Tysons Corner, VA

Mothers Out Front Fairfax, the local climate change branch of a national movement, is advocating for electric school buses in Fairfax County.

More than 40 people gathered at a room in the Patrick Henry Library (101 E. Maple Avenue) in the Town of Vienna for the “Clean Buses for Kids” campaign launch last evening (Tuesday).

Bobby Monacella, the co-leader of Mothers Out Front Fairfax and the mother of two kids attending the county’s public schools, told the attendees that electric buses seem like a “no brainer.”

“They are safer. They’re healthier. They are less expensive to expensive to operate. The maintenance is much less. The cost of electricity versus diesel is much less,” Monacella said.

She added that the push for electric school buses needs to start now because of the life cycle of diesel school buses.

“It made us realize we simply can’t buy one more diesel school bus because it lasts us 15 years and with the cost of fuel emissions, our kids’ future can’t wait for that,” she said.

Since electric school buses don’t have an engine, muffler or alternator that requires tune-ups, the lifetime fuel and maintenance savings over diesel buses total $170,000, according to a Mothers Out Front Fairfax press release.

Some places around the country have already made the switch from diesel to electric school fleets, including schools in California and New York.

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) runs one of the largest school bus fleets in the U.S. with more than 1,600 buses.

Karl Frisch, the Democratic candidate for the Providence District seat on the FCPS School Board, said that a switch to electric buses would attract companies, further diversifying businesses in the county.

Pat Hynes, who represents the Hunter Mill District on the school board, told Tysons Reporter that the cost of switching to electric buses is the main challenge facing the school board.

“I think it really comes down to the upfront cost not only for the buses, which are three times more expensive than the diesel buses, there’s also an investment that has to made in the infrastructure,” Hynes said, adding that the buses would need chargers.

Hynes said that “it’s a win, win, win” if the local government partners with the state government and also the local utility company to help defray the upfront costs.

Overall, Hynes said she thinks the school board will support the campaign as long as the electric buses aren’t more expensive than diesel-fueled ones in the long term.

“Every statement that the board has made in the last couple years in favor of taking some leadership on climate change has been supported almost unanimously,” Hynes said.

The school board and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors also jointly formed the Joint Environmental Task Force to lead on climate action, Hynes said, adding that the task force will hold its inaugural meeting on Sept. 3 at the Mason District Government Center (6507 Columbia Pike).

“That is where policy will begin for both boards — the school board and the county board,” she said.

Del. Mark Keam (D-35th District) said that the conversation about electric buses should be broadened beyond talking about the environment.

“This isn’t about Julie taking care of her daughter or me taking care of my kids… It’s about Mother Earth suffering,” Keam said. “That’s why I think this conversation should start and end with the bigger picture of climate change and where we are with this crisis.”

At the end of the campaign launch, the group urged attendees to sign a petition urging the school board to buy a test bus in 2020 and request a small number of electric buses by 2021.

The group aims to replace FCPS buses with electric ones by 2024.

“When moms get involved, things happen,” Keam said to cheers.

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Ahead of the new school year starting next week, Fairfax County Public Schools debuted a new partnership with an app that will help parents track when the school bus will arrive.

After a pilot program, the FCPS Office of Transportation Services announced FCPS will offer the “Here Comes the Bus” app for the 2019-2020 school year yesterday (Monday).

“[The app] uses HTTPS like a bank or online store, making all communications between a device and the site are encrypted and secure,” according to FCPS, adding that the app uses GPS to track the locations of the buses.

Started in 2001 by a pair of graduates, the app has nearly 1.5 million registered users and is used in school districts across the country, spanning Orlando to San Antonio.

Since the app tracks the bus routes instead of individuals students, FCPS wants people to remember that bus substitutions can affect the accuracy of the app and that app shouldn’t replace communication with students about their whereabouts.

The app is free for parents and guardians and provides real-time bus locations through text or email alerts, according to FCPS. The app will be available to use starting next Monday (Aug. 26) for FCPS families.

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Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) once again faces a transportation dilemma as it looks ahead to the upcoming school year.

The county recently made an all-call for new bus drivers. The district is short-staffed by roughly 100 drivers — primarily in the McLean area, FCPS Director of Transportation Francine Furby said.

There are two hiring events coming up on Tuesday, July 31, at Cedar Lane School (101 Cedar Lane) in Vienna and the Thursday, Aug. 8, at Edison High School (5801 Franconia Road) in Alexandria. Both events will run from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

This isn’t the first time FCPS faced a bus driver shortage. According to WAMU, there was another county shorage in August of 2017, when drivers were paid $18.82.

Furby said that the issue is ongoing and exacerbated at a national level, not just in Fairfax County. “I think it’s because of the economy now,” she said, explaining that bus drivers tend to take on other positions within the school district due to promotions.

Now, the county will offer drivers a raise to $19.20 per hour — $0.19 cents higher per hour than the salary for the previous school year.

