Tysons, VA

It’s a snow day for students in Fairfax County Public Schools.

FCPS tweeted this morning that schools will be closed today instead of opening late.

School offices and central offices will be open by 11 a.m., according to the tweet.

Icy roads from yesterday’s snow prompted the closure this morning, FCPS tweeted.

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Schools and federal offices are closing early today ahead of the first snow of 2020.

Fairfax County and surrounding areas are under a Winter Weather Advisory today (Tuesday) for 1-3 inches of snow. The advisory is set to last until 7 p.m.

More from NWS:

* WHEN…From noon to 7 PM EST Tuesday. The heaviest snow is expected between 2 PM and 6 PM.

* IMPACTS…Snow covered and slippery roads are expected. This will impact the evening commute.

* ADDITIONAL DETAILS…Snow rates could exceed one inch per hour with visibility around one-quarter mile at times.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS…

Slow down and use caution while traveling. When venturing outside, watch your first few steps taken on steps, sidewalks, and driveways, which could be icy and slippery, increasing your risk of a fall and injury.

Due to the expected snow, Fairfax County Public Schools will close two hours early today.

Federal offices will have early dismissal today.

For commuters, the Virginia Department of Transportation wants people to monitor weather conditions and beware of slick spots on roads.

“Crews have pre-treated trouble spots in higher elevations,” VDOT said in an email earlier today. “Drivers will begin to see trucks staging throughout the region this morning to prepare to plow and treat roads as needed.”

To accommodate more commuters leaving work early today, Metro tweeted plans to “ramp up service on bus and rail.”

Photo by Jessica Fadel on Unsplash

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Welcome to the first, revamped Morning Notes of 2020! Here are the latest stories about the Tysons area that the Tysons Reporter team has been reading:

Toll Lane Plan Zooming Ahead — “Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Friday afternoon that he and Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) plan to approve the next step of the much-debated proposal to add toll lanes to interstates 270 and 495.” [Bethesda Magazine]

General Assembly Convenes Tomorrow — “Already, Democrats submitted more than 260 bills for consideration in the upcoming session… It’s been 20 years since the Democrats have had this kind of control in Richmond, but more realistically, those with the kind of progressive values of the current majorities have never come close to running the show in Richmond before.” [Falls Church News-Press]

Here’s a “Decade Review Story” for Tysons — “The last decade was a period of rapid transformation in Tysons, with the opening of four new Metro stations, the tallest building in the D.C. region and major mixed-use projects like The Boro.” [Bisnow]

FCPS to Close Early Today — “Light snow is expected between noon to 7 p.m. today (Tuesday) in the area. Fairfax County Public Schools will close two hours early today.” [Reston Now]

You asked, we have answers: One reader asked what happened to House of Fortune in McLean. The restaurant’s Facebook page said that it closed Nov. 3, 2019. An employee said the restaurant closed after the owner became sick.

Sneak Peek: Looking ahead to stories later this week, Tysons Reporter will spotlight local thrift stores and provide more information about an upcoming “toy library.”

Have a great Tuesday and look out for Morning Notes again on Friday, Jan. 10.

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Local Student Heading to London Parade — “Emma [W.], a sophomore and varsity cheerleader from George Mason High School, is one of more than 800 high school cheerleaders from across the U.S. who will be representing Varsity Spirit in the world-famous London New Year’s Day Parade.” [Falls Church News-Press]

Hotel Sold in Falls Church — “The Falls Church Marriott Fairview Park has traded hands for $52.2 million, more than $40 million less than what it sold for nearly a decade ago.” [Washington Business Journal]

How to Get Rid of Holiday Trees — “When you got the tree, what condition it was in at that time and how much it was watered factor into when you should take the tree to the curb. Fairfax County Fire and Rescue recommends getting rid of trees immediately or when they get dry.” [Patch]

FCPS Students Soon Able to Take Day Off to Protest — “Beginning Jan. 27, 2020 students in seventh through 12th grades will be permitted one excused absence each school year to engage in ‘civic engagement activities,’ according to Lucy Caldwell, school spokeswoman for Fairfax County Public Schools.” [WTOP]

Registration Opens Today for Little City Outdoor Classes — “Registration for Recreation & Parks Winter/Spring 2020 classes opens on Monday, December 30 for City of Falls Church residents.” [City of Falls Church/Twitter]

Photo courtesy Bill Johnson

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How overcrowded could McLean High School be four years from now? The proposed Capital Improvement Program for Fairfax County Public Schools has an idea.

The draft CIP says that McLean High School is currently at 118% capacity, with projections showing the population increasing to 122% capacity in the 2024-2025 school year.

While the new projections are lower than previous ones — the last CIP expected McLean High School to reach 127% capacity by 2022 — the overcrowding has sparked vigorous debate on how to get students out of the trailers.

One idea that county officials are pursuing would shift students from McLean High School to nearby Langley High School.

Langley High School has a current capacity of 83%, which is projected to drop to 78% by 2024, according to the draft CIP.

