Opinion: Letter to the Editor: School Board Derailment

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: School Board Derailment

I can now confirm, definitively, that the lame duck Fairfax County School Board has gone completely off the rails and needs an intervention by the Board of Supervisors before their impending actions completely destroy Fairfax County as we now know it. I refer to the status of the School Board as "lame duck" with good reason. Of the 12 current members of the School Board, five of them have announced they are not running for reelection, and a sixth one is unlikely to be reelected because he has not received the endorsement of the local Democratic party. Thus, at least half the current School Board members are unlikely to be members of the School Board in January.

In recent editions of the Gazette, I have discussed the School Board's intention to change the criteria for determining justification for altering school boundaries which, if enacted, can result in county homeowners having no assurance that the home they purchased under the assumption that it is within the boundaries of a desired high school will actually be within those boundaries. I have suggested that this issue be an election issue and not be addressed until a newly constituted School Board is in place in January 2020.

Now, it has become evident that the School Board intends to revise the criteria set forth in Regulation No. 8170.7 for renaming schools. Under the current regulation, the School Board is required to find a "compelling need" to rename a school before commencing the process and if such a compelling need is found and the process commences, the result cannot be the renaming of the school unless "sufficient support" is found in the community where the school is located.

The School Board is now proposing revising the regulation to eliminate these requirements. First, the School Board is proposing to replace the requirement to find a compelling need before the process commences with the mere determination by the School Board "that it is appropriate to do so," whatever that means. The requirement to find sufficient support in the affected community has been completely eliminated. The proposed revisions will permit the affected community to submit suggested school names to the School Board but there is no requirement that the affected community sufficiently support the proposed change.

What this all means is that if the proposed revisions to Regulation No. 8170.7 are enacted, when citizens elect their School Board members, they are essentially giving those School Board members "carte blanche" to make any changes in school names that they so desire and the only check on their ability to do so will be at the ballot box after the fact.

When the School Board was considering the issue of whether to rename J.E.B. Stuart High School, they ignored the "compelling need" requirement, commenced the renaming process, and renamed the school even though the affected community overwhelmingly opposed the name change. This resulted in litigation filed to compel the School Board to go back and restart the process in compliance with Regulation No. 8170.7. The School Board eventually won because the Circuit Court decided that taxpayers including parents of students enrolled in the school lacked standing to require the School Board to follow its own regulation. Apparently, the School Board now wishes to avoid future litigation by leaving citizens only the recourse of the ballot box to remove, after the fact, School Board members who defy the communities they represent.

As in the case of the boundary issue, the School Board should not change the regulation until the current lame duck School Board is replaced by a newly constituted School Board in 2020. The Mount Vernon representative on the School Board, Karen Corbett Sanders, who is also its chairman, should demonstrate her leadership skills and urge the School Board to refrain from changing Regulation No. 8170.7, make the issue an election issue, and leave it to the newly constituted School Board to decide what to do.

H. Jay Spiegel

Mt. Vernon