ACPS Administrator Activism Violated School Board Policies

By: Brian Vanyo

After suing the Albemarle County Public Schools (ACPS) for illegally withholding records requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) earlier this year, I finally gained access to a trove of emails that show significant involvement by Jackson P. Burley Middle School (“Burley”) and ACPS administrators in a school walkout that took place at Burley last year. The walkout targeted Governor Youngkin’s draft model school board policy that prevents schools from engaging in controversial transgender advocacy toward children without parental knowledge and consent. (The policy was finalized in July 2023, but ACPS is intentionally delaying implementation as long as possible, while other districts are outright defying the policy.) Although school and district administrators characterized the walkout as entirely student-led, they collectively dedicated many hours of their time to plan, support, and publicize this political stunt in violation of school board policies, which prohibit ACPS employees from engaging in political activities or promoting controversial issues during school hours on school property. Proper enforcement of school board policies would subject these individuals to “disciplinary action up to and including immediate dismissal from employment.”

The following account of this event and my interactions with ACPS administrators and school board members demonstrates some persistent problems in our district. We have administrators who undermine classroom learning by their support and advocacy of select social agendas, and we have school board members who reflexively defend all administrator conduct—even conduct that violates their own policies. No matter how great our teachers are—and there are many in our community—they cannot do their jobs when education is a secondary concern for our school board and ACPS administrators.

Learning about the School Walkout

The school walkout took many parents like me by surprise. I first learned about it from my daughter after she returned home from Burley and complained about sitting idle in a half-empty classroom during this event. She told me that no classroom instruction took place during this time because so many students were absent from class—not because they actually supported the protest but instead because they had an opportunity to get out of class without penalty. I asked if she knew about the walkout beforehand, and she said that the principal sent an email about it to students and families the prior evening.

Upon checking my inbox, I found an unopened email from Burley Principal Kasaundra Blount, sent on October 4, 2022, at 7:15pm, and I immediately understood why this email did not catch my attention. In addition to being sent the night before the event, its subject, “Student Organized Activity – Wednesday October 5, 2022,” resembled an ordinary communication discussing a regular club or extracurricular activity at the school—not something pleading for special attention.

The wording of Principal Blount’s email suggested that administrators were blindsided by the walkout, that they had no hand in planning the event, and that they were taking prompt action to inform parents about it. At the same time, it also described staff member involvement in the event and permitted students to miss class without penalty to participate. She wrote:

“We’ve learned that some of our students are organizing a walkout/protest for tomorrow, Wednesday, October 5, in response to the state’s 2022 Model Policies on the Privacy, Dignity, and Respect for all Students and Parents in Virginia’s Public Schools, and its impact on transgender students. The student organizers have shared that the planned walkout/protest is slated to begin at 9:30 am.

Because this is slated to occur during school hours, we understand that it is our responsibility to ensure student safety throughout the duration of the activity. We will have staff members stationed throughout the school and with students throughout the time to ensure that students remain on school grounds and are safe.

Students who choose to participate will not be penalized for missing instructional time.”

Based on this email, it was clear that the student walkout was not an exercise in civil disobedience, where students risked punishment for violating attendance policy to advocate a common cause. Rather, it was a school-sanctioned event. Principal Blount’s waiver of attendance rules effectively promoted the walkout by encouraging greater participation. And her willingness to use paid staff during school hours to supervise the event—in the name of “safety”—also amounted to an endorsement of the activity.

Vice Principal Rusty Carlock’s statements to local media during the walkout echoed Principal Blount’s misleading narrative that the students directed this spontaneous event. He said, “The students are the ones who set the date. They’re the full organizers of this event.” This statement misrepresented the full truth, as shown below. Carlock continued, “Our job as educators is to support their safety while they participate in this process.” Apparently, the job of an educator, in Carlock’s view, is to protect those who skip class to engage in ideological activism.

