Red Apple Mom

February 18, 2011

Subpoenas Issued to Full School Board & Top FCPS Officials – Breaking News

THIS BREAKING NEWS JUST IN:

The entire Fairfax County Public School Board and top FCPS officials have been subpoenaed by the Washington, DC based law firm Patton Boggs.   

The focus of the subpoena concerns alleged violations of the Open Meeting Law and alleged violations of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by Fairfax County Public School officials.

FCPS and Patton Boggs attorneys are appearing in Fairfax County court today to set a trial date.  Under Virginia law, FOIA cases are required by statute to be heard in seven calendar days.  The statute does not permit exceptions for weekends or holidays.

This case stems from last summer’s School Board vote to close Clifton elementary school  – one of the county’s top performing elementary schools.  School Board officials claimed renovations needed for the school were too costly and that it is cheaper in the long run to close the school.  Several media outlets and the Fairfax Education Coalition called the School Board’s decision premature.  Since the vote, FOIA’d documents and email communications between School Board members and FCPS officials have demonstrated serious flaws in the data used to close Clifton ES.

The importance of this action is its relation to the FCPS southwestern boundary study.  The School Board is scheduled to vote on the SW boundary issue next Thursday, February 24th – the same day the School Board and FCPS officials, according to state statute, will have to appear in court.  This will make pre-vote and pre-meeting communications difficult for the School Board.  Cell phones and computers are not permitted in the Fairfax County Courthouse for members of the public.  So it will be interesting to see if the School Board will still have their scheduled meeting and planned vote that evening.   Compounding the problem for FCPS is the fact that two or more school board members may not sit together in court due to rules of the Open Meetings Law.  Sources close to Patton Boggs insist the timing of the subpoenas, in relation to next week’s School Board vote, is pure coincidence.  They told me they couldn’t issue the subpoenas earlier in the week because they received another 2000 FOIA’d documents from FCPS just this Tuesday.

The potential effects of these subpoenas and a trial could be very interesting for thousands of families in Fairfax County.

1.  In SW county, some schools are overcrowded and some are under capacity.  The problems there have now been compounded by the School Board’s vote to close Clifton ES.  Those Clifton kids have to go somewhere and assigning them to other schools in the SW boundary is causing a big domino effect.  If 30 kids from Clifton are reassigned to “School A”,  some kids from “School A” must then be reassigned to a new school to make room for the Clifton kids.  The affected schools in the SW boundary study are very upset by the fast pace of events put in place by FCPS because it’s no longer just about the Clifton community.  It’s affecting thousands of kids at their schools too.  As a result, over half of the 21 PTAs in the impacted SW boundary schools signed a common resolution calling for a total halt to the boundary study.  Their common complaint is a stated lack of confidence in FCPS’ process and in the validity of FCPS’ data.

2.  If FCPS is found to be in violation of  the Open Meetings Law and FOIA, the original vote to close Clifton ES may be ruled null and void.  The School Board might have to revisit this issue using data brought forth by the community.  They might also have to revisit the renovation queue.  At least one School Board member, Liz Bradsher, was trying to position the closure of Clifton ES as an opportunity to move other schools up the renovation queue.  This appeared to many people as potentially permitting a “jumping the line” in the renovation queue.  Even though the public is led to believe that independent engineers set the renovation queue, the fact is the School Board has the power to alter that queue if they so desire.  (Any school on the current renovation queue should monitor this closely!)

3.  Whatever happens in court next week could potentially lead to a change in the way FCPS does business with the public.  If the allegations put forth by the Patton Boggs attorneys are true – that FCPS violated the Open Meetings Law and the Freedom of Information Act – we all might see a much more transparent and accountable School Board.  We all might see School Board decisions made that give greater consideration to the concerns expressed by the impacted communities.  We all might see FCPS policies and programs that include and reflect community proposed solutions instead of just what FCPS staff wants.

Some local reporters are telling me they are watching this case closely for even larger ramifications – the use of digital technology by all elected officials during public meetings.  For instance, if two officials are conversing via their iPads or blackberrys about an upcoming vote during the meeting, does that violate the Open Meetings Law?  Does that communication prevent public participation?  We may find out in Fairfax County Court next week.

So get ready Red Apple Mom readers.  FCPS attorneys have been very successful in winning cases brought against them by parents and members of the community.  On this one though, I’d bet money that the FCPS team is sweating.  I’m told Virginia’s FOIA law is very cut and dry.  I’ve seen hundreds of the FOIA’d documents.  The content of many of the emails isn’t pretty – even to this untrained legal eye.  Importantly, the emails appear to demonstrate a systematic pattern by several School Board members and FCPS officials for cutting deals and conducting the people’s business in email rather than in public.

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3 Comments

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by #1 RINO Hater, Parents' Coalition. Parents' Coalition said: Subpoenas Issued to Full School Board & Top FCPS Officials – Breaking News: http://t.co/PyIE88c […]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention Subpoenas Issued to Full School Board & Top FCPS Officials – Breaking News « Red Apple Mom -- Topsy.com — February 19, 2011 @ 8:28 am

  2. Will Jack loose his battle now that he is up against a school with English speaking, well educated parents? This is not like when he wanted to close Pimmit H. S. with all his double talk and excuses. He knew most of those students were on their own, working while attending school and taking care of non English speaking parents.
    Not exactly a difficult situation. Some of those students were unable to continue their high school education due to his decision, but what the heck, not his problem. He saw to it that most of the adult education schools in his last job were closed. He does not feel it is his (FCPS)responsibility to educate children over the age of 18 so who cares that we end up with an under educated community..not his problem…Seems very hard for him to understand the bigger picturer. How does someone like that become a superintendent???

    Comment by dacisgone — February 19, 2011 @ 8:37 pm


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