Parents Notch Victory in Effort To Recall School Board Member Who Opposed Reopening

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July 19, 2021

A group of Fairfax County parents on Monday reached the signature threshold to recall a school board member who voted against reopening classrooms.

Open FCPS Coalition petitioned a Fairfax County Court judge to recall Elaine Tholen, who voted against reopening schools despite evidence that it was safe. The group collected more than 5,000 signatures from people who agreed Tholen was negligent in her duties to Fairfax County students, particularly those with special needs.

The effort to recall Tholen is the latest response of Fairfax County parents to school officials’ handling of the coronavirus pandemic. A group of parents opposed to the district’s embrace of critical race theory last month won seats on the Parent Teacher Student Association of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Fairfax County’s elite, STEM-based high school.

Tholen is one of three Fairfax County School Board members the coalition hopes to recall, members of the group told the Washington Free Beacon. The group is also campaigning against Laura Jane Cohen, who represents the Springfield district, and at-large member Abrar Omeish. Omeish came under fire in May when she referred to Israel as an "apartheid" state in two social media posts.

A judge will verify the authenticity of all signatures and decide whether to hold a special election to replace Tholen. It’s not clear exactly when the judge’s decision will be made or announced.

Zia Tompkins, a parent and member of the Open FCPS Coalition, said that Fairfax County school board members put politics over students' needs.

"This school board, carrying out the bidding of the teachers' unions and for partisan political reasons, has chosen to willfully ignore science and the best practices of districts nationwide to stand in the way of our children's right to a free and suitable education," Tompkins said Monday at an event to celebrate the signature collection.

In addition to failing to reopen schools, parents say Tholen failed to take stances on crucial issues and ignored constituents.

"She hasn’t really done anything," Dee Jackson, a leader of the FCPS Coalition, told the Free Beacon. "She’s pretty much not involved with her constituents, she’s not present, she wouldn't come to meetings a lot or come in person, and voted to abstain a lot."

Hemang Nagar, the father of a Fairfax County student with special needs, spoke at Monday’s event. Learning online was disastrous for his daughter, he said.

"No amount of virtual learning can basically do anything for her. Virtual learning was an utter disaster for her and others like her. How can a group of elders in charge of her public education system not figure out at the very least how to get the special needs kids back in the classroom full time?"

Nagar said the district informed him that it had canceled summer programming for his daughter just 72 hours before it was scheduled to begin.

Tompkins said the recall petition will "send a clear message to the Fairfax County School Board that our community must return to the business of putting education and the well-being of children first."

"Our mission, from the inception of this effort, has been and remains to remove only those school board members who have chosen to abdicate their responsibility to fight for our kids to be back in person, in the classroom where they belong."

The board has yet to present a plan to reopen schools for the 2021-2022 school year, according to members of the Open FCPS Coalition.