Virginia Parents Move To Recall School Board Member Who Opposed Reopening

Parents say remote learning harms student performance, mental health

Laura Jane Cohen / Fairfax County Public Schools
December 17, 2021

Parents in Virginia's largest school district collected enough signatures to recall a school board member who ignored parental concerns and kept schools closed during the pandemic.

Open FCPS Coalition, a bipartisan group of parents, on Wednesday filed with a county circuit court a petition to recall school board member Laura Jane Cohen. The group accuses Cohen of ignoring studies that showed reopening was safe and keeping students isolated from peers for more than a year was harmful for their mental health.

Republican candidates swept Virginia's statewide elections in November, victories many attributed to parents' frustration with school closures. But that momentum may not be enough to recall Cohen, who was not up for reelection this cycle. A local attorney backed by left-wing megadonor George Soros quashed Open FCPS Coalition's attempt to recall a school board member.

In a statement Thursday, Open FCPS Coalition founder Dee O'Neal Jackson said the 8,000 signatures gathered show the group's mission resonates with the community.

"For over 18 months, the Fairfax County School Board has focused on every political issue of the day," O'Neal Jackson said. "In turn, [it] has not focused on what's best for our students and families in Fairfax County."

A judge will verify the authenticity of the signatures and decide whether to hold a trial and special election to replace Cohen. The coalition also wants to recall at-large school board member Abrar Omeish, who in May came under fire after she in two social media posts referred to Israel as an "apartheid" state.

Open FCPS Coalition in July petitioned to recall school board member Elaine Tholen. Like Cohen, Tholen also voted against reopening schools. But the group's efforts were tanked by a progressive prosecutor backed by Soros.

The Washington Free Beacon reported in August that Commonwealth's Attorney James Hingeley (D.) dismissed the coalition's case after he was appointed to represent the group. Hingeley received $5,000 from Soros's Justice and Safety PAC during the 2019 election cycle, in which he campaigned alongside Tholen.

Fairfax County commonwealth's attorney Steve Descano (D.), who received $600,000 from Soros during his campaign, tapped Hingeley after he recused himself from the case because he is facing his own recall.

Before Fairfax parents recalled Cohen, she sent a fundraising email in which she referred to Open FCPS Coalition as a Republican "dark money" operation. Cohen said "rabid" parents have "taken over" school board meetings with demands to burn books, spread "misinformation" about the coronavirus pandemic, and promote "hateful speech" about LGBT people.

O'Neal Jackson told the Free Beacon that Cohen's email was "tone-deaf." She noted that Open FCPS Coalition is a bipartisan effort united by the belief that keeping schools closed is harmful to kids.

Prior to the pandemic, Virginia was one of the worst-ranked states for student performance. Most Fairfax students spent more than one year learning remotely and didn't return to the classroom until April 2021. Closing schools for months and leaving children to learn at home had a detrimental impact on students' reading and math performance, initial test scores show.

The school board's "indifference was disgusting," O'Neal Jackson told the Free Beacon. "They just seemed like they didn't care. It's really hard to swallow that they were not really invested in our kids."

Parents across the country this year clashed with school boards over coronavirus mitigation strategies and radical curriculum changes. Grassroots organizations in Texas and elsewhere bolstered slates of candidates who oppose school closures and radical race and gender ideology's infiltration into the classroom.