Two years after becoming the epicenter of the parental rights movement, voters in the wealthy exurban Virginia county of Loudoun are poised to elect a new school board for the first time in four years.
In 2021, Loudoun County proved to be the backdrop of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s (R-VA) upset victory over Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe as the political newcomer capitalized on a wave of voter anxiety about the state of education in the state. Loudoun served as the catalyst for voter concerns as parent Scott Smith, whose daughter was raped in the girl’s bathroom of a district high school, was arrested at a June 2021 meeting. The board had been considering policy 8040, which would allow students to use bathrooms based on their claimed gender identity rather than their biological sex.
The image of Smith’s arrest proved enduring as a victorious Youngkin and newly elected Attorney General Jason Miyares vowed to investigate the school board’s actions following the rape of Smith’s daughter, who was the first of two victims assaulted by a high school student during 2021. The second assault occurred after the student was moved to a different high school.
A Miyares-impaneled special grand jury ultimately indicted then-Superintendent Scott Ziegler on misdemeanor charges and issued a scathing report that blasted the school board for its handling of the situation.
As the school board heads for election Tuesday, one thing is certain: The next iteration of the board will look very different from its current makeup. Of the nine sitting members of the board, only two, Erika Ogedegbe and board Vice Chairman Harris Mahedavi, are seeking reelection. Ogedegbe was only elected to the board in a special election last year.
Ian Prior, the executive director of the Loudoun-based political action committee Fight for Schools, told the Washington Examiner in an interview that the lack of incumbent candidates was a recognition that a continuation of the current board policies requires new faces.
“The people that are not running, they realize that they’ve completely failed Loudoun County and the best chance for the continuation of their policies is to get people that really aren’t tainted by the decision-making of the 2019 class,” Prior said.
The school board comprises eight seats tied to districts and one at-large seat. Eight of the nine seats are contested, while the Dulles district seat has only one candidate. All the races are nonpartisan, but the local Republican and Democratic parties have endorsed candidates in each race.
The race for the at-large seat held by Denise Corbo pits 43-year-old Anne Donohue against 57-year-old Michael Rivera. Donohue has earned the endorsement of the local Democratic Party, while Rivera has the support of the Republican Party. Rivera lost a three-way race last year for the Leesburg seat currently held by Ogedegbe.
The Algonkian district is represented by Atoosa Reaser, who is running as a Democrat for a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates. The race to replace her features the Democratic Party-endorsed April Moore Chandler, who serves as Reaser’s staff aid, against Viktoria Hunyadi, who has been endorsed by the Republican Party.
One of the two board incumbents running for reelection, Mahedavi is the only member of the board who was present for the 2021 fiasco who is seeking another term. Deana Griffiths, 50, has the backing of the local Republican Party and is positioning herself as a change candidate. On her website, she says the board’s current policies have led to “catastrophic situations in all of our schools.”
Broad Run District
The occupant of the Broad Run seat, Tiffany Polifko, is not running for reelection after winning the seat in a special election last year. The 2023 race for a full term pits Republican-backed Chris Hodges against Linda Deans, who is supported by the Democratic Party.
The Catoctin district seat is held by John Beatty, who opted against seeking another term. Running to replace him are Karen LaBell, a retired educator with the endorsement of the Republican Party, and Megan Lockwood, a district substitute teacher with the endorsement of the Democratic Party.
The Democratic-endorsed Melinda Mansfield is the sole candidate for the Dulles district seat. Incumbent Jeff Morse declined to seek reelection.
Ogedegbe won a special election for the Leesburg seat last year with 40% of the vote in a three-way race. Now up for election of a full term, the incumbent board member, who has the endorsement of the Democratic Party, faces a rematch with independent candidate Lauren Shernoff, who finished third in the race last year. Michael Rivera, running for the at-large seat, finished second in that race.
Little River District
The newly created Little River district will have its first school board race on Tuesday. Sumera Rashid, a 44-year-old local dentist, is running with the support of the Democratic Party. She will face off against Republican-endorsed Joe Smith, who has coached softball and wrestling in the school district.
Brenda Sheridan, who served as the school board’s chairwoman during the infamous 2021 term, elected not to seek another term, triggering a three-way race to succeed her. Arben Istrefi, 38, has the endorsement of the Democratic Party, while Amy Riccardi has the endorsement of the Republican Party. A third candidate, Sarath Kolla, will also appear on the ballot.