Red Apple Mom

June 7, 2011

Student Interrogations & Discipline Review: Your Child Needs You Thursday

As parents, we want to help our children – particularly when they are vulnerable and in need of guidance.

The discipline reform debate going on in Fairfax County Public Schools has revealed just how few rights our children have if they are ever accused of a serious school infraction.

This Thursday, June 9th, School Board members will vote on changes to the Student Rights and Responsibilities Policy – including the controversial parental notification component.

Picture school authorities interrogating your child – and pressuring him or her to sign a confession or statement of guilt – without you present in the room.

Don’t like that idea?  Then take some action.  Your chance is now.

These following School Board members are either undecided or opposed to notifying you before your child is questioned about a serious school infraction.

Jane Strauss -Dranesville District
Kathy Smith – Sully District
Liz Bradsher – Springfield District
Stu Gibson – Hunter Mill District
Tessie Wilson – Braddock District
Jim Raney – At Large

Email these members now and ask them to vote in support of parental notification.  The parent group Fairfax Zero Tolerance Reform (FZTR)  is asking parents to specifically request the following points:

1.  Parental notification for infractions that could result in suspension of more than three days or a recommendation for expulsion.

2.  No  signed student statements of confession without a parent or guardian present.

3.  Advising students that they have the right to remain silent and they have the right to seek counsel.

We would all like to believe our children will never face serious disciplinary action in public school.  But the fact is, you can never really know.  Put yourself in the shoes of your child.  Ask yourself if you could handle an interrogation without an advocate by your side.

Does that idea trouble you?

Then show your kids you really care and participate in FZTR’s sponsored rally BEFORE Thursday night’s School Board meeting on June 9th at 6:30pm.  Location – Luther Jackson Middle School in Falls Church on Gallows Road at Route 50.  Meet in the parking lot.  Wear RED and bring appropriate signs that call for PARENTAL NOTIFICATION.

Many of the School Board members are running for re-election this year.  Your participation in this rally could help apply the pressure needed for these critical reforms.    Please get involved and advocate for your child now while you still can.

The School Board is expected to vote on discipline policy changes about 7:45pm.  If you cannot attend in person, the meeting will be televised on Cable Channel 21 and web-streamed live at http://www.fcps.edu.

For more information, visit the Fairfax Zero Tolerance Reform website at:  www.FairfaxZeroToleranceReform.org.

Here are the email addresses for all the School Board members:
Kathy Smith – Chair – Kathy.L.Smith@fcps.edu
Brad Center – Vice Chair – Brad.Center@fcps.edu
Elizabeth Bradsher – Springfield – elizabeth.bradsher@fcps.edu
Sandra Evans  – Mason – sandy.evans@fcps.edu
Stuart Gibson – Hunter Mill – stuart.gibson@fcps.edu
Martina Hone – Member at large – Martina.Hone@fcps.edu
Ilryong Moon – Member at large – ilryong.moon@fcps.edu
James Raney – Member at large – james.raney@fcps.edu
Patricia Reed – Providence – patty.reed@fcps.edu
Daniel Storck – Mt Vernon – daniel.storck@fcps.edu
Jane Strauss – Dranesville – jane.strauss@fcps.edu
Judith Wilson – Braddock – Tessie.Wilson@fcps.edu

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April 9, 2011

Serving Up Some Crow For FCPS Officials on School Renovations & Additions

Remember the scathing editorial School Board member Liz Bradsher wrote last October in the Fairfax Times?  It’s the one where she attacked a parent who raised important questions about FCPS’ renovation queue relative to FCPS’ closure of Clifton ES.

Liz Bradsher

Bradsher’s editorial titled “Don’t Let the Facts Get In the Way of a Good Op Ed” specifically stated:  “…Clifton Elementary School has 366 students and all students can be moved to successful nearby schools without the necessity of additions or renovations.

Well, well, well.  Look out Ms. Bradsher –looks like some multi-million dollar facts are getting “in the way.” You told parents and taxpayers that additions and renovations weren’t needed.   The FCPS Proposed 2011 School Bond Referendum tells a different story.

The proposed 2011 bond, released by FCPS last week, shows $13.7 million  for “additions and renovations” to schools that Clifton ES students will now be transferred to.

Among the proposed bond projects include:

Fairfax Villa ES (6 rooms) $ 3,129,294

Greenbriar East ES (9 rooms) $ 3,889,687

Union Mill ES (8 rooms) $ 3,419,715

Modular Relocations $ 3,250,000

Capacity Enhancement Subtotal: $ 13,688,696

Ready to eat some crow Ms. Bradsher?

Save some for FCPS Chief Operation Officer for Facilities Planning Dean Tistadt.

Dean Tistadt

Back in October, Tistadt told concerned parents and taxpayers at a SW Boundary study meeting that FCPS already had money for any projects that might be needed as the result of shifting students from Clifton ES to new schools.

“We actually have a great deal of money in what we call the “construction reserve,” Tistadt is quoted in the Centreville Patch.   The Patch quotes Tistadt saying that the funds were left over from previous bond referendums.  “According to law, that money can be spent on any capital project,” said Tistadt.

So FCPS, if you already have leftover bond money , why are you sticking taxpayers with an additional proposed $13.7 million tab on the 2011 Bond? 

