New Complaint: School Board Chair Breaches Ethics Code

Joins partisan pro-lottery rally to "speak for the entire board," advocates demand recusal

By Asra Q. Nomani

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Outside Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, two women showed up at a rally of a spattering of 15 people, carrying signs and shouting into a bullhorn to express their support for a controversial new lottery plan for admission to America’s No. 1 high school.

“Hello, Hello,” one said waving to the crowd, walking in front of the camera broadcasting the video to the world on Facebook Live, casually mentioning, “We’ve got two school board members here.”

The MC, Jorge Torro, an alumnus volunteer in a recently-formed lobbying organization, called TJ Alumni Action Group, quickly took notice. He had two Fairfax County School Board members as his rally to support his small group. He was ecstatic.

He had good reason to be. Over the next few minutes, captured in this video clip, these two board members confirmed what parents, students, alumni and community members have long believed: that the process is rigged against them, as they try to defend merit-based, race-blind admissions to the premiere high school. Here is the full 12:26 minutes of the Facebook Live session, with a full-on attack by a TJ alum on current TJ students and families as beneficiaries of a “pay to play” scheme.

“First of all, thank you for having this forum. This is important. And it's really essential that your voices be heard on this matter,” started Anderson.

And then she dropped this: “I know that I speak for the entire board, and also for Ms. Keys-Gamarra when I say that, making sure that we address this issue is paramount, and making sure that we're addressing this issue now, not later, it’s imperative.”

In fact, Anderson didn’t “speak for the board,” because the full 12-person board hasn’t yet voted on a much-pilloried “merit lottery” plan by Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand.

After watching the video, the Coalition for TJ, a network of more than 5,000 parents, student, alumni and community members, fired off a complaint to the board members demanding Anderson’s recusal.

As noted in the complaint, the Fairfax County School Board Strategic Governance Manual states clearly:

  • The School Board Chair has a duty of “ensuring the integrity of Board processes, exercising these responsibilities with integrity, fairness and impartiality,” and the Board Chair can only “represent the Board as appropriate and serve as spokesperson for the Board” in announcing “Board-stated positions.” 

  • There have been no “Board-stated positions” related to TJ admissions, meaning Anderson violated Board ethics by representing the board without authority to speak on behalf of the Board.

To make matters worse, Anderson went on to sanction the new lottery plan, which amounts to a phenomenon called “race balancing,” deemed a violation of the U.S. Constitution and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Repeating a mantra advocates, including the superintendent and TJ principal, Ann Bonitatibus, have been arguing for months, building the momentum for this radical change, she said, “This is not reflective of the demographics of our schools, and we need to be able to serve all of the students of Fairfax County, not preserve some status quo issue of years past. So I'm very glad to be here.”

The demands in the complaint are straightforward:

  1. The immediate censure of Anderson;

  2. The immediate removal of Anderson from her role as chair, governing the matter of TJ admissions;

  3. Her recusal from any decisions related to TJ admissions;

  4. The assignment of FCPS Board Vice Chair Stella Pekarsky to lead all business related to TJ admissions.

  5. The halting of the “biased and unethical decision making process” related to TJ.

Anderson revealed her bias furthermore to cheers from the folks assembled around her. “I'm very glad to support this cause. And I will continue to champion the equity that we need in all areas including TJ admissions,” she concluded, using the buzzword of “equity,” popular among ideologues of the problematic “critical race theory” philosophy that believes that schools such as TJ must have “equal outcomes” for racial groups, otherwise they are vestiges of “systemic racism.”

With a swipe of hand sanitizer, her friend and fellow school board member Karen Keys-Gamarra took the microphone, with aspersions on the school’s mostly Asian, mostly immigrant parents who have been flooding her in box with complaints about the new lottery system.

She said that “some of the issues are getting clouded” and “people are speaking for others,” speaking cryptically but opponents of the lottery watching at home knew that she was continuing the microaggressions that have been leveled against TJ families for months, the speaker before her repeating another allegation that students only get into TJ through the much-alleged but not proven “pay-to-play” operations.

