School Zone: How DC-area students learn about Watergate

Welcome to the School Zone, WTOP’s weekly feature about the latest topics and trends in education across the D.C. region.

How DC-area school systems teach the Watergate scandal

What it is: Do students these days learn much about Watergate?

Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the break-in at the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate complex in D.C. The incident prompted an investigation and led to the resignation of then-President Richard Nixon.

Nixon remains the only president to resign in U.S. history.

The Watergate scandal is so complex, entire courses could be dedicated to it.

Why it matters: In many cases, education officials across the D.C. region said the events surrounding Watergate are mentioned as parts of broader lessons about topics such as impeachment or freedom of the press.

The events surrounding the June 17, 1972, break-in aren’t explicitly mentioned as parts of the required curricula in Maryland, Virginia or D.C.


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However, the topic is sometimes included in Advanced Placement course discussions, or students learn about it by watching the movie “All The President’s Men.”

Regional Snapshot: In D.C., a school system spokesman told WTOP that some social studies teachers talk about Watergate in their classes.

A spokesman for Loudoun County Public Schools in Virginia said Watergate isn’t in the county’s curriculum, but it is taught as part of the AP U.S. History curriculum.

In Arlington, Watergate isn’t discussed in depth, but it is mentioned as part of a larger conversation about foreign policy and the Vietnam War, a spokesman told WTOP. Many teachers in recent years have also used the topic as part of larger lessons about impeachment trials.

In Fairfax County, Virginia, Mt. Vernon High School teacher Lynnette Russo shows “All The President’s Men” at the end of the school year.

Talking points: Russo, in Fairfax County, told WTOP she uses Watergate to talk about checks and balances in government and the media’s role as a watchdog.

She said students are curious about the topic, particularly the details of what exactly happened.



“When we talk about impeachment, we’ll talk about how he ended up resigning before being impeached,” Russo said. “And so, when we’re talking about what impeachment is, versus getting removed from office, in that process, we talk about Watergate in that way that he actually didn’t officially get impeached. And then what impeachment actually is versus what people think it is.”

In Loudoun, a spokesman said at the end of the curriculum, students explore the question “How does our nation’s history impact how the U.S. handles current events and issues? This could provide an opportunity for students to explore this topic.”

Scott’s thought: I was introduced to Watergate in high school, and then took a deep dive in some history classes at University of Maryland.

[Read more about the Watergate anniversary on WTOP.com]

Va. AG calls Loudoun lawsuit to halt grand jury ‘legally baseless’

In a court motion filed this week, Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares said the Loudoun County, Virginia, school board’s lawsuit attempting to shut down a special grand jury investigation is “legally baseless.”

I spoke to WTOP’s Neal Augenstein for the latest.

Q: What’s the status of the Loudoun County School Board lawsuit attempting to shut down the grand jury investigation?

A: Virginia AG Jason Miyares says the school board’s attempt to shut down his special grand jury investigation is “legally baseless.”

Last month, WTOP told you the school board sued Miyares and Virginia. The school board is seeking a temporary injunction to prohibit any further actions by the special grand jury that Miyares impaneled, to investigate how the school system handled to sexual assaults by the same high school student last year.

The school board suit says Miyares is using the special grand jury in a way that’s unconstitutional, since Virginia’s constitution gives the power of making school decisions to the elected school board. And, the board says, Miyares is on a fishing expedition to find wrongdoing — any wrongdoing — in an attempt to influence school policy.

Q: What did Miyares say about the matter this week?

A: Miyares says the lawsuit is groundless and the request to shut down the grand jury should be thrown out. The overarching argument is one of what’s called “the doctrine of sovereign immunity.”

It says his government agency can’t be sued while doing its job — investigating whether there’s probable cause to charge someone with a crime. It also says an ongoing criminal investigation can’t be stopped by a lawsuit. And he says the school board has other options to fight against the work of the special grand jury — it can try to have subpoenas quashed, and if someone’s indicted, they can try to get that indictment dismissed.

Q: What are the next steps here?

A: A Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge will hear arguments from both sides on July 11, on whether to grant an injunction to stop or limit the work of the special grand jury.

[Read Neal’s full story on WTOP.com]

By the numbers
Some data that caught my eye this week.

Contract talks: The teachers’ union in Prince George’s County, Maryland, said this week it plans to file an impasse after negotiations for its next contract with the county have stalled.

Prince George’s County Educators’ Association President Donna Christy told WTOP there are about 800 vacancies in the county this year, 1,000 conditionally certified teachers whose certifications are expiring and an average of about 850 resignations and retirements each year.

The group previously said it sought an 8% raise in the first year of a new deal, followed by a 7% raise the next two years.

The county said it’s offering a 5% cost of living increase in FY23, and then a 4% raise in FY24 and FY25.

[Read more about the contract talks on WTOP.com]

What Scott’s Reading

  • LGBTQ month book read at Prince William elementary school angers some parents [WTOP]
  • Virginia community college system restarts chancellor search [WTOP] 
  • Teachers union claims it notified MCPS of problems with health insurance premiums a year before district said it knew [Bethesda Beat]
  • Maryland students give out free birthday cakes [NBC Washington]
  • George Washington University to stop using ‘Colonials’ name by 2023-24 [Washington Post]
  • Hidden Oaks Nature Center’s $1.7M renovation brings new classroom and bigger pond [FFXNow]
  • Campus sex assault rules fall short, prompting overhaul call [WTOP] 

Field Trip 

Here’s a fun thought ahead of the weekend.

Around the diamond: Last weekend’s WTOP softball game was rained out, so we’ll play two on Saturday before heading to Nationals Park as the team honors Ryan Zimmerman. A pregame stop at Tap99 may be in order. Their draft cocktails are perfect on a summer day.

Keep in touch: Have a school story idea we should know about? Send it to sgelman@wtop.com.

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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