My name is Michael Rivera and I am running for a Loudoun County School Board seat in the Leesburg District.
Below is a document outlining my platform and how I believe the school board should operate.
Please follow the links below to the different sections for the document.
I’ve heard countless stories of families that moved to Loudoun for high quality public schools and to raise a family. That is precisely where I want the county to be again. I want Loudoun to be a premier destination for families that want to raise their kids here and know that the education provided by the county will open doors for their children.
Families did not come to Loudoun to endure claims of systemic racism, argue with the school board about parents’ right, or to endure the constant national and global media scrutiny. Families are moving out of the county and they are taking their kids out of public school. Private and parochial school enrollments in northern Virginia have seen a significant spike and in Loudoun County, the waiting lists for private schools are full.
The Loudoun County school board and superintendent keep repeating things such as: enrollment is up, the quality of education is high, and teacher satisfaction remains positive but they simply are not true. If you attend school board meetings you will observe that it’s not all just about CRT or gender ideology. Bus drivers, driver assistants, teachers, members of the arts community, the Hispanic community in Sterling, and parents are complaining about a whole host of issues that all point to a poorly run school district and lack of competent leadership.
The Leesburg District seat was vacated by Beth Barts mid-term when she abruptly resigned in November of 2021 in the midst of a recall petition court battle. A recall petition had been signed by thousands of Loudoun County citizens to remove her from her seat.
In December of 2021 the school board choose Tom Marshall to replace Barts from among a wide variety of qualified candidates with a wide range of experiences in and out of education. Marshall was a prior school board member many years ago and was obviously a “safe” pick to hold the seat until a special election in 2022 and a regular election in 2023.
I decided to run for school board after my wife, Paula, and I were made aware of a video that was shown to our middle school student claiming that the United States is systemically racist, and that racism is essentially “baked” into the fabric of America. The video goes on to depict a little black girl and a little white girl while telling a story of how the life of the black girl was going to be so much worse than that of the white girl. The video was sourced from a Seattle News outlet, KING5, entitled: “What is Systemic Racism?”. (https://www.king5.com/video/news/community/facing-race/what-is-systemic-racism/281-70d404ec-b3d9-4ddb-9046-00c96cea7998). When I inquired about the video, the principal at the time, Christopher O’Rourke, advised he had been “tasked” by LCPS to find materials about equity and he and his staff found the content on the internet and used the video I just described. In hindsight he admitted that perhaps he should have consulted with parents first. I do not know what became of that video and its use after that conversation.
The reason I bring this all up is to provide the citizens of the Leesburg District some perspective as to why I am running and hopefully connect with like-minded parents.
Part of the inherent problem with politics is that sound bites and salacious headlines are what endear citizens to candidates because it’s too difficult to actually do some research into each candidate and find out their motivations and what they have as a vision when they take office. Hopefully my words below will help to answer those questions.
The public education system should seek to educate our children. It should teach them math, science, history, social studies, health education, vocations, etc. Elementary, middle, and high school education form the academic building blocks for young adults to go into and become productive members of society. High school graduation is not necessarily the end point of one’s education but at the very least, an individual graduating should have a good understanding of the topics they were taught and be able to go out in to the job market, obtain employment, and live life. I think that if the public school system does its job well, students will be inspired to continue education and go onto college or trade school or undertake apprenticeships.
I think the public education system should have clear boundaries when it comes to getting into the personal lives of children and families and it should NEVER usurp any rights from parents to raise their children according to their family moral or religious beliefs. At no point in time should a teacher lead themselves to believe that they are “co-parenting” or that they know better than parents regarding what is best for a child.
When I attended public school the student-teacher relationship was very formal and had clear boundaries. I referred to my teachers as “sir” and “ma’am” and knew that I was in school to learn. I never had personal conversations with teachers about their families, spouses, social lives, or what they did on the weekends - that was not appropriate. Teachers were to be respected and obeyed. It was unfathomable to think that a student would ever yell at a teacher or dare to engage in a physical altercation. I say all this because it is obvious that the public education system has strayed far from it roots.
