After debate, Fairfax County School Board passes resolution on inclusivity

The school board adopted a resolution on inclusive education — without the word equity (file photo).

The Fairfax County School Board passed a resolution on inclusive education at its meeting Thursday (Oct. 20), leaving aside an earlier version that  included references to social justice, equity and antiracism.

The 7-4 vote came with much back and forth about topics including board procedure and the resolution’s timeline.

The four members who voted against the amended resolution — Mason District Representative Ricardy Anderson, Hunter Mill District Representative Melanie Meren and members-at-large Abrar Omeish and Karen Keys-Gamarra — had expressed support for its original iteration. Providence District Representative Karl Frisch was not at the meeting.

As passed, the resolution affirms the county’s support for teachers and administrators when it comes to “inclusive curriculum and instruction.” The resolution is symbolic and does not change county policy.

“….the School Board commits to protect and support teachers and administrators as they deliver FCPS-approved curriculum and classroom resources that are inclusive, and meet the high aspirations of our students, families, and the Fairfax County community.”

Amendments also left out a reference to “recent events” that have “caused many FCPS educators and school-based administrators to fear that implementing these necessary curricular improvements could lead to personal or professional harm,” according to the text of the original resolution.

Anderson, who introduced the original resolution, said the amended version would not adequately support teachers and cited the removal of the words truth, antiracist, equity and justice as among the reasons she would not support it.

“There are some essential components that are missing from the version being provided that I just cannot support not including in this kind of resolution,” she said.

The school board’s student representative, Michele Togbe, opposed the amendments.

“Amending it to the weak and hollow statements and words, where originally it was strong and clear, it doesn’t make sense to me, and I don’t see the progress that can be made by going forward with it,” Togbe said.

Dranesville District Representative Elaine Tholen, who brought the amendment with Braddock District Representative Megan McLaughlin, said she believed the amended version was “more inclusive of our board member views and less divisive for our broad community.”

Tholen added that she thought the message of support for educators should have been conveyed with “a simple statement,” but maintained the resolution format.

While the resolution is symbolic, the board has a controversial issues policy that outlines guidelines for administrators, teachers and students dealing with controversial topics. That policy, mentioned in the amended resolution, has been discussed at multiple governance committee meetings this calendar year, according to minutes from those meetings.

After the revision passed, several people spoke about the resolution during the community participation portion of the meeting. These included representatives from Free and Antiracist Minds (FAM) and the Fairfax County Council PTA, two of the many advocacy organizations Anderson said had been involved with the original resolution.

The amended resolution “was a great way of not having to vote no but also completely undermining the substance of the actual message,” said Kweli Zukeri, representing FAM. FAM called the vote a “craven display of systemic racism” in an Oct. 21 press release.

In a video testimony, Kara Danner, a member of the FCCPTA’s executive board, said the organization supported the original resolution for the sake of students’ mental health.

Other speakers accused the board of having political motivations and questioned its priorities.

Board chair and member-at-large Rachna Sizemore Heizer said she was glad to have the resolution to support teachers, but looked ahead before adjourning the meeting.

“At the end of the day I’m excited to get into budget season and looking at our strategic plan, because that’s really where we show our values,” she said.

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