Parents voice concerns over safety and disarray in hallways at Loudoun Valley High School

Parents at Loudoun Valley High School in Purcellville are voicing concerns over school safety, a lack of supervision and discipline as the school implements a personalized learning environment.

At a meeting at the high school on Thursday morning, about 60 parents met with Principal Sue Ross and were given an explanation of personalized learning -- which is unfolding at all schools in Loudoun County -- and how it is being worked into the curriculum at Loudoun Valley. This was the second meeting where parents met with Ross to discuss the new method of learning.

Loudoun Valley High School administration banned a Loudoun Times-Mirror reporter from entering and covering the meeting. Loudoun County Public Schools spokesman Wayde Byard said it was the “principal's discretion” to allow only the school's parents into the meeting. The Times-Mirror learned at least one mother in attendance does not have any children at the school.

With more than a dozen school shootings across the country this year, school safety and security has been a chief issue for local parents.

Local mother Amy Rogers said she went to the meeting because she has heard about the safety concerns at the school.

“The same families from Blue Ridge [Middle School] are going to [Loudoun] Valley. They are all disciplined and understand what is being asked of them at Blue Ridge. Why all of a sudden are they having problems with vaping and leaving class when they go to Valley? Why is it unclear in terms of discipline and expectations?” Rogers said.

Several parents who spoke to the Times-Mirror asked for anonymity for fear of retribution against their children by the school's administration. This request has become increasingly common during Superintendent Eric Williams' administration.

Loudoun Valley parents have described an atmosphere where students have the freedom to stand up and leave a classroom at any time to “have a break or have a wellness walk.” Students can obtain car passes so they can leave the building and go out to their cars for an unspecified amount of time. Parents said there are students lying in the hallways on their phones, vaping in the bathrooms and roaming the hallways unsupervised.

Parents said they are worried about their children's safety, accountability from the teacher and their child's ability to learn in this new environment. 

Andrea Donofrio, who spoke at the meeting, described a couple hours of panic after the school had sent an email saying that her son was absent. She knew her son had gone to school with his brother, but she was concerned that administration did not know where he was. She said it took staff over two and a half hours to locate her son inside the school.

“Not one person could put eyes on my child for two and a half hours. As soon as I said I was heading to school they found him,” Donofrio said in the meeting. The Times-Mirror obtained a recording of the meeting from a parent in attendance.

When describing the personalized learning and project-based learning program at Loudoun Valley, Principal Ross said schools are changing and learning is now more autonomous and personalized based on interests and strengths. Now, there are learning opportunities in flexible time, space and resources. Students are given the opportunity to learn based on their interest in a subject – such as one student may focus on World War II while another might research the Spanish-American War, she said. While there are still basic facts they need to know, students are meeting the standards by doing a project on one, according to the principal.

Loudoun Valley High School Principal Sue Ross

Loudoun Valley High School Principal Sue Ross

But parents have repeatedly expressed concerns with this approach. They said that kids are in the hallways and unaccounted for. They feel there needs to be some structure from the top, that students are not engaged, they are guessing answers on SOLs and there is not enough security inside the school.

Ross said part of the flexible approach to learning was initiated by students and teachers last year. She said she was approached by teachers who wanted to see more flexibility during "prime" -- or homeroom -- so the National Honor Society could offer tutoring during prime.

During the summer months, about 30 teachers and 20 students met to re-design prime time with flexibility so students could see multiple teachers and work on projects and assignments, she said.

“Teachers also appreciated the flexibility of being able to meet with specific groups of students or with other teachers during this time as well. A student-leader group outlined the parameters to the student body approximately one month into the school year and we have implemented this new prime ever since. Students are allowed to be in the library, the cafeteria, hallways, common areas and classrooms. There is supervision in all of these areas,” Ross told the Times-Mirror in a written statement.

“Teachers put quiet zone signs on their room doors if there is something happening in their classroom that needs quiet in the hallway. Exterior doors are monitored by staff during this time. I have had no concerns or complaints from teachers or students about this process. This is a new practice – it is not a policy – and teachers and students asked for it and designed it,” she continued.

