Red Apple Mom

October 28, 2011

FCPS Pictures You Must See to Believe

FCPS Central HQ

FCPS Central HQ Lobby

FCPS Computerized Parking Lot

A picture really is worth a thousand words isn’t it?

This is the Fairfax County Public Schools headquarters, known as “Gatehouse,” located in Falls Church.

It’s a pretty large building which makes it hard to believe claims that central HQ staff is “lean.”  If it were so lean, why the need for so much administrative office space?

Notice the beautiful granite lobby flooring.

Notice the computerized parking garage system that tells visitors how many spots are available on each floor.

FCPS Central HQ Cafeteria

FCPS headquarters also contain a fitness center and on-site credit union.  Check out the beautiful cafeteria  – which seems rather unnecessary considering that at least six restaurants and a grocery store are within a three-block walking distance from this building.

FCPS Student Trailers

FCPS Student Trailer

Now juxtepose FCPS administrators’ plush work space with our student’s 21st century classroom – double-wide trailers with no indoor plumbing and usually lacking air conditioning.

As of today – Friday, October, 28th, we are 10 days away from electing a new school board.  Sitting school board members who are seeking re-election are telling voters not to look to the past.  Why?   Well, the pictures displayed here demonstrate incumbents have focused our valuable tax dollars on themselves before students!

While our kids sit in trailers, these long-time incumbents were voting themselves beautiful plush administrative offices.  And they didn’t do it just once, they did it twice.  In 2008, several of these sitting incumbents – particularly Jane Strauss, Kathy Smith and Dan Storck – voted to spend up to $130 million on a second plush administrative building.  (FCPS School Board Minutes  9/18/08 & 10/2/08)

Thankfully, that debacle – known as Gatehouse II – was voted down by a very prudent Board of Supervisors.

I’m not buying this eleventh-hour,  canned campaign rhetoric that 18-year incumbent Jane Strauss and 12-year incumbent Ilyrong Moon are throwing out about 21st century classrooms.  We’ve been in the 21st century for a decade now.  They have both been in office for almost two decades each!  Why weren’t they preparing us for the 21st century during the 20th century? 

It’s time to get this school district’s priorities right again.  We can’t do that if Jane Strauss, Ilyrong Moon and Kathy Smith are re-elected.

If these incumbents really cared about all students, they would have lowered class size years ago and made administrators work out of trailers instead of our kids and teachers.

On Tuesday, November 8th, say NO to expensive new administrative buildings.

Say NO to incumbents Jane Strauss, Ilyrong Moon, Kathy Smith and Dan Storck.

Say YES to NEW School Board members who will use tax dollars efficiently and put kids and teachers first!

The decision is in your hands voters.

McLean Connection Class Size Article

Related articles

October 21, 2011

Hostile FCPS Work Environment – Even for a School Board Member’s Spouse

Patch.com ran such a great article today about Steve Greenberg’s speech to the School Board last night that I’m printing it in full here.  Steve is the president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers.  His outreach and dedication to his teacher colleagues show he has the true pulse of a good percentage of teachers who work for FCPS.

We already knew the discipline process was hostile.  So too, apparently, is the FCPS workplace.

School Board elections are in less than three weeks.  Your choices for School Board are more important than ever!  FCPS can only see real change if voters clean house and clean up the culture of how teachers, parents and students are treated.

Say NO to long-term incumbents like Strauss, Moon, Smith and Storck.  Take the lead from the teachers – make your voice heard at the ballot box on Nov. 8th!

 

Teachers To School Board: ‘Our Members Will Be Heard One Way Or Another’

President of Fairfax County teachers union says bad climate intimidates and bullies teachers, discourages feedback

By Erica R. HendryOctober 20, 2011 – A teachers’ union representing thousands of Fairfax County Public School teachers says its members are afraid to offer input or speak out about classroom or curriculum changes.

But intimidation and bullying of teachers at certain schools from FCPS administrators are not new issues, the union says.

Stephen Greenburg, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, said the climate in schools across the county has been deteriorating for a decade, and despite several attempts to create an ongoing dialogue about the issue, it hasn’t improved.

“Many teachers in this system are afraid to speak out for fear of retribution. Whether their fears are founded in reality or simply perceived, the fact they feel that way is not healthy,” Greenburg said in a speech to school board members Thursday night, adding “the attitude of ‘keep quiet and do your job, unless you want me to find someone else to do it in your place’ must end.”

