“When the community speaks that loudly, that is the position of a board member … to support the community.”
These are the wise words of Jeff Morse regarding the renaming of Riverside High School stadium. These words are equally appropriate for you who were elected to represent our school community. I have been writing many unanswered emails to the School Board and Superintendent Eric Williams. I am struck at how not only my emails are largely ignored, but the needs of our community are being ignored. Meeting after meeting, month after month, I have watched and listened to countless parents, students, educators, neighbors and community members speak about how the current model of education is failing. I have yet to hear teachers, students or parents at a board meeting publicly thanking you for keeping our children and educators home, bound to a Chromebook day after day, hour after hour, week after week, month after month. Your constituents were given a choice of hybrid or distance learning. You asked staff, parents and caregivers to vote on an option with very little information. We expressed our preferences, you then changed direction and stripped away the choice of hybrid all together. You not only moved the goal post, you changed the game entirely. You have not only failed those that chose the hybrid option, but also those who selected the 100 percent distance learning option.
While I wholeheartedly understand that this pandemic is new and uncharted territory, watching the School Board and superintendent come to each meeting with even more unanswered questions and concerns is beyond frustrating. While some are wanting to move forward — given facts and public input — others are frozen in their feelings, what-ifs and power struggles. Feelings and what-ifs are not facts. The middle school and high school survey for example, are facts. The fact that a large portion of students didn’t even receive the survey is very telling. The alarming stats on the mental and physical health this is taking on our children and families are facts. If you are looking for a magical answer, there isn’t one. You are intentionally holding teachers, staff members, students and families hostage. It is just plain wrong, unprofessional and flat-out cruel.
You have had enough time to look at the numbers, look at comparable districts all over the country, form working groups of principals, teachers and staff members. I pray I am incorrect, but it seems in the last seven months this has become an “us versus them” mentality within the School Board without current, solid evidence to back up the need to keep children out of schools. I was appalled at the somewhat casual mention of suicides at a recent meeting. We have a virus that has an incredibly high recovery rate. The proven statistics that have been rolling out for months regarding the spread amongst children and teachers, the current medical updates and school districts that have been open for months are evidence that it can be done. I have more faith in school staff members and teachers than I do in the School Board, excluding those that are advocating for students to return before the end of January. Let our educators do their jobs, help them get what is needed to be successful in the classroom and in distance learning for those who chose to stay home. Mr. Morse is correct, teachers are not the problem, they are the solution.
Watching a high school student struggle to comment through his tears, watching and listening to young children and parents beg you to get our schools to open month after month while you either sit at home or are face to face, dismissing them one by one, is shameful. Please do what it takes to fulfill your duties and be leaders in a crisis. You have failed thus far, and I am hoping for you all to do better. Your focus needs to be on opening schools, not mascot changes, stadium names or critical race theory. There should be zero discussions on anything other than getting our kids and teachers back in school. The rest can come later.
Rhonda Fournier is a mother of four Loudoun County Public Schools students.