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DOJ Letter Shouldn’t Delay 13th HS; Supervisors Criticize School Board Members

| January 12, 2017 | 0 Comments | Education
Image from above showing the side view of the new high school prototype.

Image from above showing the side view of the new high school prototype.

Prince William County Schools‘ administration does not expect a delay in the construction of the 13th county high school due to a letter school board members sent to the Department of Justice requesting an investigation.

“We have not heard from the DOJ and its unlikely that any inquiry would interfere with the schedule,” said Phil Kavits, Director of Communications Services for Prince William County Schools.

School Board Chairman At-large Ryan Sawyers, Vice Chairwoman Lillie Jessie and Woodbridge member Loree Williams sent the letter to the DOJ, Monday, requesting the department to begin an investigation into the approval of the 13th high school based upon a grant issued by the board of county supervisors.

prince-william-county-schools-doj-letter

The school board members allege the grant violates the Equal Opportunities Act of 1974 because it provides better opportunities for white students than minority students.

The letter argues money was spent on a “opulent” school to be used for a predominantly white student body on the western end of the county. Although the same amount of money was allocated for an eastern end school, they argue that the funds would not go far enough to help the minority population of elementary students there because there are more of them than the population of one high school.

Woodbridge Supervisor Frank Principi speaking at the Jan. 10 meeting of the Prince William Board of Supervisors.

Woodbridge Supervisor Frank Principi speaking at the Jan. 10 meeting of the Prince William Board of Supervisors.

During supervisors’ time, Tuesday at the Prince William Board of County Supervisors regular meeting, Supervisor Frank Principi (D) of Woodbridge took umbrage with the letter written by known members of his own political party, saying they engaged in “the worst kind of politics.”

He asked the county attorney to keep his board informed should the letter trigger an investigation and also to prepare to defend them should it be required.

Principi explained that he did not want to be associated with the kind of politics the three school board members had engaged in.

My initial thought was that it was just simply sour grapes, but it’s worse than that. These three individuals who signed the letter may feel strongly that there is some kind of civil rights violation here, but in the end, it’s the worst kind of politics, and I don’t just want to be associated with it at all. But I do want to be defended. I want this board to be defended. And without objection, I would issue that staff directive.

Principi worked with Supervisor Pete Candland (R-Gainesville) to craft the proposal to provide $10.6 million to an eastern elementary school. Principi demanded the grant exactly match that which the other side of the county was receiving, and considered how the money could best be utilized for his district and neighboring ones. Knowing land was scarce and older school buildings overcrowded, he hoped the additional funding could help realize some of the needed projects to relieve overcrowding.

Supervisor Candland also had strong words for the three signers of the letter to the DOJ. He especially went after Chairman Ryan Sawyers for his role in the letter.

“[The chairman has] lived his life through threats, lawsuits, FOIAs and name calling…I will let him know right now that the Board of County Supervisors will not be bullied by his actions,” Candland said.

Candland defended the legitimacy of the grant, saying the letter “really tortures the facts that really do not reflect reality.”

He explained the school design was not chosen for its opulence, but for its ability to accommodate an additional 500 students at a cost lower than it would take to remodel the Battlefield design.

Candland said it is also wrong to assume it would be a majority white school, considering the diversity of the populations from which the school would draw. He noted that while approximately 60 percent of Battlefield and Patriot students are white, less than one third of Stonewall Jackson students are, and Stonewall Jackson will be at 180 percent capacity by the time the new school opens in 2021.

“This isn’t about race; it isn’t about opulent schools,” said Candland. “It is about trying to make our schools have bigger capacity to help the kids in Prince William County Schools.”

During the joint meeting of the school board and board of county supervisors, that evening, Jessie and Williams did comment on the overcrowding of schools on the eastern end of the county, which was also a primary focus of concern for the school division. Williams suggested unique school designs or even utilizing nontraditional structures for schools such as office buildings to house students.

© 2017, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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