The fact that administrators would sanction such activity is especially troubling given the poor academic performance of many students in the county and especially at Burley. Just 2 weeks earlier, the superintendent emailed families in the county to discuss how poorly some students faired on state Standards of Learning (SOL) examinations. Describing the SOL scores as “unacceptable,” Superintendent Matt Haas claimed responsibility for the outcomes, writing, “I own these results.” Notably, Burley failed to meet accreditation standards for some demographic groups and was only given a waiver due to better results in prior years. Due to poor academic outcomes for so many students, Haas announced that the county would spend money to hire an outside organization to audit instructional practices and offer recommendations for improvements. Two weeks later, Haas endorsed the school walkout at Burley. Perhaps the audit that our tax money pays for will inform Haas that students cannot learn when they are not in class.

Stepping through relevant emails in the days preceding the school walkout on October 5, 2022, it will become obvious that administrators misled our community about this event. From the moment they learned of the idea, they immediately sprang into action to enthusiastically plan this spectacle with them, effectively using these students to advance a controversial political issue they clearly supported.

Thursday, September 29, 2022:

 At 2:23pm a student emailed Burley Vice Principal Carlock, expressing a desire to plan a school walkout, writing, “me and a bunch of people want to plan a walk out due to the new law coming out for transgender people that identify as another gender.”

Carlock responded at 3:08pm, only 44 minutes later, to set the school walkout in motion, suggesting that the event take place as early as the following week. He wrote, “I support you getting your voice heard and will plan with you to do it safely. Another student expressed interest in this as well. Are you willing to plan together to do this next week? I am including [safety coach] and [counselor] so we can work together on a safety plan ttomorrow [sic].” (emphasis added)

Within the hour (at 3:58pm), a teacher with the pronouns “she/her & they/them” in her signature block emailed the counselor and another staff member, asking them to assist some students in her class who wanted to protest “the governor’s bathroom policy,” adding, “I’m not sure I’m equipped to be an impartial leader of them so I’m reaching out you you [sic] guys to help!”

Exactly three minutes later (4:01pm), the counselor responded to say that the students “will be invited to meet during 8th grade lunch tomorrow to go over safety measures and hopefully organize it for next week.” (emphasis added) The counselor followed that email with another message (at 4:05pm) to the student organizer, to Vice Principal Carlock, and to the safety coach to request a meeting the following day to plan the event.

At 5:50pm, Carlock wrote to the counselor, other staff members, and Principal Blount to identify the students who would lead the walkout and when it would take place: “on Wednesday [during] first block next week.” He explained that the students would “work with us tomorrow and Monday to make sure it is done in a safe way” and that he would share the safety plan with staff when ready. (To confirm the walkout date, Carlock must have met with these students in person or communicated with them by means other than his school email address, because there is no email record of such coordination—or it was not provided in my FOIA request.)

At 7:47pm, the teacher mentioned above wrote to Carlock, Blount, the counselor, and other Burley staff members to identify another student interested in the event.

Friday, September 30, 2022:

 At 6:12am, Vice Principal Carlock responded to the teacher to say that the additional student could meet with others to plan the event later that day. The counselor later responded to the student directly with an invitation to meet during the eighth-grade lunch period.

After the lunch period and meeting would have ended, one of the student leaders sent an email at 1:23pm to the counselor, as well as to Principal Blount and Vice Principal Carlock to notify them (again) of her plan for a walkout. It seemed odd for the student to send this email after she had already notified Carlock about the walkout and after she had just met with the same counselor to coordinate it. But the target of the email appeared to be Blount, and its intent was to formally seek approval for the protest and additional assistance with publicity. The student wrote:

“I and [redacted] would like to arrange a school-wide walkout protesting the recent Act that our governor has passed (2022 Model Policies). Me and plenty other students were enraged at this and want to arrange a peaceful protest showing how vile the Act is. It will be on Wednesday Oct 5th, from Advisory to first block, anyone is welcome to join. The protest will be entirely peaceful, welcoming students to bring signs, pride flags, and chalk to spread the message. We would also like to give a speech on how intolerable the act is, the dangers it would put students in if it were passed beyond its comment period. It will be half march half some part standstill. The route is currently in planning. I have attached a google document for more information (+ A bit of stronger convincing ) We also would like to have some publicity, and it would be good if we reached out to a news-station. Of course we cannot skip out on safety, and I believe that the lunch meeting will take care of that. I wanted to include other middle schools in this movement, and will soon be asking them to participate at their own schools if the times are allowed.” (emphasis added)

