A former Oakton High School student will get another day in court after a three-judge panel ordered a new trial in her lawsuit against the Fairfax County School Board over school officials’ handling of a sexual assault report in 2017.

In an opinion released yesterday (Wednesday), Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Judges James Wynn Jr. and Stephanie Thacker reversed a judgment rendered by a jury in 2019 and sent the case back to the U.S. District Court for a new trial, stating that the lower court incorrectly defined the legal standard to determine whether officials knew about the reported assault.

“We hold that a school’s receipt of a report that can objectively be taken to allege sexual harassment is sufficient to establish actual notice or knowledge under Title IX — regardless of whether school officials subjectively understood the report to allege sexual harassment or whether they believed the alleged harassment actually occurred,” Wynn wrote in the majority opinion.

A third judge on the panel, Judge Paul Niemeyer, wrote a dissenting opinion that Fairfax County Public Schools is not liable under Title IX — the federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in education — because its conduct was not so indifferent that it caused or amounted to discrimination.

Identified in court documents as Jane Doe, the plaintiff argued in a complaint filed against the school board in 2018 that FCPS administrators and employees did not meaningfully and appropriately respond to her report that a fellow student sexually assaulted her during a school band trip.

A junior at the time, Doe said she “struggled academically, emotionally, and physically” as a result of the experience, alleging that school officials suggested she might be disciplined for the incident and did not inform her parents about her report or the result of the subsequent investigation, according to Public Justice, the nonprofit representing her.

A jury in Alexandria determined in August 2019 that Doe had been assaulted and that the experience affected her education, but they found that the school board could not be held liable because it didn’t have “actual knowledge” of the assault, a term some jury members later said they found confusing.

That confusion became the basis for Doe’s appeal of the ruling, which came before the appeals court for oral arguments in January.

“I’m so grateful that the Fourth Circuit is sending my case back for a new trial, and recognized that Fairfax’s legal arguments would lead to ‘absurd results’ for student survivors like me,” Doe said in a statement provided by Public Justice. “It means a lot to me that the appeals court’s strong opinion will protect other survivors. Every student deserves to feel safe in school.”

An FCPS spokesperson said yesterday that the school system “respects the court’s decision” and was in the process of reviewing the opinions.

Public Justice attorney Alexandra Brodsky, who delivered the plaintiff’s arguments before the Fourth Circuit, said in a statement that the appeals court’s ruling makes clear “ignorance is no defense to violating students’ rights.”

“FCPS’s behavior — dismissing a student’s report of sexual assault out of hand — is too common among school districts across the country,” Brodsky said. “The Fourth Circuit’s ruling in Jane Doe’s case should serve as a warning that all schools must train staff to recognize and address sexual harassment.”

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It’s no secret the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the hospitality industry. Last year, hotels and resorts were forced to close their doors while restaurants grappled with limited capacity and reduced demand. As a result, many employees were laid off and seasoned restaurant veterans were faced with the choice of waiting it out or trying something new.

After working in prestigious kitchens at The Greenbrier, The Gaylord and Pinehurst and serving as the executive chef at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Fairfax, Obataiye Allen was hired to serve as executive chef at The Providence, a brand-new assisted living and memory care community that opened in March in Fairfax’s MetroWest neighborhood.

Although the clientele may be different, Allen says serving as the executive chef at a senior living community provides an opportunity to develop more meaningful relationships with diners, adapt and customize the menu options to their individual preferences, and redefine assisted-living dining through the lens of high-end hospitality.

