Loudoun County School Board Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling District) announced at the start of Tuesday’s board meeting the removal of member Beth Barts (Leesburg District) from all School Board committees and liaison assignments until Dec. 31.
Later in the evening, the board considered proposed changes to board member protocols — including social media conduct, an area in which Barts has received recent criticism — but in a narrow vote the board opted to delay changes until they could be discussed during an off-site work session at a later date.
Prior to Tuesday, Barts chaired the board’s Pupil Services Committee and served on its Equity Committee, Human Resources & Talent Development Committee and the Joint Committee with the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors.
She further acted as liaison to the board’s Special Education Advisory Committee.
The Times-Mirror inquired Wednesday as to who will replace Barts in those roles, but LCPS officials couldn’t immediately provide an answer.
Barts’ removal from her various posts comes on the heels of the board’s vote on March 4 to censure her for violating its code of conduct.
The board took issue with her social media activity and various other interactions with the Loudoun County Public Schools community.
“It is never an easy decision to take action in judgment of a colleague,” Sheridan said Tuesday. “As chair, it has been the most difficult aspect of this leadership position,” she said “I could have taken further action Thursday night in addition to the censuring of Ms. Barts by the School Board, but I decided to take some time and consider my options.”
Sheridan’s announcement of the actions taken against Barts prompted loud cheering from the hallway outside the boardroom, where members of the LCPS community waited to offer public comment.
Barts was absent for the announcement but participated in the meeting’s action and information agendas via telephone.
Among the activity the board cited when censuring Barts was a Feb. 24 Facebook post in which she singled out fellow member John Beatty (Catoctin District) for controversial, race-related remarks he made last year.
She also allegedly acted passive-aggressively toward several parents in other Facebook posts and accused another of spreading misinformation regarding the suicide of an LCPS student.
The specifics of the cases were not disclosed.
Per School Board documents, the board’s Legislative and Policy Committee met several times last semester to discuss potential changes to LCPS Policy 1035 — School Board Norms, Protocols and Violations.
Those changes were last presented to the board Dec. 15, 2020, but were sent back to committee for further revisions.
After discussing further revisions last month, the Legislative and Policy Committee presented a newly-amended version of the draft policy Tuesday as an action item.
Many of the proposed changes — particularly those referring to social media activity — appear to refer to Barts’ controversial online presence.
A nearly 40-line section was proposed that would articulate “Social Media Norms” for board members.
The introductory article states that, while the board and LCPS “are not responsible for the online activity of individual School Board Members,” those members are to stay mindful of the way their online behavior represents the board and of the fact that the public may perceive them as official board spokespersons “even if that is not the Member’s intention.”
Other proposed changes to the policy included a mandate that board members “indicate they cannot speak for the Board” when answering questions when not on the dais that cannot be answered based on written policy.
The proposed language also specifically prohibits members from disclosing “confidential and privileged information and/or documents.”
Barts received an official School Board reprimand in November 2020 after the board alleged she had disclosed “confidential, attorney-client-privileged information” from a prior closed session without authorization.
Before the board had a chance to vote on the measure, Denise Corbo (At-Large) filed a motion that the board further deliberate the draft policy in an off-site work session, saying the proposed changes seemed better fitted to “a manual, ordinance, regulation, resolution or some sort of guideline.”
“Instead of a policy that’s dictating what members can’t do,” she said. “I propose that we work together as a team to create a document of some sort — or even a policy or otherwise — outlining what we can do, how we can efficiently and effectively communicate with the public.”
“I feel this policy restricts the board from communicating in some areas; it’s a conflict with what our job is all about as elected officials,” Corbo said.
Jeff Morse (Dulles District) seconded Corbo’s motion, noting the rapidity with which the most recent proposed changes went to the board’s action agenda without being presented as an information item.
Morse further expressed concern with what he believed to be vague language in the proposed policy.
He also took issue with the suggestion that LCPS staff be required to give board members explicit permission to post certain content and also with the prohibition of social media as a metric by which board members can evaluate community response to certain measures.
“I believe that social media is one form of many that we should evaluate because it provides us feedback from constituents that may not desire to send emails, who may not desire to create a phone call,” he said. “Here, we’re ruling out social media and saying, ‘You can’t use that to make a decision.’ That doesn’t make any sense to me,” he said.
The board ultimately voted 5-4 to discuss the policy off-site at a later date, with Sheridan, Leslee King (Broad Run District), Vice Chairwoman Atoosa Reaser (Algonkian District) and Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge District) opposed.