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Momentum Persists in Effort To Reinstate Mason Teacher

The controversial move by the Falls Church Public Schools last week to suddenly remove a popular special education teacher at George Mason High School has continued to elicit strong reactions from both students and parents, even as school officials remain mum about what went into the decision and whether or not a reinstatement is possible.

Mason instructor Jamie Lahy was abruptly told to clean out his desk and leave the campus on Feb. 14. Through social networks, word of the development spread like wildfire through the entire student body. Within a day, over two dozen Mason students and many parents were mobilized to speak out on Lahy’s behalf.

The profile of Lahy that came to light during 70 minutes of testimonials that night was of an exceptional instructor who went above and beyond the call of duty to address the needs of the “special education” students in his care. He was also praised for his role as the adviser to the school’s Model United Nations Club.

That view of Lahy continued to be maintained during a week of lengthy comments on the News-Press website in response to the article covering the development that first appeared last Thursday.

Extensive comments by students and parents alike confirmed the parameters of the incident as reported in last week’s News-Press, including the fact that Lahy was terminated for informing a student in advance of the subject of an upcoming school assembly.

The student posted on his Facebook page that a teacher told him the assembly subject would be to introduce the student body to a new policy of bringing drug-sniffing dogs onto the campus for searches at random, unannounced times.

According to one account, the posting came to the attention of school administrators who confronted the student seeking the name of the teacher. When that was provided, Lahy was approached and told to leave.

The official response from the school system remains silence, in keeping with its policy of not discussing personnel matters publicly. It is not known whether anything has transpired during the current time frame, when school policy allows for an appeal by Lahy if he were to seek it.

But students and parents alike have had plenty to say in their postings on the News-Press website, FCNP.com, not only about Lahy, but about the quality of the special education program at Mason and about the merits of random sweeps of the campus by drug-sniffing dogs.

In this week’s News-Press, parent Barbara Nooter, who spoke at last week’s School Board meeting, has provided a “Guest Commentary” expressing her views on the subject. With three children in the system since 2000, including one in the special education program, she was appointed by the F.C. School Board to fill a vacant seat on the Special Education Advisory Committee in 2008, but resigned last week in protest to the firing of Lahy.

She resigned, she writes, “Not only because of the action against the teacher, but because there is no point wasting time on a committee that is heard by neither the School Board nor especially the FCCPS Administration.”

That comment reflected the dissatisfaction expressed by a number of those commenting about the incident on the FCNP website.

One anonymous comment read, “No amount of ‘spin’ will cover up the fact that the ‘dirty little secret’ of FCCPS is its Special Education Department (is) ineffective at best, confrontational and intimidating to parents who question the results and processes, relying on ‘cook book’ plans and strategies. It is no wonder a gifted educator such as Mr. Lahy, who put his students first and the system last, was an irritant.”

The comment continued, “There are two school systems in Falls Church, the first is praised and loved for its over-achieving 5.0 GPA, IB diploma students, off to the best schools. Then is the second, the marginalized, forgotten, step-students who struggle under unrelenting pressure to succeed, ignored by the administration, and worse, ignored by the department tasked with helping them. They are the ones who will be hurt by this action.”

Another anonymous comment read, “My child has worked with several case managers and staff both at MEH (the middle school-ed.) and GMHS. Mr. Lahy was the only one who pushed the other teachers to meet the spirit of the IEP (the “individual education plan” process for special education students-ed.), who never made my child feel like a failure because he had an IEP, and who answered our questions honestly and with candor.”

Jack Webster, the junior at Mason who played a leading role in mobilizing the turnout before the School Board last week, identified himself in the string of comments on the FCNP website, saying he’d been a part of the IEP program since the second grade. He commented, “I did not even have him (Lahy-ed.) as my case manager, but he did more than my actual one.”

Others commented on the drug-sweep policy, itself. One wrote, “Why on earth are we teaching our kids that it’s not only OK to have police conducting searches on them without probable cause, but that we’ll fire anyone who discusses it?”

Another wrote, “Speaking as a student, there is no drug problem…After a few students were caught in possession of drugs at the school, the administrators became paranoid. They have begun a ‘crackdown on drugs’ which is perhaps slightly over the top.” Another called the policy, “A Gestapo type of mitigation.”

But most of the comments were in praise of Lahy. A student wrote, “The main thing about Mr. Lahy is him being more than a teacher. Mr. Lahy was able to teach everyone multiple subjects in contrast to some teachers…Mr. Lahy was comfortable to go to, there was no awkwardness with him so you could go and have questions about anything, and he would go one-on-one with you.”

He was also called “a rock star” and “a neon bright spot.”

But one comment cautioned against too much conjecture. “Maybe we should leave this one lie and let the professionals who had the closed door meetings, the discussions, the files, the reports, the interviews, the results and the final decision at their disposal do their jobs.”