Another component of the new learning style is new classroom design and furniture which one parent described as “Starbucks style.”

One Loudoun Valley teacher, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Times-Mirror the “chaos in the hallways is so distracting.”

“I have to discipline the kids in the halls more than in my classroom. Often I have to discipline the same kids 10 minutes later because they are not being respectful of my polite request to quiet down. The noise often breaks my concentration in teaching, and I start making dumb mistakes. Kids who are not supervised by a teacher are often on their phones, playing music and socializing. As I see it, this is the biggest problem at Valley. The expectations are still unclear,” they said.

Ross said she believes project-based learning, or PBL, will help empower students to make meaningful contributions to the world through deeper learning. She said it also provides teachers the flexibility to work with students in different environments without being micromanaged by the administration.

So far, eight teachers out of 100 at Loudoun Valley High School have received PL training, and next year this type of personalized learning will be utilized further, Ross said, which is why she is setting up coffees and evening meetings to let parents know about project-based learning, personalized learning and performance-based assessments.

But Loudoun Valley parent Dee Howard said in the meeting, “We need to stop it at Valley until they put an appropriate system in place. Stop it here for us now. Train the teachers well and then roll it out.”

(48) comments

BobOhneiserEsq

Checks and balances are an important part of our culture and certainly the mainstay of our government (including local institutions like the school system). The School Board is supposed to be the first line of control over how the school system runs. What has any of them done regarding this issue? Second line of control are the BOS who fund the school system and represent the entire community not just parents with school age children. What actions have been taken or at least discussions with the school board to ascertain how this problem is being defined and how it is being resolved? It should no longer be acceptable to merely throw $1.3 billion into LCPS by the BOS and make any effort to positively influence how the community is being treated. As former chair of the LCPS/School Board Finance Committee I know how to do this and will should I be honored to become Independent Chair of the BOS after this November 5th election.

DUBGROVE

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Gleeshmcdurrrburger

As a student at loudoun valley high school, i can say that i vaped in the bathroom every single day, without once being worried i was going to get caught. The blatant ignorance of ongoing illegal activity at this school is disgusting and it keeps me up at night.

080808

As a student at valley, this IS overblown. The vaping issue is not as bad as the parents claim.
The administration has done quite a few things to stop vaping at our school, but they can only do so much.
It's funny how the parents are blaming the school for kids vaping, and not themselves for their bad parenting. Then again, this is Purcellville, so it's to be expected.

ValleyParent

I'm not quite sure how you can say this when so many bathroom doors are locked to prevent so much vaping. Please share what the administration has done other than lock those bathroom doors. Are there consequences from the school for vaping (please give specifics) or is it just ignored and shoved under the rug? I know many parents who would give consequences from home if their child was found vaping. That is not bad parenting. No one is blaming the school for vaping (kids will try things...smoking cigarettes in my teen years). What we (parents) are wanting is to have some kind of monitoring system so that kids can go to the bathroom without having to walk all over the school to find an unlocked bathroom. And even then, when an unlocked bathroom is found, vaping is still occurring. Consequences for vaping is a must...it is illegal for teens ya know!

MommyOfTwo

Personally, I think Loudoun Valleys BOFA policies need to be questioned.

MommyOfTwo

Loudoun Valley's silence on the oppression of gamers is deafening. [sad]

Keep it real

Sounds like the typical issue of well off kids doing what they want to and the parents are blaming the schools😂 woodgrove is the racist school from what I heard, and valley is the school where parents smile in your face, and talk trash about you behind your back... News flash! High school kids tend to do things they shouldn't in school, it's not just one school in Loudoun with this issue, it's quite a few according to my kids

Juelzz214

Not surprised of this news...IMO Valley along with several elementary schools in Purcellville are horrific schools - we have only been here for 2 years and can't wait to move this summer. With regards to this article, I'm confused. I called Rodney Jones on Monday to inquire why one of the 9th grade teachers was harassing my child for taking frequent bio breaks. In addition, another teacher shared students SOL grades with the entire class - no sense of privacy! How about the teacher who sprays students with a water bottle - like they are animals. This school among local ones are a joke. The whole administration and beyond are evil people. Can't wait to roll out.

