(This article was first published May 6, 2022. It was updated May 9, 2022, to include new information provided by School Board Member Megan McLaughlin. Scroll to the bottom of the article to see the update.)
Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) is at fault for the following issues:
1) levying a service fee for a service it doesn’t provide;
2) failing to follow its own pricing guidelines;
3) failing to update its pricing guidelines and failing to have a system in place to identify needed updates;
4) failing to have a system in place to catch fee charging and collection issues;
5) failing to train staff to understand fee charging and collection issues, and to think creatively and critically to identify and/or suggest solutions for such issues; and
6) making the already expensive post-high school graduation planning process more expensive for families and students.
FCPS Levies Service Fee for Service It Doesn’t Provide
For years, FCPS has had a practice of charging students for the service of sending high school transcripts to colleges, trade schools, service academies, and so on. FCPS has advised students and their families that FCPS will send the first three transcripts for free and then charge $5 for each additional transcript sent. This transcript fee includes sending the transcript at the beginning of the 12th grade year, after the first semester of the 12th grade year, and then at the end of the 12th grade year. Thus, it charges $5 to send three versions of the transcript to one organization or individual on a student’s list, with a $5 add-on fee for each additional organization in need of a transcript.
For example, per FCPS’s transcript practice, if a student applies to four colleges, FCPS’s $5 fee is based on FCPS sending transcripts to the first three schools for free and then FCPS charging $5 for sending a transcript to the fourth school. If there were five schools, the student would be charged $10, with the first three free and then $5 each for school four and five.
What Actually Happens
FCPS doesn’t send a transcript to each school for which it charges students.
Instead, FCPS counselors upload each version of the transcript once to CommonApp and once to Naviance and then the colleges, universities, and so on access the transcripts in CommonApp and/or Naviance. The counselors do not upload the transcripts according to the number of schools being applied to by a student.
For example, in the case of one of my own kids, FCPS charged us $45, as if it sent every transcript to every college. However, the school counselor confirmed that he only submitted the transcript twice to each platform:
“It is correct that I only needed to upload [your child’s] common app transcript twice. It was also uploaded to Naviance twice. Since there were no changes in [your child’s] schedule, it didn’t require any additional uploads.”
Yet, FCPS charged my family and others as if 1) its staff sent transcripts to each school and 2) as if FCPS did individual work for each school to which students applied.
Although there are a few exceptions of schools that require a paper transcript and/or use a different portal, this is not the norm. Hence, the majority of students don’t have such exceptions of their lists of schools to which they are applying.
March 25, 2022, the same counselor confirmed this process:
“Student transcripts are uploaded into Common App initially at the beginning of the year. Additional uploads are made in the event that there are changes to student schedules. We then upload an additional transcript in February to accurately report midyear grades. In addition, each request is entered into Naviance as the Senior Survey is conducted through this portal. This allows for verification of where the student will be attending so that the final transcript can be uploaded to either Common App or Naviance as appropriate.”
April 20, 2022, FCPS Manager of Media Relations Julie Moult confirmed this process as well:
“The Notice  applies to hard copy and electronic files. Generally, your understanding of the need to process and upload each version of an electronic transcript (initial, semester, and end of year) one time per application portal or application type is correct. However, there may be unique or additional applications that require printing and/or additional uploads based on student and parent/guardian request related to college, university, scholarship, or other postsecondary institution application requirements.”
According to a separate email from Moult and Notice 2701, transcripts for scholarships are provided by FCPS free of charge.
Hidden Requirement Levied By FCPS
As noted in the counselor’s guidance above, FCPS requires ties the release of students’ final transcription to students filling out FCPS’s senior survey.
Neither FCPS’s pricing guidelines nor guidance provided to students on submitting transcript requests mention that FCPS requires students to fill out FCPS’s senior survey prior to FCPS sending students’ final transcripts.
Hence, although students may have fulfilled their monetary requirement for the transactions, FCPS won’t fulfill its transaction obligation until the students fill out the survey, too.
In a May 4, 2022, email, FCPS College and Career Specialist Holly Biehl sent an email to class of 2022 students and family members confirming this:
“If you are receiving this email, you have not submitted the FCPS Class of 2022 Senior Survey. It is an expectation that all graduating seniors in Fairfax County complete this survey. Responses to the survey provide data to the school, county and to the state. The survey also connects with our automated transcript manager to send final transcripts for those going to college or confirm graduation status with the military branch for those enlisting. Final transcripts will be sent automatically IF we have a consent to release records on file and you complete the survey.”
