LCPS Legislative Breakfast 2018

From left, School Board Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles), Superintendent Eric Williams, Board member Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) and Del. Dave LaRock (R-33rd) at the 2018 Legislative Breakfast.

The Loudoun County School Board, student representatives and state senators and delegates representing Loudoun met at the annual legislative breakfast on Friday to review topics board members want the delegation to watch out for and legislation they’d like championed.

Among topics discussed were supporting dual enrollment courses and performance-based assessments, shifting control of school calendars to individual jurisdictions, moving elections to weekends, limiting the amount of conflict of interest disclosures and amending the religious exemption statute.

The issue of religious exemption brought more board discussion, as board members were not unified in supporting the issue. Though the legislative action item was passed unanimously, concerns from the homeschooling community that came up after the fact left several board members reconsidering the position.

The legislative item seeks a code change so that parents seeking a religious exemption for their kids from attending public school would still be responsible for providing their children with an education. However, the way the item was written stated parents would have to provide that education through an alternative public, private, parochial or approved home instruction setting.

The word “approved” was the root of the issue, some board members said, as it implied more control over how parents educate their children under religious exemption. Eric Hornberger (Ashburn District) said the board has been working on changing the language in the legislative ask to better reflect its intent.

Del. Dave LaRock (R-33rd) said he felt the legislative item was not based on enough or valid research, and Sen. Dick Black (R-13th) said in his 20 years in the General Assembly he has never heard of a problem with religious exemption being used not to educate a child.

Beth Huck (At-Large) reiterated the intent of the legislative action item was not to take anyone’s rights away, it' to ensure all students are receiving an education. Though most parents utilizing a religious exemption do educate their children, a change in the statute would ensure by law that all parents seeking exemptions acknowledge that responsibility.

"As in any contract or insurance policy, when you find a loophole, you don’t just turn a blind eye to it. It doesn’t make it OK because it may not happen or you haven’t heard of it happening yet," Huck said.

Del. Wendy Gooditis (D-10th) shared her experience homeschooling her kids and said that while most of the people she knows who also homeschool do a great job, there are some exceptions. She said it’s a difficult question on how to protect the few affected without endangering the majority and called Friday’s discussion the beginning of an ongoing conversation.

Once again, the board asked the delegation to carry legislation shifting control of school calendars to school boards instead of the state. Every year, LCPS — like any other division — must submit a waiver to start school before Labor Day.

Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge District) called it an issue of efficiency, as the board has to wait for the waiver to come through each year before setting the calendar. Del. David Reid (D-32nd) carried legislation on the issue last year and said he planned to do the same this session.

"You know best what you need to do for your jurisdiction," Reid said.

Related to the issue of school calendars, the board also asked the delegation to move statewide elections to weekends. Though the federal November elections are a school holiday, primary and special elections often fall during the school year, sometimes in the last couple weeks of school when it would not make sense to have a school holiday.

Hornberger said it is partly a safety issue, since more than 70 percent of schools are polling places, and primary and special elections often fall during the school year. It also affects efficiency of school operations due to voters navigating school campuses, he said.

Special elections are of particular concern to parents and students, board members said. The school calendar is often already set well before special elections are announced.

Reid said one of the reasons the change receives resistance in the General Assembly is that some delegates and senators do not want to move voting to a more accessible day of the week because it may result in them being voted out. He added as demographics in the houses of government change, the legislative item may have more success.

Another item included in the 2019 legislative program that has encountered resistance in Richmond is limiting conflict of interest disclosures to the annual financial disclosure that is publicly available. Board members said this was an issue of efficiency, as every board member making disclosures slows down meetings and topics discussed affect more than the handful of spouses of board members.

The board has also asked an opinion from the attorney general’s office, since the LCPS practice to disclose at every meeting the budget or benefits come up is not uniformly practiced across the commonwealth. Black said he felt the board’s ask was reasonable and getting it passed will be about timing.

On the issue of dual enrollment, the board asked legislators not to support legislation that would enact student fees for dual enrollment classes. They said that would create a financial barrier for some students trying to lessen the cost of college by earning credits while in high school.

Supporting more performance-based assessments was an item board members support that has not been picked up by a senator or delegate.

Student school board representative Carolin Fabian, of Heritage High School, said she preferred the performance-based assessments because students can better demonstrate what they learned and in more engaging ways than simply selecting one of four answers on a test.

Turgeon said it allows teachers to better assess students since students have different capabilities and can demonstrate their knowledge in different ways.

"No one understands how a child learns better than the classroom teacher," Turgeon said.

School Board Vice Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling District) thanked the group for the morning’s conversation. Board members will visit with the delegation in Richmond on Jan. 14 and 15.

"This is just the beginning of some of our conversations, and I look forward to continuing to work with all of our delegation and hashing out some of the details," Sheridan said.

(8) comments

WisdomGuidedByExperience

I am both an volunteer at one of the schools that serves as a polling place and an election officer at that same school, so I think I can offer a somewhat unique perspective on the issue of moving some elections to the weekend.

I agree that special and primary elections should be moved to weekends as long as we provide voters the ability to vote a few days prior to that election (perhaps Wednesday through Friday) at the usual locations (e.g., Cascades Library) to accommodate those who will be traveling on election day or would have religious observance conflicts if voting occurred on a Saturday. Absentee ballots should also be made available, although the short turn-around to get them out might make their use problematic in terms of printing and mailing.

On the one hand, you could argue that turnout for special elections and single-party primary elections has been historically low, I have seen first hand how disruptive it can be to the schools. For example, at my school, the elections are normally held in the cafeteria. On the other hand, if school is in session, we wind up setting up the election equipment in the smaller school library, which confuses voters who naturally think the polling place is in the cafeteria. It also deprives students before school and after school access to the library’s resources.

Let's try it once, see if it works, and regroup afterwards to find out if it is something we want to make permanent.

BobOhneiserEsq

Davis b . Not a true nor a fair statement. I was elected and then re-elected NOT kicked off the school board as your post states. 8 members of the school board went into a closed meeting which by law requires no agreements to have been met and then came out and voted unanimously to chose one of 6 candidates for an interim position. Why not explain why any of the issues I raised are not important to Loudoun? Do you understand how damaging the composite index is to Loudoun?

DavisB

Bob - important to Loudoun and requiring school board discussion or decisions are not the same thing. Your obsession about so much unrelated to actual education is well know and why you are no longer on the board.

More Cowbell

Most of the issues from the LCSB and Williams has very little to do with actual education. They waste taxpayers money every year. The planning committee/group within LCPS is a disgrace. We're a third the size of Fairfax, yet have more problems in public school.

Progress4LoCo

Tom Marshall at it again. Only a year after blasting Matthew Heim for daring to address the mental health conditions in LCPS, Marshall’s back at it with this half-baked attack on Religious Exemption.

More Cowbell

Another meeting with nothing accomplished.

BobOhneiserEsq

OMG! Issues of distraction seem to dominate. How about reducing the penalty of being in a DILLON State environment preventing counties to operate as best they can without getting complete statewide concurrence? (we can't even decide when to start school in the fall) How about the composite index which Richmond uses to extract over $200 million per year from sales taxes that should be returned to Loudoun for school support? How about being able to advertise on school buses to augment the budget for schools similarly to what Loudoun can do for its own local bus service? Is going after religious exemptions really the most pressing substantive issue?

DavisB

this shows why Loudoun County voters kick Bob off the school board.

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