In a move that even surprised some of his fellow board members, Eric DeKenipp announced his resignation from the Loudoun County School Board during Tuesday night’s regularly scheduled board meeting. In his statement, DeKenipp said he’s resigning in order to spend more time with his family — especially his two daughters.
DeKenipp is one of the more conservative members of the board and has only been representing the Catoctin District since January of 2016. He’s been fairly well known in the Loudoun County education community, however, for quite a bit longer. He first got involved with Loudoun County Public Schools as a parent volunteer back in 2007 but gained a lot of attention in 2012. He sued the school system that year after boundary changes resulted in his children being transferred from John W. Tolbert Elementary School to Frederick Douglass Elementary School. While DeKenipp lost his case, the school board ended up making changes to improve transparency when redrawing school boundaries after receiving recommendations from the judge in the case.
Given that he only had a little over a year left in his first term and he had shown a passion for improving Loudoun’s schools even before running for office, many people found it interesting that DeKenipp suddenly was using the “time with family” excuse for resigning. The only real obvious answer to what might have recently changed is a company called Sevatec announced earlier this month that he was their new Vice President of Talent Management.
Sevatec is a national security firm based in Fairfax that specializes in software delivery, data analytics, and other technology related fields. According to Glassdoor, a website that allows employees to rate the companies they work for, the company has at least $100 million in revenue every year and supports efforts for the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, and several other federal agencies. In other words, it sounds like DeKenipp’s position might create a lot of new responsibilities for him and they could take time away from his school board and family responsibilities.
No matter what the full reasoning behind his unexpected departure, the school board has to move forward with finding his replacement. This could make for some interesting conversations because DeKenipp was one of the Board’s more vocally conservative members. He was very outspoken to adding LGBT status to the school system’s non-discrimination policy, for instance, and claimed “it’s not the School Board’s role to identify our protected classes.” This was despite Attorney General Mark Herring’s opinion that the School Board could, and probably should, update the policy.
Even after making his decision to resign from the Board, DeKenipp was using his position to rally behind conservative causes at Tuesday night’s meeting. The School Board puts for a Legislative Program every year that’s filled with recommendations for Loudoun County’s delegation to the General Assembly. This year’s version was passed unanimously by the Legislative and Policy Committee, which is a rarity in recent years, but faced some hiccups when it came before the full board.
DeKenipp was one of the people leading the opposition charge because he didn’t like the Committee’s support for making all school system buildings gun free. Even though there’s at least one armed sheriff’s deputy at every regular school board meeting, DeKenipp said he wouldn’t feel safe if people weren’t allowed to bring their guns to the School Administration Building. These sentiments are similar to those he made while passionately speaking in opposition to a gun violence prevention resolution passed by the Board back in April. While speaking from the dais, DeKenipp claimed he’s “armed everyday” and “armed right now.”
With all that in mind, groups advocating for commonsense gun reform and LGBT groups like Equality Loudoun are closely monitoring the search for his replacement. Anybody whose interested in the position has to contact the school board’s clerk by noon on November 26 and the school board will hold a special meeting at 6:30 that evening to interview candidates and seek public comment. The board will then make the appointment at 6:30 on December 4.
Since there were folks considering running for the seat in 2019 anyways, it shouldn’t be too surprising that some people have already stepped forward as potential candidates. While DeKenipp doesn’t officially have any say in who will replace him, he has endorsed Bob Ohneiser from Lucketts. Ohneiser already served on the school board for two terms representing Broad Run, but lost a bid for the At-Large seat on the board in 2011 and launched an unsuccessful bid to become Loudoun’s Commonwealth Attorney back in 2015.
Despite being endorsed by one of the board’s most conservative members, Ohneiser’s partisan affiliation has also been the topic of conversation over the years. Back in 2014, for instance, Jeanine Martin wrote a post over at The Bull Elephant about how he joined the Loudoun County Democratic Committee while he was serving on the school board as a Republican (Loudoun’s school board is technically non-partisan, but the parties endorse candidates). He now apparently identifies as an independent.
It appears as though liberals are lining up behind Amy Tribie, who has expressed interest in the seat and is currently serving as the president of Lucketts Elementary School’s PTA. In addition to working as a music teacher at a few different elementary schools in Loudoun over the course of nine years, she’s gained some attention recently while calling on the school board to increase security and communication after a staff member at Lucketts Elementary was threatened. Amy has also been actively advocating for the expansion of the elementary school ever since it became over enrolled after boundary changes back in 2016.
While most folks are rightfully focused in on the race between Jennifer Wexton and Barbara Comstock right now and the potential special election for state senate if Wexton wins, the decision on who will fill the Catoctin District School Board seat deserves attention as well. It’s the school board, after all, that is largely tasked with helping to ensure the next generation is able to receive the skills necessary to live up to their full potential.