My thoughts are that the Loudoun County school board serves at the will of the parents and taxpayers of the county. As a school board member, I am expected to represent others faithfully and also provide a voice of reason to educate the public on topics at hand and implications of decisions. As a school board member I would be a consultant to the people in that it is my responsibility is to make sure the “ship does not go off course” and that the core mission of public education is fulfilled.
My observations are that school boards across the United States and in Virginia have lost their way and are motivated and guided by politics and ideologies as opposed to the well-being of students and the core mission of education. School board members should not seek to be defined by their political position lest they succumb to the inherent evils of politics. They need to always be faithful to the people, not just those that voted for them but to all the people regardless of race, ethnicity, native language, or political affiliation.
As a school board member, I know that the tough decisions are the ones with which I may not agree but that the majority of my constituents’ desire. It is not my place as a school board member to impose my personal political will on the municipality in which I govern.
There are a host of issues in LCPS today and I think that digging into the weeds is counterproductive as a candidate because I am not an expert in these issues and resolving them is more substantive than a tweet or campaign testimonial. I also firmly believe that there are a plethora of talented educators that can be part of the solutions to the problems as opposed to me dictating what to do as an administrator. The problems in which we find ourselves in LCPS are a function of Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) policies and legislation in the Commonwealth but most importantly the decisions of the school board and the policies put in place by the board.
My approach to these topics is more from a cause and effect perspective. I will address some, but not all of them, below in more detail.
Political ideologies are driving the agenda for the Loudoun County Public School Board, superintendent, and senior administrative staff. That behavior has severely stratified the community and brought us to where we are today.
Vision: It should be readily apparent to everyone that extreme political agendas have subverted LCPS administration and it is pervasive and toxic. As a school board member, my political affiliation, liberal or conservative, should not drive the agenda. Many times, elected officials proclaim, “the people elected me, and I am doing the will of the people.” If you look at the numbers in some races a school board member may get 20-30% of the popular vote which clearly is not a majority. Even more relevant is that many people do not even cast a vote for school board which is another problem that needs to be addressed. Board members alleging to represent all the people but instead pushing an agenda for a few is not what public service is about.
In 2019, 11,000 people in Leesburg voted in the school board race. There were about 53,000 residents in Leesburg at that time. Rough numbers show that about 22% of the population voted and the winner (Bart) garnered approximately 6,400 votes to win (about 11% of the population). Next time a politician says they were voted in by the people be aware that statement needs to be qualified. I hope that as a result of the last two years many more people are paying attention and will come out to vote.
The core mission of school administration needs to be academic, child and education focused. Political agendas regarding gender spectrums, race theory, and diversity/inclusion are very clearly partisan and have injected extreme toxicity into LCPS. The public claims of systemic racism predate my involvement with LCPS. As I discuss below about Critical Race Theory, racism, hate, and division are a very lucrative business and organizations claiming to be altruistic are often times stoking the fires of racism and hate.
It is not my goal to flip the extreme political agenda of the LCPS leadership to an opposing political ideology, that will not solve any problems. In fact, all it will do is change the political affiliation of the people in the crowd of parents that protest the board. In the end I would still be failing our children. Decisions need to be made with parents, citizens, and stakeholders in a transparent and proactive manner so that the school board truly is a representative government and not a ruling body. Contrary to what the administration says, putting up a web page with a link to a Survey Monkey does not mean they made all efforts possible to reach the entire population of Loudoun and communicate. That type of community feedback and involvement is just a cop out and a "check box" so the board can publicly say they sought input from the community to pass policies and rules. The school board should always have and execute allegiance to the people of Loudoun County since they are elected representatives.
