Fairfax principal apologizes for yearbook ad, stops selling weight-loss products

By Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 30, 2010

An advertisement that Principal Nardos King placed in the Mount Vernon High School yearbook, for weight-loss products she sold in her free time, surprised and upset many parents this summer, and prompted an apology.

The paid, typo-infused ad in the 2010 "Surveyor" described a two-step weight-loss system called Body Magic. "Want A Hour Glass Shape," it enticed. "Amazing results Lose Up to 2-3 sizes in Minutes!"

The ad, first detailed in reports in the Mount Vernon Voice and the Mount Vernon Gazette, featured spandex undergarments that promised "Instant Transformation While Losing Weight in the Process!" The ad also touted a bottled drink called Le'Vive that promised to "Fight Funguses, Virus and Bacteria," "Control Your Blood Sugar Level" and "Enhance Your Sex Drive." It was framed by a congratulatory message to the Class of 2010 from the principal, as well as King's personal e-mail address for interested customers.

Parents began whispering about the ad at graduation in mid-June. By July, some were venting in friend's living rooms about conflicts of interest and whether enhanced sex-drive and miracle weight-loss remedies were the right messages for teenagers.

On a Facebook page dedicated to Mount Vernon news, community members questioned the principal's ethics for selling products to students and whether the "snake oil" for sale indicated a shaky understanding of "basic scientific or health principles."

"How does a HS principal even have enough spare time to sell weight loss products?" asked one poster. Others were more forgiving: "We are all human and make stupid mistakes."

Fairfax County schools spokesman Paul Regnier, who spoke on behalf of King, said she has stopped selling the products. Regnier said he has "no reason to believe that she violated our conflict-of-interest regulation."

School Board regulations allow educators to obtain outside employment as long as it does not infringe on regular work hours or performance or "reflect adversely on the school system or the education profession." High school principals in Fairfax make $110,400 to $139,000 per year, school officials said.

King sent a letter July 16 apologizing to the school's families.

"I am writing you to express my deepest apology for my error in judgment in placing an inappropriate ad in the school yearbook. . . . No one has taken this matter lightly. . . . You have my commitment that this will never happen again," she said.

Many parents at the school rallied around the principal, who began working at Mount Vernon High as a special education teacher in 1997. Dean Norton, the outgoing PTA president, said that the ad was a mistake but that the debate has been dragged out by a small number of parents. Most care more about her accomplishments and tireless work at the high school, he said.

"We want every kid that walks through the door to have a good education and a positive experience," he said. "And [King] has done an outstanding job since she has been there."

King won the county's outstanding first-year principal award in 2008 and has been cited for her abilities to motivate students, raise test scores and lead by example.

School administrators set up a meeting early in July with community leaders and King to talk about the issues raised by the ad. Later, parent Kari Warren hosted more than a dozen distressed parents in her living room. Afterward, she invited King to her house to discuss their concerns.

King accepted the invitation immediately, and the next day they spent five hours talking about the yearbook and other issues, Warren said.

Warren said she was convinced by King's obvious distress over the matter and her explanation of how she made a hasty decision to buy an ad after her daughter, who was on the yearbook staff, struggled to get support from area businesses. "She was thinking as a parent and not as a principal. I can understand that," Warren said. "Everybody makes a mistake, and she admits it and apologizes for it. You have to cut somebody slack sometimes."

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