And if you already have leftover bond money, why the delay in jumpstarting much needed renovations at FCPS’ legacy high schools like Langley and West Springfield who have languished in the renovation queue for way too long?!

I smell the need for a serious audit of FCPS’ budget.  Board of Supervisors, are you listening?

© Catherine Lorenze and Red Apple Mom, 2001. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Catherine Lorenze and Red Apple Mom with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

March 19, 2011

Briefly Speaking

Map of Virginia highlighting Fairfax County

Image via Wikipedia

The plaintiff’s attorneys in the case alleging that the Fairfax County School Board violated the Virginia Open Meetings Law and the Freedom of Information Act, released their brief as submitted to the Fairfax County Circuit Court last Thursday.

FCPS’ attorneys will submit their brief to the Court this coming week.

The plaintiff’s attorney’s brief runs 15 pages.  Click here to read the entire brief.

Below you will see main points contained in the brief.  To maintain accuracy, I copied the material directly from the plaintiff’s attorney’s document.

  • The outcome of this case will have a tremendous impact, not only on the Clifton community, but also on all residents of Fairfax County and the Commonwealth.  The Fairfax County School Board and other public bodies will see the extent to which it is permissible to discuss public business when the public is not watching.
  • By conducting its deliberations behind closed doors in the days prior to the July 8th vote, the School Board violated Virginia’s Open Meetings Law and committed further violations during the July 8th meeting itself and subsequently violated Petitioner Jill D. Hill’s rights under the VFOIA (Virginia Freedom of Information Act) when she tried to learn why the Board voted to close CES (Clifton Elementary School).
  • The Petitioner asks this Court to intervene – not to substitute its views for those of the Board – but rather to ensure the Petitioner and the Board’s other constituents are afforded their right to observe how “the business of the people is being conducted.”
  • The use of email as a means to converse has become so pervasive that the Supreme Court of Virginia held that Email can constitute an “informal assemblage” under the OML (Open Meetings Law) requiring public notice and an opportunity for the public to observe the transaction of public business.
  • The School Board members sent hundreds of Emails over a few days with intervals as short as 2-4 minutes.  The Board members did not use the Email communications as the functional equivalent of letters.  Rather they used Email to discuss their positions, often Emailing back and forth within a short period of time, and to convince other Board members to vote with them on CES.
  • In addition, the Board members engaged in numerous verbal communications with each other, both in person and by telephone.
  • Evidence that the Board members committed numerous OML violations consists of the Board’s own written words and testimonial admissions.   Petitioner, therefore, anticipates that the Respondent will cling to its spin that individual Emails do not constitute an informal assemblage because they allegedly are not among three or more members in an attempt to distract the Court and hope that it misses the forest for the trees.
  • The record as a whole established that 1.) The Board cannot meet its burden to establish there were not three or more members involved in the written and verbal discussions and 2.) most, if not all School Board members engaged in a series of Email, in person and phone conversations with other members, in which everyone ascertained each others’ positions and certain Board members lobbied for votes.
  • The General Assembly has mandated that VFOIA be “liberally construed to…afford every opportunity to citizens to witness the operations of government.”  VA Code 2.2-3700.
  • Ms. Bradsher admitted that she knew it would be a violation to “have a conversation” with two or more Board members outside of open meetings. To avoid that, Bradsher was “very careful” to ensure that everyone knew how the other Board members were going to vote by engaging in email exchanges and then forwarding them to other members with the instruction not to forward them any further, at times skirting the letter of the law but violating its purpose, a purpose that was well known to Bradsher and other Board members.
  • The Court should not permit the Board to use these underhanded tactics to avoid public awareness and scrutiny of its actions.
  • Reed asked whether the water report should be publicly posted and Goddard promptly forwarded the well-water report to Smith and Wilson.  Within minutes, Wilson responded that she had checked with Smith and Smith stated that it could wait until after the meeting.
  • Not posting the report clearly violated the VFOIA, especially given the report’s importance to the CES (Clifton Elementary School) votes.  The School Board discussed the report during the meeting, and it had determined during a June 29, 2010 Work Session that “the decision to close or renovate Clifton ES (sic) School should be based on the issues of the reliability of the water supply” and two other factors.
  • Respondent attempts to downgrade this VFOIA violation by noting that (Dean) Tistadt verbally summarized the contents of the report during the meetings.  Nonetheless, withholding a document provided to the Board for its consideration during an open meeting is a violation of the VFOIA.
  • …the Court should not establish new law that a public body can comply with the VFOIA statute by withholding materials and simply summarizing them.
  • In discussing the (water) report’s impact, Bradsher quoted an Email from her daughter, which she received during the meeting, emphasizing how dangerous the water was due to incomplete testing for Radium 228, even though the undisclosed well water testing report indicated a minimal risk of Radium 228 contamination.
  • Ms. Bradsher’s discussion of Radium 228 misled many meeting attendees, including Petitioner Hill, to believe that the well water should still be considered unsafe.
  • Petitioner is “entitled to recover reasonable costs, including costs and reasonable fees for expert witnesses, and attorneys’ fees from the public body if the petitioner substantially prevails on the merit of the case, unless special circumstances would make an award unjust.
  • Respondent committed numerous VFOIA violations when Petitioner sought to avail herself of her rights to access the School Board’s public records.

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© Catherine Lorenze and Red Apple Mom, 2001. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Catherine Lorenze and Red Apple Mom with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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