Drawing on his experience at luxury resorts and hotels, Executive Chef Obataiye Allen developed special menus for the community’s signature restaurants featuring regionally inspired cuisine and local ingredients. Take a look:

  • The formal restaurant, Great Falls, is reminiscent of a high-end steakhouse showcasing fresh farm-to-table cuisine and features a demonstration kitchen with an open-hearth oven. Here, the must-try menu item is the Chesapeake Bay crab cakes with smoked corn and white bean relish, fennel, red onion and pineapple slaw, served with Old Bay remoulade.
  • The Wolf Trap Bistro is a casual dining experience offering breakfast and lunch, snacks and entrees along with a wide variety of coffees and desserts. Here, the must-try menu item is the Ridiculously Good Triple Chocolate Brownie, featuring three types of chocolate blended with almond flour, cane sugar and cinnamon and baked into a terrific brownie.
  • The Wolf Trap Lounge includes a full bar and features Virginia wines and local beers. The menu offers shares and starters as well as a selection of salads, sandwiches and flatbreads. Here, the must-try menu item is the grass-fed burger with bacon, caramelized onions, shiitake mushrooms and chipotle aioli, served on a brioche bun.

Stop by and meet Chef Allen for yourself. Call 571-396-0500 or visit The Providence website to schedule a tour.

A girl works next to a laptop (via Josefa nDiaz/Unsplash)

With federal money that gives low-income households a discount on internet service set to run out this year, Fairfax County leaders and staff are looking at ways to ensure people get access to broadband internet, which they’ve likened to a utility like electricity or water.

A staff report presented to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ information technology committee on Tuesday (June 15) found that there are significant disparities in internet access among homes in the county due to infrastructure and affordability.

While different county representatives — from the school system to the Department of Family Services — were collaborating prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, they started looking more intently at equity issues during the pandemic, as technology needs hit a crescendo between students attending school from home and job seekers looking for work.

“Many of us saw at the outset how difficult it was for community members to work from home or for their children to be educated from home — whether or not they had the technology available, if they had strong enough internet connectivity, if they had space in their own homes to do this, or if they were trying to locate wireless within the community and do all of this from their own cars,” Fairfax County Public Library Director Jessica Hudson said.

Some zip codes are more affected by this lack of connectivity than others.

According to an analysis presented by the county, an estimated 4.2% of households in the county have no broadband internet access, but that number jumps up to 20.8% in the zip code 22044 and 18.8% in zip code 22041, both neighborhoods in the Seven Corners area of Falls Church.

The county estimates that 10.7% of households in north Reston (zip code 20190) are without broadband internet, along with 6.2% of Herndon residents (zip code 20170).

The gaps in connectivity are concentrated in areas with many people of color and lower-income households, Fairfax County Chief Equity Officer Karla Bruce said on Tuesday.

The Federal Communications Commission internet discount, known as the Emergency Broadband Benefit or EBB, helps lower-income households get a $50 discount each month for broadband service, among other benefits.

Officials are continuing to share information about the program, providing outreach in multiple languages and partnering with nonprofits and other community organizations.

You can still get the discount even if you have another benefit called Lifeline, which provides a $9.25 monthly discount indefinitely, Hudson said.

But the $3.2 billion fund set up to provide the EBB benefits nationwide is expected to run out this year, possibly around Thanksgiving, according to Hudson.

Among the county’s efforts to improve access, the library system offers Chromebooks that people can check out for two weeks at a time, along with extended exterior WiFi access outside buildings (except in parking garages) from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

In addition, Neighborhood and Community Services is conducting a countywide analysis of Wi-Fi access, and the Department of Housing and Community Development and Redevelopment and Housing Authority are conducting a site analysis to address connectivity barriers, according to the county presentation.

“All of these community agencies are trying their hardest to find ways to connect with residents and make sure that they have appropriate technology, digital literacy skills, and access points,” Hudson said.

County supervisors asked for more information to target areas in need as part of the county’s efforts to help overcome access issues.

Photo via Josefa nDiaz/Unsplash

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A site map for the proposed 141 Church Street redevelopment (via MGMA Design/Town of Vienna)

The developer that owns a cluster of retail and office properties on the corner of Church Street and Lawyers Road in Vienna wants to turn them into a single building with retail and apartments.

The Vienna Town Council heard a proposal from Bognet Construction and architectural firm MGMA during its conference session on Monday (June 14) that would redevelop 139-145 Church Street into a three-story mixed-use building with a basement.