The student effectively asked Principal Blount for permission to conduct the walkout as planned (“if the times are allowed”) and for help with media outreach. Blount responded positively to both requests four hours later and even offered a brainstorming session to learn if there was anything else the student needed. Blount wrote the student at 5:30pm:

“Thank you, [redacted], for your email and for your desire to plan a peaceful protest. Let’s plan to meet on Monday to discuss your request for publicity and to ensure that we are clear on the intentions, schedule of events and to discuss any other needs. Please check in with Mrs. Wood in the office to schedule a time to meet.” (emphasis added)

Monday, October 3, 2022:

Principal Blount likely met with the student leader early Monday morning to discuss the walkout, publicity, and other needs, because at 11:11am, she sent an email to the ACPS Strategic Communications Officer, Phil Giaramita, passing on the student’s request for publicity and the walkout’s planned start and end times (lasting a total of 100 minutes). She wrote:

“I hope you all are having a great start to your week! I am reaching out to share a planned walkout being organized by some of our students. The student organizer is requesting publicity. We also need some guidance on whether or not students’ families will be able to support their efforts on school grounds. Please see the student organizer’s email below. This is being planned for Wednesday, October 5th from 9:30 am 11:10 am. Please let me know when we can chat about this.”

Giaramita promptly took action. In the next two hours, he discussed the walkout with Superintendent Haas, who offered some supporting ideas of his own to pass on to Principal Blount. At 1:50pm, Giaramita sent an email back to Blount, offering to take control of all media outreach on behalf of the protesters. He also requested a meeting with Blount and the student leader to learn more about the planned event, writing:

“Kasaundra, a few considerations.

Yes, we would prefer handling the media around this, which would allow for more planning. I am interested in talking with you and your student leader about how this would unfold on Wednesday, including interviews with students.

I talked with Matt [Haas] and he had two suggestions. The first is that parents would be welcome to participate as long as they followed the same procedures that any visitor to the school would follow in terms of check-in procedures. He also thought, and I suspect you agree, that the the [sic] length of time is unusually long. Do you think the students would consider a shorter time? It would be difficult to hold everyone’s attention for 90 minutes, enthusiasm generally wanes over that much time.

The student walkouts we have had, over guns for example, usually have lasted about 15-20 minutes.

Have you heard any more about the success the student has had in coordinating with other middle schools?” (emphasis added)

Principal Blount responded to Giaramita later that day, at 7:42pm, to let him know that she gave other “principals a heads up” about the walkout earlier that day. She also asked Giaramita to meet with her and the student leader the following day.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022:

The morning before the walkout, Giaramita and Blount exchanged emails to coordinate a meeting with the student leader (only one individual) later that day. The meeting took place at approximately 2:30pm. After the meeting, Blount sent an email at 3:48pm to all Burley instructional staff to inform them about the planned walkout from 9:30 to 11:00am (90 minutes) the next day.

In her email, Blount characterized the walkout as a student “right” that teachers and administrators could not deny, which is false, as discussed later. Although she cautioned staff about existing school board policy against political activities (“No employee shall use his position within the school division to further a political cause”), Burley leadership and ACPS staff were already violating that policy by their support and promotion of this event. Conveniently absent from Blount’s email was school board policy on Standards of Conduct (GBC; amended 2013; reviewed 2021), which lists the following as an example of unacceptable employee conduct: “Use of an employee’s work time, environment, position, access, or property to promote a political candidate or /controversial issue.”

