A paid advertisement greeting his twin children upon their graduation from George Mason High School this month that appeared in the high school’s yearbook was reported to F.C. City Police and the School Superintendent because its author was Michael Gardner, a former City resident who is serving a 20-year prison sentence for molesting four girls, one of whom is also a graduating senior at Mason this month.
The girl, Sandre Rice, 18, told a news reporter that she felt a word used by Gardner in the ad, “immolate” in the greeting, “Loves, immolate false things without regret to give what remains. Love Dad,” was intended to intimidate her. Part of an interview with Falls Church City Public Schools (FCCPS) Superintendent Peter Noonan in response to the incident was aired on a WUSA-TV news report on June 11.
At the F.C. School Board meeting this Tuesday, Noonan read a public statement that stated, “Last week marked the end of another successful year in FCCPS. We are so proud of our students, staff, faculty, parents, kin, and committed community members for their amazing, inspiring, and uplifting work. You all prove and affirm to me that we are indeed better together. The celebratory tone of the final weeks of school was muted due to an issue with, a stain on, the GMHS yearbook. Unfortunately, a parental ad submitted to and published in the yearbook has reopened wounds and in many ways retraumatized our community. For this, we are sorry. We receive and review so many ads, photos and quotes from so many members of our community for publication in our yearbooks. We entrust the community — those submitting ads — to help us ensure their content is appropriate, in line with our FCCPS values and worthy of inclusion. Regrettably, this ad slipped by us. When discovered, FCCPS immediately communicated with their students and families impacted. We hope they feel supported and cared for by us and the broader FCCPS community. Going forward, we are committed to assessing our yearbook policies and procedures and doing our part to produce yearbooks that truly are a celebration of our students’ and communities’ achievements. But we will continue to rely on the entire community to do right by one another, to respect one another, and to ensure the safety and well-being of all of our FCCPS students. We cannot do this alone. It takes a community to raise our children, and to produce a yearbook, and we must work together towards this end. I look forward to the days ahead, to our growth, including our new high school, and to what we can achieve together.”
School Board vice chair Greg Anderson, chairing the Tuesday meeting, said, “I appreciate the sentiment behind the statement.” School Board member Phil Reitinger added, “The path taken to handle this has been the right one.”