The Fairfax County School Board passed a resolution on inclusive education at its meeting Thursday (Oct. 20), leaving aside an earlier version that included references to social justice, equity and antiracism.
The 7-4 vote came with much back and forth about topics including board procedure and the resolution’s timeline.
The four members who voted against the amended resolution — Mason District Representative Ricardy Anderson, Hunter Mill District Representative Melanie Meren and members-at-large Abrar Omeish and Karen Keys-Gamarra — had expressed support for its original iteration. Providence District Representative Karl Frisch was not at the meeting.
As passed, the resolution affirms the county’s support for teachers and administrators when it comes to “inclusive curriculum and instruction.” The resolution is symbolic and does not change county policy.
“….the School Board commits to protect and support teachers and administrators as they deliver FCPS-approved curriculum and classroom resources that are inclusive, and meet the high aspirations of our students, families, and the Fairfax County community.”
Amendments also left out a reference to “recent events” that have “caused many FCPS educators and school-based administrators to fear that implementing these necessary curricular improvements could lead to personal or professional harm,” according to the text of the original resolution.
Anderson, who introduced the original resolution, said the amended version would not adequately support teachers and cited the removal of the words truth, antiracist, equity and justice as among the reasons she would not support it.
“There are some essential components that are missing from the version being provided that I just cannot support not including in this kind of resolution,” she said.
The school board’s student representative, Michele Togbe, opposed the amendments.
“Amending it to the weak and hollow statements and words, where originally it was strong and clear, it doesn’t make sense to me, and I don’t see the progress that can be made by going forward with it,” Togbe said.
Dranesville District Representative Elaine Tholen, who brought the amendment with Braddock District Representative Megan McLaughlin, said she believed the amended version was “more inclusive of our board member views and less divisive for our broad community.”
Tholen added that she thought the message of support for educators should have been conveyed with “a simple statement,” but maintained the resolution format.
While the resolution is symbolic, the board has a controversial issues policy that outlines guidelines for administrators, teachers and students dealing with controversial topics. That policy, mentioned in the amended resolution, has been discussed at multiple governance committee meetings this calendar year, according to minutes from those meetings.
After the revision passed, several people spoke about the resolution during the community participation portion of the meeting. These included representatives from Free and Antiracist Minds (FAM) and the Fairfax County Council PTA, two of the many advocacy organizations Anderson said had been involved with the original resolution.
The amended resolution “was a great way of not having to vote no but also completely undermining the substance of the actual message,” said Kweli Zukeri, representing FAM. FAM called the vote a “craven display of systemic racism” in an Oct. 21 press release.
In a video testimony, Kara Danner, a member of the FCCPTA’s executive board, said the organization supported the original resolution for the sake of students’ mental health.
Other speakers accused the board of having political motivations and questioned its priorities.
Board chair and member-at-large Rachna Sizemore Heizer said she was glad to have the resolution to support teachers, but looked ahead before adjourning the meeting.
“At the end of the day I’m excited to get into budget season and looking at our strategic plan, because that’s really where we show our values,” she said.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is formally opposing Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s proposed model policies that would limit the rights of transgender and other gender-nonconforming students.
In a letter approved at a board meeting today (Tuesday), board chairman Jeff McKay said that the policies would have a negative effect on the county’s economic position and cites the human impact on students. Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity voted against the proposal.
“Your model policies – and the discrimination inherent to them – will have a chilling effect on our continued ability to attract the world’s most innovative companies to Fairfax County. To put it bluntly, discrimination is bad for business,” the letter, which is addressed to the Virginia Department of Education, states.
Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw noted that the proposal policy is contradicted by U.S. Supreme Court decisions and other legal precedent.
“Thankfully, many school system in the Commonwealth don’t intend to adopt them,” Walkinshaw said.
When voting against the proposal, Herrity questioned why the county was weighing in on a proposal related to the school system when other issues — like declining enrollment, learning loss, and the achievement gap — need exploration as well.
“My biggest problem with the letter, I don’t see any staff working on this at all,” Herrity said. He also said parents need to be involved in “critical decisions of this magnitude,” adding that parental permission to give a child an aspirin in schools.
McKay responded by stating that the board’s letter is part of the state’s education department call for public comment on the proposal — a comment period that ends tomorrow.
His letter also says that the policies put the county’s children at risk by denying support and affirmation to transgender students.
“A young LGBTQ person attempts suicide every 45 seconds in the United States. Key drivers of high rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide among transgender youth are the lack of social support and affirming experiences that they often face,” the letter states.
The proposed policies are at odds with the school system’s current policies that affirm students’ rights to accessing restrooms based on their gender identity and being called by their chosen names and pronouns. FCPS moved to update its previous policy — last amended in 2020 — based on state recommendations.
A spokesperson told FFXnow that the school system did not have more information to share about its position on the state’s policies. FCPS Superintendent Michelle Reid sent to families last month, stating that FCPS was reviewing the draft policies.
This is not the first time McKay has publicly questioned the draft policy. Earlier this month, McKay told FFXnow that the school system may have legal grounds to go against the model policies.
Fairfax County Public Schools has found savings to provide a second year of expanded summer learning programming.
The $12.5 million needed for the enhanced summer school will come from reserve staffing funds that went unused due to FCPS’ decreased student enrollment, according to the district.
“We realize that…access to summer programming is important for all of our students,” Mount Vernon District Representative Karen Corbett-Sanders said at a school board meeting on Thursday (March 10). “It is a game-changer.”
The funds will be officially approved at a future meeting as part of a third-quarter review of the fiscal year 2022 budget, which spans from July 1, 2021 to June 30 of this year.
Intended to offset learning losses attributed to the shift to virtual classes during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, FCPS expanded its summer school offerings last year to accommodate more than 35,000 students — 10 times the number served in a typical year.
However, staffing shortages for the Extended School Year program, which serves students with disabilities, forced FCPS to delay classes and left many families frustrated.
Corbett-Sanders suggested summer enrollment was adversely affected because of how FCPS handled the situation. She said FCPS expects there will be increased interest in this year’s offerings, which includes a return of the Extended School Year program for an anticipated 3,308 students in special education.
FCPS says special education teachers who participate in the ESY program will receive a flat rate of $68 per hour, with consulting and homebound teachers getting a compensation rate of $50 per hour.
The largest program will be Summer Olympians Aspire and Reach (SOAR), which is expected to have an estimated 13,400 students. The program teaches kindergarten through sixth-grade students math and literacy skills to prepare them for the upcoming school year.
Other planned programs include a credit recovery academy for high school students, an online campus with virtual classes, enrichment programs, Young Scholars, Bridge to Kindergarten for children who did not attend preschool, and a summer recovery academy for students with disabilities.
Overall, FCPS anticipates that more than 33,000 students will enroll in a summer learning program this year.