Furby said that FCPS transportation office workers would be pulled out of their current positions answering phone calls from parents and instead be asked to drive students.

While some of the office workers are all set to start in their new roles, Furby said that the other office workers will receive the training and resources required for FCPS bus drivers.

She also said that there is a recruitment bonus of $1,000 for existing employees who refer a friend for a bus driver position.”We do know recruiting people by word of mouth is very effective.”

Qualified candidates need to be able to pass a physical and a drug test, clear a background check, have a safe driving record, take a 5-week course and obtain a commercial driving license. Drivers will be assigned to where they are most needed in the county, according to Furby.

“It can cause students to get into school late and get home late,” she said.

File photo

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Dozens of protesters showed up last night to the Fairfax County School Board’s work session on a proposal that would change how local school boundaries are adjusted.

Before the school board got around to discussing the proposal, the meeting room was packed with protesters. Police blocked the door, telling a crowd of about 30 people outside that they could not go into the room, which had reportedly reached its capacity.

The discussion on the proposal was delayed by an hour and a half as staff worked to set up overflow seating with live streaming of the work session in the cafeteria.

Around 7:30 p.m., Jeffrey Platenberg, the assistant superintendent for the Department of Facilities and Transportation Services, kicked off the discussion on the proposal with a presentation.

The draft policy would look at a new set of criteria for prompting and then establishing school boundaries. Once a school boundary change has been identified, some of the new criteria to create the new boundary include:

  • “socioeconomic and/or racial composition of students in affected schools”
  • “the safety of walking and busing routes”
  • “operational efficiency”

“When boundary changes are being considered by the School Board, the changes shall not be restricted by the boundaries of individual schools, administrative areas, zip codes, or magisterial district,” according to the draft. The proposal would also get rid of the expedited boundary process.

Throughout the meeting, protesters in the room waved signs saying “Communities Build Great Schools NOT Boundary Changes” and “Education Excellence NOT Social Engineering.” Several of the protesters said that they thought the process behind how the proposal was created was not transparent enough.

School board members, however, had mixed reactions to the proposal.

“I very much support opening the boundary,” Jane Strauss, the Dranesville District representative, said.

School Board Chair Karen Corbett Sanders said that “significant growth” in the Dulles Corridor and Tysons area that will impact schools — some of which are currently overcrowded in the Tysons area — and questioned if an outside consultant could help the board and community, since “there seems to be a bit of a disconnect that people don’t feel like we have let people in about what we’re doing.”

Meanwhile, others raised concerns about equitable access outlined in the proposal.

At-Large Member Ilryong Moon said that he’s not convinced that the proposal is an improvement after asking for an example of “equitable access to educational opportunities” and Platenberg told him that school boundaries could change to prevent program placement in different schools.

Elizabeth Schultz, the Springfield District representative, heavily criticized the proposal — to the joy of the protesters in attendance — by questioning the legality of deciding to establish a boundary based on a kid’s socioeconomic background or race.

“The notion that we would identify a child and the neighborhood that child lives in and target them for a boundary change based on the color of their skin or the size of their parents’ bank account is a frightening prospect on legality alone considering the number of legal issues the board has,” Schultz said. “I don’t know why we’re going here.”

Schultz also said that she thinks the overcrowding at certain schools should be addressed on a case-by-case basis rather than through a new countywide boundary policy.

“I don’t think it’s fair to the community,” Schultz said.

Dalia Palchik, the Providence District representative, said that she wants the board to talk more about equitable access and continue the discussion on the board level, rather than in subcommittees.

“Boundaries are always going to be a challenge,” she said.

Next, staff will answer questions that the school board members asked. The school board is then slated to approve the draft in September ahead of its incorporation in the Capital Improvement Program draft in December.

Overall, Palchik said, “We’re moving in the right direction.”

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Tonight (Monday), the Fairfax County School Board is set to discuss a proposal that would change how local school boundaries are adjusted.

The draft policy on the table would look at a new set of criteria for establishing school boundaries. They include:

  • “socioeconomic and/or racial composition of students in affected schools”
  • “the safety of walking and busing routes”
  • “operational efficiency”

“When boundary changes are being considered by the School Board, the changes shall not be restricted by the boundaries of individual schools, administrative areas, zip codes, or magisterial district,” according to the draft.

Some critics of the proposal pointed to the removal of criteria — such as “instructional effectiveness”– for boundary change considerations as a possible threat to property owners.

The meeting is set to start at 5 p.m. tonight at 8115 Gatehouse Road, Room 1600 with the redistricting proposal slated for 6 p.m. on the agenda.

The board is then slated to approve the draft in September ahead of its incorporation in the Capital Improvement Program draft in December.

Image via Google Maps

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Two McLean and one Falls Church public schools are recent recipients of a statewide education award.

Five schools statewide earned the 2019 Governor’s Award for Educational Excellence, according to a press release from Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS).

