Tysons, VA

Updated at 10:45 a.m. — Corrects reference to Lake Braddock Secondary School.

As the Fairfax County public school system prepares for the fall, some teachers’ unions are expressing concern about how safe in-person learning might be during the pandemic.

To accommodate both families and teachers, FCPS asked both groups to fill out a form by July 10, stating whether they would prefer to stick with a distance learning plan or return to the classroom. After this date, many teachers will find out if they will be required to return or stay at home.

The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers and Fairfax Education Association released a press release calling for increased transparency and a clearly outlined health plan for reopening.

Though teachers are allowed to request a full-time remote-learning position, this cannot be guaranteed according to the current plan.

“Teacher placements will be contingent upon student enrollment numbers in the online program; teacher placement decisions will be tiered by individual teacher’s medical need, family medical need, and preference,” FCPS documents said.

Additionally, teachers with medical conditions that increase the risk of COVID-19 will be given “flexible leave and telework assignments,” the plan said.

David Walrod, who teaches 7th grade at Lake Braddock Secondary School, said as a member of the teacher’s union that he wishes teachers would get of choice of whether or not they work remotely.

“Personally I’m hoping that I get a remote position because personally I don’t feel that they will be able to keep schools as safe as they think they are,” he said, adding that he is also concerned for his own young daughter.

“Our educators are overwhelmingly not comfortable returning to schools. They fear for their lives, the lives of their students and the lives of their families,” Tina Williams, the president of Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, said in the press release.

At the school board meeting last Tuesday (June 23), the board members discussed various concerns and options for reopening.

Melanie Meren, the Hunter Mill District representative on the board, spoke on behalf of teachers during the meeting. “We cannot skimp on [personal protective equipment],” she said. “We need to advocate for that if we don’t have the funds.”

Not everyone will be satisfied with whatever is ultimately decided, Karl Frisch, who represents the Providence District, told his fellow board members.

Frisch said that he’s spent almost 100 hours with local families, community members and stakeholders discussing options for the upcoming school year. “There is no perfect solution to this problem,” he said. “We must consider any contingency that may come and meet us.”

FCPS officials have said that input from local health and state health officials will inform reopening plans.

Superintendent Scott Brabrand told the school board earlier this month that he is worried about the realities of social distancing in schools and wants to prevent staff from resigning over safety concerns.

FCFT’s press release called for teachers and educators in the county to speak up about their concerns.

Walrod said that he hopes Fairfax County will adopt a new model like the one for a school district in Pennsylvania where all students and staff will be working and learning remotely for 75 days into the school year until the school board members have a clearer understanding of COVID-19.

Walrod said that there is a chance parents will overwhelmingly want their kids to take advantage of distance learning so there will be less of a demand for in-person lessons.

Kimberly Adams, the president of the Fairfax Education Association, said in a press release that the group is advocating for remote learning until a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 is available.

“All staff should be provided the ability to continue virtual instruction as long as there is community spread of this virus,” Adams said. “We will continue to make every possible effort to assist FCPS in developing a plan that keeps health and safety first.”

Photo courtesy Dan Dennis on Unsplash

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AU Prof Wins Republican Primary — “American University professor Daniel Gade won Virginia’s Republican Senate primary and will challenge Sen. Mark Warner (D) in November.” [The Hill]

Local Lauded for Social Media Efforts — “The Vienna Business Association on June 22 awarded its first annual Corporate Social Responsibility Award to Vienna resident Lydia Russo… Founder of the Vienna VA Foodies Facebook group, Russo has raised money and social awareness and encouraged community action for food-insecure families, front-line workers, first-responders and Vienna restaurants.” [Inside NoVa]

Back to School Support — “Northern Virginia parents are generally comfortable with their students returning to school classrooms this fall, assuming precautions are taken to control the spread of COVID-19, according to a survey conducted on InsideNoVa.com.” [Inside NoVa]

FCPS Options for Fall — “Fairfax County Public Schools will offer students two plans for the upcoming school year: 100 percent online learning or part-time classroom instruction.” [Inside NoVa]

