Va. Principal Issues Apology for Remarks

By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 3, 2006

The outgoing principal of Fairfax County's elite Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology has apologized to students, parents and teachers for linking ethnicity to stealing and cheating by some students.

In a one-page letter, printed this week in the monthly Parent, Teacher and Student Association newsletter, Principal Elizabeth V. Lodal raised several other issues at the county's flagship high school, writing that the school needs to do more to prevent cheating and help students cope with stress in the high-pressure academic environment.

Lodal, 62, has announced that she will retire in July after heading the school for six years. Thomas Jefferson, considered one of the top schools in the nation, is a magnet school that accepts students from Northern Virginia. Students from Fairfax as well as most nearby school districts compete for admission.

In the letter, Lodal said she was discussing theft and cheating in March at a PTSA meeting and "identified the ethnicity of the students who were caught and the percentage of these students who were involved with disciplinary issues in early 2006."

Lodal, who began her career in Fairfax schools in the 1970s and has been principal at three other schools, would not describe exactly what she said, but a teacher who attended the meeting and several parents who met with Lodal afterward said she noted that several of the offenders are Asian.

"I violated my own core values," Lodal said in the letter. "I sincerely and unequivocally believe that ethnicity has absolutely no relationship to ethics or behavior. . . . The appearance of bias is inappropriate in any setting, especially an educational one."

Lodal said in an interview that the incident was not a factor in her decision to retire. She provided a copy of the letter to The Washington Post, but she declined to discuss the extent of the cheating and theft problems at the school. Fairfax County schools spokesman Paul Regnier said discipline problems at the school have involved "a small number of incidents and a small number of students," but he said he could not elaborate because of privacy concerns.

Richard Shin, whose son attends Thomas Jefferson, was among the parents who said he thought Lodal unfairly associated bad behavior with Asian students. But he said she apologized in a meeting with Asian parents and that he and others were satisfied.

"She admitted it was a big mistake that she made and that she values diversity," Shin said. "She was very sincere, and everyone felt that."

Some teachers and school board members noted that Lodal has been a strong supporter of increasing minority enrollment at the school and said her comment was an innocent mistake. They also said Lodal has encouraged ethics education and urged students to be involved in the community.

Jim Jarvis, a geosystems teacher who said he admires Lodal, said he thinks the principal used "poor phraseology" but intended to highlight isolated incidents of cheating to send a message to students and parents.

"I think with some kids it's probably a pretty significant problem, but with the bulk of our kids, it's an issue we don't encounter," Jarvis said. "But there's a perception here that if we don't address it, it will grow. That's what the principal has done, said it can't be ignored."

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