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May 3, 2021 · OPINION

Petition seeks the removal of school board members

File Photo/Lawrence Emerson
Jonathan Barbour and other parents in July urged the school board to plan expanded in-person instruction for the fall term.
By Garrett Hillstrom

As trustees of taxpayer funds, the Fauquier County School Board (FCSB) members failed to fulfill their responsibilities to taxpayers. A petition has been started that seeks the removal of all five of the school board members.

Virginia Code Section 24.2-332 states that, “Upon petition, a circuit court may remove from office any elected officer or officer who has been appointed to fill an elective office, residing within the jurisdiction of the court: 1. For neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence in the performance of duties when that neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence in the performance of duties has a material adverse effect upon the conduct of the office…”

In July 2020, Fauquier County parents responded to a school survey, which asked for their preference regarding in-person or virtual learning. While the survey did not offer an option for the standard five days per week in person, 52.4 percent wanted their children in the county’s public schools four days per week.

One month later, the FCSB members ignored the majority of parents and unanimously voted to begin the school year 100-percent virtual. With this vote, the school board chose a significant loss of learning for Fauquier County students in 2020-21.

A nearby Virginia county conducted an internal analysis of 2019 Quarter 1 and Quarter 2 with the same quarters in 2020 for a comparison of academic progress to determine the impact of virtual learning. The results showed significant learning loss. For example, the percentage of middle school and high school students earning F’s in at least two classes jumped by 83 percent year-over-year. The FCSB has admitted to a loss of learning for students this year, and they have neglected to try to understand the degree of the learning loss with any similar internal analysis.

The fiscal 2021 school budget was $151.9 million. Sixty-one percent, or $93 million of the budget, came from local funding. During a standard school year, students have 180 days of instruction in-person. As of May 2, K-6 grade students have had 47 days of instruction in-person, on pace to end the school year with 67 days of instruction in-person.

Sadly, seventh- through 12th-grade students have had even fewer days of in-person instruction. Despite Fauquier students receiving only 37 percent of in-person learning as compared to a standard school year, the school board’s budget saw no such decrease. Research shows the vast majority of students learn better in-person, and after the abysmal spring 2020 virtual school season, Fauquier County parents repeatedly reminded members of this fact.

The FCSB members were negligent in their duties and misused the resources provided to them for the instruction and learning of our students and children in three key areas:

• They failed to listen to the majority of Fauquier parents, whom they are elected to serve, and instead voted to begin the year with 100-percent virtual learning.

• They voted for virtual learning for 63 percent of the school year for students despite admitting a loss of learning for the students they are elected to serve.

• While the FCSB admitted to a loss of learning for students this year, they have neglected to try to understand the degree of the learning loss with any serious internal analysis.

The FCSB members’ many excuses suggesting that their hands were tied and they had no other choice but to vote for a loss of learning – from staffing shortages to the extremely low risk COVID-19 posed to children – are untrue and unacceptable. They had a choice, and they chose poorly for our students and children.

While Fauquier County voters cannot demand a refund for the poor quality of services paid for by taxpayers, we can petition the court to remove these school board members and ensure they are never afforded the opportunity to neglect their responsibilities and misuse their office again.

Signatures supporting this petition will be collected:

• Monday, May 10, at Fauquier High School after the school board meeting.

• Sunday, May, 16, outside the Fauquier County Public Library in Warrenton from 1 to 8 p.m.
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