After wrapping up a closed meeting March 4, the Loudoun County School Board voted to censure board member Beth Barts (Leesburg District) for violating its code of conduct, the second time she has been publicly rebuked by the board since joining last year.
Barts’ social media activity and various interactions with Loudoun County Public Schools community members, which were deemed inappropriate or inflammatory, led to the censure.
According to School Board Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling District), such communications were the topic of five prior closed board meetings, the first of which occurred in June 2020 and the most recent of which took place last month.
Last week Sheridan filed a motion that the board find Barts in violation of Loudoun County Public Schools Policy 1030 — a Code of Conduct for School Board Members — saying Barts “fail[ed] to put student interest first … to show respect for fellow board members and staff in a spirit of harmony and cooperation … to welcome and encourage active cooperation of Loudoun County residents in the district … [and] to work in the spirit of teamwork in service to the community.”
“This is not a reaction to any one event,” the chairwoman said when describing her motion. “This is in … response to a culmination of behaviors over the last 14 months, from the beginning of this term until today.”
All seven board members present voted in favor, while Barts and Denise Corbo (At-Large) were absent.
The action comes less than four months after Barts received an official reprimand from the board in November 2020, with the board then citing Barts’ alleged “unauthorized disclosure of confidential, attorney-client-privileged information” from a prior closed session.
Though a censure, like a reprimand, does not impact a board member’s voting privileges or status as an elected official, it is a particularly strong expression of disapproval of that member’s words or actions.
LCPS administrators provided several pieces of evidence of Barts’ alleged misbehavior, including screenshots of her social media posts, written comments by members of the public submitted during past School Board meetings as well as nearly a dozen emailed exchanges between community members, school system officials and, in a few cases, Barts herself.
Most recent among the social media activity called into question was a Feb. 24 Facebook post in which Barts summarized the previous evening’s board meeting, including the board’s vote to recognize March 2021 as Equity in Education Month.
John Beatty (Catoctin District) was the lone opponent to that motion, prompting Barts to single out Beatty in her post.
“He shared that his objection is Critical Race Theory,” she wrote. “As you may remember, Mr. Beatty came under fire for his remarks regarding masters and slaves a year ago.”
Beatty himself sparked controversy in February 2020 for allegedly saying during an equity training session, “It was worse for African Americans after reconstruction because they did not have the patronage of a master.”
That comment led to his removal from the School Board’s Equity and Discipline committees, as well as several calls for his resignation.
An LCPS parent responded to Barts’ post by emailing Interim Superintendent Scott Ziegler and all board members except Barts and Corbo, accusing the Leesburg District representative of attempting to “patronize, insult, belittle, mock, intimidate, and attempt to manipulate Leesburg parents (and now her colleagues).”
That email continues, “[Barts’] attempt to ‘bully’ Mr. Beatty is unprofessional. I guarantee that Mr Beatty never publicly speaks negatively about his colleagues who have a different opinion from him,” the message read.
Another community member criticized Barts for taking a screenshot of an email sent by that parent and then sharing it on Facebook beneath a caption which included the phrase, “The pressure will be on.”
The parent’s email was in response to Barts’ repeated push to limit the number of in-person learners in LCPS due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Parents also accused Barts of passive-aggressive behavior on Feb. 9 after she shared a campaign video from gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin featuring LCPS parent Brandon Michon, who in January went viral and made national headlines after shouting at the School Board to “raise the freaking bar” during public comment at a meeting.
Barts wrote that she shared Youngkin’s video “since [it] was taken in Leesburg” and “for transparency,” though critics perceived her activity as a thinly-veiled continuation of her disapproval of Michon’s rhetoric.
Other activity for which members of the public have chided Barts include posting to Facebook during the public comment portion of past School Board meetings (as she did Dec. 15, 2020), as well as what was described as her troubling response to community discussions around student suicide, according to another parent complaint via email.
In an email to the board, one parent claimed that she herself had reached out to LCPS officials with concerns regarding student mental health after an unnamed Briar Woods High School senior took his own life, and that Barts later called her to accuse her of spreading misinformation about that student’s death.
“I have now blocked [Barts] from my phone contacts as her phone call was very upsetting to me,” the parent wrote.
Leesburg Attorney Charles King, who represents Barts, gave a prepared statement March 5 in which he said LCPS did not share specific allegations against Barts with him until two days before the closed meeting. In response, he requested the discussion be delayed “and the allegations clarified,” he said.
“While a pandemic rages, School Board Members scold each other rather than worry about kids getting a sub-par education and keeping teachers safe,” King said in his statement.
“Watching this process, parents should be concerned about the judgment of the elected officials in charge of the Commonwealth’s third largest school system,” he said.
In her own prepared statement, Barts said, “It’s not my job to be liked. It’s my job to ask hard questions, work to provide the best education for our kids, make sure our teachers are paid what they really deserve and represent the people of Leesburg,” she said.
School Board Vice Chairwoman Atoosa Reaser, however, said before the vote on March 4 that Barts’ “repeated violation of the code of conduct has made it impossible not only for all of us, your colleagues to do our best job, but it impacts the staff’s ability to care for our students.”
She further disputed Barts’ claims that her ongoing social media activity was for the purpose of transparency with her online followers.
“This has nothing to do with transparency or your social media,” Reaser said. “This censure has only to do with your own misconduct,” she said.
Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge District) further remarked that the censure is the result of Barts’ failure to adjust her communicative behavior after the board’s numerous attempts to address it.
“Nothing else that we’ve tried has worked,” he said.
Barts said in a Saturday Facebook post that she does not plan to resign.