Meetings in the fall solicited community input on the proposed boundary change and are expected to continue next year.

FCPS staff have said they want to implement a decision so that the change can impact the 2020-2021 school year.

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(Updated 12/28/19) Come Jan. 1, the Fairfax County School Board will have a lot of new faces.

The 12-member board will see eight newcomers in 2020.

Half of the school board’s incumbents decided not to seek reelection, including: Ilryong MoonRyan McElveen, Jane Strauss, Pat Hynes, Sandy Evans and Dalia Palchik. The two Republican incumbents — Elizabeth Schultz and Thomas Wilson — lost their reelection bids.

At-Large Member Karen Keys-Gamarra won reelection, along with:

Here is information on the new incoming members, who took their oaths of office on Thursday (Dec. 12) at Jackson Middle School.

At-Large Members Abrar Omeish and Rachna Sizemore Heizer

Omeish and Heizer, along with incumbent Karen Keys-Gamarra, beat three opponents for the At-Large seats.

Heizer has worked as a college professor, disability justice advocate and lawyer, according to her campaign website. Omeish is the co-founder of Give, a youth-led nonprofit and led the county-wide campaign for an anti-bullying campaign, according to her campaign website.

Hunter Mill District: Melanie Meren

Meren, a former U.S. Department of Education employee, beat her opponent, Laura Ramirez Drain. Meren is a parent and small business owner who has lived in Fairfax County for more than 15 years, according to Reston Now

Dranesville District: Elaine Tholen

Tholen beat three opponents. A resident of Fairfax County for 25 years, Tholen most recently served as the director and treasurer for the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District, according to her campaign website.

Mason District: Ricardy Anderson

Anderson beat opponent Tom Pafford. She has been a community volunteer, a veteran of the National Guard Army Reserve and lived in Annandale for more than 10 years, according to her campaign website.

Providence District: Karl Frisch

Frisch beat opponent Andrea Bayer in the election. Frisch has served as the executive director of consumer watchdog Allied Progress, was a small business owner and worked as a staffer for the Committee on Rules in the U.S. House of Representatives, according to his campaign website.

Springfield District: Laura Jane Cohen

Cohen beat two opponents, including Republican incumbent Elizabeth Schultz. Cohen has been a resident in the county for nearly 20 years and is a former preschool teacher, according to her campaign website.

Sully District: Stella Pekarsky

Pekarsky beat Republican incumbent Tom Wilson. She was previously an FCPS ESOL teacher, small business co-owner and trustee on the Fairfax County Board.

Come 2020, the school board seats will all be filled by Democrats.

“Corbett Sanders will remain chair of the School Board and Derenak Kaufax will remain as vice-chair,” according to FCPS. “School Board officers are elected at the first meeting in July of each year.”

The board also includes a non-voting student representative who is selected by the Student Advisory Council.

Photo via Facebook

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Haycock Elementary School recently told families who will head the school for the time being after the school’s newly hired principal faces charges related to alleged abuse of students at a different school.

Scoot Bloom was hired as the principal for Haycock Elementary School in Falls Church in August and was placed on leave in September involving a personnel matter.

Bloom, a 39-year-old Reston resident, was indicted for allegedly failing to report assaults on students with intellectual disabilities during his time as the principal at Freedom Hill Elementary School in Vienna.

August Frattali became the interim principal in September.

In a letter to Haycock families on Monday (Dec. 16), Region 2 Assistant Superintendent Fabio Zuluaga said that Frattali will continue that role.

“We are in the process of updating the policy and regulation that covers the procedures for reporting cases of suspected child abuse or neglect to ensure that all of us understand our reporting obligations,” Zuluaga said in the letter.

More from the letter:

FCPS Administration was made aware of these allegations in September, following Mr. Bloom’s appointment at Haycock. Staff members under investigation were immediately removed from their positions and placed on leave for the duration of the investigation.

We are saddened and distressed by these allegations involving our employees. There is no greater responsibility of a school system than the safety and well-being of our students and, as a result of these incidents, we have learned that we need to do more. Our teachers and staff have been trained annually in best practices and legal requirements regarding mandated reporting of suspected abuse and received additional training this year to reinforce reporting requirements.

Image via Google Maps, photo via FCPS

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Get Back in the Book!” by Larry Issa has only been in circulation for less than a year but it’s already sold more than 1,500 copies around the Northern Virginia area.

Issa’s picture book is about a young boy named Danny who writes his own book but catches the characters trying to sneak out of the pages because they think the book is boring. Danny ends up teaching his creations the value of books and convinces them that their happy place is within their own story.

Issa told Tysons Reporter that he hopes the message resonates with kids, and they take away a deeper appreciation for literature.

“A lot of my family members are teachers, and one complaint is that reading levels are going down,” he said.

Issa, who is from the McLean area, said he wants to encourage kids around the area and globe to love literature just as much as he did as a kid.

All of the characters in the book are inspired by things he loves doing or what he wanted to be growing up. The dinosaur tends to be a popular character, but Issa said the astronaut is his personal favorite.