Hotels Housing Homeless — “At least six hotels are on board to shelter vulnerable persons around Fairfax County. According to the latest Fairfax County Health and Human Services update, 241 hotel rooms were occupied with 255 guests as of June 16. So far, 456 rooms in six hotels have been secured for the program.” [Patch]

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Treasure Shop Closing in McLean — “The Treasure Shop in McLean announced it will close after 49 years in business due to the COVID-19 situation and increasing costs. The last day is June 30.” [Patch]

Latest on COVID Cases — “The Virginia Department of Health reported 551 additional cases of the coronavirus Sunday, a lower increase after four consecutive days of new daily cases increasing. The latest cumulative totals are 57,994 cases, 5,840 hospitalizations, and 1,611 deaths.” [Patch]

Restaurant Struggling — “A longtime business in McLean seeks support to avoid closing due to the coronavirus pandemic’s financial impact. McLean Family Restaurant, a 51-year Kapetanakis family operation, made the plea to customers Wednesday on Facebook.” [Patch]

FCPS May Add Holidays to Calendar — “The Fairfax County School Board is considering a 2021-22 Standard School Year Calendar… Version A has the school year beginning on Monday, August 23, 2021, and ending on Thursday, June 16, 2022. Four religious holidays would be observed: Rosh Hashanah on September 7, 2021; Yom Kippur on September 16, 2021; Diwali on November 4, 2021; and Eid  al Fitr on May 3, 2022.” [Fairfax County Public Schools]

Mall Issues — “Brookfield is chasing small retailers to pay thousands of dollars in rent on outlets that were forced to close during the coronavirus pandemic, even as the Canadian investment group skips payments on its mortgages and asks lenders for forbearance… Brookfield has requested forbearance from lenders who are owed payments on a dozen of its malls, according to reports circulated to credit market participants who have bought the debt.” Brookfield operates Tysons Galleria. [Washington Business Journal]

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New Park Authority Director — “Kurt Louis has been named the new Director for Park Operations for the Fairfax County Park Authority. The position has been vacant since 2019 following the departure of Todd Brown, current Director of Charlottesville Parks and Recreation.” [Fairfax County]

Input on Public Schools Reopening — Fairfax County’s School Board will meet this public hearing this afternoon at 5:30 on the proposals for returning to school this fall. [FCPS]

Summer Art Classes — “McLean Project for the Arts has announced plans to offer both in-person and online summer-camp programming for 2020. Designed for ages 3-18, the online camps are slated to run June 22 to Aug. 7, with in-person camps scheduled to run July 7 to Aug. 7 at MPA’s studio spaces.” [Inside NoVa]

Hotel for Sale — The 449-key, Sheraton in Tysons is now listed on JLL for sale. [JLL]

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Updated 6:20 p.m. — Corrects a reference to the survey as a study and that the 825 were FCPS staff members — not all teachers. 

After COVID-19 disrupted Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) earlier this spring, teachers, staff and school board members are trying to find ways to offer more mental health support.

Throughout the last several months of remote learning, the focus has been on a combination of peer-led programs, remote family check-ins with school-sponsored mental health staff and a message of “resiliency,” according to Bethany Koszelak, a mental health specialist for FCPS.

“Yes, this has been hard on a lot of people, but most youth are resilient and bounce back,” she said, adding that FCPS has been coordinating with teachers to keep an eye on students who might need help.

Mental Health Chain of Command in FCPS

In the FCPS system, regardless of age or year, students typically have access to a therapist, psychologist and social worker who can provide social-emotional support.

Counselors, which Koszelak considers to provide something called “tier one” support, provide guidance lessons to cope with emotions and social issues. If students need additional support, they will be referred to the school-sanctioned therapists and psychologists by the counselors.

As the county’s school board considers a boost in funding for social-emotional learning in the next school year, part of the funds — if approved in the next few weeks — would go toward hiring more staff and possibly bringing on additional mental health professionals full time, according to Koszelak.

