A formal campaign launch will come later this year, ahead of the Nov. 7 general election.

“I am seeking reelection to help protect public education and local control,” Frisch said. “I will never stop fighting to give every student safe and inclusive public schools with exceptional educators and equitable access to the rigorous academics and other opportunities they need to be successful after graduation.”

When first elected in 2019, a year that ushered in a historically diverse, all-Democratic board, Frisch became the first openly gay person to ever serve on the county’s school board. He is the only out gay man currently on any school board in Virginia, according to his press release.

While the school board has often been occupied with responding to the pandemic over the past couple of years, Frisch’s work so far has included the Mosaic Elementary School naming, planning for a future Dunn Loring Elementary School, and a rerouting of school buses away from Blake Lane after two Oakton High School students were killed in June.

Last fall, he sought to join the General Assembly as the new 35th District delegate, but the Democratic nomination went to nonprofit leader Holly Seibold, who was elected to fill the vacated seat yesterday.

In his announcement, Frisch says he decided to seek reelection in response to state actions that would “compromise curriculum quality and jeopardize student safety.”

Fairfax County Public Schools has clashed on occasion with state leaders, most recently over a delay in merit award notifications. The school board sued Gov. Glenn Youngkin over his elimination of universal masking, and the governor has sided with opponents of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology’s admissions process.

Last year, Frisch criticized the widely protested draft state policies that would prevent schools from supporting transgender students as “putting the lives of young Virginians in jeopardy to score political points.”

Education is expected to be a key focus of this year’s General Assembly session, which convened today. Filed bills include a prohibition on students from joining athletic teams based on their gender identity, the creation of a statewide policy on library materials, and a voucher program that allow public funds to be used for private schools and services.

“This is a pivotal election year for Fairfax County,” Frisch said. “Will we abandon our world-class public schools in favor of risky Richmond political experiments, or will we continue our critical work to address every student by name and by need?”

All 12 school board seats will be up for election this November.

Frisch joins Hunter Mill District Representative Melanie Meren as the only incumbents so far to confirm they will seek another term. Dranesville District Representative Elaine Tholen said she won’t seek reelection, while other members have yet to announce their intentions.

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The Fairfax County Public Schools administrative center in Merrifield (file photo)

(Updated at 10:40 a.m.) The Virginia Attorney General’s office has launched an investigation into Fairfax County Public Schools, alleging that delays in notifying students of commendations for their preliminary SAT test scores may constitute civil rights violations.

Attorney General Jason Miyares announced yesterday that the entire school system will be subject to a review that began last week with a focus on Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ).

The expansion comes after principals at Westfield and Langley high schools reportedly informed families over the weekend that they also didn’t notify students designated as “commended students” by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) this fall.

“It’s concerning that multiple schools throughout Fairfax County withheld merit awards from students,” Miyares said in a press release. “My office will investigate the entire Fairfax County Public Schools system to find out if any students were discriminated against and if their rights were violated.”

In a letter to FCPS Superintendent Michelle Reid, Miyares said his office is investigating whether the school system violated the Virginia Human Rights Act’s prohibitions of discrimination based on race, color and national origin.

Reid said she “proactively” alerted the attorney general’s office to the lack of “timely notification” for Westfield and Langley students after it was found by an independent review that the school system initiated last week, according to a message sent to the community yesterday.

“As soon as this new development was confirmed, Westfield and Langley high schools notified all impacted families and their broader respective school communities,” Reid wrote. “Please be aware that FCPS is committed to sharing information that impacts our communities as soon as possible.”

Reid said school staff have been contacting colleges where the affected students applied.

“We are sincerely sorry for this error. Each and every student, their experience and success, remain our priority,” she said.

Initially, the delay at TJ appeared to be “a unique situation due to human error,” Reid said on Wednesday (Jan. 4).

She said then that the attorney general’s investigation will include “a review” of TJ’s admissions policies, which were revised in 2020 in an effort to diversify the magnet school’s student body. A lawsuit arguing that the changes discriminate against Asian students is currently in a federal appeals court.

