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The Virginia Attorney General’s office has launched an investigation into Fairfax County Public Schools, alleging that delays in notifying students of commendations for their preliminary SAT test scores may constitute civil rights violations.

Attorney General Jason Miyares announced yesterday that the entire school system will be subject to a review that began last week with a focus on Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ).

The expansion comes after principals at Westfield and Langley high schools reportedly informed families over the weekend that they also didn’t notify students designated as “commended students” by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) this fall.

“It’s concerning that multiple schools throughout Fairfax County withheld merit awards from students,” Miyares said in a press release. “My office will investigate the entire Fairfax County Public Schools system to find out if any students were discriminated against and if their rights were violated.”

In a letter to FCPS Superintendent Michelle Reid, Miyares said his office is investigating whether the school system violated the Virginia Human Rights Act’s prohibitions of discrimination based on race, color and national origin.

Reid said she “proactively” alerted the attorney general’s office to the lack of “timely notification” for Westfield and Langley students after it was found by an independent review that the school system initiated last week, according to a message sent to the community yesterday.

“As soon as this new development was confirmed, Westfield and Langley high schools notified all impacted families and their broader respective school communities,” Reid wrote. “Please be aware that FCPS is committed to sharing information that impacts our communities as soon as possible.”

Reid said school staff have been contacting colleges where the affected students applied.

“We are sincerely sorry for this error. Each and every student, their experience and success, remain our priority,” she said.

Initially, the delay at TJ appeared to be “a unique situation due to human error,” Reid said on Wednesday (Jan. 4).

She said then that the attorney general’s investigation will include “a review” of TJ’s admissions policies, which were revised in 2020 in an effort to diversify the magnet school’s student body. A lawsuit arguing that the changes discriminate against Asian students is currently in a federal appeals court.

Notably, the delayed notifications for commended students at TJ were first reported by Asra Nomani, co-founder of the Coalition for TJ, which filed the lawsuit opposing the admissions changes.

The National Merit Scholarship Program recognizes the top 50,000 scorers on the pSAT, a practice standardized test often considered by colleges. Though only a handful of actual scholarships are awarded each year, about 34,000 students get letters of commendations that go out in late September, per the website.

FCPS announced in mid-September that 238 of its students had advanced to the semi-finals. It didn’t mention how many students were commended.

In letters to the Washington Post, local public education advocate Holly Hazard and a former university admissions director argued that Miyares and Gov. Glenn Youngkin — both Republicans — have “wildly overreacted” to the delayed notices, a sentiment echoed by a couple Democratic elected officials.

“There is nothing to investigate,” state Sen. Scott Surovell (D-36) told FFXnow, noting that information about pSAT scores is available online through the College Board website.

“Fairfax County has the best public schools in Virginia and the Governor and Attorney General are trying to bring their culture war to Fairfax because they’re not willing to invest in public schools or treat our teachers like licensed professionals,” he said in an emailed statement.

The investigation precedes a General Assembly session convening Wednesday (Jan. 11) that will see consideration of a voucher program allowing public funds to be used for private school expenses, among other education-related proposals.

It also kicks off a year where all 12 seats on the Fairfax County School Board — currently held entirely by Democrats — will be up for election.

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The STEM school iCode opened a Vienna campus earlier in December (courtesy iCode)

A Texas-based technology education company has branched out into Vienna.

The school iCode launched its first Virginia franchise in the town earlier this month and is now hosting camps on game building, robotics and other tech skills for students out on break for the winter.

Located in a former Apple Federal Credit Union at 419A Maple Avenue East, iCode Vienna will get a grand opening at 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 10.

“As parents living and working in Fairfax County, we saw a need to provide our children earlier exposure to technical education,” franchise co-owner David Dilly said in a statement. “…We realize children love gaming, so why not provide a positive outlet for their desires by learning to understand how their favorite games work?”

Founded in 2015 by Abid Abedi, iCode has close to 50 franchises around the U.S., along with two in Asia. All of the locations follow a curriculum developed by the company’s corporate office in Frisco, Texas.

The Vienna campus is the first of several planned for Virginia, specifically in Fairfax and Loudoun counties. Next up, a school in Burke will open in spring 2023, according to Dilly.

In addition to camps, the school offers three tiers of programs, from one designed for flexibility where students build their own video game to classes focused on specific science, technology, engineering and math topics.

The most popular is a “Belt” program, which is intended to provide a “comprehensive” education in STEM subjects and the arts, iCode Vienna Director Toni Escobedo says. Covering ages 5 through 15, the program teaches a total of seven programming languages with each course building on the previous one.

Escobedo says iCode tailors its class and camp offerings to students’ interests, grouping classes based on age and skill level. The school is equipped with tablets, desktops, drones, robotics, 3D printers, an e-sports gaming lounge and more, with no outside technology needed.

She says the school distinguishes itself from other coding programs by emphasizing the full-time involvement of instructors in all classes and incorporating “soft skills” like project management and collaboration into the curriculum.

“These skills help students succeed not only academically but in their relationships and future careers,” she told FFXnow.

