September 23, 2014

NCS Breaking: Fairfax County School Board Being Sued For Violating Virginia Law

In an unprecedented move by Clifton community activists, the Fairfax County School Board (FCSB) is being sued in relation to the closure of Clifton Elementary. In July, the  FCSB voted to close Clifton Elementary School (CES), despite a huge outcry by the Clifton community and no compelling reason for closure. The lawsuit, delivered to the Fairfax County Circuit Court on Friday focuses its attention on the way the School Board decided to close Clifton Elementary, and charges that the FCSB violated numerous laws including the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (VFOIA) by conducting ‘meetings’ in secrecy and depriving the public of an open meeting where the debate could have been observed.

Virginia law mandates that actions taken by government bodies “are not intended to be conducted in an atmosphere of secrecy since at all times the public is to be the beneficiary of any action taken at any level of government”. The lawsuit charges that the School Board violated Virginia law by communicating with each other “in secret” regarding the closure of Clifton Elementary.

In addition to violating Virginia law, the School Board also violated its own policies and procedures as outlined in their Strategic Governance Manual. The manual states clearly that, “All gatherings of School Board members when sitting as a body or an entity, or as an informal assemblage of three or more, are ‘meetings’ under Virginia law… With the exception of closed meetings called pursuant to the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, all meetings should be open to the public and held in a location accessible to the public.” Additionally, the School Board’s protocol is for members to, “communicate openly and actively in discussion…at public meetings.” Clearly, this did not happen.

One of the more explosive charges mentioned in the 145 legal petition is that while the School Board had voiced concern about the quality of the water at CES, Dean Tilstad, COO for Facilities emailed a report to School Board members in which they were informed that there was no problem with the water at CES, and therefore no money needed to be allocated. According to the petition, the School Board intentionally withheld the contents of this report until after they voted to close Clifton, thus depriving the public of vital information, which had been one of “reasons” cited for considering the closure of CES.

The lawsuit, which was delivered to the Fairfax County Circuit Court on Friday is an explosive read, and if the allegations are true, the School Board should be ashamed. They showed flagrant disregard for the laws governing open meetings, and denied the public the ability to monitor the discussion regarding the closure of one of the best elementary schools in the country. In a decision as important as closing a school that serves as the center of a community, the School Board showed little interest in ensuring they followed established procedures.

With 2011 fast approaching, and the entire Fairfax County School Board up for re-election, this is certain to become a campaign issue. Of course, the Clifton closure will be the biggest headache for Liz Bradsher, who not only voted for the closure, but made the motion to proceed with the vote! It is important to note that before the vote, one member of the School Board asked other members to give a “compelling case for the closure of Clifton Elementary,” and no one, not even Springfield District Representative Liz Bradsher provided an answer to that question.

It is important to note that School Board members Patty Reed, Tina Hone, Sandy Evans, Jim Raney and Ilryong Moon all voted AGAINST the closure of Clifton Elementary School. Clifton parents should be commended for standing up to this ridiculous decision by the School Board that shows how out of touch many of the members are.

Pursuant to Virginia law, the Court is required to hear FOIA cases in seven days and the Fairfax County School Board is obligated to prove to the Court that it complied with VFOIA.

Comments

  1. GoClifton says:

    I commend the Clifton community for their perseverance and FOIA discoveries which uncovered the School Board’s GROSS mismanagement of OUR schools FOR ALL TO SEE. The School Board can’t hide from this lawsuit. It is about time that the School Board realized that they “can’t do ANYTHING that they want.” There are LAWS in place to prevent the School Board from violating the basic rights of the PUBLIC –it’s about time they got punished after years of abuse….

  2. CliftonCheerLeader says:

    Elizabeth Bradsher, along with Stu Gibson, Kathy Smith, and Tessie Wilson engaged in secret communication as Bradsher gathered votes to close Clifton. There is an old saying, “what is a person like when no one is watching….” Thanks to the publishing of the FOIA responses, we now have witnessed very bad and unethical behaviors. Thanks to Clifton folks for spreading some sunshine on dealings that go on in the back room.

  3. Stugivesmeheartburn says:

    I’m afraid I must disagree with some of Mr. Skiles’ observations; FCSB members are not out of touch, they are simply arrogant beyond comprehension. After all, through their actions over the years they have told the public time and again that they can do whatever they want, and to date have gotten away with it despite the multiple lawsuits filed against them over the years by the very constituents they are were elected to support. We can only hope that maybe they’ve finally met their match in the unlikeliest of all places, the tiny Hamlet of Clifton. As concerned citizens and involved parents who believe in the sanctity of our communities, we should applaud their resolve. The school board should not be ashamed, it should be disbanded – we must all look forward with great anticipation to the November elections !

  4. It is not too late..... says:

    There are so many emails exchanged between Bradsher and her buddies, to include some board members, staff, and WSHS SOAR folks. The tone of Bradsher’s many emails showed contempt for sincere Clifton folks who were petitioning her to keep Clifton open. This contempt was particularly offensive given the fact that she was pretending to be open and caring for the Clifton folks while coaching SOAR folks in letter writing techniques which supported financial prudence….ie., close Clifton. Not only was she coaching them in letter writing, she was advising them as to the number of votes that she had gathered to close Clifton. Now that Bradsher has been caught with her hand in the cookie jar, she is playing the “poor me, I am the victim role.” Bradsher is not a victim…..she was just carrying out her strategic plan…..to shut down Clifton so WSHS could be higher in the renovation queue. One must acknowledge there are more voters in the WSHS area than little Clifton area.

  5. hadenough says:

    Many members of this school board, Liz Bradsher in particular, have got to go. They are totally out of touch with the people they are supposed to be representing. They have become so arrogant that they think they are above the law! Please convince anyone you know to run against them in this fall’s school board elections.

  6. Eugene 27 says:

    I am afraid the Fairfax County school board (sb in lower case is used advisedly) is an operating arm of the FCPS Administration and not the public who elected them. If the outcome is to replace those sb members who have their hands over their ears listening to their contrived world of silence and not the public, then all of this will have been worthwhile. Anything less will be a failure to communicate at multiple levels. Those sb members who need new careers and who should be ousted in November are specifically, Stu Gibson, Tessie Wilson, Janie Strauss, Brad Center, Ilroyng Moon, Kathy Smith, Jim Rainey and most of all Liz Bradsher.

  7. Disparaged says:

    Apparently, the ‘sb’ [good point, Eugene27] discussed changing their Code of Conduct this week.

    The phrase “and members of the public” was proposed as an addition to the Superintendent and peer ‘sb’members as the list of those whom the sb members should not “disparage”.

    It is no shock that reportedly Bradsher was the ONLY ONE TO DISSENT and argue against the language. She supposedly inquired what is the “reasonable intrpretation of disparage”. With a wall of resistance from the rest of the sb, [including a zinger from Tina Hone “disparage is like obscenity; you know it when you see it”]it seems she was embarrassed into a half-hearted vote for the language change or face being further villified for an 11-1 vote to ‘disparage members of the public’.

    Can you believe the absurdity?

  8. Disparaged II says:

    Until the board members call out bad behavior, including those that disparage the public and some board members, this code of conduct is not worth the paper it is written on. While Bradsher yells Victim, Victim and some board members reward this type of bad behavior with hugs and pats, there is no reason for her to change her behavior. Lets cross fingers this petition is successful and FCPS will have to produce the requested emails that they have withheld. Enough is enough.

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