Owned by Bognet Construction President and CEO Jim Bognet, the two parcels under consideration consist of 26,993 square feet, or 0.62 acres, of land, and each parcel is currently occupied by a two-story commercial building.

Under Bognet’s proposal, the existing buildings would be replaced by a 35-foot-tall building with 18 apartment units and six ground-floor commercial tenants.

The 39,969 gross square footage includes 9,448 square feet per residential floor, 9,378 square feet for ground-floor retail, an 804 square-foot rooftop area, and a 10,891 square-foot basement with retail, according to plans that the developer and architect presented to the town council.

Bognet says he purchased the properties approximately three years ago with the goal of studying the site for redevelopment.

“We’re looking at making it mixed-use, because it’s our understanding that there’s a demand in Vienna for different types of residential use,” Bognet told Tysons Reporter. “…We seem to have a large amount of single-family homes and townhouses coming to the market, but I felt there was a need for some apartment living, new apartments, so we’re going to try and fit that in with the Church Street Vision.”

The Church Street Vision is a zoning ordinance that the Vienna Town Council adopted in July 1999 to “enhance the appearance and economic vitality of businesses in the historic Church Street commercial corridor,” according to a town staff presentation.

The ordinance encourages property owners in the town’s C-1B Pedestrian Commercial Zone to mimic a late 19th-century, small-town architectural style in exchange for more square footage, parking requirement reductions, and a faster review process.

So far, Vienna has approved four projects under the Church Street Vision: 101 Church Street NW (home to Sushi Yoshi and Vienna Pet Spaw), 111-113 Church Street NW (Bazin’s and Blend 111), 114 Church Street NW (Red Galanga), and most recently in 2014, a building with ground-floor retail and second-floor apartments at 120 Church Street NW, whose tenants include Bard’s Alley and Rita’s.

Bognet says his team is currently working with the town to determine the appropriate amount of parking that should be provided by the new building and develop the design so that it fits the street’s overall aesthetic.

A conceptual design for a proposed mixed-use development at 141 Church Street (via MGMA Design/Town of Vienna)

The conceptual plan proposes a total of 72 parking spaces, with 38 spaces on ground level and 34 spaces above that. The garage would be located behind the building, backing up against a 15-foot alley owned by the town.

Bognet says that, while the lot will be occupied by a single building, it will be “broken up every 20 to 25 feet” to look like different buildings from the street. Read More

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Morning Notes

Lantana flowers by Spring Hill Road post office in McLean (photo by Joanne Liebig)

Construction Closes I-66 West Overnight — Starting last night (Wednesday), all lanes of I-66 West approaching I-495 in the Dunn Loring area will be closed from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. every night through Saturday (June 19). The closures are necessary for overhead bridge work on the interchange as part of the Transform 66 Outside the Beltway project. [VDOT]

Rally in Support of Public Schools Tonight — The Fairfax County Democratic Committee is organizing a rally in support of Fairfax County Public Schools ahead of the school board’s meeting at Luther Jackson Middle School. The school board has faced criticism from some for making political statements and closing schools last year due to COVID-19, including a recall campaign led by a parents’ group that identifies as bipartisan but has received substantial funding from Republican donors. [Fairfax Democrats/Twitter]

Rick Springfield Fans Once Shut Down Tysons Corner — “June 17 is the 40th anniversary of the day Rick Springfield shut down Tysons Corner. Larry Houck was there. ‘Talk about having a front-row seat,’ said Houck, who worked at the Variety Records in Tysons Corner Center, where Springfield was scheduled to meet fans.” [The Washington Post]

McLean Startup Raises $60 Million — The McLean-based kidney care startup Somatus Inc. has secured $60.12 million in new funding, bringing the company’s total funding to $165 million over its five years of existence. The funds come from an equity offering that had its first sale on June 1 and will be used to support the company’s continued expansion as it now serves more than 150,000 patients in the U.S. [Washington Business Journal]

