The Virginia Attorney General’s office has launched an investigation into Fairfax County Public Schools, alleging that delays in notifying students of commendations for their preliminary SAT test scores may constitute civil rights violations.
Attorney General Jason Miyares announced yesterday that the entire school system will be subject to a review that began last week with a focus on Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ).
The expansion comes after principals at Westfield and Langley high schools reportedly informed families over the weekend that they also didn’t notify students designated as “commended students” by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) this fall.
“It’s concerning that multiple schools throughout Fairfax County withheld merit awards from students,” Miyares said in a press release. “My office will investigate the entire Fairfax County Public Schools system to find out if any students were discriminated against and if their rights were violated.”
In a letter to FCPS Superintendent Michelle Reid, Miyares said his office is investigating whether the school system violated the Virginia Human Rights Act’s prohibitions of discrimination based on race, color and national origin.
Reid said she “proactively” alerted the attorney general’s office to the lack of “timely notification” for Westfield and Langley students after it was found by an independent review that the school system initiated last week, according to a message sent to the community yesterday.
“As soon as this new development was confirmed, Westfield and Langley high schools notified all impacted families and their broader respective school communities,” Reid wrote. “Please be aware that FCPS is committed to sharing information that impacts our communities as soon as possible.”
Reid said school staff have been contacting colleges where the affected students applied.
“We are sincerely sorry for this error. Each and every student, their experience and success, remain our priority,” she said.
Initially, the delay at TJ appeared to be “a unique situation due to human error,” Reid said on Wednesday (Jan. 4).
She said then that the attorney general’s investigation will include “a review” of TJ’s admissions policies, which were revised in 2020 in an effort to diversify the magnet school’s student body. A lawsuit arguing that the changes discriminate against Asian students is currently in a federal appeals court.
Notably, the delayed notifications for commended students at TJ were first reported by Asra Nomani, co-founder of the Coalition for TJ, which filed the lawsuit opposing the admissions changes.
The National Merit Scholarship Program recognizes the top 50,000 scorers on the pSAT, a practice standardized test often considered by colleges. Though only a handful of actual scholarships are awarded each year, about 34,000 students get letters of commendations that go out in late September, per the website.
FCPS announced in mid-September that 238 of its students had advanced to the semi-finals. It didn’t mention how many students were commended.
In letters to the Washington Post, local public education advocate Holly Hazard and a former university admissions director argued that Miyares and Gov. Glenn Youngkin — both Republicans — have “wildly overreacted” to the delayed notices, a sentiment echoed by a couple Democratic elected officials.
Amen 👇👇👇👇👇👇👇👇 https://t.co/0anrFR1Gev
— Senator Scott Surovell (@ssurovell) January 5, 2023
“There is nothing to investigate,” state Sen. Scott Surovell (D-36) told FFXnow, noting that information about pSAT scores is available online through the College Board website.
“Fairfax County has the best public schools in Virginia and the Governor and Attorney General are trying to bring their culture war to Fairfax because they’re not willing to invest in public schools or treat our teachers like licensed professionals,” he said in an emailed statement.
The investigation precedes a General Assembly session convening Wednesday (Jan. 11) that will see consideration of a voucher program allowing public funds to be used for private school expenses, among other education-related proposals.
It also kicks off a year where all 12 seats on the Fairfax County School Board — currently held entirely by Democrats — will be up for election.
