Leesburg District School Board member Beth Barts (Leesburg) was the subject of a formal censure vote Thursday night.
Following a more than two hour closed session held virtually, the School Board voted 7-0 to publicly reprimand Barts for her social media postings deemed to expose elements of the board’s private deliberations and to spread misinformation.
As part of the action, the board approved Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan’s (Sterling) proposal to make public portions of closed sessions previously protected by attorney-client privilege dating back to June 2020 and dealing with concerns about Barts’ conduct—five meetings in all. The motion to permit that disclosure passed on a 6-0 vote, with Harris Mahedavi (Ashburn) abstaining and Barts and Denise Corbo (At Large) absent.
“The reason I’ve made this motion is for the public to be aware of the board and the board chair’s efforts to address the behavior of board members, to train and retrain on policy and good boardsmanship,” Sheridan said.
The censure motion by Sheridan stated: “The School Board finds that School Board member Beth Barts did violate School Board policy 1030 Code of Conduct for School Board members in failing to put student interests first, paragraph B2; failed to show respect for fellow board members and staff in the spirit of harmony and cooperation, paragraph B3; failed to welcome and encourage active cooperation of Loudoun County residents and the district, paragraph B9; and failed to work in the spirit of teamwork in service to the community, paragraph B10. And that this board does not condone the behavior of School Board member Beth Barts and does hereby publicly censure her.”
That motion was approved on a 7-0-2 vote, with Barts and Corbo absent.
“This is not in reaction to any one event.,” Sheridan said. “This is a response to a culmination of behaviors over the last 14 months, from the beginning of this term until today.”
“I believe our job is to look out for the students and, by extension, the entire community. And that community of students, parents and taxpayers here in Loudoun are smart,” Vice Chairwoman Atoosa Reaser (Algonkian) said. “They know that this has nothing to do with transparency or sharing information. They know that breaking attorney-client confidentiality is not about the kids or the best interest of the kids or the best interest of the board or the best interest of the school division. They know that threatening colleagues to call misleading press conferences and other threats are not about the kids. They know that the best interest of the kids is to share information not misinformation. They know that creating chaos and confusion is a way of deflecting from what is actually happening. They know the difference between a misunderstanding and repeated intentional behavior, as you just talked about, over the past 14 months. They know that when you apologize and make a promise to stop bad conduct, repeating it is no longer a simple misunderstanding,
“Ms. Barts, your 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 take care of our students. It saddens me deeply that you’ve gone back on your promise to stop this. As you know this has nothing to do with transparency or your social media. The censure has only to do with your own misconduct,” Reaser said.
Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge) highlighted the number of times the School Board had addressed the concerns in closed session before moving to a public censure. “What I am supporting tonight is not an action I take lightly, but a reflection of the fact that nothing else that we have tried has worked.”
Barts and her attorney, Charles King, posted a statement on her Facebook page Friday afternoon responding to the action.
“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,” Barts stated.
She also said she was appreciative of the calls and emails she has received from constituents in her district expressing support for her following the board action.
King raised questions about the process of the School Board’s closed-door discussion of Barts’ actions, saying they were notified about the plans only two days earlier and his request to delay the meeting so more information could be gathered was denied. He said Barts was not informed about all the specific allegations until the meeting.
“Watching this process, parents should be concerned about the judgment of the elected officials in charge of the commonwealth’s third largest school system.”