The local schools to receive the award include:

  • Chesterbrook Elementary School (1753 Kirby Road)
  • Cooper Middle School (977 Balls Hill Road)
  • Longfellow Middle School (2000 Westmoreland Street)

One other FCPS school — Carson Middle School in Herndon — received the award. The fifth school was Jamestown Elementary School in Arlington.

“The schools and school divisions that have earned these awards are not only the highest-performing schools in our Commonwealth, but are among the best schools in the nation,” Gov. Ralph Northam said in a press release.

The Governor’s Award for Educational Excellence is the highest recognition in the Virginia Index of Performance awards for advanced learning and achievement, according to the press release.

Image via Google Maps

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Every Fairfax County high school student will soon have a school-issued laptop for the 2019-2020 school year.

The upcoming rollout is part of the plan by Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) to issue computers to every student by 2023 with an initiative called FCPSOn.

FCPSOn aims to help students access a digital device for learning at school and possibly at home depending on the school and grade level.

“This 1-to-1 computing initiative will better prepare students for college and careers,” according to an FCPS press release, adding that the computers won’t replace teachers.

Last week, the Fairfax County School Board adopted the FCPS FY 2020 Approved Budget, which includes $16.1 million for instructional programs — where the FCPSOn initiative falls under.

The budget includes a little more than $4 million to implement FCPSOn for the high schools and a new technology fee of $50 per high school student per year, FCPS said will cover repairs or replacements for equipment.

FCPSOn started as a pilot program in the Chantilly High School pyramid and eLearning Backpack high schools in the 2016-2017 school year. Phase 1 was funded through a combination of FCPS and the VDOE e-Learning Backpack grant funding.

The remaining timeline — pending approval — is:

  • school year 2020-21: middle schools
  • school year 2021-22 elementary grades 5-6
  • school year 2022-23: elementary grades 3-4

McLean High School is looking for volunteers to help with distribution from August 12-15 from 12-7:30 p.m.

Image via FCPS

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A bond referendum coming up in November could help fund capacity additions for James Madison High School in Vienna.

The Fairfax County School Board approved the request for the Board of Supervisors to put a $360 million bond referendum on the November 2019 ballot. Much of the items in the referendum focus on mitigating chronic capacity problems.

Madison is one of 11 high schools in Fairfax that is over 100 percent capacity.

Two other high schools — Justice and West Potomac — are also set to receive additions through the referendum, while Falls Church High School is scheduled for upcoming renovations.

According to the FY 2020-2024 Capital Improvement Program (CIP):

Capacity enhancement additions are needed at West Potomac High School, Justice High School, and Madison High School to accommodate forecasted capacity needs. The relocation of three modular additions is also proposed to provide additional capacity relief to schools in need.

While the budget does not list specifics on the James Madison High School, the CIP says capacity enhancements could include interior modifications, modular additions and temporary classrooms.

Photo via Google Maps

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Several public high schools in the Tysons-area, including Langley and McLean high schools, made the cut for U.S. News and World Report’s annual roundup of best high schools on the state and national levels.

“Schools are ranked on their performance on state-required tests, graduation and how well they prepare students for college,” according to U.S. News and World Report.

Fairfax County Public Schools dominated U.S. News and World Report’s “Best High Schools in Virginia,” and five out of the eight Fairfax County schools included two in McLean, two in Vienna and one in Falls Church:

  1. Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology: Alexandria
  2. Langley High School: McLean
  3. McLean High School: McLean
  4. Oakton High School: Vienna
  5. Open High School: Richmond
  6. Marshall High: Falls Church
  7. Madison High: Vienna
  8. West Springfield High School: Springfield
  9. W.T. Woodson High School: Fairfax
  10. Deep Run High School: Glen Allen

The Tysons-area high schools bumped up a few spots for this year’s list. Last year, Langley ranked #3, McLean was #5, Oakton was #6 and Marshall was #8.

Their rankings on the national level hit the top 200 and 300 categories:

  • Langley: #123
  • McLean: #127
  • Oakton: #173
  • Marshall: #251
  • Madison: #261

Image via Google Maps

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(Updated 1 a.m.) Video from Freedom Hill Elementary in Vienna showed at least six cars driving past a school bus loading up with children.

As a reminder for those who might not have been paying attention during their driver’s ed class: if a school bus is loading or unloading passengers, whether or not the lights are active or the stop sign is extended, drivers are required to stop unless the bus is on the opposite side of a median or barrier.

Drivers are also required to remain stopped until all passengers have been loaded and the bus moves again. Failure to do so could result in a ticket.

During VDOT’s initial proposal for I-66 corridor improvements, the Federal Highway Administration noted that concerns were expressed about pedestrian safety on Gallows Road.

The person who posted the original video said that the clip was representative of pick-up and drop-off at the school.

But the story has a happy ending, at least, with Fairfax police arriving the next morning to monitor traffic and enforce the laws.

Photo via Twitter

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