Maryland Beltway Project in Jeopardy — The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ Transportation Planning Board voted yesterday to remove Maryland’s Capital Beltway toll lanes plan from a list of long-term transportation projects, jeopardizing its ability to secure federally required environmental approval. The project will also replace and expand the American Legion Bridge and is considered a necessary supplement to Virginia’s 495 NEXT project in McLean. [The Washington Post]

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A summer concert on the Vienna Town Green from 2019 (photo via Town of Vienna/Facebook)

With COVID-19 vaccines now widespread, some outdoor summer concerts and music festivals put on hold last year have sprung back to life. Across the Tysons area, there are several options for locals looking for free outdoor music.

Tysons

The Boro (8350 Broad Street) at Tysons is hosting a series of free outdoor concerts every Thursday from 5:30-8 p.m.

Nearby, Tysons Corner Center has ongoing live outdoor entertainment through October, with local musicians performing Thursdays and Fridays from 4-7 p.m. as well as Saturdays and Sundays from 2-7 p.m.

Vienna

The Town of Vienna is hosting a “Summer on the Green” concert series on the Town Green every Friday and Sunday through August.

Concerts begin at 6:30 p.m. and are roughly an hour and a half in length. Alcohol is not permitted at the concerts, and attendees are asked to leave their pets at home. They are encouraged to bring their lawn chairs or blankets, though.

McLean

The McLean Community Center is hosting its annual Summer Sunday Concerts in the Park, with concerts starting at 5 p.m. on Sundays at 1468 Dolley Madison Blvd.

Falls Church

The City of Falls Church’s free outdoor concert series is returning for its 28th year after a pause last year due to the pandemic.

A partnership between the City of Falls Church Recreation and Parks Department and Village Preservation and Improvement Society (VPIS), the free concerts run every Thursday at 7 p.m. at Cherry Hill Park (312 Park Avenue).

Guests are encouraged to bring a blanket or folding chair.

Photo via Town of Vienna/Facebook

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A customer uses a handheld credit card reader (via Nathan Dumlao/Unsplash)

Fairfax County is slated to send additional funding to businesses that suffered the most during the COVID-19 pandemic, but a Black nonprofit says more can be done.

The Northern Virginia Black Chamber of Commerce has repeatedly been neglected in the development of major business grant programs connected to Fairfax County, the nonprofit’s executive director Sheila Dixon says.

“I would have thought we would have had the opportunity to be at the table,” she said.

The county says it’s committed to working with more than 55 chambers, including minority chambers, multicultural groups, and other community and business support groups in multiple languages with its most recent financial assistance initiative.

A working group of local minority business owners is also trying to make changes and build bridges. A webinar co-hosted by the Community Foundation of Northern Virginia on June 23 seeks to address the needs of minority-owned businesses and how they can be helped.

The group has reached some conclusions and recommendations about equitable recovery across the region and is sharing data, according to the event description. Georgetown University adjunct professor Melissa Bradley, who also co-founded a business mentoring service called Ureeka, is the keynote speaker.

The county has noted these kinds of inequities. A consultant report for the county completed in January detailed how low-income and minority households faced greater difficulties in the workforce, along with women, who have been held back by affordable child care challenges.

Those findings came from working with businesses and a roundtable of minority chambers. The Northern Virginia Black Chamber of Commerce was invited to give input and was also asked to participate in a survey about impacts and recovery, according to the county.

Fairfax County’s Relief Initiative to Support Employers (RISE) program, which gave grants to small businesses and nonprofits, dedicated at least 30% of funding to businesses owned by women, minorities, or veterans. Those businesses ended up with 72% of the approximately $53 million of RISE funding, according to the county.

“We are building on and expanding those efforts,” county spokesperson Wendy Lemieux said in an email, adding that the county is committed to extensive outreach with businesses, particularly ones owned by women and people of color affected by the pandemic.

