Superintendent Steven Walts and the Prince William County School Board are being sued for defamation by former school board chairman Ryan Sawyers, and whether Walts will remain at the helm of the 92,000-student school division beyond 2021 remains undecided, School Board Chairman Dr. Babur Lateef said Wednesday.
The school board did not take action on extending Walts’ contract during a six-and-a-half-hour closed session meeting Tuesday night. Instead, the board devoted the meeting to discussing Walts’ evaluation, Lateef said.
The board ultimately approved Walts’ evaluation in a unanimous vote but did not discuss Walts' contract, which expires at the end of the 2020-21 school year.
“We didn’t even get into that discussion,” Lateef said of Walts’ contract. “Last night was reserved primarily for his evaluation.”
Lateef said the school board will hold another meeting in August to set goals for Walts for the coming school year.
Lateef described Tuesday’s meeting as a “work session” of sorts during which the board drafted a document to serve as a formal evaluation of Walts’ performance toward the goals they set for him in June 2019. Lateef declined to detail those goals, saying he is not sure if the goals are part of his review and therefore confidential.
The superintendent, who has led the school division since 2005, is ending a tumultuous year, during which he faced both the closing of all schools due to the coronavirus pandemic as well as accusations that he used his Twitter account to inappropriately send direct messages to students.
Walts shut down his Twitter account in May after the accusations were made public and the school board announced it would hire an outside firm to investigate. The board ultimately hired two outside companies for that purpose – a forensics accounting firm and a law firm.
The school board conducted a closed-session meeting last week to discuss the outcome of the Twitter investigations. So far, the board has released only a brief statement on the matter, saying they “would use the information to undertake a range of responsive actions, including an assessment of current policies, procedures and training regarding official use of social media platforms.”
On Wednesday, Lateef declined to say anything further about the Twitter investigation or how it might have played into Walts’ evaluation.
Lateef also declined to offer his own assessment of Walts’ performance.
“I’m highly focused on the reopening of schools this fall, and I believe Dr. Walts and his staff are working hard on that also. That is the goal of everyone this school year.”
The school board voted July 16 to begin the year with mostly virtual instruction with the goal of transitioning to a 50% model that would allow students to attend school two days a week, if they choose, after the first quarter of the school year, which ends Oct. 30.
In June 2019, Lateef was one of four school board members who voted to extend Walts’ contract to 2023. After that effort failed in a tie vote, leaving Walts with his existing contract, Lateef praised Walts for his accomplishments and said the school division would have a difficult time finding someone to replace him.
“I want to keep him here. I think he’s the best,” Lateef said of Walts at the time.
The school board also voted Tuesday to allow a law firm paid by the school division’s legal insurance policy to represent Walts in a defamation lawsuit recently filed by Sawyers, who resigned his post as school board chairman in February 2018.
Lateef said Sawyers is suing both Walts and the school board for defamation.
The lawsuit was not immediately available. Sawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday morning.
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