Though nothing is set in stone, Karl Frisch, who presents the Providence District on the school board, said he wants to improve the infrastructure for mental health.

“The last several months have likely caused some trauma here and we need to be in a position to respond to it,” he said. We anticipate students will have an increased need.”

Rising Demand for Mental Health Support

Though Koszelak said she doesn’t have statistics to back up an increase request, a survey released by the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers reported that 55% of the 825 staff members who responded said that their students’ mental health had deteriorated since the start of distance learning.

Still, students are not the only ones at risk for mental health challenges.

More than 90% of the teachers said that their stress level has increased since the start of distance learning in March.

“Respondents chose school counselors to have the highest positive direct impact on student mental health and social-emotional needs, followed by social workers, psychologists and parent liaisons,” the survey takeaway said, backing up the school board’s idea.

Among top sources of stress for teachers, many said that they felt anxiety over technology failures, a lack of direction from FCPS leadership and difficulty adjusting to new technology.

“They need to check in with teachers and really care how we’re doing. Right now, the only message we hear is you’re failing. Not providing mental health support to elementary during this time is so WRONG! These kids need it just as much as the middle and high school kids… If anything, we will all need increased mental health support when returning to school because we are all struggling right now,” one survey respondent wrote.

FCFT sent the survey results to Tysons Reporter on May 12, before the murder of George Floid that re-sparked wide-spread outrage over systemic racism and police brutality.

It is unclear how this might add a toll to students/staff mental health but Koszelak said that there are options for students to incorporate discussions about civil rights and current events in the classroom.  She added that students even begin to learn about civil rights and Martin Luther King Jr. in the second grade.

Meeting an Invisible Need 

In reality, though, the need for help is likely elevated since Frish said that students and families don’t always know how to ask for help when they need it or even realize that it could help.

Around the country, statistics show that issues like domestic violence and child abuse have risen since the start of lockdown since places like child care centers, schools and offices that would typically recognize signs of abuse in-person are closed.

“Children are specifically vulnerable to abuse during COVID-19. Research shows that increased stress levels among parents [are] often a major predictor of physical abuse and neglect of children,” the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration said in an online article.

To combat this, FCPS teachers were told to look for signs of violence and abuse while interacting with their students over Zoom, Koszelak said, noting that if a student wasn’t coming to class, a school counselor would be sure to reach out to the family.

“The teachers still had live video conference calls with students,” according to Koszelak. “You can gauge when there are some concerns and the teachers know there are protocols to reach out to the clinicians.”

In addition to basic screening measures, FCPS mental health experts were also keeping a keen eye on families with a history of known problems, she added.

Additional Resources for Students and Families

FCPS offers a variety of programs to assist both students and families.

They include:

Some of these resources are met with concerns though: “I did Mental Health First Aid training several years ago, but it was never implemented at my school,” one teacher wrote in the FCFT survey.

“I think there needs to be widespread training in this program at each school for any and all teachers, coaches, counseling staff, and administrators who are willing and able to handle it because we need as many resources for students and staff as possible,” the teacher added.

Looking Ahead to Upcoming School Year

Though kids are on summer break, the Fairfax County School Board is considering hiring 10 more mental health care specialists and increasing funding for various social-emotional learning programs.

Board members are considering a $7 million addition to the program but it is still uncertain how the money would be distributed.

They are expected to vote on changes and plans for the upcoming school year during the upcoming June 26 meeting, according to Koszelak.

Photo via Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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Due to the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) has three scenarios for reopening schools this fall.

In May, a task force was created to prepare recommendations for FCPS reopening. On June 9, Gov. Ralph Northam unveiled his phased reopening plan, which provides flexibility for schools in Virginia.

The school board discussed the proposed Return to School plan, which includes three reopening scenarios, Monday afternoon.

The three scenarios are:

  1. virtual learning for all students
  2. in-school learning with health and social distancing
  3. online learning for students with a high risker of severe illness

In the first scenario, students would not be allowed in buildings but the staff would be. Students would have four days of synchronous learning per week and one day of asynchronous learning.

