When my family was presented with the opportunity to move to Fairfax, I was hesitant at first. I had grown accustomed to the slow-paced lifestyle of southwest Virginia and my husband and I had jobs that we loved.
For me, a major deciding factor to relocate was the educational opportunities that would be presented to our daughter in the Fairfax County Public School system. Although she was only two years old at the time, as an alumnus of a Fairfax County high school, I knew firsthand the robust academic opportunities that would be given to her from attending one of the largest school districts in the country.
We officially made the move in October 2016, one month before the Clinton-Trump presidential election. Although I hadn’t followed politics before, being so close to the nation’s capital inspired me to use my voice and cast my vote. I majored in social work in college and spent both my academic and professional career working with underserved individuals, first with children and then in geriatrics. In the 2016 presidential election, I voted Democrat because I wanted to support a party that advocated for reform that promulgates social justice and equality. In the local and national elections to follow, I voted the same.
In March of 2020 when COVID-19 flipped our world upside down, I supported the Fairfax County School Board’s decision to close our schools in order to keep our fellow community members safe and to not overburden our healthcare system. When the decision was made to close schools for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year, I again, supported that decision by our fully-Democratic school board members, whom I had voted in favor of in November 2019.
In July of 2020, many parents, including myself, had the rug pulled from under us when we learned that Fairfax County would only offer virtual learning for the upcoming school year. There were many reasons why I feared prolonged school closures would negatively impact a generation of kids: lack of socialization, academics, isolation, loss of physical activity and the psychological effects on children. The most obvious of these impacts being academics.
As a parent that had always believed education was a powerful tool to success, watching my own six-year-old learn to read and spell electronically felt crippling. While learning became more difficult for a young learner, the social and mental impacts of virtual learning were not only prevalent for my child but for many of her peers whose parents reported the same. By the end of last school year my daughter, in first grade, spent the majority of her academic career behind a computer screen.
Despite the challenges and the negative academic and emotional impacts of virtual learning for my child, my family was more fortunate than others. We had the resources to work from home and were able to supplement the gaps created by closed schools. However, my mind constantly wandered to my early days in social work as a college intern working with children impacted by domestic abuse. For those children, school was one of their few safe havens. To those children, school was a place of respite from neglect, abuse and trauma. A place to eat a meal and feel a sense of affection.
I watched as governments prioritized reopening bars, restaurants and stores over public schools. During the summer of 2020, our local Democratic school board spent a ton of energy and school resources on renaming schools but not enough energy to reopen them. I struggled to accept that Democrats preached equality but denied children access to one of the greatest equalizers, education. Virtual learning is a burden we placed on the shoulders of children; without scientific evidence, nonetheless, that COVID-19 is a major risk factor for their health and safety. The Fairfax County School board paid favor to politics and teachers unions over the needs of children, denying even a choice for those that wanted or desperately needed in-person learning.
This November, I decided to cross the aisle and vote in a direction that I have never seriously entertained before. When I learned the campaign points that Terry McAuliffe and Glenn Youngkin were running on, I instantly made the decision that schools and education would be my #1 priority instead of what political party the candidate was affiliated with.
While conducting research on the candidates, I learned that Youngkin wants to increase academic competitiveness and school choice, while allowing families to make their own choices in regards to education. Terry McAuliffe’s campaign does not clearly showcase a plan to help students besides making a $75 million per year investment to expand internet access to students.
Is former Governor McAuliffe’s investment in internet access an indicator of keeping students at home rather than in a classroom? Students in Virginia have spent enough of the last 18 months online and it’s time we focus our attention back to the classroom, learning the basic academic tools needed for their future success. Schools were created to teach children to read, write, do math and use the scientific method, Glenn Youngkin is the only candidate this election that holds these values of education true.
Parent in Fairfax, VA