The issue also came to light at a school board candidates’ forum last Saturday, during which School Board Member Dan Storck said his wife, employed by FCPS, doesn’t feel comfortable giving input in her environment, according to Greenburg and parents at the forum.

“This dynamic is real, and it’s out there,” Greenburg said.

Greenburg said the recent promotion of Phyllis Pajardo to Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources is  “a good first step in eliminating this culture of intimidation, one that had been established by her predecessor,” and his members have already seen positive changes in how the department handles employee issues.

“She is fair and consistent so far, and her approach is much appreciated,” Greenburg said. “She is the kind of person that can change [this culture].”

The issue plays into a long-standing request from FCFT and the county’s other teachers union, Fairfax Education Association, for more communication with the board and a consistent, open, ongoing avenue for dialogue.

In January, Greenburg and FEA President Michael Hairston told the board teachers were overloaded, overworked and burdened by administrative and technology demands in their classrooms, saying “morale is at an all-time low.”

At that meeting, during which the board approved student achievement goals for math, science and technology,Greenburg told the board that a key piece of data — teacher input — was missing from the goals. The goals did not include any current information about the success or downfalls of instruction and curriculum in the classroom, he said.

Since then, the unions have asked for dedicated monthly meetings with a committee of school board members, similar to how the board meets with other groups and advisory councils.

While Superintendent Jack Dale has since invited the board chair to sit in on his meetings with the unions, Greenburg said, a way for the unions to consistently communicate directly with the board has yet to be established.

Such a meeting could help school board members ask for teacher input, and also allow the unions to bring teacher issues forward — in theory, Greenburg said, addressing the ‘climate of intimidation’ before it escalated to the atmosphere that exists today.

 

September 22, 2011

Superintendent Jack Dale to R-E-T-I-R-E

Holy cow – if this wasn’t the shock of the day.

Check out what just came into my email box:

—————————————-
Local Politics News Alert: Fairfax Superintendent Jack D. Dale to retire

September 22, 2011 8:38:50 PM
—————————————-

Fairfax County Superintendent Jack D. Dale, who has weathered a brutal recession and parent frustrations while steering one of the nation’s top-performing suburban school systems for the past seven years, said he will retire when his contract ends in June 2013.

Dale said he wanted to publicize his decision now so that the community knows his plans before an election that will determine the mission, vision and direction of the school system over the next decade.

http://link.email.washingtonpost.com/r/KYNZS9/5CXSI4/FXO790/VIAZSI/ZPY86/T3/h

For more information, visit PostLocal.com
—————————————-

Sounds like someone has seen the writing on the wall even BEFORE this November’s elections!

(Hey Superintendent – can you take Jane Strauss, Ilyrong Moon and Kathy Smith with you?)

I view this as a VERY shrewd move on Dale’s part.  It looks to me to be an election year bone thrown to his favorite School Board incumbents – Strauss – Moon and Smith who would love to focus your voter attention on a new Superintendent search this election rather than their own lame voting records.  Caution  voters – don’t fall for it.  This isn’t cynicism speaking.  This is a seasoned political consultant speaking.

It will be key to ask School Board candidates – and incumbents – what they’ll look for in a new superintendent.  However, it is just as important to look at how these incumbents have voted in the past and determine if any of them bring added value to the School Board compared to their challengers.

As for Dale, it will be interesting to see which high-priced job he takes next – and whether any of those offers come from companies who have current contracts with Fairfax County Public Schools!

Related Articles:

Red Apple Mom Appearance on Fox 5 Morning News – Washington, DC  <object type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” id=”video” width=”320″ height=”280″ data=”http://www.myfoxdc.com/video/videoplayer.swf?dppversion=11212″><param

September 19, 2011

More Teacher Endorsements That Are “OVER” the Moon!

The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers (FCFT) announced their endorsements for School Board today – and when I tell you they are “OVER” the Moon – I mean it.  They really are “OVER” Moon!    Yahoo!

12-year incumbent and School Board Vice-Chairman Ilryong Moon (At-Large)  was not endorsed by FCFT.

Who else is FCFT “over” and not endorsing?   School Board Chairman and 18-year incumbent Janie Strauss (Dranesville)  and the direct past-School Board Chairman Kathy Smith (Sully).  Make that ZERO teacher endorsements for both Strauss and Smith.  The Fairfax Education Association didn’t endorse them either when FEA issued its endorsements nearly two weeks ago.

