Prince William County Public Schools has hired Sarah Miller Espinosa as the division’s first ombudsman. Espinosa has more than 20 years of experience in negotiating, arbitrating, and mediating, according to a news release. She will begin work Aug. 5.
Board Chairman Babur Lateef said he looks forward to working with the new ombudsman.
“Ms. Espinosa brings to PWCS an extensive background in arbitration and mediation,” he said. “She established the Montgomery College Office of the Ombuds and served as Impartial College Ombuds, responsible for providing a confidential, independent forum for the employees to explore and identify issues, interests and possible solutions to conflict. We are very excited to have Ms. Espinosa on our team to provide an independent forum for our students, parents, and staff.”
The Office of the Ombudsman was formally developed last spring after a contentious fight over accusations of bullying by the principal at Ronald Reagan Middle School in Haymarket. Then-principal Alfie Turner called the allegations “slanderous” and akin to a “witch hunt.” Meanwhile, staff and parents railed against her reassignment to the school division’s headquarters, and criticized division administrators for seeming to dismiss claims of bullying.
The ombudsman is expected to provide parents, students and members of the school community with access to an independent, impartial individual who can facilitate informal resolutions to conflicts or issues arising within PWCS, and is authorized to bring systemic and organizational concerns to the attention of the school board and the superintendent for a resolution.
The ombudsman’s office does not replace formal or legal procedures for filing, investigating and resolving complaints lodged against, by or on behalf of students or employees, the policy states. Instead, the ombudsman’s services are meant to supplement those processes.
While the division’s human resources department will still handle employee complaints against other employees, an ombudsman could help if there is a pattern of complaints.
Espinosa has served as a labor relations manager and chief negotiator for Montgomery County Government and served as a full-time mediator charged with helping parties resolve disputes arriving during collective bargaining as well as grievances by the Connecticut Department of Labor State Board of Mediation & Arbitration.
- Emily Sides contributed to this report.