(The Center Square) – With local school board elections approaching on Nov. 8, parental rights in education have remained a major point of concern in Loudoun County and other school boards across Virginia.
As the Loudoun County School Board faces a state investigation into whether the board misled parents about a sexual assault, some of the candidates are calling for change.
Last year, a male student wearing a skirt sexually assaulted a girl in the girls’ bathoom. Although Superintendent Scott Ziegler informed the board of this assault, he told parents during a public hearing less than a month later that there was no record of any assaults in school bathrooms. No one on the board corrected him.
Because this question arose when the board was planning to adopt new transgender guidelines that would allow students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that match their self-proclaimed gender identity, rather than their biological sex, the board faced accusations of covering up the assault for political purposes. Attorney General Jason Miyares convened a special grand jury earlier this year to investigate the board and school administrators to determine whether they intentionally mislead parents and the public.
Loudoun County has two open seats in the Nov. 8 elections. During a debate on Tuesday night, three candidates running for one of the positions discussed how they would address parental rights in education, transgender issues and the Ziegler scandal.
“I’m comfortable saying that he needs to go,” Michael Rivera, the Republican-endorsed candidate, said during the debate.
Rivera accused Ziegler of lying to parents and the press and said the county cannot move forward with him as the superintendent.
The Democratic-endorsed candidate, Erika Ogedegbe, would not go as far. Rather, she said she does not have enough information to take a position about staffing decisions like that and would need to look into his performance reviews while she is a member of the board.
Lauren Shernoff, an independent candidate, took a more middle-of-the road position on Ziegler. She said she would not have given him his recent $28,000 raise and is waiting for the results of the state investigation. She said she does not know whether she would immediately fire him, but that there’s not enough evidence to support renewing his contract.
When asked about the role of parents in education, the candidates also took different positions.
All of the candidates agreed that the school board should not limit public comments and that parents should be part of the conversation. However, they differed on the role parents should play in education.
Rivera accused the public school system of trying to usurp the role of parents and argued that parents, first and foremost, know what’s best for their children. Ogedegbe said although there should be a partnership between parents and teachers, that teachers have expertise and they went to school to learn how to teach and that she trusts their expertise in the classroom. Shernoff said there needs to be a partnership, but that parents need a stronger role because the current partnership is out of balance.
The candidates also commented on a policy that prohibits teachers and school staff from informing parents of a child’s transgender identity without the child’s consent. Last month, the Virginia Department of Education released new guidance for school boards that instructs them to keep parents informed about these subjects and to not offer gender affirming counseling without the consent of the parents.
Rivera said he opposed the school board keeping secrets from parents. He said that the parent is responsible for the child and that no institution should be keeping information about that child from their parents. Shernoff mostly echoed that sentiment and said parents should know what is going on with their children and that teachers should not be put in morally compromising situations where they feel like they are forced to withhold information from parents. Ogedegbe, on the other hand, said the school system should be “welcoming and safe” and recounted a story in which a teenager did not receive that support from home.
Several other school boards will have elections on Nov. 8. This includes five seats in Norfolk, six seats in Virginia Beach and six seats in Chesapeake.