News

GMHS Students, Parents Appeal For Reinstatement of Teacher

img_3020A passionate outpouring of support for a George Mason High School special education instructor who was suddenly dismissed Tuesday was exhibited when over two dozen Mason students were joined by a large contingent of parents to appeal to the Falls Church School Board for his reinstatement Tuesday night.

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George Mason High School junior Jack Webster addresses the F.C. School Board in support of GMHS teacher Jamie Lahy.

A passionate outpouring of support for a George Mason High School special education instructor who was suddenly dismissed Tuesday was exhibited when over two dozen Mason students were joined by a large contingent of parents to appeal to the Falls Church School Board for his reinstatement Tuesday night.

The petitions were emotional, heart-felt and articulate, including tears and rousing applause, tender testaments to the teacher’s special dedication to his work and students, and angry warnings from some parents that the loss of the teacher would severely compromise the effectiveness of the school’s special education program.

The teacher, Jamie Lahy, according to News-Press sources, was put on temporary leave and told to clean out his desk when school officials caught wind of a Facebook posting by a student indicating that Lahy may have informed the student in advance of the subject of a school assembly held last Friday. The assembly was on the subject of the school policy of bringing drug-sniffing dogs onto the campus on a random basis for searches.

Sources have indicated to the News-Press that Lahy was not the only instructor to have told students of the assembly’s subject matter beforehand, but the Facebook posting had the effect of singling him out.

No one has suggested that Lahy broke any laws and the School Board and other school officials have stated emphatically that they cannot discuss the personnel matter in public. Superintendent Dr. Lois Berlin and School Board chair Joan Wodiska both confirmed to the News-Press that the board had already met in closed session to discuss the matter prior to the public hearing Tuesday night.

But parents, in comments to the News-Press after the 70-minute hearing, expressed their appreciation for the board’s willingness to add the hearing to its agenda at the last minute and to respectfully listen to all those who testified.

No final disposition of the instructor has yet been reached. There is a lengthy outline of options before both the teacher and the School Board in dealing with such matters in Section 8:36 of the school system’s policy guidelines (that are posted on its website). Responding to repeated queries from the News-Press, Berllin and Wodiska kept repeating, “It depends,” when asked how the matter would finally be resolved.
They said that Lahy would have 15 days to appeal or file a grievance.

But the public outpouring of support for Lahy Tuesday brought a spotlight not only onto Lahy and the clear affection and esteem that students and parents feel toward him, but also onto the school system’s special education program, itself.

There are 251 students who have qualified for Individual Education Plan (IEP) status in the Falls Church schools, meaning they have determined to have “barriers to learning” and therefore receive special assistance with their studies. The students are screened prior to being admitted to the status, and there has been controversy over who does and does not qualify.

One parent, Barbara Nooter, recently resigned from the Special Education Advisory Committee over what her husband, Rob, called “a culture of adversarial treatment of special education students.” Lahy, she said, was an exception to that, and one who had an enormously positive impact on her son.

In addition to serving as a special education instructor, involving helping students with their studies, especially biology, outside the classroom, Lahy has been Mason’s only advisor for its Model United Nations Club and has devoted his time to chaperoning students to regional Model UN conclaves.

The outpouring of support Tuesday night was spearheaded by Mason junior Jack Webster. “He was so special to us,” Webster said, being the first speaker. “He was a motivator for a lot of us. He is a hero, a mentor for a lot of kids who were given up on in the last year.”

Later in the hearing, Webster’s mother came to the microphone, saying as a Falls Church resident for 12 years, it was the first time she’d ever come to a School Board meeting, but it was to support her son, who was so passionate about this matter.

Other parents spoke who said their sons or daughters were unable to come, themselves, because they were so emotionally devastated by the development.
“There is not one person in the school who does not like him,” Jake King said of Lahy. “He is one of the reasons I was able to get through biology class, He’s the nicest guy in school,” said Chris Short.

“He is the kind of teacher Falls Church needs to retain,” said substitute special education teacher Ilene Smith.