Unlike the RISE program, the county’s new PIVOT grant program didn’t include any provisions explicitly dedicating funds to often marginalized groups when the Board of Supervisors passed it last week.

Meanwhile, the Black chamber of commerce has shared the PIVOT grant information, but it’s also continuing its own initiatives to help businesses recover from the economic effects of COVID-19.

The organization recently launched an outreach called BTRNow (Build Thriving Returns Now) that provided an online workshop for kid entrepreneurs this spring, held a “Caring through COVID” panel discussion on Monday (June 14), and is currently carrying out a listening tour, among other programming.

Dixon says a lot of the chamber’s members have pivoted amid the pandemic and have been thriving.

But she also noted that there can be disparities, and various Black businesses might be reluctant to apply for resources if they’re skeptical that the support will materialize, even if race is considered as a factor in applications.

“It will be interesting to see if people feel more comfortable,” Dixon said. “We are building up and scaling up our businesses and providing them with the education and the resources that are available within the community.”

Photo via Nathan Dumlao/Unsplash

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Meet Wonder, a sweet momma kitty who has taken good care of her seven babies (the “7 Natural World Wonder” kittens). She is now looking for her forever home with one of her kittens.

Here’s what Wonder’s friends at 4Paws Rescue Team have to say about her:

The 7 Natural World Wonder kittens were found at just 2 weeks old living outside near Blacksburg, Virginia, under the care of their mom, Wonder. They’ve spent the past couple weeks being pampered and loved by their mom and foster family in the safe indoors, which they gladly took to!

Wonder is the sweetest and most patient young mom of the 7 Natural World Wonders kittens. She cared and protected her babies outdoors before coming to her foster home with them. She loves to greet you at the door and stretches her neck out to make sure you give her some kisses and nose boops upon entering.

As her kittens are getting older and they become less demanding of her time, her incredibly sweet personality has blossomed more and more. Any time her foster family has a visitor over, she’s rolling on her back looking for a good scratch! She would prefer to cuddle than play right now, but we think once she has less mom demands she’ll have more energy for playtime!

Wonder is very petite, weighing only 5 pounds when she arrived. We’ve been working on gaining some healthy weight. Her calico coat is stunning with her pink nose and pink/black paw pads. After patiently caring for her babies for so long, Lady Wonder deserves a family who will give her the love and attention she’s shown her kittens.

She would do well being adopted with any of her kittens: Everest Cozort, Micho Cozort, Canyon Cozort, Reef Cozort, Rio Cozort, Aurora Cozort and Victoria Cozort.

Could you, Wonder and one of her kittens make the perfect match?

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If you’re passing a cyclist or group of riders in a vehicle, you’ll soon have to change lanes a lot more.

A new law going into effect July 1 will require drivers to switch lanes if they can’t maintain three feet of distance when passing cyclists.

The Fairfax County Police Department says this means motorists may have to cross double yellow lines, imploring people to “share the road.” Police told Tysons Reporter that they hope people will abide by the new legislation and help keep everyone safe on roadways.

“I think it’s going to be huge in the long run,” Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling President Bruce Wright said Monday while stopping during a bicycle ride on the Washington & Old Dominion Trail. He acknowledged that the change may require some education.

Wright says the new law means that vehicles will generally need to shift lanes, because lanes in the state are typically 11 or 12 feet wide.

“In effect, almost every lane in Virginia will require a motorist to safely pass,” he said.

The state law was adopted in February after General Assembly legislators removed a provision that would have allowed cyclists to treat stop signs like a yield sign.

Some states, including Delaware, allow the so-called “Idaho stop” for bicycle riders. Like Virginia, Washington, D.C., considered the stop-as-yield measure but also declined to adopt it.

The new law also ends a requirement for cyclists to file into a single lane when being passed.

Tensions between cyclists and drivers played out on the county police department’s Facebook post about the issue. Several people noted cyclists should obey traffic laws, too.

Wright says those online arguments between cyclists and drivers are similar to honking as well as dangerous behaviors on the road.