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A model house with a magnifying glass and piggy bank in the background (via Photo by Tierra Mallorca/Unsplash)

A couple in Merrifield have been sentenced to prison for using the wife’s real estate job to steal people’s identities.

Caprice Foster, 51, and Marcus Foster, 33, took personal identifying information from at least nine people and used it to “buy a luxury vehicle, lease high-end residences, and obtain loans and credit,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia said Friday (Oct. 14).

The information was primarily obtained through Caprice Foster’s work as a real estate agent and timeshare salesperson, per the news release:

To carry out their fraud scheme, the Fosters created numerous false identification documents in other people’s names, including social security cards and driver’s licenses, and they also fabricated tax and employment documents in their victims’ names. The Fosters opened fraudulent bank accounts using stolen identities and deposited stolen and altered checks into these accounts. The Fosters also incorporated a business that they used in furtherance of the fraud. Mr. Foster even impersonated victims in state court eviction proceedings to prolong the Fosters’ stay in residences they fraudulently leased.

Caprice Foster was sentenced to 80 months in prison, while Marcus has been sentenced to 58 months.

According to the Department of Justice, Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis joined prosecutors at the sentencing announcement, along with officials from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Photo via Tierra Mallorca/Unsplash

The juice and smoothie chain South Block will open its first McLean store in the Chesterbrook Shopping Center (photo by Mike Whatley)

South Block is bringing its juice and smoothies to McLean.

The Arlington-based business will open a store in the Chesterbrook Shopping Center, aiming for a tentative opening in summer 2023, a spokesperson confirmed to FFXnow.

“It’s true…South Block will be opening in Chesterbrook!” Vice President of Marketing Lindsey Parry Carzo said in an email that included the hashtag #Kaleyeah. “We are thrilled to be going into a new community.”

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Members of the advocacy group Moms Demand Action join the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to designate June 3 as Gun Violence Awareness Day (via Fairfax County/Flickr)

A Fairfax County School Board member plans to advocate for adding security vestibules at schools in the wake of the deadliest school shooting in the U.S. in nearly a decade.

Melanie Meren, who represents Hunter Mill District on the board, will introduce a motion at a meeting tomorrow (Thursday) requesting that Fairfax County Public Schools develop a plan to fund and install vestibules at all facilities, she said in social media posts last night (Tuesday).

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Town of Vienna sign on Maple Avenue (file photo)

Vienna residents’ next property tax bills won’t be quite as high as anticipated, even as the town commits to raising employee salaries and other additional costs.

The Vienna Town Council voted unanimously last night (Monday) to adopt a $48.7 million budget for fiscal year 2022-2023 with a real estate tax rate of 20.5 cents per $100 of assessed value — a 1.75-cent cut from the current rate. The new budget will be in effect from July 1 through June 30, 2023.

This will be the 10th consecutive year that the town has reduced or maintained its real estate tax rate, according to a news release.

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Raindrops collect on tree buds in Fairview Park (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

The National Weather Service has issued a Flood Watch for Fairfax County and the rest of the D.C. area.

The alert is set to take effect at 5 p.m. today (Friday) and last until 2 a.m. tomorrow (Saturday), though current forecasts indicate that rain is likely to continue throughout the weekend.

“Widespread rainfall totals of 1-3 inches are expected through tonight,” the NWS said. “This may lead to localized instances of flooding.”

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Dozens of people will rappel down the Hilton in Crystal City for charity (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Later this afternoon (Thursday), Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay will descend by rope down a 14-story hotel in Arlington County.

McKay is among over 70 volunteers and VIPs participating in a charity rappeling event at the Hilton (2399 Richmond Highway) in Crystal City to raise money for New Hope Housing, a Northern Virginia nonprofit that provides assistance for people experiencing homelessness.

The event will unfold over two days, with elected officials and other VIPs rappeling down starting at 4 p.m. today. Arlington County Board member Matt de Ferranti has also been confirmed as a participant.

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Vienna Police SUV (via Vienna Police Department/Facebook)

In a sequence of events that could’ve been ripped out of a pulpy crime thriller, a man in Vienna was reportedly taken for a ride and robbed at gunpoint — potentially by a trio spotted patronizing a local gun shop earlier that day.

Around 2:40 p.m. on April 9, the man was picked up by three men in a vehicle, one of them an acquaintance, at the Giant shopping center (359 Maple Avenue), according to the Vienna Police Department’s recap for the week of April 8-14.

“While they were driving around, the three men displayed handguns and announced a robbery, taking the citizen’s belongings,” police said. “The men allowed the citizen to exit the vehicle on Cabin Road where he ran to the nearest residence for assistance.”

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U.S. Attorney’s Office in Alexandria (via Google Maps)

A McLean resident who ran a concessions business that worked with local schools will serve 18 years in prison on multiple child pornography charges, federal prosecutors announced today (Friday).

Zackary Ellis Sanders, 27, engaged in sexually explicit conversations with at least six different minors between 2017 and 2020, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.

He was convicted by a federal jury of possessing, producing, and receiving child pornography on Oct. 27.

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