She continued with the implicit bias against the hundreds who had written to her opposing the plan, saying that she was pleased to be among the 15 around her, hearing “from the entire community,” virtue signaling to the crowd with a celebratory “we are about equity.”

She acknowledged “the heat has been turned up, we've received hundreds of letters in opposition to change.”

And then she dismissed the “opposition,” reassuring those nearby that “I want you to know that I stand a little stronger because I know what it looks like when you give opportunity to every student, and that's what we're really fighting about.”

She punctuated her comments not like a school board member but an activist, with a rallying cry, “It cannot be business as usual. So let's go finish this job.”

Torre let out an attempt at a whooping sound, fading into the quiet of the crowd. But it didn’t matter. He was all smiles. The two board members had delivered. And with their act of loyalty they also came through on another front: participation in a serious breach of ethics.

Asra Q. Nomani is a former Wall Street Journal reporter and the parent of a student at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. She can be reached at asra@asranomani.com.


The Ethics Complaint Against Fairfax County School Board Chair

October 5, 2020

To the Fairfax County Public School Board Members and Vice Chair Stella Pekarsky, 

We, the members of the Coalition for TJ, representing over 5,000 parents, students, alumni and community members, are hereby filing a complaint against Board Chairman Ricardy Anderson for breaches of the Virginia School Board Association Code of Conduct for School Members while attending a partisan rally hosted by the TJ Alumni Action Group, a 501(c)(4) pro-”merit” lottery advocacy group, on Sunday, October 4. The rally consisted of 17 people, including Ms. Anderson and fellow Board Member Karen Keys-Gamarra, expressing support for immediate implementation of a new lottery admissions plan for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. 

Specifically, Ms. Anderson: 

  • Announced she was there to “speak for the entire board,” in supporting immediate “imperative” change to the TJ admissions policy with the passage of the new “merit lottery” plan, as opposed to studying the issue further, as requested by many constituents, as well as numerous School Board members. 

  • In particular, she stated: “I know that I speak for the entire Board, and also for Ms. Keys-Gamarra when I say that, making sure that we address this issue is paramount, and making sure that we're addressing this issue now, not later. It’s imperative.”

  • Publicly and prematurely released the School Board’s decision on Superintendent Scott Brabrand’s revised merit lottery proposal, before a vote (to our knowledge) has even occurred or public engagement has ended. 

  • Called for illegal, constitutional and Anti-Asian race-leveling, indicating that the changes to be made have the intended effect of causing the demographics of TJ to be “reflective of the demographics of our schools” -- in other words, many fewer Asians at TJ. This ill-advised statement (no doubt made without advice of legal counsel) exposes Fairfax County and this Board to legal liability and will likely result in the county and this Board being subject to legal action as well as substantial legal costs.

The full transcript of the Oct. 2, 2020, event is Exhibit A. The video of the event, which was originally published live on the TJ Alumni Action Group Facebook page to potentially thousands of Fairfax County residents, can be viewed at this link, starting at 07:00:

The Fairfax County School Board Strategic Governance Manual states clearly:

  • The School Board Chair has a duty of “ensuring the integrity of Board processes, exercising these responsibilities with integrity, fairness and impartiality,” and the Board Chair can only “represent the Board as appropriate and serve as spokesperson for the Board” in announcing “Board-stated positions.” 

  • There have been no “Board-stated positions” related to TJ admissions and thus Ms. Anderson violated Board ethics by representing the board without authority to speak on behalf of the Board.

  • If the Board has in fact ALREADY decided this issue, either in person or collectively, then the Board itself has violated various open government laws. We assume that this is not the case, but if so, it should be announced.

We note that School Board Member Karen Keys-Gamarra was in attendance at the rally and made no attempt to correct the unethical statements of Ms. Anderson, leading viewers and participants to further perceive the statements as accurate.

This is an unacceptable breach of the ethical code of conduct. 

