The fate of hundreds of local students -- and their parents' faith in the integrity of the Fairfax County School Board -- are in doubt after school officials voted to close Clifton Elementary School.
School board members and school system staff had for months underscored Clifton Elementary's contaminated well water as the primary justification for closing the school. Schools officials also told parents they planned to build a new facility to replace Clifton.
Both of those statements now appear to have been misleading.
Dean Tistadt, facilities chief for Fairfax's public schools, e-mailed new water test results to the school board just minutes before its members voted 9-2 to close Clifton. Those tests showed Clifton's water was safe, but the e-mail came too late to change the school board's vote.
At-large school board member Martina Hone questioned the timing of Tistadt's e-mail.
"I believe [FCPS] staff knew the water was not contaminated before 7:40 [Thursday] night," Hone told The Washington Examiner.
Hone, who voted against closing Clifton and who unsuccessfully tried to postpone a final decision, said the school board's action would lead to the "destruction of a community."
"The place where the community comes together, where these kids bond, is Clifton [Elementary]," Hone said.
She said the vote was motivated partly by the school board's dedication to uniformity within the school system.
Clifton Elementary is one of Fairfax County's oldest school buildings, and caters to a small, widely dispersed population. But Clifton's academic performance routinely ranks among the county's best.
"Everyone in Fairfax ought to be scared if we're going to a Southwest Airlines model where every school is a 737," Hone said.
School board members, contrary to previous statements, made it clear after the vote that Clifton's students might not end up at a new facility.
"There are a lot of possibilities, but I know those schools that surround Clifton are great schools that currently have capacity surpluses," said Springfield school board member Elizabeth Bradsher.
Clifton PTA President Patti Hopkins said she felt betrayed by the school board's decision and the revelation that a new facility might not be in the works.
"I feel like there was a plan in place all along to close Clifton, and the whole community engagement process was a show," she said.
Hopkins also said she was "appalled" the school board would vote to close Clifton before determining a landing spot for the displaced students.
"I think it's unconscionable," she said.