This article has been updated throughout to include comments from Fauquier High School Principal Kraig Kelican.
On Veterans Day, Monday, Nov. 11, Fauquier High School students attended an assembly that many of them believed was a Veterans Day recognition. Instead, they heard a speech by Angela Marie “Bay” Buchanan, a conservative political commentator who served as treasurer of the United States under President Ronald Reagan. She is the sister of conservative political commentator Pat Buchanan.
Parents say their children told them that Buchanan touched on conservative talking points, including Second Amendment rights and abortion, which surprised and disturbed some students. At least one student told her mother she wanted to leave mid-speech but was not permitted to do so.
School division public information officer Tara Helkowski responded to questions about the assembly: “Fauquier High School’s Young Americans for Freedom Club sponsored this event. Students from the club had heard the speaker previously and believed their peers would benefit from hearing her also. It was not intended to be a Veterans Day memorial; instead, it focused on leadership development.
“The speaker only mentioned politics when referencing experiences tied to her growth as a leader while serving as treasurer of the United States. She was not paid. This was a school-wide assembly. FHS rearranged the day's schedule so that most of the event took place during homeroom to preserve instructional time.”
Bay Buchanan's speech was recorded and can be found here.
Reached Thursday morning, Fauquier High School Principal Kraig Kelican admitted that the controversy around the assembly has made this a very difficult time. A letter sent to parents and staff by the school division Tuesday night read, “While it is not unusual for politicians to visit our schools and speak to students, they are asked to refrain from raising controversial issues, campaigning, endorsing, sharing beliefs, values, etc. These issues are addressed within FCPS School Board Policy. While Ms. Buchanan is not an employee of FCPS, she was invited to speak by a student organization sponsored by a school division employee. Ms. Buchanan was given specific talking points with the expectation that she align her comments in accordance with School Board Policies...” [See box for the full letter.]
Kelican clarified that he did not provide specific talking points or a script to Buchanan or her staff, but “most speakers realize what’s acceptable in a public school setting.”
He said he asked the speaker, through her coordinator, to speak on leadership, what traits can be found in a good leader and the importance of community service. “And her speech contained those points. Those points were fine.
“It was when she used the words rape, incest, abortion … when those words came up, some students lost all focus.” He agreed that the use of those words and also the word “racist” overshadowed the speaker’s main point for some students. “If she hadn’t used those words,” Kelican said, “it would have been different.”
He said after the speech, Buchanan said to him, “I hope I didn’t get you in too much trouble,” or words to that effect.
Kelican said, “I wanted to support the student group that wanted to bring this speaker. I thought having a former secretary of the Treasury come speak to our kids would be valuable.
“Some people were very upset, rightly so. I have to accept responsibility for that. This is not what I wanted to happen.”
Parents speak out
Amanda, a parent of a Fauquier High student (she requested that her last name not be used, to protect her child’s identity), said her daughter texted her during the assembly.
Amanda wrote in an email to Kelican, “My daughter called me in tears because she attempted to leave the assembly and was not permitted. [Another girl] … was extremely upset by the discussion topics and was forced to stay and listen to implications that her personal trauma is irrelevant. My daughter called me in anger because she was forced to hear a speaker say that it didn't matter that a teenage girl was raped or abused, she should still be glad to bring the baby of her abuser into the world.
“What right or business do the school or Ms. Buchanan have telling my daughter or any other student that their trauma doesn't matter? Is that the message you intend to send to your female students? That their bodies do not matter, and their school does not support a person's right to bodily autonomy?”
She added, “I find it deeply disturbing that students, including my daughter, were made a captive audience to the outdated, unsettling rhetoric of Bay Buchanan today. I find it particularly problematic that this propaganda-rich assembly was scheduled for Veteran's Day, a sacred day for many of our community members. Not only do our students deserve better, our veterans in the community deserve better.”
Kelican said that from his seat near the speaker, he did not see any students or teachers leave the gym where the assembly was held or attempt to leave. (One teacher left, he said, but returned to the gym a few minutes later.) “If a student wanted to leave, I can’t imagine any of our teachers saying you can’t leave.”
Amanda managed to find a positive about the assembly. She wrote to Kelican, “In one assembly today, you and your outrageous guest speaker managed to spark a political interest and passion that we hadn't yet seen in our daughter. She came home outraged that, in 2019, people in power are still trying to indoctrinate students with these backwards beliefs… Our daughter is motivated to do everything in her power to make sure people like Ms. Buchanan never hold positions of power in this community.”
