GFCA Town Hall Webinar with School Board Member Robyn Lady

GFCA Town Hall Webinar with School Board Member Robyn Lady

Part 2 of 4 stories

GFCA president John Halacy

GFCA president John Halacy

The Great Falls Citizens Association welcomed Fairfax County School Board Representative Robyn Lady (Dranesville) to its virtual town hall, open to the public and held Monday evening, June 17. Following its June 11 membership meeting, GFCA wanted to create a platform for Lady to clarify issues and hear public feedback concerning the draft revision to Fairfax County Public Schools Policy 8130, school boundary adjustments. On June 11, community members expressed “significant” concern over FCPS Policy 8130, including the lack of clarity on the implementation of redistricting policies, as well as the ambiguity and broad discretionary authority in the policy itself.

The policy is currently under review by the school board’s Governance Committee, which would meet the next day, Tuesday, June 18, and be open to the public. Four of the school board's 12 members serve on the committee, but not Lady. The committee would continue to work on Policy 8130.7.

“School boundary policy affects all county residents one way or another, whether or not you have school-age children,” GFCA president John Halacy said. 

GFCA often weighs in on issues beyond its geographical boundaries because they affect community members. Jennifer Falcone, GFCA secretary, moderated the two-hour town hall meeting on June 17 with 482 registered attendees. Lady delved into one of the current policy's significant issues: school board members, not operational specialists, must raise boundary issues. Lady said she heard from the principal of Lutie Lewis Coates Elementary School that they added two kindergarten classrooms this year.

Coates ES is located in the unincorporated area of Herndon, close to the Silver Line Innovation Station and within the Dranesville District. Lady stated that the school is 33 percent overcapacity for the next year and described the boundary change as an "emergency" requiring triage.

“They're literally turning custodial closets into classrooms,” Lady said. “There's no stone unturned over there because we're out of room for modular [classrooms] and trailers." According to Google Maps, the nearest Great Falls Elementary School is on Walker Road, 23 miles away, with a driving time of 46 minutes. 

Lady said state law would enable the school district to shift 15 percent of those youngsters out of Coates ES, but the county's current boundary policy limits it to 5 percent. “I talked to operations about that and said, ‘Well, 5 percent is going to cut a neighborhood in half …. I think that's absolutely wrong,” Lady said. 

Lady noted that the superintendent may revisit an adjustment that did not satisfy requirements if staff evaluations significantly change its impact or determining factors. Current Policy 8130, Section VII, describes accelerated school boundary adjustments. 

When an “emergency” or other pressing public need requires the school attendance area to change quickly, the superintendent can expedite the change if it won't affect more than 15 percent of each school's enrollment and will improve the school system's operating efficiency according to a staff analysis. Before implementing it, staff would meet with sending and receiving schools to explain the expedited adjustment and solicit public comment.

“We will give the affected school community at least ten days' notice before the meeting. The superintendent may reconsider an adjustment that previously did not meet the above criteria if staff members' evaluations indicate a significant change in the adjustment's impact or determining factors,” Lady said. 

Falcone brought forward a community statement requesting Lady to halt the policy review process until she gathers public feedback on the proposed changes. This would allow the school board to collect the necessary data to support these changes. "If you don't have a policy, there's no directive in terms of how to evaluate data to operationalize it," Lady responded. She added that there are many reasons why a new boundary policy would be beneficial, such as budget optimization, student well-being, and sleep time. If the policy is approved, Superintendent Reid and her team will implement the regulations.

Falcone read an inquiry stating that the census data for Herndon indicates a 35 percent Hispanic community, yet nearly 50 percent of the student population identifies as Hispanic. “Why is this so different?” Lady answered, "If you live within those boundaries, then that is the school's demographic makeup."

Lady said that while some of the county's public schools look different demographically, they're very similar regarding academic opportunities and course offerings, which are interchangeable among schools. "AP classes taught at one school are taught at another school,” Lady said.

She added, "In this conversation, it's evident that some people have created a pecking order ... of our schools, but all of our schools are good." 

Asked why families were not enrolling in Fairfax County Public Schools, Lady said they only know that when a student withdraws from the division, there is a withdrawal process where the parents must document where they're taking their children. The division cannot access the information if the code selection doesn't represent where the student is going. She added that the division could better capture the information.

One of the inquiries addressed the assertion that redistricting students from McLean High School to Langley High School and the subsequent transfer of Great Falls High School students to Herndon High School do not create diversity or equity at Langley. 

Lady replied, "I haven't thought about it that way, because nowhere in this policy does it say anything about ethnic diversity."

Falcone read an inquiry that asked Lady to empathize with a family whose children have attended the same school for years. ‘How would you feel if your school changed, and, more specifically, that change led to your children being in a less safe environment based on the Virginia Department of Education's reported statistics regarding the number of incidents?”

“I think it’s very difficult ... I understand that change is hard, but it is not impossible. And I understand what you are sharing in terms of incidents,” Lady said.

To view the GFCA's YouTube video of the Town Hall, click this link: