The Loudoun County School Board on Tuesday approved measures codifying professional standards of conduct for staff, student dress codes and a recognition of Hispanic Heritage month, as well as a proclamation for Leslee King Day on the late board member’s birthday, March 30.
One of the most substantive initiatives deliberated by the board focused on revisions to Policy 7560, which outlines professional codes of conduct for Loudoun County Public Schools employees.
In a unanimous vote, board members adopted new language committing staff members to “an inclusive, safe and supportive work and educational environment where individuals from diverse backgrounds work together” to pursue educational goals as laid out by LCPS.
The measure’s new language urges LCPS employees to reject “behavior and language that denigrates or demeans individuals on the basis of actual or perceived race, national origin, ancestry, color,” and several other criteria. In addition, students and employees who feel they’ve been subjected to conduct that violates behavioral standards as laid out in the policy are encouraged to report the issue to a supervisor.
Dress code changes
Board members also unanimously approved revisions to LCPS’ dress code, found in Policy 8720. Those revisions say students “should be able to dress comfortably for school,” and that attire “should not be blamed as a distraction to the learning environment.” New language also encourages teachers to focus on classroom instruction as opposed to dress code enforcement.
Member Jeff Morse of the Dulles District proposed an amendment to the dress code that would prohibit students from exposing bare midriffs in addition to “private parts,” as stated in the policy. His amendment failed, facing opposition from members Denise Corbo, Beth Barts, Ian Serotkin, vice chair Atoosa Reaser and chair Brenda Sheridan.
Hispanic Heritage month
A proclamation recognizing Hispanic Heritage month from September 15 through Oct. 15, 2021 passed without deliberation, as well as recognition of March 30 as Leslee King day, in honor of the late board member’s birthday, who represented the Broad Run District. King died at 74 years old on August 31.
During the board meeting’s public comments section, Loudoun parents and teachers criticized members for their approach to distance learning options, mask and vaccine mandates and critical race theory, among other topics.
Criticism for a lack of remote learning options
Madhav Sathi, who lives in the Blue Ridge District, said he was seriously worried about sending his son back to school because of the threat posed by COVID-19 Delta variant, which studies have shown is much more transmissible than the original virus. “This Delta [variant] is very deadly, and an N-95 mask can only do some kind of reduction,” he said.
“Without the vaccine, it is very deadly,” Sathi said. “I’m asking all of you to please give a chance to bring back distance learning,” adding that LCPS had been able to conduct both onsite and distance learning well the previous year.
Kumar Nainala, of the Dulles District, echoed some of those same points. He said that as a parent of a 7-year-old child, “I feel it’s unsafe to send my kid to school without vaccination. Until we’re able to get kids vaccinated, I would push for distance learning. We did it last year, and it went fine.”
Frustration over quarantining, mask mandates
Megan Rafalski, of the Blue Ridge District, criticized board members for maintaining a two-week quarantine period for students who have had close proximity to a peer or staff member with an active case of COVID-19.
She said that despite exhibiting no symptoms of the disease himself, her son was forced to quarantine. During that time, “My son was given roughly 15 minutes of instruction each day ... Last year was a joke, and this year is proving the same, very quickly.”
Rafalski also told the board LCPS staff and board members to “Quit bullying our students on holding their masks up when they can’t breathe.”
In response to a later question from Morse about conflicting guidelines on quarantine periods given by the Virginia Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, LCPS superintendent Scott Ziegler said that “the preferred option is a 14-day quarantine … that’s the option we have been exercising.”
But Ziegler allowed for some flexibility in the school system’s response, adding that “If the 14-day quarantine causes undue physical, mental and economic hardship and testing can be ... obtained for the exposed person,” between five and seven days after exposure, “then the student would be allowed to return on day seven under that option.”