Fairfax County Native Earns Super Bowl Ring — “Years before making it to the most elite game in football, Nick Scott, the starting safety for the Rams, suited up for Fairfax High School, where he wowed fans, connected with coaches, and made lifelong friendships.” [FCPS/Inside NoVA]
Vienna Reexamines Leaf Collection Practices — The Vienna Town Council will hold a public hearing on March 21 to get feedback on potential changes to the town’s practice of collecting leaves and turning them into mulch. Alternatives proposed by a contractor would eliminate mulch delivery and the use of a controversial facility on Beulah Road. [Sun Gazette]
Valentine’s Cards Delivered to School Employees — “7,000 personal valentine cards were delivered to FCPS staff members in more than 40 schools last week as a part of the @VolunteerFFX annual #Valentines Challenge. Thank you @GrandInvolve & all who supported the effort!” [FCPS/Twitter]
Masks No Longer Required in Falls Church City Schools — Falls Church City Public Schools now allows parents to opt their children out of wearing masks, following through on a plan announced last month as COVID-19 cases continue to fall. Students who aren’t wearing masks and haven’t been vaccinated are required to participate in weekly PCR testing screenings. [WTOP]
FCPS Shares Plan for Easing Covid Rules — Amid mounting pressure from the state, Fairfax County Public Schools says it will make masks optional when COVID-19 transmission in the county reaches moderate levels and remains there for seven consecutive days. Masks will still be required for people who aren’t fully vaccinated. [FCPS]
Fairfax County Seeks to Address Language Barriers — With Fairfax County now boasting a “majority-minority” population, officials released a report last month on how to better serve the nearly 40% of households where residents speak a language other than English. Recommendations included creating a language access team in the county’s public affairs office and devoting more funds to translation technology. [Inside NoVA]
Inova Leases More Space in Merrifield — “The Falls Church-based nonprofit has signed a lease at 8260 Willow Oaks Corporate Drive in Fairfax near its flagship hospital. There, Inova will take over 48,000 square feet in two of the building’s eight floors to open four medical practices…The clinics will house pediatric rehabilitation and cardiology services, and pre- and post-operative evaluations and consultations.” [Washington Business Journal]
California Cybersecurity Company Adds Tysons Subsidary — Cloud security company Zscaler announced on Friday (Feb. 4) that has created a government-focused subsidiary called Zscaler U.S. Government Solutions. The Tysons headquarters will accommodate 75 employees “to support agencies and their systems integration partners.” [Executive Biz]
See Performers’ View of Capital One Hall — “Ready for the big stage? Take the walk from green room to main theater from the performers perspective and explore the unique spaces Capital One Hall has to offer!” [Capital One Hall/Twitter]
FCPS Schedules Virtual Town Halls on Masks — Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand reaffirmed the system’s plans to continue requiring face masks in a message to the community on Friday (Jan. 21). FCPS will hold a virtual town hall on the subject in English at 7 p.m. today (Monday), followed by a Spanish town hall tomorrow. Both events will stream live on Facebook. [FCPS]
Abduction Reported in Merrifield — “2900 block of Caribbean Court, 1/18/22, 7:51 p.m. A man approached the victim, displayed a firearm, and demanded to be driven to a residence in D.C. After dropping the man off, the victim reported the incident to police. No injuries were reported.” [FCPD]
Route 7 Widening Still on Track — The $313.9 million project to widen seven miles of Route 7 between Reston Avenue and Jarrett Valley Drive remains on schedule to finish in July 2024, despite supply and labor challenges. Light traffic in 2021 enabled the project team to extend lane closures, the Virginia Department of Transportation says. [Reston Now]
Wren Stands Out Among Tysons Dining Spots — The Washington Post’s food critic calls Tysons “one of the least interesting places to find yourself for a meal,” but Wren is an exception. The Japanese restaurant-bar, which opened in The Watermark Hotel in September, earns praise for its artfully crafted food and interest in providing a personal experience for both guests and staff. [The Washington Post]
McLean House Fire Started by Candle — An unattended candle placed near combustibles started a fire in the living room of a single-family home in the 1500 block of Dominion Hill Court on Saturday (Jan. 8). No injuries were reported, but the fire displaced two residents and resulted in approximately $919,500 in damages. [FCFRD]
Former School Board Member Named to Key Education Position — Elizabeth Schultz, who represented Springfield District on the Fairfax County School Board from 2012 to 2019, has been appointed by incoming Gov. Glenn Youngkin to serve as Virginia’s assistant superintendent of public instruction. Schultz has opposed protections for transgender students and appeared on Fox News to decry teaching that acknowledges racism. [Virginia Mercury]
No Return of Metro Trains in Sight — “Metro riders can expect the current level of limited rail service to continue for three more months after the transit agency’s top official said Thursday that Metro wants to focus on finding the ‘root cause’ of a defect that has sidelined more than half its rail cars since mid-October.” [The Washington Post]
Tysons Startup Launches “Smart” Grocery Delivery Box — “HomeValet, a D.C. Metro area-based startup that has developed a temperature-controlled smart box for grocery deliveries, is now releasing its smart home product to the public and expanding its partnership with Walmart.” [TechCrunch]
FCPS Superintendent Lines Up New Job — Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand will serve as executive director of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, a nonprofit that provides support to and advocates for the state’s superintendents. Brabrand will leave FCPS on June 30 and assume his new position in July. [PR Newswire]
