After a rough season of disagreements among executive board members and with school system administration, the parent-led organization known as LEAP seems to be moving forward without its affiliation with Loudoun County Public Schools.
During a heated meeting May 9, the Loudoun Education Alliance of Parents apparently elected outspoken school critic Brian Davison as its president for the 2018-2019 academic year. But a post this week on the LEAP website, which is housed at LCPS.org and administered by the school system’s Public Information Office, states that an election was not held that day and suggested that LEAP will be dissolved at the end of the month. The post cited a LEAP bylaw that states that officers for the next school year shall be elected no later than May.
Assuming the position as president of the group, Davison said he wants to run the organization independently of LCPS, even if that means that the school system does not house LEAP’s website or allow the group to meet at its administration building.
Circuit Court Judge Thomas D. Horne, now retired, founded LEAP in 1989 to provide a forum for concerns and ideas for a network of parents, teachers, administrators and School Board members, according to its mission’s statement.
Davison said that, years later, it gradually became a mouthpiece for the school system.
Wednesday night, the newly branded organization held a meeting at Rust Library in Leesburg, where they elected Wendy Lane as vice president of programs and Sara Hiltner as treasurer. The meeting was calm and orderly, and attended by just a handful of parents, according to School Board member Tom Marshall (Leesburg), who was also in attendance.
With Davison at the helm, LEAP— the equivalent of a countywide PTA organization—will certainly operate very differently.
The parent of two Loudoun students is one of the most controversial figures in the county. He often speaks at School Board and Board of Supervisors meetings, accusing the elected representatives of corruption. He has taken County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large), Loudoun Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman, Loudoun County Public Schools and members of the School Board to court on multiple occasions.
Davison said he had attended very few LEAP meetings and wasn’t planning to run for its president. “It was a surprise,” he said. “I’m rather controversial and some folks may not want to work with that, but I think there are people who like the idea of LEAP operating as an independent organization.”
He argues that school administrators have had too much control over the organization that is meant to be a safe space for parents to ask difficult questions and advocate for their children. He stressed that LEAP is not “anti-LCPS,” but he does want to ensure its delegates can boldly and openly discuss controversial topics, such as mental health and when parents should hire a lawyer to advocate for services for their special education students.
“There are a lot of topics that parents want addressed that are not being addressed anywhere else,” he said, adding that he wants LEAP to continue to cover “FYI-type” topics, such as gifted education, but have the freedom to bring in outside experts who do not represent the school system.
Beth Barts, a Loudoun parent who served as a LEAP delegate this school year, said she plans to stay involved this coming school year, even if the organization operates without its affiliation with the school system.
“As a former LEAP rep being able to attend forums on current topics and the sharing of common educational concerns and ideas is important. I also think it is important for parents to have an independent voice,” she said. “If LEAP needs to use alternate space in order to remain an independent organization and have parents feel they can speak freely so be it. As a parent I will still benefit from the resources they offer to the community.”
The parent-teacher organizations at each of the county’s schools are invited to appoint two LEAP delegates, and the organization is looking for more delegates. Parents interested in serving as a delegate are asked to contact their children’s schools’ PTA or PTO.
To that, Davison said, “We’re looking for anyone who is interested in running and making LEAP independent.”
Loudoun school administration may try to fill the void LEAP leaves within the school system. A statement posted on its website says, “LCPS is developing plans to enhance communication with parents related to topics that have been the focus of LEAP in recent years.”