Petition to recall Virginia school board member dismissed in court

Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Richard Gardiner on Aug. 20 granted a motion to dismiss a recall petition against Fairfax County Public Schools school board member Elaine Tholen, ending the recall effort against her.

The petition against Tholen, the board’s Dranesville District representative, was initially deemed sufficient on July 23 to go to a court hearing. Tholen’s attorney filed a motion against the court’s decision to deem the petitions sufficient, and the hearing on that motion was held on Aug. 13. Gardiner said he granted the motion to dismiss “upon the Commonwealth’s position that the petition is not based on facts establishing probable cause for removal.”

The recall effort against Tholen and two other members of the board—Springfield District representative Laura Cohen and at-large representative Abrar Omeish—began in October 2020. The effort started in response to the district’s concurrent instruction program, which allowed students to choose between learning fully online or a hybrid option that included both online and in-person instruction. The program was started in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The petitions against Cohen and Omeish have not yet been submitted to the circuit court.

Recall supporters said that not being in the classroom adversely affected students. A spokeswoman for the school district said the district stood by its concurrent instruction program and that it had been well received.

Virginia requires certain reasons to be met for a recall to move forward, including neglect of duty, misuse of office, incompetence, and conviction of misdemeanors related to drugs or hate crimes. Recall supporters must collect signatures ​​equal in number to 10% of the votes cast in the last election for that office. Tholen’s recall was submitted with more than 5,000 signatures.

All three board members were elected to four-year terms on the board on Nov. 5, 2019. Tholen won the open Dranesville District seat on the board against two opponents, receiving 58.7% of the vote. Cohen won the Springfield District seat after defeating two opponents, including the incumbent, with 50.5% of the vote. Omeish won one of the three at-large seats, receiving 20% of the vote in a six-way race.

Ballotpedia has tracked a total of 89 recall efforts related to the coronavirus or government responses to the pandemic that were started against elected officials in 2020 and 2021.

In the first half of 2021, Ballotpedia tracked 164 recall efforts against 262 officials. This was the most recall efforts for this point in the year since the first half of 2016, when we tracked 189 recall efforts against 265 officials. In comparison, we tracked between 72 and 155 efforts by the midpoints of 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020.

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