Meanwhile, the second scenario has two proposals for attendance in the buildings at any one time — 50% and 25%.

In-school learning would include cleaning of high-touch areas, daily health screening forms, social distancing in classrooms and on buses and restricting buildings to visitors.

Finally, the third scenario would make groups of students and teachers for online instruction. With the online model, students would receive four days of synchronous learning per week and one day of asynchronous learning.

Additionally, FCPS has proposals for what would happen if the pandemic prompted another shutdown. The plan also mentions shared elements of the three scenarios — middle and high school students having access to laptops via FCPSOn — and how they address equity.

Discussion during the meeting today noted that FCPS needs to prepare for the possibility that more than one scenario might happen, especially if there’s a resurgence of COVID-19.

How to keep students and staff dominated the school board’s discussion.

Gloria Addo-Ayensu, the director of the Fairfax County Health Department, said that there aren’t plans to test students prior to them coming back to school. Addo-Ayensu noted that screening forms are a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Addo-Ayensu and Benjamin Schwartz, a medical epidemiologist with Fairfax County, said that data on the impact of COVID-19 on kids is limited.

They said that the infection rate is unknown for kids and added that information is emerging on Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome of Children (MIS-C) — a rare but serious COVID-19 complication.

Input from local health data and the Fairfax County Department of Health will inform the final decisions, according to the plan.

“You’re talking hundreds and hundreds of kids coming in at once,” Superintendent Scott Brabrand said, adding that social distancing cannot be guaranteed in schools.

Brabrand said that safety procedures are also important for retaining staff: “We don’t want folks resigning.”

FCPS is looking to get face shields for bus drivers and special education teachers, Brabrand noted. Ricardy Anderson, the representative for the Mason District, called for teachers to receive face shields as well.

If FCPS decides to go with an in-person reopening that alternates days for students, childcare could become an issue for families.

Dranesville District Representative Elaine Tholen suggested that FCPS coordinate with the Fairfax County Park Authority so that families and staff have childcare options.

Tholen proposed a “creative idea” to turn outdoor space at the schools and nearby parks into childcare centers contained in tents, adding that kids could access WiFi outside the schools.

Brabrand and Hunter Mill District Representative Melanie Meren agreed that more childcare is needed, with Brabrand calling it a “great idea.”

As FCPS moves forward with plans for the fall, the school board is aware that the botched rollout of online learning this spring puts more pressure on the school system to get the reopening right.

“We can’t risk another failure like we did before,” Providence District Representative Karl Frisch said.

Brabrand addressed the criticism of the distance learning attempts, saying it’s important that FCPS does not overpromise and under-deliver: “We did that before.”

Families will have several opportunities to provide feedback on the recommendations ahead of the deadline for FCPS to announce a reopening decision on June 26.

FCPS plans to host a town hall on Tuesday, June 16, that will talk about the Return to School plans. The town hall is set to run from 6:30-7:30 p.m. and will include Brabrand, the assistant superintendent of Facilities and Transportation Services and the manager of School Health Services.

People can also submit feedback by emailing the superintendent at [email protected] and fill out a survey.

FCPS also plans to hold a virtual public hearing on the Return to School plans at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 18. People can register online to speak.

Photo via Element5 Digital/Unsplash, infographics via FCPS

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Locals can use more indoor and outdoor facilities now that Fairfax County has entered the second phase of easing COVID-19 restrictions.

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) announced today that its athletic fields have reopened for permitted use. Its basketball courts and playgrounds are also open.

“There is no special cleaning of playground equipment; visitors use at their own risk and must adhere to social distancing guidelines,” according to FCPS.

FCPS noted that the decision was based on guidelines from state and local health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

People can also start using indoor pools — outdoor pools opened during the first reopening phase — and head to fitness centers, which can open at 30% occupancy. Zoos and botanical gardens may also allow people to come back.