I love this.  It’s “Political Bulimia” without the bingeing – just purge, purge, purge.  Out with incumbents who no longer bring added value — in with candidates who do.

Good for you FCFT!

Bravo to the teachers of Fairfax County who studied the candidates, their voting records, their words and actions – and THEN made their endorsements.

Red Apple Mom picks for School Board scored big with FCFT endorsements including:

Braddock District – Megan McLaughlin

Dranesville District – Louise Epstein

Mason District – Sandy Evans

Providence District – Patty Reed

Springfield District – Elizabeth Schultz

Sully District – Sheila Ratnam

At-Large:  Sheree Brown-Kaplan

At-Large:  Lolita Mancheno-Smoak

At-Large:  Steve Stuban

For a full list of FCFT’s endorsements, check out their website here:  www.FCFT.org

September 8, 2011

Look Who Teachers Did NOT Endorse for School Board

The Fairfax Education Association (FEA) issued its official list of endorsements for School Board Wednesday.  Guess who didn’t make the cut?  18-year incumbent School Board Chair Jane Strauss, Dranesville District — that’s who.

FEA also ignored the most recent past School Board Chair Kathy Smith, Sully District.

Ouch.  That’s gotta hurt.

FEA has drawn a serious line with their endorsements.  They are clearly backing School Board candidates whose work will continue to focus on teachers and kids rather than the army of bureaucrats who blindly carry out Superintendent Dale’s bidding at central headquarters.

Kudos to FEA for specifically stating in their press release that FEA is “party blind” with their endorsements.  FEA did a great job of doing just that – endorsing a number of highly qualified candidates that includes Democratic and Republican endorsed candidates as well as one Independent.

Red Apple Mom is VERY excited that several of my own picks for School Board received FEA’s endorsement including:

Louise Epstein – running against Incumbent Jane Strauss in the Dranesville District.  Website:  www.louiseepstein4schoolboard.com

Megan McLaughlin – running for the open seat in the Braddock District.  Website:  www.mclaughlinforschoolboard.com

Lolita Mancheno-Smoak  – running for one of three At-Large seats.  Website:  www.lolita4schoolboard.com

Steve Stuban – running for one of three At-Large seats.  Website:  www.stubanforschoolboard.com

Sandy Evans – running unopposed in the Mason District.   Website:  www.evans4sb.org

Patty Reed – running unopposed in the Providence District.  Website:  www.pattyreed.org

I have great hope that a new School Board will welcome teachers back into the policy-making fold in FCPS.  Our great teachers are on the front lines in the classroom working with our kids every day.  They see what works and know what doesn’t.  I am highly encouraged that if November’s election results for School Board are favorable, teachers will once again be taken as serious partners whose opinions are solicited, valued and acted upon to improve Fairfax County Public Schools!

FEA Press Release

July 18, 2011

Another Bad Headline for FCPS in the Washington Post – thanks Janie Strauss!

Fairfax County Public Schools can’t stem the bleeding on the discipline issue. 

Our school system made national headlines again in yesterday’s Washington Post.

Reporter Donna St. George outlines yet another story of an 8th grade FCPS student who was interrogated by police and school officials — without his parents present — after other students said they’d smoked pot with the boy.

You can read the full Washington Post story here:  Supreme Court Ruling, Rising Police Presence in Schools Spur Miranda Questions

Janie "I voted NO on parental notification" Strauss

What the story doesn’t mention is that our new FCPS School Board Chair – Janie Strauss – voted NO on parental notification.

Why does this matter?   She’s running for re-election.  She doesn’t have kids in our public schools and she’s out of touch with what today’s parents, teachers and taxpayers expect from our school system.  If Strauss and other School Board members had supported parental notification, this issue wouldn’t be making national news – AGAIN!

Hey business community – are you paying attention?  The #1 reason businesses cite for moving to Fairfax County is the reputation of our school system.  How long is that going to last with continued bad headlines?!  The solution is a new School Board.  It’s time for long-serving members like Janie Strauss, Ilyrong Moon and Kathy Smith to go.   FCPS’ reputation is at stake.  Start getting involved business leaders.  Support the candidates running against these incumbents.  You have a stake in this too!

UPDATE ON SCHOOL BOARD FOIA VIOLATIONS – FAIRFAX COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT JUDGE FINDS FCPS GUILTY:

Also reported by The Washington Post (Saturday, July 16th), “Judge Leslie M. Alden found that the School Board and the administration of School Superintendent Jack D. Dale had violated FOIA provisions on open meetings or public disclosure, but she concluded that the violations were too minor to justify reversing the board’s decision.” (Refers to any decision to reverse the Clifton ES closure.)

