The Open FCPS Coalition submitted over 5,000 signatures to recall Fairfax County Public School Board Member Elaine Tholen on Monday. The petitions were launched during frustration about the school’s pandemic virtual learning policies.
“Today symbolizes the culmination of collective efforts of dozens of volunteers and thousands of parents, all to send a clear message to the Fairfax County School Board that our community must return to the business of putting the education and well-being of children first,” Open FCPS member Ian Tompkins said in a Monday press conference.
In a statement, Tholen said, “When almost 60 percent of the Dranesville District voters chose me, they knew I would stand up for their children’s interests and educational needs. That’s my job, and that’s what I do every single day.”
FCPS has announced plans to have five-days-a-week, in-person school in the upcoming school year. But the Open FCPS Coalition is still seeking to recall Springfield District Member Laura Jane Cohen, Dranesville District Member Elaine Tholen, and At-Large Member Abrar Omeish.
“The reason they are still up for recall is because what they did this last year is unforgivable. Closing schools in March of 2020 until the end of the school year was understandable. But continuing this charade all the way until March of 2021 caused long-lasting damage,” Open FCPS Coalition spokesperson Vanessa Hill told The Virginia Star in June.
To recall the members, signatures are required from voters in the member’s district. The recall petition for each member must have an amount of signatures equal to at least 10 percent of the votes cast to elect that member. Open FCPS said they still need 4,000 signatures to recall Cohen and 27,000 to recall Omeish.
A judge will now review the Tholen recall petition. An Open FCPS spokesperson said Tholen can ask the judge to dismiss the petition.
Open FCPS Coalition PAC is largely funded by $55,000 from Republican advocacy organization N2 America Inc, and $15,000 from Pete Snyder, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
Frustration over virtual learning boosted local participation in school board politics, and grassroots advocates are protesting equity initiatives and transgender policies. A school board recall effort in nearby Loudoun County is also gaining traction, and school board meetings across the Commonwealth frequently see large amounts of public commenters.
Republican candidates for statewide office have ridden that wave, beginning with calls for schools to reopen. They are now pivoting to opposition to Critical Race Theory and are arguing that new policies are degrading educational quality.
Open FCPS emphasized that the recall isn’t about Republican or Democratic activism. In the press conference, several people stood in the background with blue and red signs saying, “Keep politics out of our schools.”
In the Monday press conference, Tompkins said, “Our mission has been and remains only to remove those school board members who have chosen to advocate their responsibility to fight for our kids to be back in person, in the classroom where they belong.”
He said, “They have yet to present a detailed plan to the public that outlines what students and families can expect for the 2021-2022 school year. It is now July 19 and we still do not have answers to the basics.”
Tholen said, “I look forward to continuing to earn my constituents’ trust and support as we prepare to welcome all students in person five days per week. It’s hard work, but there’s no greater calling than to provide a safe, challenging and fun learning environment for our students.”
“My life’s work has been to take care of students and families. As a former classroom educator and now a school board member, I have always worked for my students’ well-being and to help them reach their utmost potential. I will continue to put our students’ best interests first,” Tholen said.
– – –