Notably, the delayed notifications for commended students at TJ were first reported by Asra Nomani, co-founder of the Coalition for TJ, which filed the lawsuit opposing the admissions changes.

The National Merit Scholarship Program recognizes the top 50,000 scorers on the pSAT, a practice standardized test often considered by colleges. Though only a handful of actual scholarships are awarded each year, about 34,000 students get letters of commendations that go out in late September, per the website.

FCPS announced in mid-September that 238 of its students had advanced to the semi-finals. It didn’t mention how many students were commended.

In letters to the Washington Post, local public education advocate Holly Hazard and a former university admissions director argued that Miyares and Gov. Glenn Youngkin — both Republicans — have “wildly overreacted” to the delayed notices, a sentiment echoed by a couple Democratic elected officials.

“There is nothing to investigate,” state Sen. Scott Surovell (D-36) told FFXnow, noting that information about pSAT scores is available online through the College Board website.

“Fairfax County has the best public schools in Virginia and the Governor and Attorney General are trying to bring their culture war to Fairfax because they’re not willing to invest in public schools or treat our teachers like licensed professionals,” he said in an emailed statement.

The investigation precedes a General Assembly session convening Wednesday (Jan. 11) that will see consideration of a voucher program allowing public funds to be used for private school expenses, among other education-related proposals.

It also kicks off a year where all 12 seats on the Fairfax County School Board — currently held entirely by Democrats — will be up for election.

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Glen Forest Elementary School (via Google Maps)

(Updated at 11:50 p.m.) An instructional assistant at Glen Forest Elementary School in Bailey’s Crossroads was allegedly seen assaulting a student with disabilities last month.

Fairfax County Police Department detectives served a warrant for simple assault to Meredith Capets, a 36-year-old Alexandria resident, after she turned herself in at the Adult Detention Center last night (Tuesday), the department reported this morning.

According to police, another Glen Forest employee saw Capets assault the student on Dec. 8.

“The employee immediately reported the assault to school administrators,” the FCPD said. “Officers were notified of the incident that evening. Detectives conducted numerous interviews.”

Detectives with the department’s child abuse squad obtained the warrant yesterday. After being served, Capets was released on an unsecured bond.

Capets was placed on administrative leave “immediately” after the school learned about the assault, Glen Forest principal Diane Herndon-Wilson said in a message to families.

“As principal, my primary responsibility is the safety and security of everyone who enters the doors of Glen Forest,” Herndon-Wilson wrote. “This is something I take very seriously. As educators, we are entrusted with the wellbeing of the children in our care every day. It deeply affects us when someone appears to have broken that trust.”

The FCPD says anyone with additional information about the case can contact its Major Crimes Bureau at 703-246-7800, option 3, or submit an anonymous tip via Crime Solvers by phone (1-866-411-TIP) or online.

This is the fifth incident reported in 2022 where an FCPS employee allegedly assaulted a student with disabilities. An assistant at Dogwood Elementary School was arrested for an assault in September, and a Marshall High School special education teacher was arrested last month for assaulting a student twice.

School bus workers who allegedly assaulted students in Fort Belvoir and Vienna last year are no longer employed by FCPS.

Photo via Google Maps

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Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) An outcry stoked by conservative activists over Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ) allegedly failing to promptly announce a student academic honor has reached the Virginia governor’s office.

In a letter released this morning (Tuesday), Gov. Glenn Youngkin urged Attorney General Jason Miyares to investigate the Fairfax County magnet school after it reportedly didn’t notify students commended by the National Merit Scholarship Program until after early college applications were due.

“We need to get to the bottom of what appears to be an egregious, deliberate attempt to disadvantage high-performing students at one of the best schools in the country,” Youngkin said. “Parents and students deserve answers and Attorney General Miyares will initiate a full investigation.”

Fairfax County Public Schools says it has initiated a third-party, independent investigation of its own but “stands ready to work with our partners at the state level,” should Miyares decide to pursue a review.

“Our preliminary understanding is that the delay this fall was a unique situation due to human error,” an FCPS spokesperson said. “The investigation will continue to examine our records in further detail and we will share key findings with our community.”

