Tysons Corner, VA

Candidates vying for the Providence and Dranesville district seats on the Fairfax County School Board debated a variety of issues — from guns to vaping — at local debates.

Two recent candidate debates hosted by the League of Women Voters-Fairfax Area gave community members a chance to hear from the school board candidates.

The audience questions varied drastically at the two debates — except for the issue of school safety and bullying of LGBTQ students.

Guns in Schools and Active Shooter Drills

Dranesville District candidate Ardavan Mobasheri and Providence District candidate Karl Frisch said that they are worried about excessive school safety procedures.

“Schools are becoming fortresses,” Mobasheri said.

Frisch said that active shooter drills are unnecessarily and cause harm. “I’m afraid we are traumatizing our kids,” Frisch said.

Frisch made a point that telling teachers to put black paper over windows and hiding in the corner is not an efficient measure during an active shooter situation.

Karl Frisch’s opponent, Andrea Bayer, agreed with him that drills are not effective. During the debate, Bayer said that many of the active shooter training drills are costly to the taxpayers and not backed by statistical evidence that shows they work.

“Let’s do the thinking before we invest tax dollars,” she said.

Frisch and Bayer suggested bulletproof glass in the classroom, more efficient teacher training and cameras monitoring the schools.

The other two Providence District candidates — Anastasia Karloutsos and Elaine Tholen — focused on school resource officers (SROs), agreeing that they should have guns.

Tholen said that SROs should be the only people in schools allowed to have guns, while Karloutsos said that guns should be expanded to SROs or retired police officers in elementary schools.

How to Address LGBTQ Bullying 

All of the candidates agreed that LGBTQ students should feel safe at school.

“We need to make sure every single student that walks through our doors feels protected,” Frisch said.

Bayer noted that “Fairfax County has always accommodated LGBTQ students.” She said that she’s never heard of any issues.

Tholen, a Providence District candidate, said that she wants to see more community schools, mentor programs and peer-to-peer programs. One of her opponents, Karloutsos, said that mental health counselors could help students struggling with bullying.

Providence District Candidate Debate

At the Providence District Candidate Forum last Wednesday (Oct. 16), popular topics for the school board candidates included vape pen and e-cigarette use among kids, prayer in schools and retention. (Providence District School Board candidate Jung Byun did not attend the event.)

When it came to bus driver retention, Bayer said it’s low “because behavior is a major issue on the bus.”

“I don’t like driving my van. Why would I want to drive a school bus?” she said, adding that traffic leads to frustrated drivers.

Frisch said that bus drivers — and the rest of school staff — need higher wages.

The candidates sparred over how they would approach prayer and vaping in schools.

Frisch said that he supports expanding holidays for Muslim and Jewish kids because kids can lose out on education when they are forced to take off school days for religious holidays, while Bayer said that students have opportunities to practice whatever they want.

“Our schools are freedom of religion not freedom for religion,” Bayer said.

As for vaping, Bayer said that vaping is a parenting issue, while Frisch said he would use his platform, if elected, to educate students on vaping.

Dranesville District Candidates Spar Over Overcrowding, One Fairfax 

Meanwhile, at the forum for Dranesville District candidates last Thursday (Oct. 17), the candidates debated how to address overcrowding at McLean High School.

Karloutsos and Tholen agreed that the principal needs to be involved in the decision making.

While Tholen said that she is supportive of a boundary adjustment that would switch some McLean High School students to Langley High School as a short term solution, Mobasheri said he does not support the proposal.

“McLean [High School] needs an addition,” Mobasheri said, calling for a new high school in Tysons. “It is no longer suburbia.”

While only brought up briefly, One Fairfax — a joint social and racial equity policy of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and School Board — was one of the most contentious topics of the night.

Karloutsos blasted it as a “big issue,” while Mobasheri called it the “21st-century rendition of the Bill of Rights.” (Tholen did not comment during that debate on One Fairfax.)

There were two topics that the three Dranesville District candidates all agreed on — students should be vaccinated and that restraint and seclusion should either be used when there is a threat of imminent danger or never at all.

The election is on Nov. 5.

Ashley Hopko and Catherine Douglas Moran contributed to this story.

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Parents and disability rights groups are suing Fairfax County Public Schools for allegedly using seclusion and restraint improperly for students with disabilities, the Washington Post reported last night (Tuesday).

One of the parents suing, Jennifer Tidd, reportedly lives in Reston and her 12-year-old son attended Kilmer Center, a public special education school in the Vienna area that is run by Fairfax County.

“Tidd’s son was secluded on at least 745 occasions and excluded from class several hundred more times over seven years, according to court papers,” the Washington Post reported.