With a School Board work session scheduled for Tuesday, October 6, and a board decision scheduled for Thursday, October 8, we demand:

  • The immediate censure of Ms. Anderson;

  • The immediate removal of Ms. Anderson from her role as chair, governing the matter of TJ admissions;

  • Her recusal from any decisions related to TJ admissions;

  • The assignment of FCPS Board Vice Chair Stella Pekarsky to lead all business related to TJ admissions.

  • The halting of this biased and unethical decision making process related to TJ.

Please inform us immediately of your response. 

Coalition for TJ

The Facts

On Sunday, October 4, 2020, TJ Alumni Action Group, a 501(c)4 lobbying organization, organized a rally at the entrance of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology to support a “revised merit policy” proposal introduced on Friday, October 2, by FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand.

As the evidence will show, two members of the School Board were in attendance, Karen Keys-Gamarra and Ricardy Anderson.

During the partisan rally, Ms. Anderson, the chairperson of the school board, in charge of ethics violations and governance issues for the board, stated: “I know that I speak for the entire board.”

Transcript of Oct. 2, 2020, Conflict of Interest

Oct 5, 2020

The video (transcript starting at 07:14):

The TJ Alumni Action Group, a 501(c)4 lobbying organization which was created to give political contributions and lobby on behalf of specific legislation, organized a rally in front of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va.. Standing on the sidewalk off Braddock Road, they set up their camera in front of an iconic sculpture at the entrance to the school, with the name of the school behind them.

About 15 people carried signs.

(7:00) Jorge Torrico, applicant engagement and outreach chair of TJ Alumni Action Group, was the master of ceremonies for the event. FCPS school board chair Ricardy Anderson walked in front of the camera, waving, wearing a red jacket and facemask that said, “I can’t breathe.” 

Anderson: Hello, hello. We’ve got two school board members here.

Torrico (7:14): Oh, wonderful. So we’re so happy to have two school board members here with us. They have just joined us. We got Karen Keys-Gamarra and we got…

Anderson: Ricardy Anderson.

Torrico: Dr. Ricardy Anderson. Sorry. I'm just getting familiar with your names. It has been a pleasure to watch you guys in your work and your dedication in the school board meetings during the summer. Thank you. First of all, welcome! This is TJAAG. Everybody please welcome the school board members, Dr. Ricardy Anderson and Karen Keys-Gamarra. So I want to give you guys an opportunity to address the crowd if you'd like, and to address why you're here. Would you guys be interested in that?

Anderson (7:55) I would love to.

Torrico (7:55)  Perfect, I'm gonna do what we've been doing for everybody, which is to take the hand sanitizer, and make sure that I give you some, and you grab it with hand sanitizer, before you grab the mic.

Anderson (8:11) First of all, thank you for having this forum. This is important. And it's really essential that your voices be heard on this matter. 

I know that I speak for the entire board, and also for Ms. Keys-Gamarra when I say that, making sure that we address this issue is paramount, and making sure that we're addressing this issue now, not later, it’s imperative. 

We do need to address -- I mean, these signs just speak to it. 

This is not reflective of the demographics of our schools, and we need to be able to serve all of the students of Fairfax County, not preserve some status quo issue of years past. So I'm very glad to be here. 

I'm very glad to support this cause. And I will continue to champion the equity that we need in all areas including TJ admissions. 

So I’ll turn it over to Ms. Keys-Gamarra. So good job. Glad to be here. Thank you so much.

Torrico (9:17) Dr. Anderson, thank you. Thank you so much for coming. 

Karen Keys-Gamarra (9:19) Thank you. I really wanted to come out today because I think it's really important that we have your voice in this discussion. I understand that when we look at social media, when we look at a number of things, it just doesn't look like people may be really listening. 

And some of the issues are getting clouded and people are speaking for others. 

But with you here, I am encouraged that we are able to hear from the entire community. So I wanted to say thank you.I want you to know that we are about equity. 

That the heat has been turned up, we've received hundreds of letters in opposition to change. 

