The NAACP Loudoun Branch announced Tuesday it will seek to join the recall cases of two school board members as the public waits for a circuit court judge to decide whether to allow a political action committee — made up of mostly parents — to join in the cases and disqualify Commonwealth’s Attorney, Buta Biberaj (D) from prosecuting the cases.
Petitioners from the Sterling and Algonkian districts are seeking the removal of School Board Members Brenda Sheridan (Sterling District) and Atoosa Reaser (Algonkian District), respectively.
Biberaj, without providing counsel before the filings, is representing the petitioners.
“The NAACP sees the school board recall as a Jim Crow-esque effort of 2022 to suppress votes, and to silence the will of the people,” said Michelle Thomas, local pastor and president of the NAACP Loudoun Branch, to the Times-Mirror on Tuesday.
“Having the school board recalls — in particular, those on the school board, who are Democrats — is a targeted effort just to kind of usurp authority and that’s unfortunate,” she said. “No longer are they asking you to count jellybeans in a jar, no longer are they asking you to name the presidents backwards — they have a new process. It is a very careful, shrewd, modern process of recalling and it does the same thing; it suppresses the vote.”
Charlie King and Phillip Thompson are representing the NAACP Loudoun Branch in their effort. The two said if Fight for Schools, the political action committee behind the petitions, can intervene, then the NAACP Loudoun Branch should be permitted to join the cases.
Thompson and King declined to answer what would happen if Fight for Schools were not permitted. However, the group was permitted to intervene by the same sitting judge in a previous case that was later dismissed.
“Since 1940, the NAACP has been the guardian of equality in education in Loudoun County, and when a lie about critical race theory threatens the education of all students, not just students of color, the NAACP cannot be idle and must act,” King said.
Thompson added that “This effort, which is built on what we feel like are fabrications of the truth relating to how what’s being taught in Loudoun County Public Schools, and what’s going on, is being directed toward the issue of equity and diversity in schools and we feel like we need to be involved in this process.”
Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge Jeanette A. Irby, who heard motions during a seven-hour hearing, estimated on Jan. 5 she would have a ruling in two weeks at the earliest as she awaits the transcript and additional documents from counsel.
No ruling has been made as of Tuesday evening, according to court records.
The two school board members, represented by Dawn Boyce, of Bancroft, McGavin, Horvath & Judkins, PC, argued against the motion to allow Fight for Schools to join the suit.
Boyce argued that allowing such a political action group to be involved would set a precedent for groups who “have an interest” in future cases.
Attorney David Warrington, who is representing Fight for Schools, argued that the motion should be granted.
Fight for Schools, a political action committee made up of mostly parents, coordinated the recall petitions. The group claims Biberaj, the prosecutor, was a member of private Facebook group targeting parents against critical race theory and shared on social media a newspaper opinion piece that discussed the academic concept.
A second motions hearing is scheduled for Feb. 23, starting at 10 a.m. for Sheridan and Reaser at 1 p.m.
Petitions to remove an elected official from office require signatures from district residents equal to at least 10% of the votes cast for that official’s post during the last election, according to Virginia Code.
Further, the code states that upon petition, “a circuit court may remove from office any elected officer or officer who has been appointed to fill an elective office, residing within the jurisdiction of the court for negligence of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence in the performance of duties when that negligence of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence in the performance of duties has a material adverse effect upon the conduct of the office.”
As previously reported, Fight for Schools is also seeking the removal of Ian Serotkin of the Blue Ridge District and At-Large member Denise Corbo. Fight For Schools had not filed a petition seeking their removal as of Tuesday evening.
The late Broad Run District member Leslee King was removed from the group’s recall list after her death at the end of August. King, who was 74, died due to complications from heart surgery.
Former school board member Beth Barts resigned on Nov. 2, amid Fight for Schools’ effort to recall her from her post. She cited threats against her and her family as the reason for her resignation.
Her case was dismissed last month after Irby allowed Fight for Schools to join the case as a party and appointed a special prosecutor.
King represented Barts in her recall case.
A press conference is scheduled on Friday at the Old Loudoun County Courthouse at 10 a.m.
Recall for Reaser: Signatures, claims
The petition to recall Reaser received at least 1,859 signatures, according to a Nov. 9 email to the Times-Mirror from Fight For Schools.
Petitioners claim in their filings that Reaser routinely limited the First Amendment rights of speakers and listeners by shutting down public comment and putting in place rules to prevent speakers based on their viewpoints; and had general knowledge of a sexual assault case involving a teenager and the teen’s subsequent transfer to a different school, where he then committed an assault on a second student while awaiting trial.
Further, the group claims she did not leave a private Facebook group when the suspension of a teacher and his subsequent lawsuit against a Loudoun County Public Schools was being discussed by former board member Barts and others in the group.
Recall for Sheridan: Signatures, claims
The Citizens of Sterling group, which collected 1,217 signatures, claims that Sheridan committed neglect of duty, misuse of office, and incompetence in the performance of her duties in their petition.
The filing includes allegations that Sheridan, then chair of the school board, “limited the First Amendment rights of speakers and listeners by shutting down public comment” at board meetings and implementing rules to curb speakers based on their viewpoint.