A furor erupted Monday night with the news that Jack Dale, superintendent of the Fairfax County Public School system, approved a political rally with Republican candidates Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin, at Fairfax High School during school hours.
An explanation for the decision was that Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate, had held a town meeting at Robinson High School this summer, and so the McCain campaign request was approved.
School facilities in Fairfax County often are available for community events, both partisan and non-partisan, but not during school hours. No regular classes were going on at Robinson when Senator Obama appeared there this summer. The Fairfax rally appeared to have been designed for student participation – during classes. After several members of the School Board raised objections to Dr. Dale’s waiver of school board policy, the rally was moved abruptly to a City of Fairfax park.
The dust-up brought to mind an appearance by President George W. Bush at J.E.B. Stuart High School in January of 2006. President and Mrs. Bush came to the school to focus on the No Child Left Behind legislation. The school served as a convenient backdrop for the president’s speech, but it had all the marks of a political rally, with lots of Republican supporters invited to attend, along with selected students. The president’s visit threw the school into an uproar. Security was paramount, and the Secret Service presence was heavy all around. Everyone – student and visitor alike – was subjected to intense scrutiny. Regular classroom activities had to be suspended to ensure security, and the school essentially was shut down from the time the President and First Lady’s limousine pulled up to the door, to the time they left. It was as though everyone inhaled, and no one exhaled until it was over.
I can’t imagine that much classroom work got done that day, which is ironic since No Child Left Behind requires that students pass the Standards of Learning to ensure accreditation of their school. Fairfax County schools may provide a fine “stage” for presidential politics, but the disruption to the classroom often is overlooked in the race to sound bites and a flash on television. The needs of the students and teachers must come first, a focus, fortunately, of school board members, but apparently not for the superintendent.
In-person absentee voting for the November 4 General Election will begin on September 19 at the Office of Elections at the Fairfax County Government Center in Fairfax. Log on to www.fairfaxcounty.gov/eb, or call 703/222-0776 for information.
In-person absentee voting at satellite locations, including the Mason District Govern-mental Center, will begin on October 15 and extend until November 1. Satellite voting hours are Monday through Friday, 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.
If you wish to vote absentee by mail, the deadline for applications is October 28. The last day to register to vote in the General Election is October 6 at 6 p.m.