Keep it real

You realize that teachers can't stop kids from taking those breaks right?? So when the student's grades suck, the blame goes to the teacher... Just know that these kids are more and likely shrugging off authority and doing what they please! Why? Because their parents don't do anything at all with disclipine... I see it a lot in Leesburg high schools with these spoiled kids who do whatever they please without any reprocusion

Valleyparentof3

My daughter tried to approach the principal about the vaping and rampant drug use in the bathrooms. It is hard for students to do this for fear of retribution. She was dismissed and just told that they would reopen the bathroom that was currently closed (due to drug use) as if that was the answer. She went away from the interaction feeling as though safety doesn’t matter and speaking up doesn’t help. The exceptions run the school at Valley. I am disgusted. Sue Ross and her vice principals should be ashamed of themselves. They have ruined this school. Prepare for a mass exodus from Valley by good families. Staying to “stick it out” for the athletics and few good teachers is no longer worth it. When will school board members hold the administration accountable? Or are they afraid to confront her because of her sexual orientation? Parents, it is time to get off the sidelines and speak up! This is OUR SCHOOL!

Wahoowah

How long have you lived in Loudoun County? Do you think people would not confront her because of her sexual orientation? Loudoun Strong - grew up here -and people aren't afraid to crucify you for it. Been around a long time.

lcpsparent

Way to keep it classy, Valleyparentof3. Maybe "sexual orientation" is an issue for you, but most people don't care about a teacher or administrator's gender or sexual orientation. Where are you and all of the other "good families" going with your mass exodus? Woodgrove? WV?

PvilleGrown

Time for the Superintendent to clean house and start with Principal Ross! It is time for her to go and enable the teachers and staff to teach and provide a great education to the students of LVHS.

JimDunning

Reading the comment thread recalls the fable of the Blind Men and an Elephant.

ScaredStudent

I know people who reported girls all in one stall vaping to a security officer and he just shrugged it off. We need more people who take that seriously. Throw the whole school administration away.

PvilleGrown

Start with Ross and that will help.

Valleyparentof3

Same with the principals. And MORE freedom is supposed to foster learning??

Mgolf

Call 911 next time to report this. Let them know you have tried reporting before with admin and resource officer and they haven't done anything. You are afraid to give your name because of retribution but you need help and haven't gotten it from Valley. An officer or deputy should come check it out and if they don't, your 911 call will be recorded and will be public record so it will be somewhat proof that everyone is failing the student body. Hate it that kids (no offense but when you're 40 you'll understand) have to take on this type of responsibility.

eagleeye2020

In response to Wahoowah-
Valley is the third wave of high schools in the county to implement this way of teaching.
The cracks in the foundation of this school are starting to show...again. That is why you are hearing about Valley and not the other county high schools. I assume with proper training, leadership, guidance, and boundaries for students, those schools have been successful with this implementation.

eagleeye2020

I was misled. Valley, along with three other high schools, are the first high schools to try to implement this in the county. We are wave 3 of implementation, but wave 1 and 2 are all elementary and middle schools. So the style of teaching is moving away from focusing on SOLS, but the students will still be required to take the SOLS and pass for graduation requirements. Wouldn't it make sense to implement this starting with first incoming class of students that will not be required to pass SOLS for their graduation requirements? And it goes without saying, it would also make sense to make sure the staff is trained and on board with this new teaching style before implementing. Although not fair to them, teachers will be the ones taking the blame when grades fall and students do not pass the SOL. This does not sound thought out. At least not at Valley.

ValleyParent

How many times does one principal have to be in the paper? State testing scandal, teacher concerns and now this. I don't want anyone to lose their jobs, but something needs to be done and corrected at Valley. In this day and age, safety is of utmost importance and our kids are not safe at Valley. Students roaming the halls because they don't want to be in class is not acceptable. Consequences for unacceptable behavior is extremely important. Ms. Ross says that behavioral issues are down (as well as tardies), but that's only because teachers don't get the support needed so they are not going to go through the paper process. Who would blame them? Not worth the time if there is no support. Time to wake up Dr. Williams. I know you have many issues in the schools right now, but the last thing you want is another situation that could have been avoided...if security was a a top priority at Valley. Listen to the students and parents please!

