Last night, the Fairfax County At-Large candidates for School Board participated in a forum in Great Falls (see video, at the bottom of this post). The At-Large candidates are Democratic-endorsed Abrar Omeish, Rachna Sizemore Heizer, incumbent Karen Keys-Gamarra and Republican challengers Vinson Palathingal, Priscilla DeStefano (who wasn’t there last night) and Cheryl Buford. Also participating last night were Democratic-endorsed Elaine Tholen, plus Anastasia S. Karloutsos and Ardavan Mobasheri for the Dranesville District seat on the Fairfax County School Board.
For a fascinating discussion of what went down last night at this forum, see Shyamali Hauth’s public Facebook post, which makes the following points (bolding added by me for emphasis; also note that Hauth encouraged me to share the post):
- “Rachna Sizemore Heizer, Karen Keys-Gamarra, Abrar Omeish, and Elaine Tholen all gave intelligent and thoughtful answers at tonight’s Great Falls Citizens Association Forum tonight. These are by far the most qualified candidates to represent Fairfax County on the School Board at-large and in the Dranesville district. Abrar demonstrated her capacity to listen to everyone and pledged to represent all county residents while ensuring equity across the county. Karen brought detailed information on successes she has helped to bring about over the past two years. And Rachna showed a depth of knowledge and nuanced understanding of all issues. She is extraordinarily highly qualified for this position.”
- “I strongly disagreed with many of the comments made by their opposition. Comments from Republican-endorsed candidates tonight ranged from a desire to leave schools as they are in terms of numbers/boundaries (no interest in addressing inequity), to faulting black and LatinX children for not working hard enough to get into TJ.”
- “I was particularly disturbed by the Republican candidate, Vinson Palathingal, who dismissed children with disabilities as ‘silly’. He said they just needed to work harder. He obviously does not understand the nature of various disabilities nor does he believe in inclusive strengths based education. It would be harmful to our students for someone with his views to be in a position of authority over the schools.”
Regarding the comments by Republican candidate Vinson Palathingal (at around 1 hour, 40 minutes), I went to the video and listened for myself. Here’s what Palathingal had to say (bolding added by me for emphasis):
“So if we have twice as many as Montgomery County, definitely that needs to be reviewed, what’s going on. Maybe, I don’t know the details, exactly what the reasons are, but maybe they are giving additional time for ADD children on SAT and…maybe that’s the reason why, maybe it’s not really a major difference. But whatever that is, if we have twice as many special needs children as Montgomery County, definitely there is something that needs to be studied further – I strongly believe that. Because I have seen sometimes referrals for additional time requirement, and you know, once you get that for an ADD child, then you are considered a special needs, so that may be boosting the numbers. I have had one ADD situation in my home when the teachers were…you can actually get more time…I told them you don’t need it, just practice more and…So there maybe is encouragement of additional time for silly things like ADD – you can manage it – so I don’t know, maybe that’s the reason, but we need to study further.'”
The comments section of Hauth’s public Facebook post was also very interesting. Here are a few comments that jumped out at me (again, bolding added by me for emphasis):
- Regarding Palathingal’s comments that people were somehow distorting what he said, one person responded, “Vinson Xavier Palathingal – I watched the video. It doesn’t help your case. At all. Accommodations for ADHD (it isn’t called ADD anymore) are necessary supports, not silliness. And I promise you ‘silly’ accommodations are not why FCPS has more sped enrollment. Your response displays your complete lack of understanding of special education, how eligibility is determined, who determines eligibility criteria and how meaningful accommodations are to the students who need them.”
- “As a parent of two 2e [twice-exceptional] students with adhd, I was particularly angry at statements made by Vinson who dismissed extra time as not necessary and said adhd students do not need that to succeed. That alone is a clear reason why he is unqualified and would be harmful to all students with disabilities.”
- “As a former FCPS special ed teacher, I am very upset about the candidate’s disparaging comments about students of color and those with disabilities. Definitely should NOT be on the School Board.”
- “The comments about TJ were bad enough but the disability comments show complete ignorance on his part.”
- Palatingal waded in, claimed that people telling “lies…about me.” Except that, if you go to the videotape, it’s hard to understand what he’s referring to. As one person responded, “This comment also says a lot about your character. Also, if you can feel this way about your own family member then how can I trust you to respect my 2e child?”
- And then there was this comment about the debate moderator. “Lowell – if you are going to write up last night’s meeting, you need to call out the conduct of Matt Haley, the moderator from Great Falls, who deviated from the format of the debate at the end and directed two loaded (and likely planted) questions regarding school boundaries at Elaine Tholen and Karen Keys Gamarra without (1) giving either a full opportunity to respond; or (2) directing similarly pointed questions at any other individual candidate. While both Elaine and Karen found a way to address those questions without missing a beat, it was a ridiculous note upon which to wrap up the Q&A portion of the forum. To elaborate, the questions related to comments that Elaine and Karen had previously made in the context of FCPS potentially building another high school in western Fairfax, which will not happen for at least another decade. Haley took those comments out of context and tried to spin it as if Elaine and Karen had flip-flopped on whether, in the short term, any students should be rezoned out of Langley (which most everyone agrees is not currently warranted, since LHS is now significantly under-enrolled). And then, after lobbing those questions at Elaine and Karen, Haley told them he couldn’t set aside time for them to respond, but they could either work their responses into their closing statements or seek out audience members after the debate to clarify their views. Very partisan way to end the Q&A.” I checked the video, below, and that was indeed what happened (about 23 1/2 minutes from the end) – and agree with the characterization of the person who commented on Shyamali Hauth’s Facebook post that this was a “very partisan way to end the Q&A” and also highly biased, slanted, “loaded,” etc.
- “It was really something. Really something. I could hardly believe my ears. Shameful display of ignorance of all the myriad issues confronting children and schools. Rachna Sizemore Heizer did an excellent job putting words to my anger. My favorite candidates did an outstanding job.”
In her closing, by the way, Rachna Sizemore Heizer really nailed it when she said the following: “No child’s disability should be referred to as a ‘silly’ thing. No child should be referred to as a ‘silly’ thing. I am here because I want every child…to be respected, to be seen for their strengths…” Well said by Rachna Sizemore Heizer. I encourage every Fairfax registered voter to show up on November 5 (or vote early/absentee) for Heizer, as well as for the other Democratic-endorsed candidates for School Board. As you can see from this debate, they are clearly the best choices for Fairfax County’s public school system.
P.S. Almost forgot to mention, but one person contacted me to say, “Would love someone to call out that, in now two forums with the School Board At-Large candidates, the only Special Education question was on enrollment – in other words why does Fairfax County have so many special education kids?” It’s a great point; imagine how people would react if people serving on or running for the School Board suggested breaking out the per-participant cost for stuff like sports and questioned the outcome (e.g., how many professional athletes do these programs produce per dollar of expenditure)???