But I want you to know that I stand a little stronger because I know what it looks like when you give opportunity to every student, and that's what we're really fighting about. So, thank you for being here. I am so very grateful. I'm sure I'm about to be tweeted out. But we have to talk about this. 

It cannot be business as usual. So let's go finish this job. 

Thank you. 

Analysis

Two members of the School Board attended a public rally hosted by the TJ Alumni Action Fund. This organization has been very active in supporting the Superintendent Scott Brabrand’s lottery proposal, including its most recent variation. 

By attending the public rally, School Board members Keys-Gamarra and Ricardy Anderson  have shown their public agreement with a partisan group thereby casting a serious doubt on their impartial analysis of the said proposal and its impact of our school system.

During the rally, Board member Ricardy Anderson released internal conversations held at  the School Board and the Board’s decision on issues currently being discussed by the Board, thereby compromising the Board.

Relief Sought

In pursuance with the provisions B, C, and D of Fairfax County School Board Strategic Governance Manual that deals with the  “PROCESS FOR ADDRESSING NON-COMPLIANCE WITH BOARD MEMBER ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES OUTLINED IN THE STRATEGIC GOVERNANCE MANUAL” and in view of the seriousness of our complaint, we demand the following: 

  • The School Board conducts a thorough and immediate investigation into this matter, before any business is completed regarding the TJ admissions process, including a discussion with Board members Anderson and Keys-Gamarra (as witness) and the full Board.  

  • Ms. Anderson, who would normally lead an inquiry of Board member misconduct, recuse herself from these proceedings.

  • A public statement from the Board regarding noncompliance of the Board members duties and responsibilities on the part of Board Chair Anderson.

  • Furthermore, in the interim and in view of the egregious conduct exhibited by the Board member in question, we request that Board members Keys-Gamarra, a witness to the events, and Anderson recuse themselves from participating on the upcoming vote on the “merit lottery” proposal. The actions of Ms. Anderson have already seriously compromised the impartiality of the School Board on the vote. 

  • Any further involvement by them in TJ admissions matters reveals further unethical and improper nature of the TJ admissions School Board business.

The Applicable Law

The Strategic Governance Manual states the following in its Code of Conduct for School Board Members:

  • “I will refrain from using the board position for personal or partisan gain and avoid any conflict of interest or the appearance of impropriety.”

  • “I will respect the confidentiality of privileged information and make no individual decisions or commitments that might compromise the board or administration.”

Further, the Strategic Governance Manual states in the Role of the Chair:

  • The chair has the following authority and duties: Except as otherwise provided in the section authorizing committee chairs to speak for the Board on specific matters, represent the Board as appropriate and serve as spokesperson for the Board in announcing Board-stated positions and in stating decisions and interpretations within the areas assigned to the Chair. The Chair may delegate this authority to other Board members when appropriate, but the Chair remains accountable for such delegation.

Applicable Law

The Fairfax County School Board Strategic Governance Manual that deals with the  “PROCESS FOR ADDRESSING NON-COMPLIANCE WITH BOARD MEMBER ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES OUTLINED IN THE STRATEGIC GOVERNANCE MANUAL,” states:

  • Section B states: “Discussion between the member in question and the full Board: In the event of serious or continuing noncompliance by one member, any Board member may request the Chair schedule a full School Board discussion in closed session with the identified member. The identified member will receive advance written notice of the discussion, including a statement of the alleged violation.”

  • Section C states: “Potential removal from any leadership or committee positions to which the member in question has been appointed or elected: To remove the Board member from a committee leadership or committee membership position, any member may request the Chair notify the identified member in writing of the scheduled School Board discussion of removal. The identified member shall be removed only after discussion and only on majority vote of the Board.”

  • Section D states: “Public statement regarding noncompliance with School Board roles and responsibilities: The Board may issue a statement regarding any instances of individual Board member’s noncompliance, after notice to the individual and a discussion and vote to do so by the Board.

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