Free to Learn television ad: "Silence"

On Sept. 12, Free to Learn launched an ad called “Silence” attacking the Loudoun County School Board.

The Free to Learn Coalition, an educational advocacy group, took aim at Loudoun County Public Schools in a new television ad that aired during the second half of the Washington Football Team’s Sunday afternoon game, taking issue with recent actions taken by the School Board.

A spokesperson told the Times-Mirror the ad is the latest installment in a multi-million-dollar effort launched in June which included an ad targeting Fairfax County public schools for pushing what the the group described as a political agenda.

“Whether it be targeted efforts to silence dissenting parents or the push to turn teachers into informants, the Loudoun County Public School system has prioritized political activism above all else,” said Alleigh Marré, president of The Free to Learn Coalition, in a prepared statement.

“Our organization will continue to shine a light on these harmful practices until Loudoun County leadership ceases its divisive, activist-driven efforts,” she said.

“At Free to Learn we are dedicated to ensuring that schools are focused on academics, not activism. We work together with parents and teachers to provide a platform so their voices aren’t marginalized or excluded when considering what’s best for student outcomes. Anyone who is observing political ideologies driving school practices should reach out to us. We can help.”

A message from Free to Learn President Alleigh Marré:

“At Free to Learn we are dedicated to ensuring that schools are focused on academics, not activism. We work together with parents and teachers to provide a platform, so their voices aren’t marginalized or excluded when considering what’s best for student outcomes. Anyone who is observing political ideologies driving school practices should reach out to us. We can help.”

Free to Learn’s TV ad made claims that the School Board spent nearly half a million dollars to develop a divisive curriculum promoted by political activists and that officials would silence parents who dissented.

Additionally, the group — headquartered in Washington, D.C. — pointed to School Board’s action to place Byron “Tanner” Cross, a Leesburg Elementary School physical education teacher, on administrative leave after stating on May 25 during a public comment portion of a School Board meeting that he would not refer to transgender students by their chosen names or pronouns.

Cross later said on Fox News that he would refer to a child by their desired name, but reiterated that he would not use a student’s desired pronouns, saying “I just can’t say things that are untrue.”

Wayde Byard, spokesperson for Loudoun County Public Schools, said in a email to the Times-Mirror that the claims are untrue and misleading.

Byard said the curriculum developed is in accordance with the requirements of the Virginia Board of Education and not because political activists demand it. He said LCPS is not aware of any School Board member or employee ever threatening to silence a parent for speaking up in disagreement with LCPS policy.

“Loudoun County Public Schools and the School Board work with parents and the community to acknowledge, promote, and meet the needs of every student and welcomes all perspectives,” said School Board Chair Brenda L. Sheridan, reaffirming the Board’s and LCPS’ commitment to hear, and respect, differing community voices.

Superintendent Dr. Scott Ziegler added that “LCPS recognizes the right of members of the community to free speech, and does not condone anyone targeting members of the community for their viewpoint.”

As for Free to Learn’s claim that education unions are using “dirty political campaign tactics to go after parents,” Byard said LCPS is not aware of any groups threatening to “go after” parents. He said LCPS supports the rights of parents to speak out to their children’s teacher or principal when they have a concern in the classroom, and to contact their School Board member when they have concerns about division-wide policies.

“Parent communications regarding their children are subject to FERPA and would not be disclosed to any third party unless permitted by law,” Byard said.

If a parent or their child feels harassed or unsafe on school property, we encourage them to reach out to the principal of their school in order to address those concerns,” he said.

Byard said the matter involving Cross is pending in court and LCPS would not make any further comment. Lissa Savaglio, chair of the Loudoun County Democratic Committee, said in a statement to the Times-Mirror that the ad “is just the latest dark money attempt to use our children and our schools as vehicles for fear and disinformation.”

“Loudoun County Public Schools are consistently ranked some of the best in the country, a distinction earned through rigorous and truthful education, not lies and hate,” she said. “The citizens of Loudoun won’t be misled by an outside organization whose motivations don’t extend past election day.”

John O’Neil, director for communications and public affairs for the Virginia Education Association, questioned the content of the ad, saying it “raises more questions than it answers, namely: Why would they smear dedicated public school employees in Loudoun, and who is providing the funding for them to do so?”

“The dirty political campaign tactics referred to in the ad are their own,” he said.

The School Board will hold a public meeting on Tuesday One of the items on the agenda is the board’s vote draft revisions to Policy 7560 — titled “Professional Conduct.”

One of the revisions includes addressing free speech policy for school employees.

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