Giaramita especially used his time, position, and access to promote this controversial political issue. Shortly after his meeting with Blount and the student leader had ended, he sent emails to reporters at NBC29 and CBS19 at 3:58pm and 4:05pm, respectively. Both emails contained the same message:

“Several students from Burley Middle School are planning to walk out of school tomorrow morning at 9:30 in protest of newly proposed guidance by the Virginia Department of Education. This is the guidance that impacts how transgender students are treated in school, which has significant differences with our existing policy on this issue. If you are interested, I can meet you at Burley at 9:30 if you wanted to talk with some of the students.”

The fact that Giaramita called attention to the new guidance and its “significant differences with our existing policy” underscores the controversial and political nature of the event.

In response to Principal Blount’s email to Burley instructional staff about the walkout, one teacher replied that afternoon to ask what teachers could do for the students to “support their choice” to protest, such as wearing the same “clothing color.” Blount carefully advised against overt displays of support for the walkout and said that teachers “are only able to support the students participating by ensuring they are safe.” She wrote, “The best way we can support their choice is to allow them to participate.” The teacher with the pronouns “she/her & they/them” in her email signature block picked up on this signal and asked if she “could join the kids as a supervisor, not a ‘participant.’” This teacher noted in her email that she “checked with teachers on my hall and have coverage for my students not walking out”—which indicates that she left her classroom to others while she “supervised” the protest.

At 6:02pm that evening, Vice Principal Carlock sent Principal Blount and Burley leadership a draft email that he prepared to send to all Burley teachers and staff. The email was lengthy (two full pages) and provided details on the timing of the walkout, the route that students and teacher supervisors would take, where students would stop for speeches, and when they would return to class. It also identified the teachers and staff who would be positioned throughout the school hallways or walking outside with the students “keeping them safe”—21 teachers/staff members were designated with specific roles, while all others were invited to walk with the students “as able.”

Notably, the duration of the walkout as communicated in Carlock’s email was shortened to one hour. So, sometime between 3:48pm (when Blount wrote to staff that the walkout would last 90 minutes) and 6:02pm, Carlock either received new information about the walkout plans from the student or, more likely, Burley leadership unilaterally altered the walkout timeline to conform to Superintendent Haas’s recommendation to consider a shorter time.

At 7:15pm, Principal Blount sent the “Student Organized Activity” email to Burley families, as previously mentioned, despite having knowledge of the planned walkout almost a week earlier. No email that was turned over to me as part of my FOIA request contains any discussion about the waiver of school attendance requirements during the protest, so that decision probably was made by Blount alone—and likely to encourage as many student participants as possible to justify all the planning by Burley administrators in coordination with a single student leader and a handful of students eager to protest.

At 8:59pm, Vice Principal Carlock sent the same draft email above to all Burley teachers and staff.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022:

The coordinated school walkout proceeded according to Vice Principal Carlock’s final plan. Many students took the opportunity to skip out of class to be outside on a beautiful October morning. Reporters from CBS19 and NBC29 were there on Giaramita’s invitation to capture the event and to interview students and administrators alike.

Coincidentally, later that morning, the Albemarle County School Board released a statement expressing its opposition to Governor Youngkin’s proposed model policy. According to emails released under the FOIA, Giaramita took the initiative to draft the statement himself and then sent it to Superintendent Haas, school board attorney Ross Holden, and all school board members for review on September 30. After some recommended edits by school board members over that weekend, Giaramita had the statement, along with a draft news release, ready for publication just before the Burley school walkout on October 5.

After the walkout, Giaramita emailed the same news reporters who met with students at Burley to thank them for coming and to give them an early preview of the school board statement and news release (which were not yet approved for release by the superintendent). Families were officially notified of the school board’s statement at 12:46pm that day, and CBS19 ran a story later that evening discussing both the statement and the Burley school walkout. The story mentioned that Giaramita was at the walkout. He was quoted as saying, “Our obligation as a school division is to care for all students, not some,” which is a politically charged statement implying that the governor’s new policy neglects transgender students.