Lovewinter

Teachers at all the LCPS high schools are encouraged not to teach and let students work online (personalized learning). Grades are a complete joke. Teachers are not allowed to give lower than a 50%, even if a student does nothing. Wouldn’t everyone love to have a job where you get paid half your salary to play on your phone all day! Students cannot be penalized for turning work in late and get to take tests as many times as they want. The students who are penalized are the ones who want to learn and turn work in on time. You work hard and get an 85%, you do nothing, get a 30% and are given 20% to get a 50%. Shouldn’t the student who works hard also be given 20%? Kids who do nothing are being rewarded. What happened to teaching responsibility and meeting deadlines? The LCPS students will not be able to function in the real world where you have to show up on tine and do work. Did I forget to mention no attendance policy? Students come in late with Starbucks and there is no penalty. Maybe you should do a story on the grading policies.

Virginia SGP

Have you asked the SB candidates running this year to take a policy position on this?

The curriculum committee of the school board is now reviewing the grading policy. They are discussing ways to make sure everybody gets a chance to make up late work or bonus points. There is NO discussion on tying grades to mastery of work. We have huge grade inflation.

It would help to voice your concerns and ask for answers from the candidates. Williams won't do anything unless new SB members direct him to do so.

Wahoowah

Testing to make sure this gets deleted as well.

ScaredStudent

I was wondering why I couldn’t find my comment...

eagleeye2020

I had concerns, so I called the office of the director of High School Education (Nereida Gonzalez-Sales). Her office recommended I contact the principal with my concerns. I attended a meeting held by school staff last week explaining what has been happening since the beginning of this year. Why wasn't It this meeting held at the beginning of the year? The meeting made me even more concerned. Things were confirmed in this meeting that sounded just crazy when I first heard it. Within the meeting it was explained that a lot of what goes on is at the teachers discretion, and to contact the teacher with concerns. (For example, I was trying to find out if one of my student's teachers was "dipping their toes" into PL because my child's grade in that class was falling and this was a subject that usually came easy to my student) It was suggested I contact the teacher directly to see if they are using PL. Sadly, I just assumed all year my student was not working hard enough in the subject. In reality, I think my student was not able to properly self teach this subject. I had no idea this teaching method was being implemented. For all of the parents that think this kind of learning is better suited for high achievers, my student is one of the highest achievers in their grade, so I don't find truth in that. No student should be left to teach themselves. If that is the intent then they should all be doing Loudoun Vision online courses. When a student says a teacher is not teaching, as a parent I tended to side with the teacher, because it just sounds ridiculous to me that a teacher would not be teaching. I will believe what my kids tell me from now on.
PL may be good if properly implemented in a school with strong leadership and where students have boundaries, any boundaries. However, the result I am seeing here is a mess.
One final note, why are bathrooms being locked? Is this school the only school in the county that has to lock bathroom doors to prevent vaping in those bathrooms? Now you have just moved all non-vapors and vapors into fewer bathrooms. It seems to me it would be easier to enforce consequences for the actions of wrongdoers rather than to punish all students by preventing them from using the bathrooms. "No consequences" seems to be a reoccurring theme.
Kudos to the teachers at this school that have stuck it out! You are trying your best with little guidance from leadership, little PL training, and no boundaries for the kids you are trying to educate. The parents see what the problem is. I can't imagine what it must be like for you to go to work each day.