“There’s so much animosity, and it’s aggressive,” Wright said.

Some people on social media questioned whether double yellow lines should ever be crossed.

Current law already allows drivers to cross double yellow lines when passing others, including cyclists, skateboarders, and scooters. Another provision involves giving enough distance to mopeds, animal-drawn vehicles, and more when drivers pass them.

Pedestrian and bicycle safety is a persistent concern in Fairfax County, where seven pedestrians and two cyclists have died in car crashes so far this year. Whether these new laws help alleviate those issues remains to be seen.

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Fairfax County’s logo on the government center (via Machvee/Flickr)

(Updated at 12:25 p.m.) The Fairfax County Government Center, where county policy is created and official functions take place, is an imposing, modern-looking building. Above the main doors is the county seal: a royal-looking crest with lions, a horse, and the date “1742.”

Unlike the building, the seal is of a different time. Adopted seven decades ago, it bears a version of the coat of arms belonging to Thomas Fairfax, the sixth Lord Fairfax and a slaveholding British loyalist who once owned much of the land that makes up Fairfax County today.

As neighboring counties and cities reexamine their logos and symbols, it seems like only a matter of time before Fairfax County faces its own questions.

When asked if there’s been discussion about further research into the county logo, representatives of the Fairfax County History Commission said it’s not on the agenda or a priority right now. The commission is currently undertaking an inventory of local African American history after completing one about Confederate names on public places.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay says, unlike with the use of Confederate names and symbols, officials have not heard any objections to the county seal from the community:

America was unfortunately built in part through the oppression of people of color. We cannot separate this history from Fairfax County, but we can listen to the community on what symbols are continuing to create divisiveness and inequity. Symbols of the Confederacy, for example, do not speak to the County’s values today, so we are working to remove these through the proper processes. Currently, there are ongoing efforts to change road names as well as other Confederate symbols and the Board previously took action to remove the monument of John Quincy Marr from the courthouse. We have not heard from our community members that these same messages are felt from the County seal. We continue to invest significant resources into our historically underserved communities to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to thrive in Fairfax County.

The county selected the seal as its logo in 1949 ahead of an impending visit from the then-Lord Fairfax. It won over a dozen other seals belonging to the Fairfax family due to “its clarity when reproduced,” according to historical documents from Fairfax County Public Library’s Virginia Room.

A county flag with the seal was unveiled on June 13, 1968, the day before Flag Day, in response to repeated requests for a flag from county schools.

“We probably ought to have a Betsy Ross here to get the flag ready for Flag Day,” said Gil Shaw, the flag’s creator and the county’s director of information services at the time. “But the coat of arms of Thomas Lord Fairfax will soon fly over the lands he once owned and which became Fairfax County in 1742.”

Early colonial Virginia land history is admittingly a bit confusing due to the limited availability of written records and a lack of variety in names.

“The famous one, for our purposes, was the sixth Lord Fairfax,” explains Steve Harris-Scott, an assistant professor in George Mason University’s history department and an expert on colonial Virginia history.

“The nobles generally passed on their names to their first-born son, so when they took over the title, they were all the same names,” he said. “There was a Thomas Fairfax, first Lord Fairfax, then there was Thomas Fairfax, the second Lord Fairfax, etcetera.”

The sixth Lord Fairfax was born in England in 1693 to the fifth Lord Fairfax and Catherine Culpepper.

Through his mother’s side, he inherited about 5 million acres of land in 1710 known as the “Northern Neck,” which encompassed today’s Fairfax County. Taken from the indigenous people who had lived there for centuries, the land was a gift to Catherine’s father, Thomas Culpepper, from the restored King Charles II for his support during the English Civil War.

“[This land] is essentially bordered by the Rappahannock [River] on the south and the Potomac on the north,” Harris-Scott said.

However, Fairfax spent most of his life in England and didn’t move to Virginia until 1742, the date on the county’s logo. He also may never have resided in what is now Fairfax County, according to Harris-Scott. Read More

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