Loudoun County School Board members are divided on whether to continue to allow remote participation by At-Large member Denise Corbo, who has been accessing meetings online since the board pivoted to virtual meetings early in the pandemic for medical reasons.
For the third time since October, members voted against permitting her to participate remotely during Tuesday’s meeting for medical reasons, but allowed her to use one of her limited personal exemptions to participate remotely instead. State law allows an elected official to participate remotely using a personal exemption in two meetings a year or 25% of the body’s meetings, whichever is greater.
According to school division spokesman Wayde Byard, the School Board met 52 times during the past year, meaning that a board member could have used the personal exemption to participate electronically for 13 meetings.
Corbo has five personal exemptions remaining this year. The personal exemption allowance will reset in the new year.
Corbo is the only member who has not returned regularly to the board room as in-person meetings resumed. She has provided medical documentation showing that she requires the accommodation permitted by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Corbo, regularly candid about her concerns over her Lyme disease and being immunocompromised, said her doctor will not OK a return to in-person work.
Virginia open meetings laws broadly define medical conditions that impact participation in meetings, to include temporary hospitalization or being confined to home, a contagious illness, or having a permanent physical disability that prevents travel to the meeting location.
School Board members began questioning Corbo's absence from the meeting room after she appeared in public at another event.
Corbo said that after she made the appearance in question—a visit to an elementary school with Virginia First Lady Pam Northam—her health changed. She said she had to visit an emergency room, and her doctor doubled down on their guidance to avoid crowds and unmasked groups of people.
Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) said before the Tuesday vote on Corbo’s participation that she also has a medical condition making her vulnerable to COVID-19, but she has not missed a meeting since the board returned to in-person meetings.
“If every person who has a greater-than average risk of serious illness due to COVID-19 did not attend meetings, we would not be able to hold meetings at all,” Sheridan said.
Vice Chairwoman Atoosa Reaser (Algonkian) also voted against allowing Corbo’s remote participation under a medical exemption, saying that she, too, has an autoimmune disorder. She said she would support Corbo’s exemption if Corbo gave her the assurance that she would attend board meetings in-person if she chooses to appear in-person for her other job.
Reaser and Sheridan were joined by Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge) and Harris Mahedavi (Ashburn) in voting against the motion for her remote participation. Jeff Morse (Dulles), Andrew Hoyler (Broad Run) and John Beatty (Catoctin) supported her participation.
Corbo said she was blindsided during the Oct. 12 meeting when board members first voted against her remote participation because of medical reasons. During that meeting, the board took a vote to appoint Andrew Hoyler to the Broad Run District seat. Corbo opted to use one of her personal exemptions because of the importance of the meeting’s agenda.
She said she agreed to accommodations recommended by the HR department, which included remote participation. But the board provided alternate accommodations, allowing her to sit in the boardroom at the end of the dais, behind a plexiglass partition with an air filter at her workstation. Corbo said her doctor advised against those accommodations.
Former Leesburg District representative Beth Barts shared support for Corbo on her Facebook page, saying that members frequently take masks off during closed sessions. Additionally, while masks are required in the boardroom, many public speakers have bucked the requirement.