Wahoowah

This is not just a Valley issue. This is the model that every school will be moving towards. So perhaps Valley is implementing it before other schools and before they are truly ready. But this is a model that every school is moving toward. I went to Valley in the mid 80's and I'm a graduate, and received many scholarships from the school. When issues with this Principal cropped up several years ago and I said something, many many current students came back at me. All I said was - I've never seen Gerald Shipp, or his predecessor, or his son (who is now Principal at Woodgrove) have these issues. While this is not a "Valley" problem - because this model will be coming to a school near you - there is something wrong with this Principal. I never saw investigations into leadership when I was a student. It wasn't necessary because there wasn't anything to see. Now there is and they keep looking by it. But at the same time - be as critical of Dominion, Tuscarora for Football Hazing, and the like. Valley gets alot of bad wrap but so should County (teacher molestation), and keep the list going. And honestly - if Valley is the first to try and implement this model and everyone else will be doing it - they have a right given history of how media has treated them, to tell you that you aren't going to be in this meeting right now. From what I know I don't like Sue Ross, but this isn't a Valley issue. It's a Loudoun County Issue and parents should step up and say - I don't want my kid going off for wellness walks and mental health walks. You don't need it. This whole teaching model that Loudoun is adopting is crazy. If you were allowed to just learn about 1 World War under the guise that - well they'll have to know basic facts about everything, but they can concentrate on 1 project about what they want to learn more...what would you say? I'd say it's garbage...you're not allowed to learn about one thing more than another just because you like it.

romano

Freedom for "breaks" and "wellness walks" and trips to their cars. What could possibly go wrong? More politically correct touchy-feely liberalism weakening our educational systems and pretty much creating the slacker mentality. Giving high school kids control over their own education because, after all, teenagers have the judgement to do the right thing, right?

PvilleGrown

This type of freedom only creates Butt-hurt adults. Walk off the job for a two hour break and your employer will show you the door.

Smartgrowth

This is what my 63% of my tax dollars are used for? I want my money back. What a wasteful disgrace LCPS's are.

ace10

This insanity is brought to you by the same type of folks who pushed phonics out of early education and shoved Look-Say down the throats of children. We all know how that worked out.

ConcernedMother1234

Wow this is so sad the state our education system is in right now. People are running around the hallways boolin(as my son would say) instead of schoolin😔

BobOhneiserEsq

Will the next initiative be to just download a high school ap so the kids can do all their learning by themselves with an assist from virtual reality tech? Will we still have to send in the $1.3 billion so all the LCPS staff can maintain their living wage? What disturbs me about this development is that it is the opposite of what has been proven to work EXTREMELY WELL in the Academy of Science which my son attended. Inquiry based learning allows all the students to gain from the questioning of any of them. In most cases homework is over used as an excuse for not getting the work done in the classroom and eats into the life of the student for other activities ALL CHILDREN NEED to grow as part of their family. The BOS represents the will of the citizens of Loudoun and needs to take some responsibility for strongly suggesting what the multi-billions in funding are to be used for. If I become the independent Chair of the BOS as I was the former Chair of the LCPS Finance Committee I know how to get the lack of LCPS accountability fixed.

LVHSAnon

Sue Ross is lying to everyone's face here about prime. As a a student I was skeptical about the "redesigned" prime and after about 3 weeks at the beginning of the year, I have not seen ANY quiet or work zone signs. The issue with this school lies in the administration and the student body knows it. Kids roam the halls and vape in bathrooms because nothing will happen to them. The school will only improve as soon as the incompetent administration is cleared out.

ValleyParent

Thank you for sharing! Consequences for all involved...students and admin. And don't target the kids who are trying their best to figure it out on their own, those who work hard to get good grades and follow the "rules" so to speak.

HansGruber

The situation at LVHS is flat out ridiculous.
This insane “Personalized Learning” idea would work great if every student was an Honor student striving hard to achieve. But since that is not the realty there is no way it could work. Students are wandering the hallways, teachers are not teaching, my child at Valley and other students have had items stolen in school because kids can just wander around and hang out.
Zero discipline or accountability equals chaos, and if the administration or school board does not do something responsible families will take their kids out of the school and send them to Woodgrove or just Home school. I cannot believe the taxes we pay ends with results like this?!

Waterfordresident

Another example of our education system falling behind other industrialized nations. I ask each of you with kids in HS to participate in an exchange program. You will learn how far behind we are. I’m grateful our 4 children are now in college.

Chris McHale

Will Dominion HS implement this before the June 9th Graduation? If not it has no impact on me so I'm good.

Smiley

I teach in the county in an elementary school with this PL model of instruction. Parents need to be active in learning about Personalize Learning in LCPS. We teachers are having this program shoved down our throats without proper training and the results in the classroom are terrible. Keep up the focus on this so we can get rid of Personalize Learning in our classrooms!