FHS parent Kate Sprague said that a conversation she had with Kelican confirmed that the assembly was meant to be a Veterans Day assembly. “He strongly denies there was any talk of pro-life, but many students felt differently. YAF is an uber-conservative group; the administration certainly knew this.”
Sprague added, “Personal politics aside, this assembly was intended to honor veterans per my conversations with Dr. [David] Jeck's [superintendent of schools] office and with Fauquier High School's office. That message was lost on many students.”
She concluded, “Please, in the future, reach out to VFW posts, Hero's Bridge, Serving our Wounded Warriors, and Habitat for Humanity for future Veterans Day assemblies.”
Most parents who contacted the newspaper emphasized that they felt a political speaker was inappropriate on Veterans Day. Ethan Morris, who has a junior and a sophomore at FHS, “I don’t care if it was left-wing or right wing, this was not the forum for this. On Veterans Day, let’s focus on respecting the people who fought for our country.”
Kelican pointed out that Fauquier High held several Veterans Day events. On Friday, students presented 2,000 cards to a group that was going to deliver the cards to veterans. On Monday, students painted a rock outside the school with an American flag, and a choir sang patriotic songs in the lobby Monday morning, said Kelican.
Warrenton resident Jeff Davis wrote: “… The intent [of the assembly] was for Ms. Buchanan to speak about leadership, sacrifice, honor and all the non-partisan things we should contemplate on a day set aside to honor our fellow Americans in the armed forces. What happened instead was Ms. Buchanan spouted off far-right talking points: incriminating feminism, female sexual assault survivors, and went so far as to say a 14-year-old girl who was impregnated via rape should still have the baby. … She also extolled the virtues of Reaganomics. … Teachers, students and parents were all livid.
“Parents are saying their kids were not allowed to opt-out, and no one was made aware Ms. Buchanan would be speaking,” said Davis.
He continued, “I wasn't there, but I was made aware of this by screenshots students sent to their parents. All of us are members of a Facebook group meant to organize and build community for progressives in Fauquier….
“My kids go to Prince William County schools, but I live in Warrenton. My tax dollars go into Fauquier County schools. I interact with the kids in this community. Our entire community is impacted by the quality of schools and the messages leadership sends the students.”
Parent of two students at FHS, Tony Tedeschi wrote on Facebook, “Both of my children thought they were headed to a Veteran's Day assembly at school. Instead, they were subjected to right wing political diatribe by Bay Buchanan… Both of my children were very upset by her positions on issues like the failures of feminism and immigration, how pregnant women should keep their babies no matter what (even if they were raped)… I would like to hear from the leadership … that didn't stop it when it became inappropriate.”
A student’s perspective
Amanda Arellano, sports editor of FHS’s student newspaper, the Falconer, provided her take on the event: “The whole student body was required to attend the assembly. We had all originally walked into the gym thinking we’d meet veterans and thank them for their service since it was Veterans Day.
“Mrs. Bay Buchanan … stated she was a politician and spoke about leadership, she used her opinion on pro-life as an example of a topic she was very passionate about. This caused students to think she was trying to persuade us into believing her opinion. I personally don’t believe she was trying to convince us of anything.”
Arellano added, “If anything, she did say inappropriate comments throughout her speech. At one point she said, ‘I get called racist so many times that I now respond to it.’ This is the main thing that triggered students. After the assembly many students posted about that one specific comment on their social media, specifically Snapchat.
“Another thing that she heavily promoted was controversy and debate. She told us that arguing with people and knowing their opposing viewpoint on certain topics would make us a successful leader. This was confusing because the school really promotes teamwork and working with each other, after she said that it went against everything we learned.
“Students were mostly against the fact that the school had brought in a politician to speak to us, some even tweeted about it and a student wrote an essay and had students sign it. I don’t think the assembly was appropriate for the date. It was Veterans Day and we should’ve been honoring our veterans instead of listening to a politician.
“The Falconer will be writing a review on the assembly; it will be published soon.”
School Board member Donna Grove (Cedar Run), said she did not know enough about the situation, and Brian Gorg (Center District) said, “I think the school board needs more information about this event to evaluate if policies of the division were followed. I expect we would have what we need by the next school board meeting.”
Reach Robin Earl at email@example.com