In the Town of Vienna, the Vienna Dog Park, tennis courts and the Community Garden reopened today and playgrounds will reopen Saturday (June 13).

Meanwhile, the City of Falls Church is now allowing people to use its playgrounds and picnic shelters. Its tennis courts are available by reservation-only for residents.

Photo by tommy boudreau on Unsplash

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(Updated at 5:20 p.m.) As the Black Lives Matter movement sweeps across the world in response to George Floyd’s death, Fairfax County locals are taking to the streets to call for racial equality.

Already, there have been protests and marches in Reston, Falls Church and Vienna. An upcoming protest is slated to take place in McLean on Wednesday.

Tysons Reporter interviewed Sean Perryman, the president of the Fairfax NAACP, to gain insight into underlying issues in the community and how the group is advocating for solutions.

After graduating from the Vanderbilt University Law School and working as a civil litigator, Perryman decided to join the NAACP back in 2016 after Donald Trump’s election. Since becoming president in 2019, he has led the group to promote the NAACP’s mission to “ensure a society in which all individuals have equal rights without discrimination based on race.”

“I threw myself in because I didn’t like what I was seeing at the national level and wanted to get involved at the local level,” he said.

The Fairfax NAACP actually originated in the Falls Church area, which Perryman said is historically significant because the county government unjustly took land from Black owners in the area.

Though Fairfax County is thought of as a progressive and liberal area, “there is a history of violence here that often gets overlooked,” Perryman said.

Throughout the last several years, Perryman recalled several incidents of alleged police brutality and discrimination against Black individuals that he claims were overlooked by the public.

Just recently, a Fairfax County police officer was charged with three misdemeanor counts of assault and battery after using a stun gun on a black man, the Washington Post reported.

Fairfax County hired a research team to look into the use-of-force incidents by Fairfax County police after a study found a disproportionate impact on black individuals. The research team is expected to reveal its findings early next year.

“The use of force here is disproportionate here for the police department [against black and brown people],” he said, adding that it is still better than some surrounding jurisdictions.

How Photos Can Influence the Perception of Law Enforcement

Roughly a week ago at a Black Lives Matter rally in Vienna, Mina Salama captured a photo of Vienna Police Chief Jim Morris kneeling, maskless alongside hundreds of other protesters.

Though Salama said she didn’t know that the officer in the photo was the police chief at the time, she said the moment and his position intrigued her.

Tysons Reporter is working to schedule an interview with Morris to talk about the photo and will update this story.

“I thought it was great — he wasn’t in the middle of the crowd. He was doing it on his own and just really feeling like he was a part of it,” Salama said.

Perryman said he didn’t want to be “cynical” and possibly discredit Morris’ true intentions behind the image, however, he said he wants to see progressive policy changes instead of social displays of support. He added that “nice” images of police kneeling don’t always portray an accurate representation of a situation.

“I don’t care about police chiefs kneeling or holding Black Lives Matter signs. Get your officers in check,” he said. “Make sure they are not abusing people. Give us transparency and data. Make real change, and anything short of that can just be seen as a photo opportunity.”

The Vienna police chief photo happened on the spur of the moment,  Salama said.

Before Salama ultimately decided to post the photo on Facebook, she said she struggled with the decision but decided that the image helped to accurately describe the atmosphere at the event.

“I kind of went back and forth about posting the picture [on social media] because in a lot of communities it’s done as a photo opp and this was more organic,” she said. “Nobody promoted him.”

NAACP’s Demands for Reform

Perryman claims students of color and students with disabilities are taken into police custody disproportionally compared to their white peers in Fairfax County Public Schools.

“Sometimes these were for issues like disorderly conduct,” Perryman said. “What does this mean? For a kid, does that mean they were just being bad in school?”

Perryman said that Fairfax NAACP’s efforts have been able to reduce arrests in schools by 60%. Still, he wants to see more done: “I’ve always said we need to get the cops out of schools and put in more counselors.”