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

June 3, 2011

School Board Partying That Goes too Far

Some of our School Board members and School Board candidates sure do LOVE to party.

School Board is a non-partisan position.

Kids don’t come with R’s and D’s on their foreheads and I don’t want my School Board members to either.

The sad reality is that running for School Board in Fairfax County does require a party endorsement in order to run a viable campaign.

The problem is, one party is taking “the party” too far.

The Fairfax County Democrats issued their endorsements last week. (See news coverage below)  Their selections are mostly the same old same old – based on who has served “the party” and who has been around the longest. 

Grandmother Janie Strauss is in her second decade on the School Board.  Snooooozzzzzzeeeeee.  Can’t she go do something else already?

Ilyrong Moon – the human weather vane who can’t cast a vote until he sees which way the political winds are blowing – was first elected in 1995.   Can’t he go do something else too?    School Board shouldn’t be a lifetime position!

Kathy Smith – the current School Board chair – is responsible for leading the school district right into Fairfax County Circuit Court over Open Meetings Law and FOIA violations and costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands in legal fees.  She really needs to go!  Taxpayers can’t afford her.

These incumbents don’t deliver results – unless of course it’s an election year and then they throw teachers a token 1% pay increase.   For the most part though, they’ve delivered nothing but higher administrative spending and rubber-stamping for the Superintendent’s proposals that are often in conflict with what the public wants.  They need to go.

The Democrats blew it on their At-Large School Board candidate selections too.  They chose a guy who is Kathy Smith’s protegé and who is on the record writing nasty letters to the editor about parent advocates.  He’s a smooth talker and apparently it was his political party connections that secured his nomination over more highly qualified parent advocates who were seeking the Democrats’ blessing.   The party also endorsed another At-Large candidate whose claim to fame is her relation to Mike Espy – former Secretary of the Department of  Agriculture.  How that candidate’s connection to a pseudo-celebrity is supposed to make her an effective School Board member is beyond me.   Smells like nothing more than political nepotism.

The Democrats did get it right with two of their endorsed nominees –  Sandy Evans and Megan McLaughlin.  Both rightly received their party’s endorsement because they are highly qualified to run and both have strong records working on behalf of taxpayers, teachers and parent advocates.  I’m proud to be assisting both of their campaigns.

I’m advising ten candidates running for School Board and personally serving as campaign manager for two races.  There is plenty of “reformer talent” in both parties to do the job.  I know because the candidates whose campaigns I’m assisting are from both parties.

FAIRGRADE's Megan McLaughlin

Sandy Evans - Mason District

Party regulars aren’t pleased though.  Some of my candidates have told me they have received calls from their party leaders saying, “You know your advisor (Red Apple Mom) is working for candidates from that ‘other’ party.  You shouldn’t be working with her.”

May I remind all party leaders out there – SCHOOL BOARD IS NON-PARTISAN.  There is a reason for that.  Kids don’t come with R’s and D’s on their foreheads.  THIS IS ABOUT EDUCATION – not politics.

I have worked extremely hard for the past three years to build up FAIRGRADE and the Fairfax Education Coalition – both bi-partisan groups – in the hope that endorsements from parent and teacher groups will as valuable, if not more valuable, to voters than political party endorsements.

Red Apple Mom readers are savvy.  You get it.  You understand that our School Board needs reform-minded candidates focused on education, not politics.  So when scrutinizing candidate websites and literature, ask yourself:  “Is this candidate more focused on politics than education?   Is their list of endorsements filled with political leaders or leaders from parent groups, teacher groups, taxpayer and community groups?” 

You want a candidate to represent YOU and YOUR child.  If a candidate is all about “the party”, who do you think will come first – the party or your child?  Choose carefully.

There are less than 23 weeks to the election on November 8th.  If you want real change, don’t sit on the sidelines.  Get involved now.  Find a reformer candidate.  Volunteer and donate.  Reformer candidates from both parties need our support.  Voters can vote for one district candidate and three At-Large candidates.  There are a total of 12 School Board members (9 district reps and 3 At-Large reps).

Here are some of the candidates I’m actively supporting and advising.  (Most of them are running with a Republican endorsement because a majority of the School Board is Democratic and many of the Democratic incumbents are running again.  I am supporting challenger candidates and open seat candidates who weren’t recruited by sitting School Board members since that is the only way we are going to get REAL CHANGE with new ideas and fresh leadership!)