Administrator Stonewalling and School Board Gaslighting

Given the frustration my daughter voiced to me over the lack of instruction during the walkout, I contacted Principal Blount and Superintendent Haas by email on October 6 to inquire about this event. (Other parents similarly expressed frustration with the school’s support for the walkout, based on emails to administrators obtained under the FOIA.) I did not receive a reply to my email for more than one month. By contrast, recall that it took only 44 minutes for Vice Principal Carlock to respond a student proposing this walkout, as he seemingly dropped everything to begin planning the protest with her.

On November 7, I sent another email to Blount and Haas, asking them to reply to my earlier message. This time, I cc’d the school board and directed additional questions at my district representative on the board, Graham Paige. Blount finally responded, as did Paige, and this led to a series of email exchanges with them and the school board attorney, Ross Holden, that I’ll summarize here.

I had asked Principal Blount whether there were any guidelines in place to determine whether staff resources would be used for student-led protests during school hours. My concern was that, without clear standards restricting these events, our schools might become an environment for political activism rather than learning. Any student might initiate any kind of protest, and administrators would be forced in the name of fairness to organize and support it at the expense of classroom learning, as they did here.

Blount ignored my question and instead argued, wrongly, that the law protected a student’s “first amendment rights to freely express their views when they are in school.” She also refuted my characterization of this activity as political, saying that it did not involve a particular candidate or party; rather, this “was a matter of conscience,” effectively casting those opposing the protest as amoral. Finally, she preposterously suggested that the walkout itself was a learning activity, even though most students simply used it as an opportunity to skip class thanks to her blanket attendance waiver.

I informed Blount that students do not have an unrestrained first amendment right in school. While students have latitude in exercising their first amendment rights, those rights end when their conduct disrupts the educational process, according to U.S. Supreme Court precedent in Tinker v. Des Moines School Dist., 393 U.S. 503 (1969). The walkout absolutely disrupted the learning environment that day. I asked Blount to address my initial question on walkout guidelines, but she never replied. Instead, I received an email from attorney Ross Holden, who said that my email was referred to him for response.

Holden made no legal argument supporting the walkout, so it was clear that his involvement was merely to provide a patina of legal authority where none existed. Holden merely defended the walkout as a learning experience, saying, “protests can give students a chance to explore and understand their constitutional rights, express their fears, and process powerful emotions.” Holden added that, in this case, Burley “balanced its recognition that student activism is part of the learning process with its obligation to keep students safe.” (emphasis added) Holden did not explain how the protest was a positive learning experience for those who did not participate—for those who sat idle in their classrooms, like my daughter. As for my initial question to Blount about criteria that administrators might use to determine whether a walkout should be supported, Holden at least acknowledged that student protest rights were not unlimited. But he failed to provide any standards, stating vaguely, “it would not be practical for students to walk out constantly and, for this reason, their opportunity to do so is limited.” Schools would retain the right to crack down on protests arbitrarily, for Holden added, “An abuse of this [walkout] privilege in the future could, potentially, result in disciplinary action in accordance with the Student Code of Conduct for missing class”—a fair warning to students with different political views.

I responded to Holden to press him on my initial question: what objective standards were in place to prevent students from walking out in protest whenever they wanted? He responded that there were none, but any future protest would “be addressed individually with consideration given, among other things, to student safety; alternative opportunities for expression, such as during lunch or before and after school; limiting disruption to the educational environment; and whether any student body or portion thereof has already engaged in similar activity on a prior occasion.”

Naturally, I asked Holden if the district or Principal Blount recommended to leaders of this walkout any less disruptive alternatives, such as a protest during lunch or after school. I also asked if the district or principal knew approximately how many students would be participating in the walkout. His answer to both questions, not surprisingly: “no.”

School board member Paige, in his response, expressed full support for Blount’s actions and likewise claimed that the walkout, for those participating, served as “a valuable learning opportunity through their engagement with a public policy issue, which constituted an important lesson in responsible citizenship and civic engagement.” He also engaged in deception about the disruptive nature of the protest, claiming that “those students who chose to remain inside the school continued to receive instruction.” Only after I reminded Paige that my daughter received NO instruction during the protest did he walk back some of his comments and conceded that he needed to be more careful with his statements. But he remained supportive of the event, regardless of its adverse impact on classroom learning.

