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Fairfax School Board adopts code of conduct for members

10-2 vote sets in place "corrective measures" for inappropriate behavior

The Fairfax County School Board on April 13 voted 10-2 to approve a new policy that governs expectations of board members’ conduct – including with their employees – and stipulates corrective measures in case of violations.

“The Fairfax County School Board is committed to conducting its responsibilities as a steward of the school system in a professional manner that addresses goal setting, monitoring compliance, and a focus on continuous improvement,” the policy read.

The new policy, which incorporates by reference the Virginia School Boards Association’s Code of Conduct, summarizes expectations and protocols listed in the board’s Strategic Governance Manual regarding how members work with and supervise School Board staff.

The policy requires School Board members to:

• Adhere to professional standards of conduct expected of all Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) employees and comply with all applicable laws and School Board policies.

• Understand that individual members have no authority except that assigned to them by the School Board as a whole, or through duly adopted board policies.

• Refrain from representing their personal views as those of the School Board or school system, and refrain from communicating or appearing to communicate on behalf of same without express consent from the School Board.

• Participate in professional development and trainings upon assuming office, and thereafter annually, as required by the Code of Virginia.

• Maintain confidentiality of any submitted complaints to the extent permitted by law and share all related information only with those FCPS employees and board members who need to know so as to assist in the review, investigation and resolution of the complaints.

The police also allows employees in School Board members’ offices to file complaints of discrimination, harassment or bullying via online forms provided by the Office of Equity & Employee Relations.

These complaints will be referred to the Office of Division Counsel, which will engage an independent, outside investigator if an initial review determines an investigation is necessary.

The school system also has the option of addressing complaints through an informal resolution process.

Only the School Board’s chairman and vice chairman will be informed by the Office of Division Counsel if complaints are made and they then will maintain confidentiality. If complaints are lodged against the chairman or vice chairman, only the one without the complaint will be informed.

The Office of Division Counsel will inform the board member under investigation at the appropriate time, and based on the severity of the alleged conduct, may recommend expedited notice of the full School Board.

When the investigation ends, the investigator will draft a report including a summary of the allegations, evidence reviewed, factual findings  and analysis of those facts, and provide a conclusion on whether the board member violated the school system’s nondiscrimination policies and regulations.

The investigator’s report also will include recommendations regarding findings of noncompliance with FCPS policies and regulations, and potential remedial measures. Even if investigators cannot find noncompliance in those cases, they still may recommend training or other remediation if appropriate.

The Office of Division Counsel, along with the School Board’s chairman and vice chair, will review the outside investigation (unless it involves one of those board leaders).

The outside investigator will review the findings with the employee and the School Board member in question and provide information about specific allegations, the investigation’s scope, basis for the findings and suggestions for remedial or corrective actions.

The full School Board then will be briefed regarding the complaint and related findings and recommendations.

The new policy strictly prohibits retaliation against people who file complaints or provide information as witnesses in investigations. People with complaints of retaliation should report them immediately to the Office of Division Counsel, the policy read.

Failure to adhere to the policy could not result in removal from office, but could result in:

• Private conversations between the School Board member in question and the board chairman or another member.

• Discussions between the member under scrutiny and the full board.

• The board member’s potential removal from leadership or committee positions to which he or she has been appointed or elected.

• A public statement regarding the member’s noncompliance.

• Other measures necessary to correct the violation and prevent it from happening again.

Each School Board member is deemed responsible for implementing and monitoring the policy, which the board must review at least every five years and revise as necessary.

School Board member Karen Corbett Sanders (Mount Vernon District) moved for approval of the motion, adding that when she joined the board in 2016, members supervised only the superintendent.

“As we have professionalized the operations of the board by hiring an auditor general and staff aides, it’s become apparent that we need to specifically address a policy that I believe was implicitly understood by the members of the board,” she said.

The board’s Governance Committee earlier had passed the policy unanimously, said School Board member Karen Corbett Sanders (Mount Vernon District).

Board member Ricardy Anderson (Mason District) said the policy would give employees important job protections, but said she still had reservations about some aspects of the policy, which she did not detail.

Anderson and board member Abrar Omeish (At-Large) voted against the policy.