May 6, 2022, Biehl responded to a question about the above statement and stated the following:
“The process is streamlined and different than the original transcript request process for supporting the initial college applications. By doing the survey in Naviance, the system is automated to send the final transcript to the school selected within the survey. It’s less a matter of “holding” the transcript and more a cause and effect of making sure that it automatically gets sent. Naviance is programmed to read the student responses to “accepted” “attending” and “send final transcript” selection.”
Although Biehl states that “It’s less a matter of holding the transcript”, the reality is that FCPS is charging for a service for a process that is automated and doesn’t occur per school—and which isn’t finalized until the student completes a survey that the student isn’t required under any law to complete.
What’s in the Senior Survey?
The senior survey requests an email address for contacting the student after graduation and it requests the name of the school or trade academy or other organization or institution the student will attend after graduation. This makes sense.
However, what doesn’t make sense is that FCPS is holding its end of a monetary transaction until students submit information that 1) doesn’t provide a service for the students and 2) isn’t required by law for students to provide. Questions include:
- Did you receive any federal government financial aid other than loans? This question refers to need-based aid that does not have to be paid back, such as a Pell Grant.
- List the total amount of scholarship money you have been awarded and are accepting and using. If an award is offered for each year, give the total amount. Example: 1000 per year for 4 years is 4000.
- During high school, did you participate in any work-based learning experience? You will be asked to select from a list of activities. If you did not participate in work-based learning experiences, please select “No experience.”
FCPS Fails to Follow its Own Pricing Guidelines
Pursuant to Fairfax County School Board (FCSB) Notice 2701, effective June 7, 2021, through June 30, 2022, FCPS should be charging the following per transcript:
Minimum charge—up to and including the sixth page (one side) for duplication: $5;
additional pages: 20 cents per side. Postage and processing fees: charged as appropriate.
Prior to graduation, each high school student will be entitled to receive three complete
transcripts (for applications for college, jobs, etc.) at no charge for duplicating or
According to these guidelines, FCPS should not be charging students $5 per school to which the student is applying. Instead, it should charge a minimum of $5 for the first six single sided pages it provides and then 20 cents more per page for anything over that minimum and over the three-transcript fee exception.
Hence, if a student applies to five schools, the students should be charged the following:
- First three schools: no charge
- Schools four and five: $5 for the first transcript, 20 cents per page for the additional transcript. The student should not be charged an additional $5 for the additional transcript.
FCPS Fails to Update Its Pricing Guidelines and Fails to Have a System in Place to Identify Needed Updates
This is an example of FCPS failing ensure its pricing guidelines are up-to-date and that its staff is following them.
In addition, it is an example of FCPS failing to train its staff to think critically and empowering them to identify and suggest needed changes.
Instead, staff members continued following a practice that violates the regulations they are supposed to follow.
FCPS Makes Post-Graduation Process More Expensive
Whether a student is applying to colleges, grade schools, or for military service or other employment, the students are stepping out into the world of adults and paying their own bills and taking on greater responsibilities.
The cost of applications for schools; clothes, gas, and transportation for work; and the daily living expenses add up.
Given 1) FCPS sends the first three transcripts for free and 2) the work required to ensure transcripts are accessible by one or 30 institutions is the same for the most part, FCPS shouldn’t be charging students for this service.
If FCPS isn’t doing the work, it shouldn’t charge the fee.
FCPS Ignores Request for Refund
March 28, 2022, the counselor at my own child’s school confirmed the following:
“It is correct that I only needed to upload [you child’s] common app transcript twice. It was also uploaded to Naviance twice. Since there were no changes in [you child’s] schedule, it didn’t require any additional uploads.”
Hence, if we’re going off of FCPS’s pricing guidelines, I shouldn’t owe FCPS anything, because no paper copies were made.
However, if we equate one upload to the minimum of the first $5, that should have been the cap—or we could be generous and add a second $5 for the second upload, which gets us to $10, or we could look at $5 per upload since the transcript was uploaded twice per platform, which gets us to $20.
However, FCPS advised that we owed $45.
March 28, 2022, I submitted a refund request to FCPS, requesting that I be charged for the work done, not for the size of my child’s school admission list. In addition, I emailed Superintendent Brabrand and the School Board to make them aware of the issue and of my request for a refund for money already paid and for outstanding fees be dropped since FCPS was charging me for the size of my child’s application list and not for the work it actually did.
Three weeks passed. FCPS didn’t respond.