Please check out their websites, share with others and get involved:

Lolita Mancheno-Smoak, At-Large – Open Seat:  www.Lolita4SchoolBoard.com

Louise Epstein, Dranesville District – Challenging Incumbent Janie Strauss:  www.LouiseEpstein4SchoolBoard.com

Megan McLaughlin, Braddock District – Open Seat:  www.McLaughlinforSchoolBoard.com

Patty Reed, Providence District:  www.ReedforSchoolBoard.com

Sandy Evans, Mason District: website under construction

Elizabeth Schultz, Springfield District – Open Seat:  www.ElizabethSchultzforSchoolBoard.com

Sheila Ratnam, Sully District – Challenging Incumbent Kathy Smith:  www.SheilaRatnam.org

Michelle Nellenbach, Mount Vernon District – Challenging Incumbent Dan Storck:  www.Nellenbach.com

Nancy Linton, Hunter Mills District, Open Seat:  www.NancyLintonforSchoolBoard.org

Sheree Brown-Kaplan, At-Large:   website coming soon

Related Articles:

Democrats Pick School Board Candidates Amid Controversy  (The Connection Newspaper, May 28, 2011)

Democrats Endorse Two School Board Candidates Without Majority  (Patch.com, May 25, 2011)

School Board Candidate Allen Calls Process “Pathetic” – Will Continue to Run (Patch.com, May 25, 2011)

Time For New Leadership (The Connection Newspaper, February 15, 2011)

Stick With Facts (The Connection Newspapers, August 5, 2010)

May 12, 2011

That “In the Dark” Feeling

Fairfax County Public Schools ought to take serious notice.  When you tick off the Mount Vernon district, you must have hit a deep nerve.  I used to live at that end of the river.  The folks who live there are among the kindest and most pragmatic people you’ll find in Fairfax County.

So public school officials ought to get realistic about the level of displeasure brewing there over FCPS’ all consuming focus on closing the achievement gap.

Superintendent Dale and School Board Member Dan Stork told a 90+ person crowd last week that FCPS spends an extra $100 million on staffing at schools with poor and non-english speaking children.  The extra staffing permits teams of teachers to focus on a single child.

That message didn’t fly well with parents who still don’t have full-day kindergarten, whose kids are in supersized classes and who want high school English & Social Studies honors courses.  Superintendent Dale’s comments simply reinforced the perception that their kids aren’t a priority with FCPS’ leadership.

One parent stated, “We are all volunteering every day and every night, and killing ourselves for our kids. To say you have a laser focus on kids that need help….that means that everybody else is in the dark.”  

Do you feel like this parent?  Do you feel that your child is “left in the dark?”  It’s an interesting question for School Board candidates heading into the 2011 November elections to ask potential voters.

I suspect parents overall are very satisfied with their individual principals and teachers.  The School Board and Superintendent Dale’s leadership is probably another matter. FCPS’ pursuit to close the achievement gap is admirable and has widespread community support.  However, the School Board and Dale’s failure to recognize the undercurrent of dissatisfaction over the perceived and real lack of equity in resources may cost incumbent School Board members their jobs this November.

Interestingly, for all the proposals put forth in this year’s advertised budget – including funding for employee compensation and full-day kindergarten, there is one glaring omission –reducing class size.   Not a single School Board member has proposed any amendments to reduce class size in the FY2012 budget.

I know my kids are “in the dark” on that one.  And I do place the blame squarely at the feet of my incumbent School Board members Janie Strauss (Dranesville District) and Ilyrong Moon (At-Large) who both represent my schools and are running for re-election.

Strauss is in her second decade of service on the School Board.  Moon has served since 1995.  They both voted for the budget that increased class size in FY 2010.  They both have done ZIPPO to correct class size this year.  At the very least, they could have proposed relief for elementary classes with more than 30 children.   Instead, they have demonstrated zero leadership on this issue.

For those of you also feeling “in the dark” on the class size issue ask yourself:  “Do Jane Strauss, Ilyrong Moon and other long-time incumbents like Dan Stork and Kathy Smith deserve re-election?  Do I want new leadership who will tackle supersized classes for me, my child and their overworked teacher?”

I know how I’m voting!

Related Articles:

Mount Vernon Parents Question Dale and Storck on Honors, Class Size (Patch.com)

Letter:  Fewer Class Options Means Students Are Not Served (Patch.com)

© 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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