In terms of One Fairfax, Perryman said he thinks the policy is good for “looking at things through an equity lens,” but added that the county’s school board and Board of Supervisors have a long way to go before the policy is more than “lip service.”

“You can’t have One Fairfax when you have a Robert E. Lee High School, and the school is named after a Confederate general who wanted to enslave black people,” he noted as an example.

The Fairfax County School Board voted in 2019 to consider renaming seven schools, including Mosby Woods Elementary School, named after people with Confederate ties.

Recently, the school board resumed its process to consider renaming Robert E. Lee High School.

In the next several months, Perryman said that the group will continue to push for police reform at the county, state and national levels.

The NAACP wants to see qualified immunity eliminated, Perryman said. “It ensures trust in the system. If you have trust in the system, you don’t have people going through the streets looking for justice,” he said.

If elected officials are determined to enact changes, Perryman said new policies could be in place within a year. For a complete list of NAACP’s agenda items, people can visit the organization’s website.

Ways Community Members Can Support 

For people who want to keep rallying and showing up to protests, Perryman said that he hopes people will try to keep in mind precautions such as wearing masks and social distancing. Last week, Fairfax NAACP held a car rally where people could listen and participate in their cars.

If people want to support the NAACP, they donate or ask how they can be of service. Though some people requested that the NAACP help them organize rallies, Perryman said that isn’t the purpose of the group.

People can become better allies by educating themselves about systemic racism in American history, Perryman said.

“One of the best things to do is to Google the origins of policing,” he said. “Our policing system is relatively new and in the course of American history, the way we do policing originated out of slave patrols,” he said. “I think a lot of people are shocked by that.”

Perryman suggested books such as “Stamped From the Beginning” and “How to Be an Anti-Racist” both by Ibram X. Kendi, who runs an anti-racism center at American University in D.C.

“Historical context helps you to solve a problem and look at things in a different light,” Perryman said.

Photos courtesy Sean Perryman 

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School Schedule — “Gov. Ralph Northam is expected on Tuesday to address school reopening, something he had initially planned to do last week. The announcement will give more guidance to school districts and colleges across the state that have been moving forward with their own plans to return.” [Richmond Times-Dispatch]

Protest Photos — “A series of demonstrations took place in and around the City of Falls Church over the weekend to protest the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota.” [Falls Church News-Press]

Evictions Paused — “Gov. Ralph Northam announced Monday a temporary statewide moratorium on all eviction proceedings in Virginia.” [Falls Church News-Press]

Statue Staying? — “A Virginia judge has issued an 10-day injunction that prevents Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration from removing an iconic but controversial statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Richmond.” [USA Today]

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Tysons DMV Has Reopened — Starting today, the location at 1968 Gallows Road will be open by appointment only from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday. [Patch]

More Outdoor Areas Open at Public Schools — “In accordance with Fairfax County’s Phase 1 reopening guidelines, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) is reopening additional outdoor areas on school grounds to the community, effective Friday, May 29. Reopening on May 29 will be athletic fields (for walking and recreational use from 8 a.m. to sundown) and gardens.” [FCPS]

Art Aid — “ARTSFAIRFAX [Thursday] announced $100,000 in available funding through the newly created Emergency Relief and Recovery Grant Program. Funding will provide critical support to Fairfax County and the Cities of Fairfax and Falls Church arts organizations and Fairfax County individual artists most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The online grant application… closes on June 29, 2020.” [Patch]

Public Hearing on Controversial Zoning Code Tonight — “The Vienna Town Council plans to hold a public hearing on Monday about what to do about the contentious Maple Avenue Commercial (MAC) zone.” [Tysons Reporter]

Phase 2 May Start Soon — “Gov. Ralph Northam said Thursday that more of the state’s COVID-19 restrictions could be lifted as soon as June 5… Northern Virginia leaders said earlier this week they’d be interested in moving to Phase Two at the same time as the rest of the state.” [Inside NoVa]

Booze Delivery? — “At some point in the near future, the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority is hoping to execute the first home liquor delivery in its 86-year history.” [Inside NoVa]

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