Borja, Burnett talk safety, mental health in West Fairfax District School Board race | #schoolsaftey

Student mental health and school safety emerged as primary topics of focus at the recent Culpeper County School Board candidates’ forum put on by the chamber of commerce. Achieving it elicited similarities and differences from two candidates running in the West Fairfax District race — incumbent Crissy Burnett and challenger Matt Borja.

Burnett, finishing her first term on the board, said during the Oct. 5 program at Germanna Community College that she wanted to install metal detectors at the high schools, something she called, “imperative in light of recent incidents.”

She stated installing metal detectors would give parents peace of mind.

Borja, a 2016 graduate of Eastern View High School, favored the use of threat assessment teams and annual school safety audits. The superintendent, in addition, can establish an oversight committee in ensuring school safety plans are properly developed, he said.

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“We’re filling out forms, we’re reporting everything correctly … thoroughly and transparently so parents and teachers can see how students are being protected,” Borja said. “Folks go through, check, make sure all doors lock, visitors are being checked in properly and making sure that if it does come to the worst things, they do have a proper response plan.”

Keeping Culpeper County Public Schools safe involves building community connections and relationships, like Burnett said she has developed the past 20 years as a parent, volunteer, coach and substitute teacher with the division.

“I have been made aware of human trafficking, fentanyl, overdoses, missing children — unless we know what’s going on, we can’t be equipped to help the students feel safe,” she said, also expressing support for armed school resource officers and cameras on buses and in schools.

Student mental health is absolutely a priority, Borja said, calling for a reduction in stigma.

“It’s what leads a lot of folks to not seek mental health care,” he said. “You feel as if, if I go to therapy or if I seek help or whatever I may be facing somehow I’m broken, somehow I’m wrong — you’re not.”

The candidate said he’s sought therapy and he’s not broken.

“We have to create an environment in schools where students feel they are able to open up and discuss their issues and how we are able to move forward with next steps,” Borja said. “We also need to look at the root causes and one of them is bullying — cyber bullying is up especially among young girls and it’s the advent of social media.”

He suggested adopting a cyber-friendly school program where kids work with teachers toward creating a zero tolerance policy for any kind of bullying.

Family and community engagement in schools has long been recognized as a powerful force that guides education and promotes the success of young people, Burnett said. Mental health and wellness is a huge umbrella, she added, encompassing physical activity, nutrition, interaction with peers and family members, substance abuse, sexual behaviors and adverse childhood experiences. She referenced results of the 2022 risk assessment survey of more than 3,200 local middle and high school students.

“It is startling that we have an uptick in sadness, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts,” Burnett said, noting a positive of parents or guardians being alerted. “Students are talking to their parents and it is less of a stigma than it used to be through education, programs we’re implementing in the school system.”

CCPS has offered different things in different classes, like martial arts in PE class, she stated. “We’ve been talking about meditation and alternatives to helping with the mental health.”

Borja introduced himself as a proud product of Culpeper County Public Schools, an A.G. Richardson, Floyd T. Binns and Eastern View grad. He is a college graduate with a master’s degree who served as a paralegal in the U.S. Army Reserves. Borja said he wants to continue to serve his community.

“What better way to do that then to come back to the community that raised me and gave me all the tools to be successful and help them,” he said. “While Culpeper schools are making great progress in ensuring all students are able to attain their educational goals, we can always do better.”

Borja noted he is the only candidate who graduated from the local school system this century.

“I think I provide a very unique perspective the school board needs,” he said.

Burnett, 55, has served as chair of the school board finance committee and on Student Health Advisory Board and Family Life Education Council. She grew up in Northern Virginia and spent her last two years of high school in West Virginia. Burnett said she majored in journalism and communications in college. Her children, now grown, attended Culpeper schools.

“The past four years I have learned so much for being the largest employer in the county,” Burnett said of her first term on the school board. “The amount of information we’ve had to learn, research, develop and train on, it’s been infinite. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would take Narcan training.”

As a board member she said she is always looking for ways to improve student health.

“What we’ve come to learn is that it takes the entire community to make school happen and I encourage everyone to get involved in your child’s education,” Burnett said.

Allison Brophy Champion: 540/825-4315

[email protected]

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