Candidates vying for the Providence and Dranesville district seats on the Fairfax County School Board debated a variety of issues — from guns to vaping — at local debates.
Two recent candidate debates hosted by the League of Women Voters-Fairfax Area gave community members a chance to hear from the school board candidates.
The audience questions varied drastically at the two debates — except for the issue of school safety and bullying of LGBTQ students.
Guns in Schools and Active Shooter Drills
Dranesville District candidate Ardavan Mobasheri and Providence District candidate Karl Frisch said that they are worried about excessive school safety procedures.
“Schools are becoming fortresses,” Mobasheri said.
Frisch said that active shooter drills are unnecessarily and cause harm. “I’m afraid we are traumatizing our kids,” Frisch said.
Frisch made a point that telling teachers to put black paper over windows and hiding in the corner is not an efficient measure during an active shooter situation.
Karl Frisch’s opponent, Andrea Bayer, agreed with him that drills are not effective. During the debate, Bayer said that many of the active shooter training drills are costly to the taxpayers and not backed by statistical evidence that shows they work.
“Let’s do the thinking before we invest tax dollars,” she said.
Frisch and Bayer suggested bulletproof glass in the classroom, more efficient teacher training and cameras monitoring the schools.
The other two Providence District candidates — Anastasia Karloutsos and Elaine Tholen — focused on school resource officers (SROs), agreeing that they should have guns.
Tholen said that SROs should be the only people in schools allowed to have guns, while Karloutsos said that guns should be expanded to SROs or retired police officers in elementary schools.
How to Address LGBTQ Bullying
All of the candidates agreed that LGBTQ students should feel safe at school.
“We need to make sure every single student that walks through our doors feels protected,” Frisch said.
Bayer noted that “Fairfax County has always accommodated LGBTQ students.” She said that she’s never heard of any issues.
Tholen, a Providence District candidate, said that she wants to see more community schools, mentor programs and peer-to-peer programs. One of her opponents, Karloutsos, said that mental health counselors could help students struggling with bullying.
Providence District Candidate Debate
At the Providence District Candidate Forum last Wednesday (Oct. 16), popular topics for the school board candidates included vape pen and e-cigarette use among kids, prayer in schools and retention. (Providence District School Board candidate Jung Byun did not attend the event.)
When it came to bus driver retention, Bayer said it’s low “because behavior is a major issue on the bus.”
“I don’t like driving my van. Why would I want to drive a school bus?” she said, adding that traffic leads to frustrated drivers.
Frisch said that bus drivers — and the rest of school staff — need higher wages.
The candidates sparred over how they would approach prayer and vaping in schools.
Frisch said that he supports expanding holidays for Muslim and Jewish kids because kids can lose out on education when they are forced to take off school days for religious holidays, while Bayer said that students have opportunities to practice whatever they want.
“Our schools are freedom of religion not freedom for religion,” Bayer said.
As for vaping, Bayer said that vaping is a parenting issue, while Frisch said he would use his platform, if elected, to educate students on vaping.
Dranesville District Candidates Spar Over Overcrowding, One Fairfax
Karloutsos and Tholen agreed that the principal needs to be involved in the decision making.
While Tholen said that she is supportive of a boundary adjustment that would switch some McLean High School students to Langley High School as a short term solution, Mobasheri said he does not support the proposal.
“McLean [High School] needs an addition,” Mobasheri said, calling for a new high school in Tysons. “It is no longer suburbia.”
While only brought up briefly, One Fairfax — a joint social and racial equity policy of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and School Board — was one of the most contentious topics of the night.
Karloutsos blasted it as a “big issue,” while Mobasheri called it the “21st-century rendition of the Bill of Rights.” (Tholen did not comment during that debate on One Fairfax.)
There were two topics that the three Dranesville District candidates all agreed on — students should be vaccinated and that restraint and seclusion should either be used when there is a threat of imminent danger or never at all.
The election is on Nov. 5.
Ashley Hopko and Catherine Douglas Moran contributed to this story.