Virginians must reject Fairfax County’s radical school board at the polls
This op-ed was written by Stephanie Lundquist-Arora, IWN member and chapter leader in Virginia.
Last month, Rachna Sizemore Heizer, a Democratic-endorsed Fairfax County school board member running again in the Nov. 7 election, claimed she was concerned that electing even one candidate not endorsed by the Democratic Party would be a threat to the leftist agenda on the 12-member school board. She said, “If we turn out and we elect all the Democrats, it sends a message that you can’t mess with our values and inclusion. You can’t mess with progress.”
With this, Sizemore Heizer said the quiet part out loud. She’s running not because she cares about Virginia’s education system or the students and families in it but because she’s interested in continuing to inject a radically political, leftist agenda into all aspects of the school district’s governance for the next four years. This is a far cry from the stated purpose of the school board, which is supposed to be an apolitical organization that responsibly tends to the budget, establishes an apolitical code of conduct, and supports public education’s central task: academic excellence for children.
Fairfax County’s 12 Democratic-endorsed school board members have done anything but these tasks. Not only have they failed to support academic excellence — initiatives such as equitable grading and the war on merit in admissions to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology are just a few examples — but they intentionally harmed public education by voting to close the schools’ doors to in-person learning for nearly a year and a half, which led to learning loss, plummeting test scores and chronic absenteeism.
Aside from failing at their core mission, they have triggered skyrocketing local taxes, roughly half of which go to the school district, with irresponsible and wasteful budgetary allocations. From 2020 to 2022, Fairfax County’s school district spent over $16 million of its $3.5 billion annual budget on legal fees. Their many abhorrent legal battles, funded with taxpayer dollars, include a case against a student referred to as “Jane Doe.”
Doe was a 16-year-old student who alleged that another student sexually assaulted her during an Oakton High School band trip in March 2017. When Doe reported the assault to school administrators, they mocked her in emails and deterred her from pursuing a legal case. Doe eventually filed a case against the Fairfax County school board for its violation of Title IX, which, after a lengthy process, ended up in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in June 2021. The court ruled against Fairfax County School Board and in favor of the plaintiff, effectively reinstating her lawsuit against the district. Lawyers for the school board appealed the decision and denied responsibility, to which Judge James Wynn responded, “Schools do not get ‘one free rape.’”
In May 2023, Sizemore Heizer, the “progressive” school board chairwoman who fears ideological diversity on the school board, sanctioned its legal fight against the sexual assault victim, and is now running for reelection, quietly signed a settlement to Doe for $587,500 to end the civil lawsuit.
In response to this case and others like it, students formed a grassroots organization called Shatter the Silence. The group’s website states, “We demand that the school board stop its cover-up culture and enact meaningful reforms to make our schools safe.” To that end, in January 2022, members of the group organized a districtwide walkout to protest the district’s “one free rape” policy and its routine mishandling of sexual assault cases.
Fairfax County school board members have not only failed to investigate and handle sexual assault complaints properly. They’ve also made those complaints more likely. The board is defying Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s (R-VA) model policies and allowing male students to use female bathrooms and locker rooms, despite protests from female students who say they no longer feel safe using the restroom at school.
The school board has also passed a “ bias incident reporting system,” which is essentially the district’s own Orwellian thought police registration.
In other violations of free speech, these ideologically homogeneous, so-called progressive school board members have voted to compel students’ speech with mandated pronouns, issuing the penalty of suspensions if students do not comply.
Meanwhile, for the sake of restorative justice, school board members are extremely hesitant to issue out-of-school suspensions for violent and drug-related offenses, which pose a threat to students’ physical safety. In practice, school board members use suspensions to penalize politically conservative infractions, but rarely violent ones.
Sizemore Heizer and the other incumbents running for reelection — Melanie Meren, Ricardy Anderson, and Karl Frisch — have not progressed public education. They are destroying Fairfax County Public Schools, a district that was once the nation’s gold standard for public education. Voters should not reelect what are, in fact, extremely radical, incompetent, and regressive incumbents for school board.