Qwertyuiop

“Teachers put quiet zone signs on their room doors if there is something happening in their classroom that needs quiet in the hallway.”

So teaching is the exception and not the norm? This is an acceptable culture in a school? It sounds like the administration needs to be replaced.

ValleyParent

Isn't it ridiculous! I feel so bad for those teachers who are trying to teach!

LVHSstudent

I am a student at Valley who is a part of multiple leadership groups at the school, including NHS and the Leadership Team Mrs. Ross mentions. I was a part of the group designing the new prime this year however it was not student-pushed; it came from administration and then us students were asked to work on it and present it to our teachers to make it seem like it came from us. I expressed my concern in multiple meetings with the new prime and the excess freedom within the school, every time I was quickly shut down and the conversation was turned around to make it seem like I was the failure/problem not the new system. When I brought up clear issue that other people told me they were having I was told to ignore the other students and focus on me. However, my personality does not represent the diverse personalities and learning type with in the school. Prime this year does function the way we designed it in the beginning of the year and is mostly a 45 min free for all. I have never seen so many students so concerned about the future of their education and I think that truly says something. While I do not believe the blame should be entirely on Mrs. Ross she should have stepped up and stopped this spiral. From what I could see a lot of the pressure to push this new personalized learning came from the assistant princilples and they will defend it aggressively against all concerns. The personalized learning we receive at valley is not personalized learning at all it is just a lack of teaching. I received more true personalized learning in every other year of my education. I have had teachers in the past who I loved and learned so much from, succumb to the pressure to do personalized learning and their class this year has been horrible. Valley’s the lack of discipline, accountability and respect in the school is incredible. I used to love Valley but I struggled this year and saw my classmates struggle as well.

ValleyParent

Thank you for sharing!

LVHSstudent

I am a student at Valley who is a part of multiple leadership groups at the school, including NHS and the Leadership Team Mrs. Ross mentions. I was a part of the group designing the new prime this year however it was not student-pushed; it came from administration and then us students were asked to work on it and present it to our teachers to make it seem like it came from us. I expressed my concern in multiple meetings with the new prime and the excess freedom within the school, every time I was quickly shut down and the conversation was turned around to make it seem like I was the failure/problem not the new system. When I brought up clear issue that other people told me they were having I was told to ignore the other students and focus on me. However, my personality does not represent the diverse personalities and learning type with in the school. Prime this year does function the way we designed it in the beginning of the year and is mostly a 45 min free for all. I have never seen so many students so concerned about the future of their education and I think that truly says something. While I do not believe the blame should be entirely on Mrs. Ross she should have stepped up and stopped this spiral. From what I could see a lot of the pressure to push this new personalized learning came from the assistant princilples and they will defend it aggressively against all concerns. The personalized learning we receive at valley is not personalized learning at all it is just a lack of teaching. I received more true personalized learning in every other year of my education. I have had teachers in the past who I loved and learned so much from, succumb to the pressure to do personalized learning and their class this year has been horrible. Valley’s the lack of discipline, accountability and respect in the school is incredible. I used to love Valley but I struggled this year and saw my classmates struggle as well.

Virginia SGP

Principal Ross is a disaster. She was caught a few years back instructing teachers to falsify answers of SpEd students on state tests so the school would look better. It is unconstitutional for Ross to bar an LTM reporter but allow others with no kids in the school to attend that same meeting.

Just another in the long line of covering up incompetency and misconduct. Soon we will hear all the school board members, including recent cheerleader Chris Croll, extolling Ross as a great teacher and how LCPS is sooooo transparent. Some members openly say "staff interests" are more important than parent or taxpayer interests. We see that in action right here.

There is only one solution. Purge the entire school board in November.

John M

SGP, I agree, but compared to the Principal at Tuscarora HS, Ross is outstanding!

LoudounSucks

I know exactly why is a Loudoun times-mirror wasn't allowed to cover the meeting. They're more interested in erotic encounters with farm animals and selling ad space through controversy than they are actual journalism.

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