Special edition: Megan McLaughlin discusses contentious School Board meeting - School sports delayed until December

McLaughlin: Superintendent Brabrand withheld information from the board

Welcome to a special, schools-focused edition of Wakefield Weekly! We’ve had the opportunity to discuss the all-virtual start to the school year with Braddock District School Board Member Megan McLaughlin. Since we’ll be on vacation next week, we decided to publish her responses now in a special Tuesday edition, along with the news about the fate of school sports.

As a reminder, the next edition of Wakefield Weekly will be Monday, August 10. Until then, please send news, tips, and more to wakefieldweekly@gmail.com

Megan McLaughlin: Superintendent Brabrand withheld information from the board

An interview with the Braddock District’s School Board representative

The Braddock District’s Megan McLaughlin has been the strongest voice on the School Board in pushing for at least some in-person instruction this fall—and she had tough words for Superintendent Scott Brabrand after he reversed course last week, proposing an all-virtual start. She accused Brabrand of blindsiding the board, describing his decision as a “breach of trust” and a “cop-out”—and said that in her eight years on the School Board she’d never felt the need to speak to a superintendent the way she did last week. “I am absolutely in shock by what you’ve done to this board and our families,” she said.

Following the contentious School Board meeting, we reached out to McLaughlin for her reflections on what had transpired. Her answers are below.

Q: You had very strong words for Superintendent Brabrand yesterday, calling his recommendation a "breach of trust." Should your constituents interpret this as you having lost faith in Brabrand as the right person to lead FCPS through this crisis?

As I noted in my final remarks during last Tuesday’s Work Session, I regret letting my growing frustration with Superintendent Brabrand get the better of me. However, as several Board Members and the Health Director noted during the meeting, he did blindside us (and the public) with his sudden announcement. The night before our public meeting, I inquired (via email) about the developing rumor that FCPS was going to announce a 100% virtual opening on Tuesday. His short email response was that he “cannot control rumors.” 

The truth is that he already knew his pending decision, but did not disclose it to the Board. He withheld his recommendation from the PowerPoint presentation, until shortly before the meeting started. He withheld information that he had met with principals several days earlier, where they informed him of staffing and master calendar concerns. He falsely claimed during the meeting that he and I had previously discussed his announcement. He failed to produce his leadership team’s Fall 2020 Project Management Plan (after multiple Board requests) as well as the data and metrics that were guiding his decision. He also made his recommendation without waiting to hear the Health Department’s compelling information that our County COVID conditions have remained stable (versus the rising cases across the nation), and that the Health Department lab was prepared to offer speedy COVID testing for FCPS school-based staff. 

While Superintendent Brabrand’s actions are a troubling breach of trust and confidence for me, I am committed to working professionally and respectfully with him. This was evident during the following two days of School Board Meetings (6/22 & 6/23). 

Q: What would you say to the majority of FCPS students and parents who opted for in-person instruction this fall?

I am very sorry that Superintendent Brabrand’s sudden decision to reopen 100% Virtual (at least the 1st Quarter) has created so much stress and disappointment for our students and families. Given our County’s current COVID conditions remain stable, FCPS could have used the following 6 weeks to carefully address in-person staffing challenges, while also monitoring any changes in our public health conditions. While Superintendent Brabrand did not provide our Board with clear data and metrics to explain his recent decision, I am encouraged that we have directed him to do so. (Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, Superintendent Brabrand had never indicated FCPS’ reopening plans would be influenced by the decisions of other area school systems, nor Regional/National COVID data). 

One encouraging note is the County government is currently operating “Camp Fairfax,” a Summer/Full-time School Aged Childcare (SACC) program for 5 weeks. This program provides vital childcare for 500+ children from working families, with numerous sites located within FCPS school buildings. It is my expectation that FCPS will monitor SACC’s progress to help inform its own efforts to safely reopen our schools. In the interim, I have reached out to County officials with a humble request that they explore ways to extend (and expand) SACC offerings into the Fall. 

Without question, the health & safety of our employees and students is paramount. FCPS must use the latest research and resources to guide our reopening efforts, including any necessary improvements to building ventilation, classroom capacity, personal protective equipment, and robust public health practices for all students, teachers, and staff. In addition, FCPS needs to continuously monitor County COVID conditions as well as the reopening successes of other national/international school systems. If our County COVID conditions continue to mirror these global locations, then we should certainly draw upon their successful reopening efforts to help us do the same.

In the meantime, I encourage families to contact me with any questions or feedback that they wish to share.

McLaughlin can be reached at Megan.McLaughlin@fcps.edu

Brabrand’s response

Asked for a response, FCPS spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell said, “The superintendent is focused on moving forward and ensuring that all FCPS students—and staff—experience a strong virtual opening and successful and rewarding academic experiences in Fall 2020.”


Athletics

School sports delayed until December: The Virginia High School League voted yesterday to push back school sports until December 14, adopting a condensed schedule in which all sports will be played across three shortened seasons. The new schedule will look like this:

  • Season 1 (Winter): December 14 through February 20. Includes basketball, gymnastics, indoor track, swim/dive, wrestling

  • Season 2 (Fall): February 15 through May 1. Includes cheer, cross country, field hockey, football, golf, volleyball

  • Season 3 (Spring): April 12 through June 26. Includes baseball, lacrosse, soccer, softball, tennis, track and field

“We all understand the physical and mental health benefits of getting our students back to a level of participation. The Condensed Interscholastic Plan leaves open the opportunity to play all sports in all three seasons if Virginia moves beyond Phase III and/or Phase III guidelines are revised and High Risk Activities are allowed,” said VHSL Executive Director Dr. John W. “Billy” Haun. “This plan also allows schools the opportunity to open the year and get school started and deal with issues such as schedules, academic plans, transportation, dealing with possible outbreaks of COVID in the school.”