School Board debate in Dranesville District

Fairfax County School Board candidates Elaine Tholen, Ardavan Mobasheri and Anastasia Karloutsos discuss the issues at the McLean Community Center Oct. 17, 2019, at a debate held by the League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area. (Photo by Brian Trompeter)

Three candidates seeking the Dranesville District seat on the Fairfax County School Board sounded off Oct. 17 on issues ranging from school security and overcrowding to protections for students of differing sexual orientations.

The candidates, who spoke at a debate hosted at the McLean Community Center by the League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area, will go before voters Nov. 5 in a bid to succeed retiring School Board member Jane Strauss (Dranesville District).

Elaine Tholen, who has been endorsed by the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, cited her work as an educator in the county’s schools.

“In my heart, I am a teacher,” said Tholen, who advocated for building inclusive neighborhood schools, ensuring students receive proper support, paying teachers better, addressing school-overcapacity issues and boosting the School Board’s transparency and accountability.

Ardavan Mobasheri, who teaches economics at the University of Richmond, favored changing the mindset of the school system’s leaders. Citing President George Washington’s farewell address, in which he warned against excessive partisanship, Mobasheri touted his independence as a candidate.

“You give the political parties an inch and they take a mile,” he said.

Anastasia Karloutsos, who holds the Fairfax County Republican Committee’s endorsement, is the daughter of Greek immigrants and grew up in Florida. She said she had been the nation’s first student to be a Parent-Teacher-Student Association president, had founded a non-profit at age 17 and had worked in Philadelphia’s school system.

“I stand up for what I believe in and I’m willing to fight,” she said.

The debate kicked off with the proverbial elephant in the room: what to do about overcrowding at McLean High School. Karloutsos said she had met with the school’s principal and favored building a new addition to the facility.

Mobasheri also supported constructing an addition at McLean High and said the county should build a new high school in Tysons to stave off overcrowding at the community’s other high schools.

Tholen, whose background includes facilities work, also supported a McLean High addition and said she agreed with the School Board’s recent decision to consider boundary changes that would shift some of that school’s students to Langley High, which now is under capacity.

Regarding inclusivity for students with disabilities, Mobasheri said county schools needed to strive for excellence on that front, instead of being satisfied with merely good efforts.

Karloutsos said all children have a right to a great education and that county is doing right by special-education students, spending 19 percent of the school system’s budget on them.

“Every school is different and I think that is what we need to look at,” she said. “I think from an administration perspective, we try to do a one-size-fits-all, and that’s not the best approach.”

Tholen supported giving parents more input in policies pertaining to special-needs students and finding ways to have those pupils participate more actively in school communities.

The candidates also took different stances regarding firearms in schools. Tholen advocated for allowing only school-resource officers (SROs) to carry guns in the county’s middle and high schools.

Karloutsos supported having every child and teacher be safe in their schools.

“We have the funds to do ‘menstrual equity’ and change the names of buildings, and yet we don’t have the funds to have school-resource officers in our elementary schools,” she said. “That’s unacceptable.”

Mobasheri agreed that elementary-school security could stand to be beefed up, but said heightened security, such as what he experienced while teaching in New York City, was oppressive.

“I can’t tell you how disappointing it is when you walk into a school that has maximum security,” he said. “You’re almost walking into a fortress. You ask yourself, ‘This is an environment for education?’”

All candidates agreed students should be vaccinated before being allowed to attend school, and agreed the school system needed to ensure LGBTQ students’ rights and safety.

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