Anybody who’s been following the school board races in Fairfax County this year knows overcrowded schools have been a big topic of conversation. The school system currently has over 750 classrooms in trailers because so many of our schools are over capacity. For a variety of reasons, the community is upset with this reliance on trailers and wants the school board to address the situation.
One possible solution would be making some slight adjustments to school boundaries. A prime example of this can be seen with McLean and Langley High Schools. McLean is extremely overcrowded while Langley is actually well under capacity, so the board is consider making some boundary changes to move students from McLean over to Langley. The school system still has to take a look at why so many of our schools are overcrowded and consider how to best move forward on the issue, this could help ease the burden in the meantime.
The Republicans running for school board, however, have showed they’re willing to negatively impact our schools in order to maintain their opposition to any even modest boundary changes. At a forum held at Mantua Elementary School on October 20, candidates were asked if they’d consider minor boundary changes to help address overcrowded schools. Vinson Palathingal said he’d oppose the changes, “even if we have to have trailers.”
“If I am part of the school board, that allows us to have community schools as the policy,” Palathingal said. “Then that’s the policy, that we keep community schools. Period. Even if we have to have trailers. Whatever we have to do.”
Palathingal’s statement does two things. First, it implies that folks are actually suggesting we split up neighborhoods and bus kids all over the county. This is completely false. In the case of McLean and Langley High Schools, for instance, many of the neighborhoods that would move from McLean to Langley already have relationships with the Langley High community through swim teams and things like that.
Secondly, he clearly states he’s so committed to stopping boundary changes that he’ll oppose them “even if we have to have trailers. Whatever we have to do.” Of course, he says this even though he’s been one of several Republican candidates who are constantly attacking the current school board for the high number of trailers. This makes it painfully obvious that Palathingal is more interested in scoring political points than finding actual solutions.
In attempt to score even more political points off the topic, he proceeded to suggest Democrats were only considering boundary changes so they could conduct some social engineering.
“We are not play around with the boundary policy based on socio-economic or whatever other criteria they are trying to bring in,” he said in an attempt to suggest Democrats are up to something evil. In answers to other questions at the forum, he said Democrats were promoting “a radical agenda” and he’s consistently echoed this sentiment while out on the campaign trail.
Of course, this is completely off base and doesn’t represent what folks who support the One Fairfax policy are trying to do. One Fairfax is simply a policy that encourages our elected officials to consider how policies like boundary changes might impact communities whose voices aren’t traditionally heard by our leaders for whatever reason. In other words, this could help to prevent the board’s decisions from having unintended negative consequences.
Putting it that way, however, doesn’t allow the Republicans to stir up their base of supporters and get them energized in the lead up to election day. Palathingal and his fellow Republicans would therefore much rather support a policy agenda that keeps students in trailers instead of making tough decisions that could improve their educational experience.
For those who are interested, here’s the video of Palathingal’s remarks.