A Loudoun County Public Schools parent and former employee says she was terminated after receiving falsified performance reviews, and subsequently received near $100,000 on paid administrative leave, without her request for an appeal or review being met.
Leigh Ann Critzer served as Coordinator of Operations and Quality Control for the district’s School Nutrition Services department, overseeing compliance with federal laws of meal planning and distribution to the 94 schools in the county.
“I have real questions as a parent and a taxpayer as to why LCPS would rather pay someone off essentially, and spend the money that should be students and education purposes especially during a pandemic, why they would chose to spend their funds that way, instead of conducting an HR investigation,” Critzer said.
Critzer had planned to address the School Board with her grievances during the June 22 board meeting, but the public comment session was ended early due to others’ unruly behavior in the boardroom.
Critzer relocated her family from Colorado to Purcellville in 2018 to take the job, hoping to spend her career in Loudoun County. Her background is in school nutrition, and she said her specialization makes it difficult to find new employment without having to uproot her family.
“I felt like I hit the jackpot when we got this house,” Critzer said of her move to Purcellville. “We love the community.”
During her first year with the district in 2018, Critzer said she received glowing reviews from her supervisor. In 2019, the department got a new supervisor with whom Critzer said she had a tenuous relationship.
“There were no verbal or written indications to me that my performance was lacking, or that my work was unacceptable in any way,” Critzer said.
When the pandemic hit in March 2020 and schools shifted to remote learning, Critzer, a single mother, couldn’t find childcare and asked to work from home. She said her request was initially ignored by her direct supervisor. She was then told that she was an essential employee, and her request was denied.
She took leave through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act or FFCRA for three months, supplementing with her own personal leave to receive 100% of her pay.
When she returned from leave, she said she was blind-sided by a blistering performance review. Her supervisor alleged that her poor performance had caused the department to fail meeting requirements in a federal audit. Critzer said that the bulk of the work done for the audit was conducted while she was on FFCRA leave, and does not believe she should be held accountable for work she didn’t have the opportunity to complete.
During a meeting with her supervisor and an HR representative in September, she was notified that she was going to be terminated “due to numerous instances and issues related to your poor performance, communication and professionalism for Loudoun County Public Schools,” according to her termination letter, which also outlined shortcomings in planning and communicating with coworkers.
She immediately sought help from the Loudoun Education Association, and on the same day she was offered paid administrative leave. Shortly after, she was told her contract would not be renewed when it expired in the summer of 2021.
Critzer’s attorney, provided by LEA, James Faughnan, said in a letter to the School Board that her supervisor “became upset with Ms. Critzer when she requested to work remotely in order to care for her children during COVID.”
Faughnan tried to reach the district to arrange an appeal hearing, but did not get any response, Critzer said.
Faughnan also said that the district is in violation of a state requirement that School Boards establish and administer a grievance procedure that affords employees a timely and fair method of resolving disputes regarding dismissal actions.
The Virginia Education Association is now reviewing Critzer’s case.
The district declined to comment on Critzer’s situation. Non-essential personnel were permitted to request to work remotely during the pandemic.