Superintendent Haas never responded to my emails.

To summarize what I had learned from these exchanges more than one month after the walkout: Burley staff had no idea how many students were interested this protest, aside from the two or three individuals who reached out to one teacher and Vice Principal Carlock. Burley staff did not encourage those protesters to seek alternative opportunities for expression, such as a protest during lunch or before/after school. Instead, they seemed to encourage and support an event that would be most disruptive to learning for the entire school—and, coincidentally, on the same day that the school board released a statement whose message aligned with that of the student protesters.

Given the conduct of these administrators and school board members—their stonewalling and reflexive support for all decisions surrounding the walkout—I initiated a records request under the FOIA in November 2022 to obtain administrator emails related to this event. Giaramita, who also serves as the ACPS FOIA Coordinator, sent to me a late and incomplete response, in violation of the FOIA. So I made a second modified request in December. Giaramita then illegally refused to deliver any records until I paid a fee that far exceeded his estimated cost for retrieval. This prompted me to file a lawsuit against ACPS, which hired outside counsel who resumed delivery of missing records and offered to settle the lawsuit before trial. However, based on new emails I received showing Giaramita’s involvement in the protest as manager of media outreach, I declined to settle and instead amended my complaint to ask the court to impose a civil penalty against Giaramita for knowingly violating the FOIA out of motivation to conceal his and other employee violations of school board policy surrounding the walkout. While the court declined to ascribe willful intent to Giaramita’s actions based on the incomplete information I had at the time, it ruled against ACPS for violating the FOIA.

School Board Policy Violations

As mentioned previously, ACPS employees are prohibited under school board policy from using their position within the school division “to further a political cause.” Employee standards of conduct also prohibit the following: “Use of an employee’s work time, environment, position, access, or property to promote a political candidate or /controversial issue.” Despite administrator efforts to deny the political nature of the protest, numerous student and staff references to the governor and his draft model policies affirm its political motivation—and no one can legitimately claim that transgender issues are not controversial. ACPS employees violated school board rules by supporting and promoting this event on school property and during school hours. Such violations are supposed to be enforced as follows:  “Employees who engage in any of the above-stated conduct, or who otherwise violate established standards of conduct expected of all employees, are subject to disciplinary action up to and including immediate dismissal from employment.”

ACPS administrators also violated Media Relations-Administrative Procedures (KBC-AP, 2012), which state, “No interviews, videos or photos of students are permitted for use by the media without the permission of that student’s parent or guardian and without the approval of the building principal or the division’s strategic communications officer.”

I asked Giaramita months after the walkout if he had obtained parental consent for the media to interview students and record them on video during the protest and, if so, how that consent was provided. In an email on February 13, 2023, Giaramita claimed that he verified parental permission with Principal Blount, but he could not say exactly how he did this, for he equivocated, “Such permissions are usually given by parents who sign release forms early in the school year although in those instances in which forms are not completed, permissions are verbal.” I asked Giaramita if he knew how many students participating in the walkout had blanket media waivers on file. His answer: “I do not.” Giaramita, as the ACPS Strategic Communications Officer, confirmed that he had no idea which students walking out of school that day had permission or releases to be recorded by local media, yet he anyway invited reporters to the protest to record and publicize the event.

Videos posted to CBS19 and NBC29 websites show dozens of students passing the cameras on the preplanned walkout route, and many of them clearly did not want to be seen on camera, as they covered their faces when passing by. Most students walking out that day were doing so merely to get out of class thanks to Principal Blount’s attendance waiver, yet the media portrayed all students as if they were doing so to protest the governor’s model school board policies. Whether or not Blount’s attendance waiver was meant to improve optics for the walkout, given her foreknowledge of likely media coverage, the effect of the waiver was that it painted a false picture of much greater student support for this protest than actually existed. Despite all the talk about student safety, administrators demonstrated a complete lack of care about the privacy rights of many students whose images they exploited to advance a political narrative.