The school system said in a statement on Friday (Dec. 30) that families were notified as soon as the lapse “came to light.” Staff also sent emails and made follow-up calls to each college where the affected students had applied.

“FCPS understands the hard work and dedication of each and every student who competes for college acceptance and scholarship opportunities,” FCPS said. “We remain committed to supporting every student in reaching their full potential.”

The National Merit Scholarship Program recognizes students who receive the highest scores in the country on the preliminary SAT, essentially a practice for the main standardized test considered by most colleges and universities for admissions.

According to the National Merit website, about 50,000 students qualify for the program every year based on an index score calculated by doubling the sum of their reading, writing and math scores.

Notifications are sent out in late September, with about two-thirds of those students being commended and one-third advancing as semi-finalists. Only about 7,250 students win actual scholarships each year.

However, FCPS only announced the school’s semi-finalists in September. Commended students at TJ didn’t learn they had gotten the honor until teachers handed out certificates on Nov. 14, Coalition for TJ co-founder Asra Nomani said in the Fairfax County Times.

The Coalition for TJ sued Fairfax County Public Schools in 2021 over changes to the admissions system that were designed to boost diversity at the magnet school. The lawsuit is currently in a federal appeals court.

Nomani said she learned about the issue from Shawnna Yashar, a member of the Fairfax County Parents Association, which was incorporated in June 2021 by leaders of the Open FCPS campaign that urged schools to reopen early in the pandemic.

Since publishing last Thursday (Dec. 29), Nomani’s story has gotten picked up by several, mostly conservative outlets, including Fox News and the Daily Mail. Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears tweeted on Saturday (Dec. 31) that she had “reached out” to Youngkin and Miyares about a possible investigation.

The Fairfax County Parents Association and other groups have called for TJ principal Ann Bonitatibus to be fired and are planning to hold a rally outside the school this afternoon, according to WUSA9.

FCPS confirmed that Superintendent Michelle Reid is scheduled to meet with families this evening “to listen to their concerns.”

Parent and 11th District Republican Committee Vice Chair Srilekha Palle told WUSA9 she considers the delayed notifications “a criminal act.” Harry Jackson, another Coalition for TJ founder and brief GOP school board candidate hopeful, claimed administrators “wanted to downplay the significance of these awards to students in the name of equity.”

“I believe this failure may have caused material harm to those students and their parents, and that this failure may have violated the Virginia Human Rights Act,” Youngkin said in his letter to Miyares.

The letter doesn’t say how the lack of merit scholarship notifications might violate the Virginia Human Rights Act, which protects individuals from discrimination based on race, religion, sex and other characteristics.

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Kent Gardens Elementary School in McLean (via Google Maps)

Efforts to alleviate crowding issues at Kent Gardens Elementary School are starting to pick up steam, but Fairfax County Public Schools is still working to identify and pursue specific solutions.

With 1,023 students, the McLean school is at 121% of its building capacity, per a proposed capital improvement program (CIP) for fiscal years 2023-2027. That makes it one of the most crowded schools in FCPS, second only to Wakefield Forest Elementary School and tied with Centreville High School.

Wakefield Forest in Annandale is at 135% capacity, but construction is underway on a renovation, which will reduce its capacity utilization to 80%. Centreville High is in line for an expansion as part of the FCPS renovation queue, which was last updated in 2009.

Kent Gardens, however, has yet to join the queue, despite overcrowding complaints persisting in the McLean High School pyramid for a decade now.

That may change after FCPS staff hosted a community meeting on Oct. 7 to discuss the challenges facing the elementary school and gather feedback on potential solutions.

“The upcoming CIP will highlight Kent Gardens as a priority site for a full scoping of options by staff and community engagement to determine the best way forward,” said Elaine Tholen, who represents McLean as the school board’s Dranesville District member. “Staff is also investigating short term improvements that can be done at the Kent Gardens site as longer term solutions are implemented over the next several years.”

Short-term options could include building maintenance or improvements to the on-site trailers, Tholen told FFXnow. Temporary classrooms were added in the 2019-2020 school year and this current year “to accommodate short-term capacity deficit,” according to the CIP.

