‘Kids Are Not Pawns’: Fairfax Co. Parents Angry About Organized Teacher Mental Health Day

December 20, 2020

Liberty Justice Center sent the Fairfax Education Association (FEA), the county’s largest teachers union, a letter warning further legal action if they take another ‘organized’ mental health day.

Liberty Justice Center (LJC) said it represents several Fairfax County Public School families who are “deeply concerned” the union “encouraged members to take a mental health day on Wednesday, October 28th.”

“If they do it again– we are going to take them to court,” said Liberty Justice Center Senior Attorney Daniel Suhr.

“You can’t mess with our kids. The kids are not pawns to negotiations between the school board and the unions,” said FCPS parent Nellie Rhodes who is being represented by LJC. “We are the parents, we are stepping up and taking care of our kids and doing what is best for them.”

When 7 On Your Side reported on the mental health day in October, the Fairfax Education Association said it was not a strike and a few hundred teachers were expected to participate.

ABC7 asked for the final numbers of teachers who took the day off from FCPS, but never received them.

A union representative told ABC7 the association wanted to remind teachers they could take a mental health day ahead of the October 30th deadline for teachers to decide if they would return to the classroom during the pandemic, resign, retire, or take unpaid leave.

That week, FEA said it had “already had to assist members with finding counseling and seeking medical attention due to the stress of the situation.”

“Don’t [teachers] have a right to take that day off if they want to,” ABC7 Northern Virginia Bureau Chief Tim Barber asked Suhr.

“Teachers can obviously use sick days for the designated appropriate uses. If they are sick. That wasn’t this. This was a bargaining tactic to get leverage against the school board,” replied Suhr.

Sunday, the Fairfax Teachers Association told ABC7 it sent Liberty’s letter to FEA’s attorneys.

Fairfax County Public Schools also received Liberty’s letter.

An FCPS spokesperson told ABC7 they “do not have a statement at this time.”

In the letter, Liberty Justice Center wrote a “union-organized sick-out” is “a form of strike” and is “illegal in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

“They negatively impact the academic achievement and emotional well-being of students,” wrote LJC.

“Why go after the school [district] in this as well,” asked Barber.

“I think it’s important for the school board to remember that it should have some backbone here,” replied Suhr.

Since October, rising COVID-19 cases have forced FCPS to return the vast majority of students to virtual learning.