Learning loss due to COVID shutdowns has affected families not only in Loudoun but across Virginia and the United States
Vision: I am not an educator and I think that with the professional talent in the schools of LCPS, together we can solve problems both simple and complex. It is critical that we take the data related to learning loss seriously and heed the consequences. As a board member I would push for county level testing that determines competency and mastery of subjects and not just SOLs to meet state and federal requirements. Even if students are able to pass minimal SOLs, that is not necessarily a true measure of competency. It is a great disservice to all students if they are allowed to proceed to higher grades without having learned the material in the previous grade. This doesn’t mean that we work to fail kids but instead teachers should be empowered and incentivized to help kids that are not proficient, and parents should be encouraged to participate in remedial tutoring so that the entire family is invested in a student’s success.
We should be graduating kids that are prepared for life not illiterate kids unable to deal with challenges in the workforce and higher education. LCPS should put programs in place to deal with very real learning loss especially from basic cognitive learning as a result of not being able to see facial expressions. Programs to regain academic competencies should be funded either after school or during the school day in order to catch students up to where they were before COVID. I am sure that with a coalition of parents and teachers that programs can be developed and deployed to address learning loss.
Equity versus meritocracy is very relevant in public schools today and parents must be made aware of the consequences of the equity ideology being pushed by politically motivated school boards and administrators
Vision: I always tell people, if you are going into heart surgery, do you want the doctor that graduated medical school because of skin color or the doctor that passed the MCAT exam and excelled in medical school coursework. Equity sounds and looks great on paper and allows you to put up a Facebook banner of support, but the end result does not help children.
By lowering graduation standards, allowing students to retake tests an infinite number of times, and promoting children through the grades that have not met all the academic requirements we do a disservice to all the students. Students that are gifted will realize that hard work and performance don’t matter if the student next to you was chosen by lottery. For the student that does not know the material and for which the standards were lowered they are now at a disadvantage because instead of teaching them the material, you just exempted them from learning. The end result is obvious, children graduating high school unable to read or do basic math.
We need to encourage students to excel in academics and provide students the resources to do this. If students are not meeting requirements, then LCPS needs to implement tutoring and after school programs in cooperation with families so that students are put on paths to success. I think the key is working with parents to find solutions and not make assumptions about one size fits all initiatives. Loudoun County should focus on excellence and meritocracy so that when a student excels they are recognized as a top of their class or valedictorian. The solution is not equity, so everyone graduates but instead tutoring, after school programs, family outreach, and other programs that address the issue of learning instead of covering it up.
Critical Race Theory (CRT) is not some right-wing conspiracy designed to discriminate against minorities. It is very real, it is taught to educators at all levels, and its tenets have been woven into the curriculum under the guise of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Vision: Critical Race Theory is a hot button topic. Schools proclaim they’re not teaching it, organizations deny employee training on CRT, and the Virginia Department of Education lies about it despite there being training classes available to educators in the Commonwealth. It is a waste of time at this point in time to try to convince someone it exists or is being taught; that is a rabbit hole. I will say though that the video shown to my son was clearly a product of CRT and it was in his middle school (https://www.king5.com/video/news/community/facing-race/what-is-systemic-racism/281-70d404ec-b3d9-4ddb-9046-00c96cea7998). The problem is not so much slides and handouts and lessons on CRT verbatim, the problem is the tenets of CRT and how they have woven themselves into the fabric of education through classes like Social Emotional Learning (SEL).
SEL curriculum is sourced from SecondStep.org. Second Step has relationships and shares materials with an organization Learning for Justice (LFJ). LFJ is a spin-off of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). On all of those websites the mantra of gender spectrums, social justice, and diversity-equity-inclusion runs through the material. If my wife and I had not peeled back the layers of the “SEL onion” we would not have discovered the ties from SEL to the other organizations.
Children are absolutely being driven toward looking at each other through the lenses of color and race. A perfect example is the allegedly innocent Diverse Books Collection in LCPS. That collection of books was selected by LCPS with little to no input from parents. The books focus predominantly on race and gender. In some of the books, the story is told in a victim /oppressor context. The author may ask why the black boy was stopped by the white police officer as opposed to asking what crime the young man was suspected of committing. I am not saying racism doesn’t exist, but I am saying that it is not systemic throughout the United States and Loudoun County Public Schools. In the diverse books collection, it’s not the content verbatim that subscribes to CRT but instead the way the story is portrayed that keeps the focus on racism thus ingraining in children’s minds that skin color is the predominant determining factor for being judged.