The Fiction of ACPS Concern for Student Safety

In many other emails released to me in response to my FOIA request, I discovered a potential risk to student safety: many teachers and administrators were communicating directly with students without including a parent or guardian on the email. While this topic is tangential to the walkout, administrator responses to questions that I subsequently raised highlight their hypocrisy and indifference about student safety.

One email involving Vice Principal Carlock and a single student stood out as alarming. A student emailed Carlock to ask for salsa dance lessons, and he responded to say, “Yes! We’ll do it Thursday during advisory. I will send out a message to teachers so they know to let you go.” No parent or guardian was included on the email. As a parent, I would be very disturbed to learn that a man was sending emails to my teenage daughter without my knowledge to coordinate a private activity at school entirely unrelated to academic learning.

Even if nothing inappropriate took place here, such direct communication certainly can lead to abuse. While a vast majority of ACPS employees pose no threat to students, they are not infallible. In fact, parents were informed in May 2023 about a serious allegation of assault, possibly sexual in nature, that took place at Mountain View Elementary. That investigation is ongoing.

As a parent of swimmers, I am familiar with the Electronic Communications Policy used by USA Swimming and promulgated by the U.S. Center for SafeSport connected to its Minor Athlete Abuse Prevention Program. This policy requires coaches to copy a parent, guardian, or adult participant on every communication with a minor athlete. I find this policy to be a very reasonable measure to help protect against minor abuse, so I reached out to ACPS administrators and school board members to ask if they would support creating a similar policy for the district.

Assistant Superintendent for Strategic Planning, Patrick McLaughlin, affirmed that school board policy currently does not address email communications. In response to my policy suggestion, he said, “We do not require teachers to copy parents on email communications and is unlikely that this would become a requirement in the future.” When I asked him why it would be unlikely for the district to adopt a policy designed to protect against minor abuse, McLaughlin did not respond.

I then directed this policy proposal to school board member Paige and school board chairwoman Katrina Callsen. Paige at first tried to evade the issue, writing, “We have a variety of policies designed to ensure that our students are safe and protected against abuse.” When pressed on the question, Paige then tried to mislead, saying, “I believe that our current policies in their entirety do cover communication with minors and most other situations.” Paige wrote this, despite being informed earlier by McLaughlin that school board policy does not address email communications. When I reminded Paige of McLaughlin’s message, Paige evaded again by addressing other existing policy: “our current policy sets standards for contact with students via social media. I believe that our policies are sufficient at this time.” I requested Paige to address the topic I was proposing—whether he would support new email communications policy designed to protect against minor abuse—and he did not answer, suggesting instead, “Please consider your idea on this policy to the Board during public comment at a Board meeting.” (In other words, present your idea in a 2-minute public comment and kindly go away.) I asked Paige if he would add this proposal to the school board’s agenda for discussion and potential adoption. He declined, writing again, “I believe that our policies are sufficient at this time and so I will not introduce this policy for consideration by the Board.” School board chairwoman Callsen did not respond to my question at all.

It is not surprising that school board members and ACPS administrators dodged this issue, because such a simple policy would conflict with transgender dogma that they openly support. Transgender advocates assert that, because parents can be obstacles to a child’s free expression and threaten his or her well-being, it is acceptable for schools to conceal from parents a student’s preferred name, pronouns, and gender identity in the classroom. Hence, it would be inappropriate to give parents more oversight of student communications. By declining to even consider new email policy designed to prevent minor abuse, ACPS administrators and school board members exhibited their adherence to transgender viewpoints suggesting that parents pose a greater threat to their children at home than teachers and administrators in school.

Indoctrination Elevated over Education

It is irrefutable that Burley and ACPS administrators supported and publicized the student protest on school grounds during school hours. When questioned about this activity, administrators and school board members defended it, lied about its impact, and frustrated my efforts to access information about it. They did not care that student attendance requirements were waived, that student media protections were violated, or that employees defied school board policies to support this controversial event. They did not care that classroom instruction was put on hold while this protest transpired. ACPS administrators and school board members demonstrated by their actions surrounding this event that they unabashedly elevate select political messaging over education in our schools.

