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A parent group has filed a petition to recall a member of the Fairfax County school board in an attempt to hold the school board accountable for the closure of Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) from March 2020 through April 2021.
“They took a year of my kid’s life away,” Dee O’Neal Jackson, a single mother of a girl in public schools who led the recall effort, told Fox News in an interview Thursday. Even though Fairfax public schools have been open since August, Jackson said, “They still need to be held accountable. They’ve never apologized.”
Jackson’s organization, Open FCPS, filed the petition to remove Springfield District Representative Laura Jane Cohen with 8,000 signatures – double the required number – on Dec. 10. Jackson said she originally planned to keep the petitions under the radar, but the school board member sent out a fundraising email attacking her organization on Monday.
“This is part of a national right-wing effort to overturn elections and ‘take back our schools,’” Cohen wrote in the email. “These last few months, school board meetings have been taken over by rabid support for book banning and burning, misinformation from anti-Vaxxers and anti-maskers, hateful speech attacking our LGBTQIA+ students and community, and even arrests for disorderly conduct.” Cohen encouraged supporters to donate in order to “send a strong message to the GOP.”
Jackson noted that her organization is bipartisan, and she said Democrats who support opening schools sent her that email, complaining about Cohen’s attacks. Jackson also said that none of Cohen’s accusations apply to her or her organization, except her opposition to mask mandates.
Cohen did not respond to Fox News’ request for comment by press time. A spokesperson for the school district declined to comment.
Laura Jane Cohen, Fairfax County Public Schools (Fairfax County Public Schools)
The petition faults Cohen for advocating and voting to keep Fairfax schools closed, “thereby overruling and ignoring local and national medical experts which have stated that keeping schools closed would be detrimental to all children.”
The petition cites an American Academy of Pediatrics statement encouraging in-person learning from July 10, 2020. “We recognize that children learn best when physically present in the classroom,” the academy said. “But children get much more than academics at school. They also learn social and emotional skills at school, get healthy meals and exercise, mental health support and other services that cannot be easily replicated online. Schools also play a critical role in addressing racial and social inequity.”
The petition also cites a July 21, 2020, statement from Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu of the Fairfax County Health Department. Addo-Ayensu “advised the Fairfax County School Board that it was safe to operate in-person learning. A statement consistent with the position of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and the Virginia Department of Health.”
Despite these statements, FCPS kept schools closed until April 2021. At the beginning of April, schools opened two days a week, and at the end of April they opened for four days a week, Jackson said. She lamented that kids “were in school probably a total of 26-27 days from March 2020 to June 2021.”
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
Jackson claimed that her effort to recall school board members forced the district to change its policies, as did the efforts of two state senators – Republican Siobhan Dunnavant (who is an OB-GYN) and Democrat J. Chapman Petersen – who sponsored S.B. 1303, which mandates that “each local school division in the Commonwealth shall make virtual and in-person learning available to all students by choice of the student’s parent or guardian.” Both houses of Virginia’s legislature passed the bill in February, and Gov. Ralph Northam signed it in April.
“They were pushed by legislation to open, or they would not have been opened this Fall,” Jackson said.
Jackson said she would have preferred to launch recall efforts for eleven of the twelve school board members, but she had to be strategic to maximize resources. Open FCPS chose Cohen and Dranesville District Representative Elaine Tholen, because parents in their districts had proven the most outspoken and willing to volunteer.
In order to remove an elected official in Virginia, petitioners must acquire a number of signatures equal to 10% of the votes cast in the previous election for that office. If a judge approves the petition, the Commonwealth’s Attorney prosecutes the case.
Elaine Tholen, Fairfax County Public Schools (Fairfax County Public Schools)
Jackson’s organization filed the petition to remove Tholen in August, but the Commonwealth’s Attorney told the judge he wouldn’t prosecute the case against Tholen. This time, Open FCPS made additional motions to prevent this from happening again, Jackson said.
“I am a single mom, I had to leave my kid at home to go to work,” Jackson said. “There were situations a lot worse than mine, and my daughter was very depressed.”