Children are not born racist or conscious of color. Young kids play together and all they know is fun and love for playmates. Sure, they notice that one child may be darker, but they don’t immediately assume that child will not succeed in life. Being Hispanic myself I am insulted that anyone would try to tell me that since I am not white, I should feel oppressed or that my wife should experience white guilt.
Racism is a very lucrative business and as long as someone can perpetuate the hate, they stand to make money. Alleged scholars like Henry Rogers (aka Ibram Kendi) and Robin DiAngelo are laughing all the way to the bank at the expense of society and our children. They demonize “white America” and capitalism yet they themselves are accomplished capitalists.
There is no place in public education for racist dogma seeking to separate children as young as six years old. Slavery and racism are in the history of the United States and should be understood in the context of factual historical events not “theories” developed by alleged scholars with agendas. I encourage people to read about Critical Race Theory and the origins of its precursor, Critical Legal Theory, at the Frankfurt School in Germany to be better educated where it came from and its very obvious ties to Marxism where economic class is replaced by race in order to separate people and create division.
The goal of CRT is clearly to divide us, and it has been successful to date except that many people are waking up to the ruse and are standing up to say, “NO”; it does not belong in public schools.
While I am reluctant to delve too much into who I am I must do so because it speaks to my character and how I intend to govern as an elected official. I am one of three brothers, the “baby” if you will, born to Adela and Moises Rivera who came to New York City (NYC) from Puerto Rico independently before they met in New York and married. I grew up lower middle class but was well cared for by my parents. My brothers and I attended NYC public schools and I will admit that I think I received a good education in the public-school system of the 70s and early 80s. I went on to attend Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and eventually obtained both a bachelor and masters degree in engineering. I have repeatedly said that I am not as grateful to RPI for what they taught me specifically but the fact that they taught me how to learn and to have curiosity for all things foreign to me.
After college I went on to spend about fifteen years in the IT industry followed by about eight years in large scale commercial construction and eventually landing where I am today in public service as a first responder. I am extremely happy with my current career choice and consider it an honor to wear the uniform and serve the citizens of Loudoun County as a Deputy Sheriff.
My wife, Paula, is a Virginia CPA and we have been married for sixteen years. We have two children: Gabriel who is 13 and attends middle school and Olivia Grace who is 10 years old and attends elementary school. Olivia was born with hydrocephalus among other things, and so we have learned to be parents of a special needs child and I admit our “normal” is very different.
I care deeply about my family and want the best for my children as do many parents. Both my wife and I have strong opinions about many things in the public school system but we always temper those opinions with respect and tolerance for the opinions of others. My life experience has taught me that everything is a compromise and that is how to things get done. It doesn’t mean that you lose what you want but instead that you come together for a solution that addresses some of the needs of all parties so everyone can work together.
My vision for Loudoun County
All this begs the question – what will I do in Loudoun County as a school board member?
As an engineer I tend to be very pragmatic and data driven. I fully realize that there is a plethora of talent in LCPS (not necessarily including administration). We have talented teachers, subs, teaching assistants, principals, vice principals, etc. Of course, there are some that are following the lead of the school board and superintendent and are pushing political and personal agendas, but I think that is not the majority. I think that many good and just educators in LCPS are being stifled and intimidated by a toxic and oppressive administration. I think they are in fear of losing their jobs and careers and that is a sad state of affairs. I cannot fault them for refusing to speak out and expose the ills in LCPS.
I whole heartedly believe that once an effective school board and leadership team is in place that the good in LCPS will flourish and we can work to identify and correct poor behavior and remove the injection of politics in education so that we can remain focused on the core mission of providing a high quality education for children.
As a school board member, I pledge to be fair, transparent, and representative of the citizens and parents of Loudoun County. My role as a school board member is to serve the people in a representative government. I may not always agree with the will of the populous but my position on the board should not allow me to override them just because I disagree.