Sadly, there are other examples of this misguided priority. Teachers at Mountain View elementary in March 2022 had to endure two hours of transgender “training” during scheduled staff professional development. The purpose of the training, according to the presenter from an LGBTQ+ advocacy group, was to help staff members progress along the spectrum of transgender support: from “Hater” to “Tolerant” to “Accepting” to “Ally” and finally to become an “Advocate” for transgender issues. It is worth noting that this elementary school had failed to meet state accreditation standards, but administrators decided that such ideological training was time better spent than working on ways to improve academic outcomes for students. For a sample of this training, here is how the presenter introduced her “non-binary” identity:

“So, for me, myself, and I, as a non-binary person, I very much enjoy that freedom and that exploration, right? Like, in my head, my gender identity is a 16-year-old skater boy—but I cannot skate, so I own a lot of Vans and I pretend that I’m, like, able to do all these things, and I’m, like, a surfboard skater person, and I’m so far from that. It’s really quite incredible, but awesome at buying clothes to create that illusion, right? But what I love about the label of non-binary and they/them is I get to create my own brand—my own vibe of, like, what I call masculinity 2.0. I get to sort of find this balance of being able to be this wannabe surfer dude and then have a girl’s night with my wife as we eat pizza and watch Gilmore Girls and Grey’s Anatomy for the hundredth time, right? But I feel like it just gives me this freedom to do that, versus having the labels of woman or man where I’m sort of, like, how do I make this fit? They/them non-binary gives me the chance to do that.”

Another example of the district’s indifference for education was found at the Burley graduation ceremony for eighth graders in June 2023. While every student was recognized for successfully advancing to high school by having their name announced during the graduation procession, the special awards that teachers presented had little to do with academic achievement. Not surprisingly, the leader of the transgender walkout at issue here was recognized for her “bravery” during her time at Burley. Fittingly, this student received her award from the teacher with “she/her & they/them” pronouns in her email signature block. Noticeably absent from the ceremony was any recognition by Burley administrators of any top academic performer in the class.

Transgender advocacy itself is antithetical to education, for it trains children to ignore science, suspend their reasoning, and blindly accept the delusional “truth” of those afflicted with a mental disorder or a socially contagious syndrome. To comply with expectations for affirmation, students must play supporting actors in the fictional world of others who perpetuate outdated and often-demeaning gender stereotypes. Such coercion in the name of inclusivity kills critical thinking. This is indoctrination, not education. But this agenda will persist under current ACPS leadership, which maintains a deep bench of “equity” advocates in its organization, including two equity directors, five equity specialists, and one equity data scientist—a position recently filled by Carlock.

Given the district’s inattention to education, it is not surprising that student performance continues to decline, particularly for English learners and the economically disadvantaged, according to the 2022-2023 SOL assessments recently released by Virginia’s Department of Education. Recent school accreditation reports show that 4 of the county’s 24 schools were deemed “Accredited with Conditions,” meaning that they scored below state standards on at least one quality indicator. However, eight other schools had similar subpar scores but received an “Accreditation” label only because state law grants a three-year waiver based on past performance. For example, out of six quality indicators measured, Burley had one indicator below standard while Mountain View Elementary had two below standard—yet these schools were “Accredited” by waiver. So, in truth, half of all county schools failed to achieve acceptable state accreditation ratings in the last year.

ACPS administrators and school board members are failing our kids and this community on so many levels, and many residents are demanding accountability. More than 1,500 individuals have signed a petition asking the school board to begin searching for a new superintendent. In addition to that change, or perhaps to facilitate it, voters need to elect new members of the school board. We need board members who will not tolerate and excuse arbitrary waivers of student attendance requirements. We need board members who will not ignore policy violations and breaches of employee conduct standards just because certain actions comport with their own ideological beliefs. Ultimately, we need board members who will refocus our schools on education, because our children are there to learn.


  1. No regrets leaving ACPS as an employee. The kids were awesome just kids wanting to learn, felt so sorry for them though having to go to schools like that.

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