Relocated Jinya Ramen Bar to Open in March — “Local franchise owner Sam Shoja says the Mosaic District ramen shop outgrew its current space. The new corner location will allow for a large semi-enclosed outdoor patio with fire-top tables and an indoor Japanese whiskey lounge.” [Washingtonian]
Fairfax County Police Bust International Burglary Ring — “The pattern was quickly becoming familiar to Fairfax County police: an expensive home; Asian or Middle Eastern residents; a rear door or window smashed; and jewelry and luxury goods taken but expensive electronics left untouched.” [The Washington Post]
I-66 Lane Closures in Vienna Start Tomorrow — I-66 East will be reduced to a single travel lane approaching Cedar Lane in Vienna during overnight hours, starting at 10:30 p.m. tomorrow (Friday). Lasting until 5 a.m. Thursday (Jan. 20), the closures will allow workers to install bridge beams for a new access ramp to the future I-66 Express Lanes. [VDOT]
FCPS Turns to College Students for Substitute Teachers — Fairfax County Public Schools has opened substitute teaching positions to college students in a response to high vacancy rates. The school system’s substitute teacher fill rate is typically about 80%, but it has hovered around 70% during the pandemic, dropping to 55-60% during the current COVID-19 surge. [WTOP]
Original Fairfax County Chief Fire Marshal Dies — “It is with great sadness that the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department announce the passing of retired Fire Administrator, and first Chief Fire Marshal, Willis H. “Bill” Burton, Jr. Chief Burton passed away peacefully of natural causes, surrounded by family, on Sunday, January 9 at the age of 91.” [FCFRD]
Electoral Board Gets New Member — “Christopher P. Henzel was recently appointed and sworn in by the Fairfax Circuit Court as a member of the Fairfax County Electoral Board for a three-year term. He replaces Steve Hunt, whose term ended after serving eight years on the board.” [Fairfax County Government]
McLean Central Park Revision Meeting Set — “The public is invited to attend an information meeting on the McLean Central Park Development Concept plan on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022 at 7 p.m. The meeting will be held online so that members of the public can participate safely and conveniently from their homes.” [FCPA]
Police Investigate Reported Unlawful Filming — The Fairfax County Police Department is looking to identify a person of interest in the unlawful filming of a minor at the Surf N Suds laundromat at 5715 Columbia Pike in Bailey’s Crossroads. A teenage girl reported seeing a phone with a camera coming from the ceiling of the women’s bathroom around 7:50 p.m. on Dec. 12. [FCPD/Facebook]
Tysons Retail Enters New Phase of Development — “The face of the retail market in Tysons is changing. A series of new moves in the market, from longtime store closures to first-time openings to mall redevelopments, highlight how the Northern Virginia edge city is entering a new generation of its retail life cycle.” [Bisnow]
FCPS Criticizes Thomas Jefferson Admissions Bill — Fairfax County Public Schools denounced a bill proposed for the Virginia General Assembly’s upcoming session that challenges its new admissions process for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. FCPS says the legislation “rests on the fiction that any action taken to increase access for underserved or underprivileged groups is discrimination.” [FCPS]
The PARC to Host “Shop Local Saturday” Markets — “New Year, New Events! Join @CelebrateFFX, this Saturday, Jan. 15, for the 1st Shop Local Saturday Market of the year at The PARC in Tysons! This event is free to attend & will feature 25+ local business and makers who offer a variety of goods!” [Tysons Partnership/Twitter]
Winter Storm Warning in Effect — Fairfax County has its first snow of the year. The D.C. area will remain under a Winter Storm Warning until 4 p.m. today (Monday), with the National Weather Service forecasting 3-7 inches of snow and wind gusts of up to 35 miles per hour, making travel difficult. [NWS]
FCPS Closed for Day Due to Snow — Instead of returning to classrooms as anticipated, Fairfax County Public School students will have an extra day of winter break. In expectation of snow, schools have been closed today with no virtual learning, and all activities on school grounds have been canceled, including extracurricular programs and adult classes. [FCPS]
Snow Closes Tysons Mass Vaccine Site — The Virginia Department of Health is closing all of its mass COVID-19 vaccination sites, including the one at Tysons Corner Center, today “out of an abundance of caution for patients and staff.” Those with appointments will be notified and can visit vase.vdh.virginia.gov to reschedule. [VDH]
Vienna Authorizes COVID-19 Testing Site Extension — The Personic Health Care drive-through COVID-19 testing site on Maple Avenue will be allowed to continue operating through the end of January. The facility was supposed to vacate the Emmaus United Church of Christ parking lot on Dec. 31, but with cases still high, Town Manager Mercury Payton granted it a “wind-down period” in response to a request from the church. [Town of Vienna]
Dangerous Driving Filmed on Beltway — A Reddit user posted a dashcam video last week that showed a near-collision where a pickup truck tries to drive a sedan out of its lane on the Capitol Beltway inner loop near Tysons. While there was no crash, the Virginia Department of Transportation shared the video as an example of the dangers of road rage. [NBC4]
Woman Arrested After Police Pursuit Near Scotts Run — Around 4:53 p.m. on Dec. 26, Fairfax County police officers recognized a vehicle that was reported stolen in a neighboring jurisdiction and attempted to stop the driver at Chain Bridge Road at Colshire Drive. The driver, an 18-year-old woman from D.C., hit two occupied police vehicles and fled, striking four other vehicles before she was stopped and arrested. [FCPD]
McLean families are no strangers to overcrowded schools.