After contacting FCPS again on April 21, 2022, Principal Gary Morris contradicted his counselor’s and FCPS’s media manager’s earlier statements when he advised:
“As for the transcripts, we still charge students because each time a student adds a school to his/her list, our transcript personnel has the responsibility of entering/upload that information in the Naviance system for schools who are not on the Common App platform. The list of schools who are Common App users, has grown, but is not complete, and we still have instances where we are sending transcripts by USPS. To summarize, unfortunately, we are not able to eliminate the charging of families for the transcript process at this time.”
April 21, 2022, I made Region 4 superintendent Penny Gros aware of Morris’ statement and the issues with the fee structure, and cc’d the school board. No response.
April 28, 2022, after I sent another email to Gros that was cc’d to school board members, Megan McLaughlin emailed me about the issue.
Megan McLaughlin Gets Involved
April 28, 2022, McLaughlin emailed me the following:
“Thank you for copying me on this communication below. As a former parent, our family was charged $5 for any transcript beyond the first 5 colleges. You mentioned it’s now after the first 3 colleges. I will look into that change. In addition, my sons applied before FCPS switched to an electronic transcript system. Thus, I will look into this newer process to understand how it has impacted staff time. My staff aide Donna & I will keep you apprised of what we learn. In addition, we will check on the status of Penny Gros’ pending response to your prior communication.”
After I responded to her email, McLaughlin later emailed:
“As I noted below, operational changes have occurred since my sons applied to colleges. Thus, I will definitely look into these transcript fees. FCPS cannot and should not subject families to unjustifiable fees.”
May 2, 2022, after additional follow up, McLaughlin’s assistant Donna Nelson emailed the following:
“To the broader issue of the existing transcript fees, we have reached out to Penny Gross and the Instructional Services staff to learn more about this issue.
“Penny has provided information about the FCPS notice – Notice 2701 – that guides the existing transcripts fees, which you may already have received.
“Here is the link to Notice 2701:
“As you observed, these fees have continued while the technology has changed for schools to provide transcripts to colleges as part of a student’s application process. From what Penny has learned as she’s looked into this issue, the Office of Counseling & Career and College Readiness is reviewing this notice for next year.
“We have also reached out to Instructional Services to learn more about the staff time involved in transcript requests, so we can have a better understanding of the process. We will be happy to share that information with you once we have received.”
Note that the link to Notice 2701 is additional proof that FCPS has been charging for services it isn’t provided—and that it isn’t following its own outdated model.
I responded to Nelson with the following:
Per the link provided, FCPS is overcharging even on its own outdated model.
The charging per FCPS regulation: “Minimum charge—up to and including the sixth page (one side) for duplication: $5; additional pages: 20 cents per side. Postage and processing fees: charged as appropriate.”
According to this, students should only be charged 20 cents more per page. Yet, they are being charged $5 per transcript. Yes, the transcript package has numerous pages, but none equal $5. For ten pages, that would be just an additional $1.
FCPS is overcharging.
It should return funds to students. It didn’t even follow its own regulations.
Also on May 2, 2022, McLaughlin emailed me:
I am returning today from an out of town trip. My staff aide Donna has been communicating with the Region 4 Team, and has circled back again with them today.
I am about to board my flight but will respond in greater detail about your substantive concerns re: FCPS, the School Board, and me. However, I will quickly say that if you have followed my tenure alongside my prior colleague Elizabeth Schultz, you are hopefully aware that she & I frequently challenged FCPS leadership and the Board as a body. As such, we also found ourselves voting in the minority on a number of issues. I am not trying to make excuses but some Board actions do not reflect my individual votes/actions.
I hope to hear from Region 4 later today, and will be available tomorrow if this isn’t resolved in a satisfactory manner.
To date, May 6, 2022, almost six weeks after contacting FCPS about this issue, it remains unaddressed.
In addition, FCPS continues to require students to pay fees before prom and graduation, even though FCPS has had an outdated fee schedule and a fees schedule related to transcripts that its own schools don’t appear to have ever followed.
If FCPS can’t be trusted to address, regulate, and ensure the implementation of such basic practices as providing transcripts for colleges, how can it be trusted to ensure regulations and implementation of special education regulations?
May 9, 2022, Update:
I emailed the school board, requesting an update. McLaughlin responded:
“I wanted to make sure you were aware that Karen Corbett-Sanders has been highly engaged on this issue as well. She & I both sent additional messages to Supt B again this morning, with a request to address this concern for current families.
“We have also noted that his team should have prepared in advance for any fee changes, as part of the e-transcript implementation (ie: project management (pm) planning). As you are aware, this has been an operational weakness within FCPS. Thus, I am very excited that our new superintendent brings a strong understanding and commitment to it.”
“Better late than never” = A saying that shouldn’t be associated with school systems (especially those the size of FCPS, with billion-dollar budgets).