School Board, Legislators Discuss Legislative Agenda

The Loudoun County School Board met with the county’s members of the General Assembly during a breakfast on Friday, December 7th, at the Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) Administrative Offices in Ashburn.

School Board Vice Chair Brenda Sheridan (Sterling District) outlined the 2019 Legislative Program as chair of the Legislative and Policy Committee. She noted that items included in previous legislative programs had been removed if they had been picked up for action by a member of the General Assembly, if they had been tabled by the General Assembly or if an item was determined to no longer be a priority.

Attending the meeting were delegates Wendy Gooditis (10th District), David Reid (32nd District), David LaRock (33rd District) and Kathleen Murphy (34th District) and state senators Dick Black (13th District) and Barbara Favola (31st District).

In addition to the full School Board, student School Board members Brian Schultz (Briar Woods), Hodan Mohamed (Broad Run), Sohan Daniel (John Champe), Noah Burke (Freedom), Carolin Fabian (Heritage), Patricia Grace (Rock Ridge), Noelle Foster (Stone Bridge), Spencer Anderson (Tuscarora) and Grace Kostal (Woodgrove) attended the breakfast. LCPS Chief of Staff Dr. Michael Richards urged the students to be active participants in the morning’s discussions. “(Students) are why we’re here. They are why we have a legislative program.”

One position the students expressed a great deal of opinion on was the School Board’s opposition to any legislation that make dual-enrollment courses less accessible through the implementation of a statewide, uniform tuition rate. School Board member Eric Hornberger (Ashburn District) noted LCPS is a leader in offering dual-enrollment classes through which students earn high school and college credit simultaneously. He said nearly 5,000 LCPS students are taking dual-enrollment classes this school year; up 15 percent from last year and 95 percent from three years ago. “School divisions offer different levels of support for dual enrollment throughout the commonwealth. Certain school divisions like ours; we provide our own teachers…we provide materials, we provide everything in contract agreement with our higher-education partners.”

Hornberger said charging tuition could be a hardship for students and discourage the growth of duel enrollment in Virginia. Favola agreed. “The purpose of dual enrollment was to allow a certain cohort of kids who felt there were barriers going on to higher education… We certainly do not want the students charged.”

Kostal said one advantage that duel enrollment has over Advanced Placement (AP) courses that also offer college credit is that students don’t have to worry about the Advanced Placement exam that credit hinges upon. This means they can go deeper into learning material and get involved in project-based learning.

Burke said one of the advantages of dual-enrollment courses is that they offer a variety of courses not in the AP curriculum. He noted that he has taken courses such as African history through dual enrollment.

Mohammed said dual enrollment gives students a better idea of how college courses will be and how to write a college paper.

Schultz said both AP and dual enrollment offer great options. He’s looking at going to college with 30 to 50 credits.

In another curriculum matter, the School Board asked legislators to support performance-based assessments for awarding credits in history/social science courses in high school in place of a Standards of Learning (SOL) exam.

“The performance assessments require students to demonstrate a depth of knowledge that extends beyond… rote memorization,” said School Board member Beth Huck (At-Large).

 “As a former educator, and as someone who advocated to a shift from…rote-memorization SOL test, this is really the path… to deeper learning,” said School Board member Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge District). “Nobody understands how a child learns better than the classroom teacher.”

On a good-news note, Reid said eight bills returning control of the school calendar to local school boards had been rolled into one piece of legislation and seemed to be making progress in the General Assembly. 

Turgeon said the School Board receives more emails about the calendar than anything else. It would improve board efficiency, she added, if board members didn’t have to wait for a waiver each year to see if the school division qualified for a pre-Labor Day opening. “I would like to get this off the board’s plate now and focus on more important issues.”

The School Board asked that legislation moving elections from weekdays to weekends be considered. Hornberger said 70 percent of Loudoun’s polling places are schools and that changing voting to weekends would increase school security and make voting easier for people by freeing up parking and easing traffic.  

“We encourage the use of school facilities for civic events,” noted School Board Chair Jeff Morse (Dulles District). “We, in no way, want to inhibit the use of schools for elections. The school is the hub of the community.”

Favola said every year bills are introduced to make voting easier and more accessible. “Actually, the value of making voting accessible and easy for everyone is not uniformly held.”

The School Board clarified its position on an item asking that parents seeking a religious exemption from school attendance show that their child is receiving an education through an alternative public, private, parochial or approved home instruction. Hornberger said the School Board is not seeking to eliminate the religious-exemption provision in the law. “That is not our intent.” He said the School Board’s intent is that, when a parent asks for a religious exemption, “that this is not used as an excuse not to educate a child.” Hornberger added that since the School Board has to approve religious exemptions, it could be complicit in a child not receiving an education. “This is just closing a loophole in the law that could be used to exclude a child from education.”

“This isn’t to take away the rights of home-schoolers and a family’s right to choose that for their children…,” said Huck. “As in any contract…when you find a loophole, you just don’t turn a blind eye to it.”

Black, Gooditis and LaRock expressed support for home-schooling and questioned this legislative item. “Home-schooling is a very valuable part of our educational process,” said Black. “The religious exemption is a relatively small sub-set of it, but an important one.”

School Board members attending the breakfast included Morse, Sheridan, Huck, Debbie Rose (Algonkian District), Hornberger, Turgeon, Joy Maloney (Broad Run District), Chris Croll (Catoctin District) and Tom Marshall (Leesburg District).