The challenges have been concentrated in the McLean High School pyramid, where the home of the Highlanders and feeder school Kent Gardens Elementary have been over capacity for the past decade.
At 121% capacity, Kent Gardens is experiencing one of the biggest space deficits in the county, trailing only Wakefield Forest Elementary School (132%) and Oakton High School (125%), according to Fairfax County Public Schools’ proposed Capital Improvement Program for fiscal years 2023-2027.
Capacity Deficits Projected to Continue
Kent Gardens had 1,023 students to start this school year in a building designed for up to 896 students. The school’s profile indicates that enrollment has dipped to 1,019 students as of November.
There are currently 11 temporary classrooms on site, with the most recent addition of trailers coming during the 2019-2020 school year.
According to the CIP, Kent Gardens has been over capacity since at least 2012, when it had 906 students and was at 111% capacity. While enrollment is expected to decline over the next five years, the school will still be at 118% capacity with 1,003 students by the 2026-2027 school year.
McLean High School has had more students than program capacity since the 2011-2012 school year. The introduction of a 12-classroom modular earlier this year helped cut the capacity deficit from 118% last year to 107% this fall, though enrollment appears to have grown from 2,347 students in September to 2,366 students, as of November.
FCPS says it is monitoring the school’s capacity after implementing a phased boundary adjustment in September that moved an estimated 190 high school students and 78 middle school students to the Langley High School pyramid.
However, the CIP indicates that overcrowding will persist at least through 2026-2027, when 2,317 students are projected to be enrolled and the school will be at 105% or 121% capacity, depending on whether the modular is still in place. Read More
COVID-19 Infections Contribute to Metrobus Driver Shortage — “More than 50 Metro bus routes are experiencing delays and increased wait times due to a driver shortage across the city. WMATA cites the spread of new COVID variants, such as delta and omicron, as one of the causes of the shortage, as employees take sick leave to recover.” [WUSA9]
County Urges Awareness of Unhoused People — As the winter solstice, last night (Tuesday) was the longest one of the year, prompting Fairfax County to acknowledge its 1,000-plus residents who experience homelessness every winter. The county advises community members to call its Department of Public Safety Communications at 703-691-2131 if they see someone in need of shelter, and the annual Hypothermia Prevention Program is now underway. [Fairfax County Government]
Nearby: Mary Riley Styles Library Goes Virtual — “Due to concerns about the recent increase in COVID-19 transmissions in the area, all in-person library programs and use of library conference rooms are suspended until mid-January 2022. Group study rooms may still be reserved, but are limited to groups of three or less.” [City of Falls Church]
Transit and Amenities Drive Fairfax County Office Demand — “New office buildings in transit-oriented mixed-use developments in Tysons and Reston have generated leasing and investor interest as office tenants court young workers. But as these projects soak up the pandemic-weakened demand for new leases, the older suburban-style office buildings have suffered.” [Bisnow]
Student Mental Health Support Staffing a Concern in FCPS — “Many Fairfax County Public Schools students were experiencing high levels of anxiety and depression even before the pandemic struck nearly two years ago and county officials are struggling to maintain adequate mental-health staffing to address those concerns.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]