The conservative activist group Fight for Schools on Monday announced updated numbers on its efforts to recall School Board members, and expressed concern about a second private Facebook group where it claims School Board members are talking outside of public view.
The recall campaign launched in March, after it was discovered that six School Board members and other local elected officials belonged to a private Facebook group promoting anti-racism actions and where one or more group members reportedly suggested targeting the vocal opponents school division’s racial equity efforts.
Fight for Schools Executive Director Ian Prior said the existence of a second closed Facebook group involving School Board members is another cause for public concern.
“What you see here is a pattern and practice of the LCPS of operating without transparency, without accountability, and they keep getting caught,” Prior said at a press conference held at the 10th Congressional District Republican Committee office in Ashburn.
The Facebook group is called Loudoun Parents, Teachers and Staff for Evidence-Based Safe Schooling, and has more than 6,000 members. The only School Board members who aren’t listed as members are John Beatty (Catoctin) and Leslee King (Broad Run).
The group was created in June 2020. The description says it “is a group for Loudoun County Public Schools parents, teachers and Staff to discuss options for the 2020-2021 school year. … We welcome parents and teachers of all learners, and believe equity for all is an essential part of any discussion.”
While any parent or school employee may request to join the group, Prior said activity in the group violates rules for School Board members, because the commonwealth’s Freedom of Information Act and the board’s own rules of order prohibit two or more board members from discussing public business outside of announced public meetings.
Board members in the group acknowledged the rule, and said they work to make sure no more than two board members commented on a post at a time. If three or more discuss a topic, it could be considered a meeting.
Denise Corbo (At Large) is in the group and engages with community members. “My understanding is there can be replies to constituents on the same topic where the board is CC’ed and/or part of a group, however, there has to be time between comments,” she said.
Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge) frequently shares updates from his official board member pagewith the group.
Beth Barts (Leesburg), a central target of Fight for School’s recall efforts, has posted in the group several times. In one post on May 6, Barts wrote: “The board apparently will be asked to vote on adding three new holidays to the calendar for this coming year…I will be interested in seeing how this impacts the current calendar that we already approved…Feedback appreciated.”
Barts was referring to the decision of whether to add Veteran’s Day, the Lunar New Year and Juneteenth to the school calendar.
After the Fight for Schools press conference, Barts dismissed the accusations about her engagement in the group. “I never had conversations with other board members in the group, so I really have no idea who else is in it from the school board. I think it has over 6K members,” she said.
Barts’ involvement in the Anti-Racist Facebook group was the catalyst for critics seeking her recall. Prior told the crowd on Monday night that Fight for Schools is turning its attention toward Leesburg.
“We’re launching ‘Operation Finish the Job.’ We are going to go door to door, and get to the where we need to with Beth Barts. It’s all hands on deck for Leesburg. Let’s get this done,” Prior said.
Prior said that, as of Monday afternoon, the recall petition for Barts had 76 percent of the signatures required to file with the Circuit Court. If a recall petition qualifies for a trial, the organizers must demonstrate the officer engaged in neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence in the performance.
Recall efforts in Virginia are rarely successful. Of the 19 such campaigns since 2010, only one resulted in a vote to remove the officer. Most fail to adequately document the required signatures or are dismissed by prosecutors or judges for insufficient evidence.
Barts’ attorney Charlie King doesn’t see the effort succeeding.
“When this is over, I hope the public sees there are adults in the room and smear politics is not how we run our government in Loudoun County,” he said.