In November, Issa won the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award in first-place for the picture book category.

When it came to the book design and art, Issa approached British artist Emma Chadwick with an idea for a partnership after discovering her art portfolio on Instagram.

As a designer, Issa had a very distinctive plan for what he hoped the book would become and said that he and Chadwick worked well as a cohesive team after accepting the offer. They agreed that a darker color scheme would suit the story well since the book takes place on a school night in the child’s bedroom.

When not working as a professional designer, Issa spends a lot of his time performing readings to school kids and selling his books at local shops, markets and festivals.

As a self-publisher, Issa began giving advice to others who want to publish children’s books and began his new brand — Kalmus Books. He said some of his mentees are planning to publish their books under Kalamus in the future.

Issa told Tysons Reporter that the best advice he can give future authors is to just put themselves out there and start writing, adding that his book went through more than 25 rounds of edits before publication.

He currently coordinates with schools and local charities to give away copies of his book to students in need and seeking donation sponsors to follow in the footsteps of The Closet in Herndon, who recently purchased 100 copies.

People can email Larry Issa if they are interested in helping the cause.

“Get Back in the Book” is available in hard-cover and can be purchased in person at a variety of popups for $18.99 or online, for $21.

Issa said he made the copies slightly more expensive online because he wants to encourage the community to check out markets and book stores in-person.

Although he has received requests for digital and soft-cover copies, he said he doesn’t want to release them just yet because these formats weaken the storytelling experience.

“We are all about the aesthetics,” Issa said.

If anyone wants to meet Issa and purchase their own copy of the book signed on-site, they are welcome to stop by the holiday market in Tysons Corner Center, where he can usually be found during mall hours until Tuesday (Dec. 24), when the pop-up shop closes.

“Get Back in the Book” can also be purchased at Scrawl Books (11911 Freedom Drive).

Issa expects to publish another book soon.

He told Tysons Reporter that hints or “easter eggs” for the upcoming book can be seen in drawings from the main character in”Get Back in the Book.”

Images courtesy Larry Issa

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Fairfax County police said two employees at Freedom Hill Elementary School — and the school’s former principal — have been indicted by a grand jury in connection to assaults on students with intellectual disabilities.

Major Crimes Bureau Commander Edward O’Carroll said at a press briefing today that “18 counts have been handed by a grand jury.”

The two former employees — Cylmeera Gastav and Cecilia Maria Benavides — face charges for allegedly assaulting non-verbal children with intellectual disabilities, O’Carroll said.

Benavides, 59, of Alexandria, was hired by FCPS in 2000, while Gastav, 48, of Herndon, was hired full-time in 2019 after working for FCPS part-time, O’Carroll said.

They were both charged with felony cruelty and injuries to children and misdemeanor assault and battery.

All of the assaults happened at the Vienna school between April and September this year, O’Carroll said.

The investigation began in mid-September after a teacher reported seeing bruises on students, police said.

Police said they believe six children were allegedly assaulted by the Gustav and Benavides.

“We believe with all certainty that all of the victims in this case have been identified,” O’Carroll said, adding that people with any information about the case are urged to contact the police.

O’Carroll said that complaints of suspected abuse were reported to the former principal, Scott Bloom, “however those complaints were not subsequently reported to Child Protective Services or to law enforcement that is required by law.”

Bloom, 39, of Reston, was indicted for allegedly failing to report the assaults.

Bloom was originally hired by FCPS in 2012 as the principal for Freedom Hill Elementary School, according to the Falls Church News-Press. He was hired as the principal for Haycock Elementary School in Falls Church in August and was placed on leave in September involving a personnel matter.

O’Carroll said that the current school administration at the elementary school reported the concerns once they made aware of them.

Marty Smith, a spokesperson for Fairfax County Public Schools, said the school put the two female employees on leave during the investigation.

FCPS assigned new teachers to the classrooms of the former employees and let families know about the staffing changes, Smith said.

The case is an active investigation, and FCPS is cooperating with the police, Smith said.

“We are deeply saddened by this situation,” Smith said. “While the investigation is still underway we are committed to doing all we can to prevent similar actions from happening in the future.”

O’Carroll declined to answer questions about whether or not the victims were in a restraint and seclusion situation or what kinds of injuries the victims sustained.

“The actions of these offenders is shocking. It’s unacceptable,” O’Carroll said.

Image via Google Maps, three mugshots via FCPD

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With snow and icy rain last night and this morning, several counties in the D.C. area have closed or delayed start times today (Monday) for their public schools.

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) announced shortly before 5 a.m. on Twitter their schools would be open and start on time today. By 9 a.m. more than 4,000 tweets were using #closefcps and the hashtag was trending in the U.S. on Twitter.

Tysons Reporter spotted many memes, frustration about FCPS not closing and elation over the hashtag’s popularity among the #closefcps tweets.

Let Tysons Reporter know what you think about FCPS staying open today.

Hat tip to Kalina Newman 

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