Fairfax County School Superintendent Robert R. Spillane criticized Rep. Stan Parris (R-Va.) yesterday for asking the county to reverse its decision and help a critic of the school system pay for her son's tuition at a special education boarding school.
"I must tell you how personally disappointing it is to receive such a shoddy, if not sloppily conceived, letter from a U.S. congressman who represents such a large constituency in Fairfax County," Spillane said in a letter to Parris written Monday and released by his office yesterday.
At issue is a long-running claim by John and Betty Schimmel of Springfield that the county should pay their son's tuition at a Vermont boarding school. After losing numerous lower-level legal appeals, they were turned down by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in May.
Although the school system agrees that the Schimmels' son should be placed in a private school at public expense, Fairfax school officials will not pay for the Vermont school because it is unaccredited by the State of Virginia for special education. They want him to attend a Virginia school that the Schimmels say is more expensive and not as good.
Betty Schimmel is a founder of Parents for Compliance, a small group that persuaded the U.S. Education Department to investigate the Fairfax special education program. The probe found no major abuses, but changes were made in part because of the group's pressure.
Earlier this month, Parris wrote County Board Chairman John F. Herrity asking that the county make a special request to the state to pay back tuition for the Schimmel youth. Parris said the couple had spent years "leading the struggle to bring about those changes," and paid "exorbitant expenses, particularly for the placement of their son in a school that has appropriately met his educational needs."
"I . . . deeply believe in the justice of their cause," Parris said.
Herrity's office passed the letter to Spillane. Spillane's reply said Parris' letter was "factually inaccurate in virtually every important respect" and argued that the Schimmels have repeatedly lost legal attempts and said the county would not help them.
Mark Strand, a spokesman for Parris, said yesterday that the congressman's office had not received Spillane's letter. He said it was "improper and doesn't contribute to finding a solution to a longstanding problem" for Spillane to characterize Parris' letter "as something that's out of line."