The June 16 School Board Meeting: A Small Turning Point?

Mark Spooner | Fairfax Schools Monitor

Introduction

Several proposals to amend the student conduct handbook were on the agenda for the June 16 meeting of the Fairfax County School Board.  What mostly drew the attention of parents was a provision making it an offense for any student, from the 4th grade on, to maliciously “deadname” or “misgender” another student, with punishment ranging up to suspension from school.

It’s hard to keep up with all the new definitions in today’s gender dictionary.  For those of you who aren’t in the know, “deadnaming” refers to using a previous name for a person who has decided to use a new name, e.g., if George now wants to be called Sue but is still called George by another student.  “Misgendering” refers to labelling a person with a gender that “does not match their ‘gender identity’,” e.g., if a biological boy who now identifies as a girl is referred to by others as being a boy (either directly or by using pronouns that the transgender student rejects).

The School Board meeting was reported on by several news organizations, including the Bret Baier Fox News evening broadcast on June 17.  Here is why it was noteworthy.

Pro-Parent Rally, and Parent Comments at the Meeting

Prior to the meeting, concerned parents rallied outside the auditorium.  Several speakers opposed the pronoun-policing measure, and they also spoke more generally about the School Board’s perpetual injection of new social-engineering ideas into classrooms.  Ralliers stood along the busy street with their posters, and many drivers honked their support.  This undoubtedly attracted the attention of the School Board members and staff as they entered the building.  Many of the protesters then attended the meeting, changing the usual atmosphere in the auditorium.

Typically, the majority of attendees are supporters of Board policies.  One reason for this is that left-leaning groups have been active on education issues for some time, while most parents have naively assumed the schools were focusing on the 3 R’s of traditional education.  Another reason is that the Board’s agenda usually includes items that will attract its activist supporters to attend.  Thursday night’s meeting was no exception.  The agenda began with a “LGBTQIA+ Pride Recognition” (dictionary again, please), a “Juneteenth Recognition,” and an “Immigration Heritage Month Resolution.”  These items allowed Board members to spend the first 75 minutes of the meeting with virtue-signaling speeches, and to have photo ops with their supporters.

What made Thursday night’s meeting different is that the pro-Board attendees were outnumbered by concerned parents.  The speakers at the meeting were mainly citizens who were upset by the Board’s direction.

A portion of every School Board meeting is devoted to “community participation.”  Citizens can speak for two minutes on issues of concern.  At Thursday’s meeting, several of the speakers focused on the Board’s ideological program and its seeming lack of respect for the views of most parents.  The comments were respectful but powerful.

A complete video of the meeting is HERE.  It is well worth the time to listen to the remarks of Robert Whearty (beginning at 1:17:30 on the video), Laura Hanford (1:22:15), Geoffrey Akey (1:26:45), Harry Jackson (1:29:15), Jen Hans (1:31:20), Jeffrey Shapiro (1:33:35), Barbara Eckman (1:36:00), and Tyler Willis (1:39:45).

Comments by Board Members

At most Board meetings, the auditorium empties after the “community participation” segment (except for a handful of gluttons for punishment).  Thursday night’s meeting was different in that a substantial number of citizens remained to hear how the Board might react to their concerns.

To the surprise of those who remained, the Board acted as if the deadnaming/misgendering ban should be a non-issue.  Some Board members expressed their “surprise” about the citizen comments, noting that a slightly different version of the deadnaming/misgendering provision had been included in last year’s edition of the student handbook, as if that should put an end to any controversy.  The Board wanted to focus the evening’s discussion on a different issue, namely, how to prohibit or minimize student use of cellphones during school hours.  And they did, in fact, spend the next two hours of the meeting talking about that issue, although none of the citizen speakers had opposed the Board’s proposal.

Nevertheless, it was clear that the citizen comments made an impression on the School Board.  Immediately following the last citizen speaker, the school Superintendent, Scott Braband, commented that “we need to find a way to bring people together in public schools and sort through all these values, these ideas, and try to find common ground.  I believe we still can.”  Several of the Board members, while avoiding any direct discussion of the merits of the deadnaming/misgendering ban, echoed the Superintendent’s comments.  While sometimes claiming that the Board does, in fact, listen to and care about the views of regular parents, many of them acknowledged that a better job needs to be done in paying attention to those who don’t support social and political activism in the schools.

The notable exception was Board member Abrar Omeish.  She chastised those who had spoken at the meeting, saying “this is not a constructive path forward,” and “what we’ve been seeing for weeks and months in our country and right here in this auditorium is not conducive to anything productive.”  So, you parents out there, keep your mouths shut unless you support what the Board is doing.

Conclusion

It’s unclear whether the comments about doing a better job of listening to parents were anything other than a momentary effort to mollify the crowd.  This remains to be seen, and all of us should watch closely.

My principal take-away from the evening’s events is that it’s a big mistake for non-activists to remain on the sidelines of the ongoing debate about politics, ideology and social engineering in classrooms.  The School Board can’t be allowed to think that the speakers at Thursday’s meeting represent an insignificant minority of their constituents.  Social activists have been working the system for several years.  It will take a concerted and persistent effort by the majority to turn things around.

Rallies like the one this week get noticed by the press, by other citizens, and by the School Board members.  And so do speeches during the “community participation” segment of the Board meetings, assuming that concerned citizens show up in significant numbers to voice their opinions in respectful but powerful ways.

This article was first published at FairfaxSchoolsMonitor.com on June 18, 2022.

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