In addition to a renovation, long-term solutions could include programming or boundary changes, which would be phased in over multiple years, Tholen said.

The school board approved a boundary adjustment in 2021 that shifted some McLean High students to Langley High School, though Kent Gardens wasn’t affected.

According to FCPS, the capacity issues stem from a combination of population growth in McLean — which could continue if development progresses as the county hopes — and high demand for its programs.

“The capacity challenges at Kent Gardens ES are complex as the school not only serves a growing community within its boundaries, but also incorporates students outside the boundary for the popular French Immersion program,” an FCPS spokesperson said by email. Read More

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SEIU Virginia 512 President David Broder and Fairfax Education Association President Leslie Houston urged the Fairfax County School Board to adopt a collective bargaining resolution at a Dec. 15 public hearing (courtesy David Broder/Twitter)

More than a year after Fairfax County government workers got collective bargaining rights, a proposal could extend the option to their public school counterparts.

After months of work, Fairfax County Public School administrators presented a draft resolution to the school board last week that would let employees organize and elect a union to negotiate labor contracts, setting terms for pay, benefits and work conditions.

The 22-page document was developed by a workgroup of FCPS leaders and 17 different school employee associations.

“Over the course of a full year of meetings, totaling over 60 hours together and untold number of hours of prepwork by workgroup members, we reached consensus on the framework for a resolution,” Fairfax County Federation of Teachers (FCFT) President David Walrod said at the public hearing on Dec. 15 public hearing.

The proposed resolution guarantees workers the right to discuss workplace issues and engage in collective bargaining activities without facing coercion or intimidation. It also asserts that the school board has the authority to determine budgets and funding and can “take whatever actions may be necessary to carry out its mission during emergencies.”

If approved, FCPS would recognize separate bargaining units for:

  • Licensed instructional staff, including full and part-time teachers, librarians and counselors
  • Operational support employees, such as assistants, custodians, food service workers and bus drivers
  • Administrators and supervisors, including principals and program administrators

Substitute and temporary employees are currently excluded from collective bargaining, but after July 1, 2023, they could seek inclusion in one of the existing units or file a request to be recognized as their own unit.

Walrod and other employee group representatives urged the school board to adopt the draft resolution.

“FEA agrees with the strong resolution presented to the FCPS School Board and the community,” Fairfax Education Association President Leslie Houston said. “Our number one priority was to ensure all FCPS employees were represented at the bargaining table. This resolution must be passed swiftly and intact.”

With the narrow adoption of House Bill 582 in 2020, Virginia opened the door for public workers to collectively bargain for the first time in 44 years.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution for county employees on Oct. 19, 2021, and last month, fire department workers became the first group to elect a union representative for negotiations.

Leaders of SEIU Virginia 512, a union representing general county employees, said they support FCPS workers also getting the right to unionize and negotiate their work contracts.

“The Fairfax County employees of SEIU believe that every working person deserves the right to join a union with their co-workers and bargain for a better future for all families,” SEIU Virginia 512 Fairfax County President Tammie Wondong said. “When FCPS educators and support staff have a seat at the table, kids and families throughout our community will succeed. That’s why we fight for Unions for All.”

The school board hasn’t set a timeline to vote on the resolution, but any contract talks won’t apply for the fiscal year 2024 budget, which will be proposed on Jan. 12. According to the draft resolution, any negotiations with financial implications need to start by Sept. 1 and be agreed to by Nov. 1 to be included in the next budget.

School Board Chair Rachna Sizemore-Heizer, an at-large member, said by email that the board will continue working on the collective bargaining resolution after FCPS finishes its winter break on Jan. 3:

I appreciate the efforts of the working group consisting of many stakeholders that worked hard to come to consensus on the draft collective bargaining resolution. I also appreciate the time and perspectives of those who came out to speak to the school board at the collective bargaining public hearing. It is vital to hear from our community on this important topic. I will take the comments under advisement as the school board continues to work on collective bargaining after the winter break.

Photo courtesy David Broder/Twitter

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