An investigation by WAMU earlier this year discovered hundreds of cases where FCPS students were restrained or put in seclusion multiple times — despite FCPS repeatedly telling the federal government otherwise.

The WAMU investigation highlighted stories from parents who alleged that improper seclusion and restraint happened at Armstrong Elementary in Reston and Eagle View Elementary in Fairfax.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, according to the Washington Post.

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Some students at the overcrowded McLean High School may end up moving over to nearby Langley High School.

The Fairfax County School Board approved an amendment to its Capital Improvement Program that kicks off a boundary study about moving some students from McLean High School to Langley High School.

McLean High School is projected to go up to 127 percent capacity by the 2022 school year, according to the CIP.

Other possible ideas outlined in the CIP to address overcrowding at McLean High School include temporary classrooms and modular additions.

Jane Strauss, a school board member for the Dranesville District, said at the meeting that — if no changes are made — McLean High School will be the most overenrolled school by 2023.

While Strauss said that McLean High School is not the only overenrolled school in the county, she said that the other schools have a plan to address their crowding, while McLean High School does not.

“This fall, more trailers came into McLean which indicates that the overcrowding situation is continuing,” Strauss said.

The trailers are starting to get cramped on the constrained site, Strauss said. “Trailer villages — as we’ve all agreed — is not the solution.”

Langley, which was recently renovated, has extra space to accommodate the students.

“It’s unusual to have this much capacity in a neighboring school,” Strauss said about Langley.

A few school board members, including Elizabeth Schultz, who represents the Springfield District, and Thomas Wilson, who represents the Sully District, criticized the amendment, saying it lets McLean High School leapfrog more severely overcrowded schools in the county.

The school board voted 9-1 on the amendment — Wilson voted “no” while Schultz abstained — during the Sept. 26 meeting. Staff is expected to begin the scoping process this fall.

Strauss said that community members from Langley and McLean high schools will help decide the future decisions around the possible boundary change.

“It’s overdue for the McLean community,” Pat Hynes, the Hunter Mill District representative on the school board said.

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As scrutiny continues of public building and road names tied to the Confederacy, the Fairfax County School Board is looking to revamp its renaming guidelines for schools.

A proposal under consideration by the school board would allow the school board to rename schools to “reflect an inclusive, respectful learning environment as outlined in our adopted One Fairfax Policy.”

Two local elementary schools are named after individuals with Confederate ties — Haycock Elementary School (6616 Haycock Road) in McLean and Shrevewood Elementary School (7525 Shreve Road) in the Falls Church area, according to the school board.

They are apart of six FCPS schools and one facility owned by the City of Fairfax School Board that have names with Confederate ties.

The school board has been discussing the issue over the past year, Reston Now reported, adding that school board members recently said noted that “Confederate values are ones that do not align with our community.”

The school board is scheduled to vote on a proposal this Thursday (Sept. 26).

If the proposal is approved, it is unclear how soon the schools and facility might undergo name changes.

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With school now back in session for Fairfax County, the county’s public schools have several programs to help hungry students.

Nineteen Fairfax County public schools, including Graham Road Elementary School in Falls Church, will take part in the Community Eligibility Provision, which provides all of the students at those schools with free breakfasts and lunches daily.

At the other FCPS schools, household size and income will determine eligibility for the free or reduced meals program — approximately 38% of FCPS students qualify, according to FCPS.

Students from households that receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families may also be eligible. The program also caters to foster children and students who are homeless, migrant or runaway.

Households may apply for free or reduced-price meals at any time during the school year by filling out the applications, which will be distributed via mail and are also available at the principal’s office in each school.

FCPS will follow the Federal Income Eligibility Guidelines in the chart below:

Earlier this year, Jackson Middle School and Graham Road and Timber Lane elementary schools joined 39 Fairfax County public schools in participating in the At-Risk Afterschool Meals Program, a new after-school food program that provides free meals or snacks to any student.

Four Tysons-area elementary schools are joining 24 other ones in the county that have opened or plan to open a Real Food for Kids Salad Bar for the 2019-2020 school year.

The following schools plan to open the salad bars by:

  • Sept. 18: Spring Hill (8201 Lewinsville Road)
  • Feb. 12, 2020: Westbriar (1741 Pine Valley Drive)
  • March 25, 2020: Haycock (6616 Haycock Road)
  • May 20, 2020: Churchill Road (7100 Churchill Road)

FCPS wants to bring salad bars to all of its 141 elementary schools and has salad bars opening at about 30 schools per school year.

Second image via FCPS

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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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