Page 5 School board.jpg

Jaylen Custis

At this point in the summer, most recent high school graduates are preparing for college, looking for work or starting their first full-time jobs.

Jaylen Custis, an 18-year-old who just finished his last year at Forest Park High School in Woodbridge, is trying something very different for his first taste of adulthood.

Instead of classes, Custis is choosing campaign fliers and headshots as he prepares to be the youngest candidate running for the School Board in 2023. In doing so, he will challenge three-term Woodbridge board member Loree Williams, who hasn’t faced an opponent on the ballot since she first won office in 2013.

Custis told InsideNoVa that he plans to campaign on several issues he’d like to address on the board. First and foremost, he said he wants to beef up school security in the wake of shootings like the one in Uvalde, Texas. Custis said he wants more metal detectors in county schools.

He also wants the general level of academic rigor improved in schools, particularly the division’s lower-achieving schools.

“I came from New York, I’m a military child … and when I came back to Virginia, I felt as if I got dropped because they were teaching way better and harder in New York. I was in sixth grade and I was doing algebra, and I came here for seventh grade and I was doing basic math,” Custis said. “We’re giving our kids the minimum education when we need to be giving them more.”

Custis also said he wants to see the school division crack down more on drug and e-cigarette use in schools, something he said he saw at his time in high school. Many teachers have also reported an uptick in drug-related behavioral issues, and the Prince William Schools data showed an increase in tobacco and marijuana incidents in schools last year.

A member of the Woodbridge chapter of the Prince William County Democrats, Custis said he’s spoken to Williams and told her that he’s running. He was also a semi-regular presence at School Board meetings last winter and spring, speaking several times on hot-button issues. He added that he’ll work to better equip Woodbridge-area schools to best serve students most in need of support.

“We need to give our schools and teachers more support. … Maybe if we give these kids better schools and better resources, then maybe these kids won’t go out into crime,” Custis said. “What I mean by resources, I mean after-school activities and clubs and make it more available for everyone, have something for everyone, at least in high school.”

Custis lives with his mother – a Navy employee who formerly served in the Air Force – and says his long-term educational plans will likely hinge on what happens next fall. He’s considering either taking courses at Northern Virginia Community College or a gap year for the upcoming academic calendar. If he loses his race, he said he’ll likely head to a four-year college. But if he wins, he plans on staying in the area and attending NVCC for two years.

Custis served on Forest Park’s student government, but he said he first really considered running for the School Board after a government class.

“We have debates and I’m very vocal. I have big opinions, I have ideas and stuff,” Custis said. “And he was like, ‘You know you just need to be 18 to run for the School Board.’”

Custis said his father was the more skeptical of his parents. Also an Air Force veteran, he warned Custis about getting into politics so young.

“My dad, he’s one of those people who’s like, ‘You sure you want to get involved in politics?’ … But he said, ‘If that’s what you want to do, go ahead and do it,’” Custis said. “I was like, that’s interesting. I started going to School Board meetings, I started reading InsideNoVa’s articles and I thought, this is interesting.”

What Custis saw when he attended board meetings, oftentimes, was rancor and acrimony, particularly from public speakers on opposing sides of issues such as staff vaccine mandates, mask requirements, rights for transgender students and initiatives aimed at racial equity within the divison.

He’s also seen activism from within the schools, such as when groups of students around the country protested the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down abortion rights. Custis said he’s hoping that those young people who are eligible will not just protest, but also vote and even run for office themselves.

“Go ahead and protest, but you also need to remember to vote,” he said. “And if you think that voting isn’t enough and you think that someone else needs to be elected, then you, as an individual, need to step up … and you need to run.”

Jared Foretek covers the Manassas area and regional news across Northern Virginia. Reach him at jforetek@insidenova.com

Reporter

Jared Foretek covers Prince William County Public Schools, the city of Manassas and transportation news across Northern Virginia. Reach him at jforetek@insidenova.com

(7) comments

Dick Grayson

Good luck to this young man! He has seen the PWCPS BS first hand!

Paul Benedict

He can't be worse than what we have now.

Change Craford

Dick and Paul, You to losers are always being negative on here. Why don't you two idiots apply or run for office since you have so much to say? Your lies and ignorance are who you are.

Bill Rio

"Two" Careful calling people dumb when you can't spell words from 1st grade.

Sacagawea Lax

[offtopic]

Dick Grayson

What is negative about wishing a young man good luck. Please delete yourself from this board!

Paul Benedict

Can I count on your vote Change?

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.