Newsletter

(Updated at 10:05 a.m.) A tennis instructor employed at George Mason High School in Falls Church has been arrested for allegedly having illegal sexual contact with a student.

The Fairfax County Police Department announced this morning (Tuesday) that 29-year-old Rafael “Rally” Diokno faces three charges of taking indecent liberties with a child by a custodian, a Class 6 felony that carries potential sentences of up to five years in prison or a 12-month jail term with a fine of up to $2,500.

Here is more on the investigation from the police report:

Our detectives began their investigation on June 16, after it was learned that Rafael “Rally” Diokno, of Falls Church, was having unlawful sexual contact with a student. Diokno was a seasonal contract employee with the Falls Church City Public Schools. Detectives determined the unlawful conduct began in May of this year and the acts occurred at different locations within the confines of Fairfax County. Yesterday, detectives from our Major Crimes Bureau Child Abuse Squad arrested Diokno, and he is currently being held at the County’s Adult Detention Center without bond.

Falls Church City Public Schools says that it first hired Diokno as a seasonal tennis coach in February 2016. He was terminated from the position on June 4.

FCCPS said in a statement that it is committed to supporting the student, while remaining aware of the possibility that additional victims may come forward:

FCCPS is committed to supporting the student and family involved and all of its students and staff members. At the same time, we want to ensure and respect the privacy of those involved. As the police and CPS investigation continues, we must be alert to the possibility of additional potential victims. It is crucial that individuals feel comfortable and supported in coming forward if they have additional information or concerns.

According to FCCPS, school officials contacted the City of Falls Church Police Department and Child Protective Services on June 3 “immediately after receiving an allegation of potentially inappropriate conduct by a coach toward a student athlete.”

“As a result, the coach was immediately relieved of his coaching duties,” FCCPS said. “This action enabled FCCPS to ensure the safety of its students while completing its investigation…The former coach no longer had access to the school or its students at the time of and leading up to the arrest.”

Since it is an ongoing criminal investigation, FCCPS says it will not comment further on the specifics of the case or on personnel matters beyond noting that, while Diokno was not a member of its instructional staff, the school system followed its standard procedures when hiring him, including fingerprinting and background checks.

“Falls Church City Public Schools has been fully cooperating with the Police and CPS during the investigation before the arrest and will continue to do so as their investigations continue,” FCCPS said.

The FCPD is asking anyone with information about the case or who may have had inappropriate contact with Diokno to contact its detectives at 703-246-7800, option 3, or by submitting an anonymous tip through Crime Solvers.

“Victim specialists from our Major Crimes Bureau’s Victim Services Division have been assigned to ensure that the victim is receiving appropriate resources and assistance,” the FCPD said.

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Morning Notes

Woman Pulled Over by State Trooper Calls for Accountability — “Charges against a Black woman pulled over and arrested in Fairfax County, Virginia, have been dropped by the county’s commonwealth attorney and expunged by the courts. But Juanisha Brooks is demanding further action as a result of the March traffic stop…Brooks maintains she was profiled before the stop and treated poorly after it because of her race.” [WTOP]

Fairfax County Parks Inch Back to Normal — “Facilities throughout the Fairfax County park system are returning to nearly normal operations after a series of closures and restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As we ramp up and reopen, some sites may operate on limited schedules or require preregistration for activities, so we strongly urge park visitors to call sites in advance or check our website to ensure access and availability.” [Fairfax County Park Authority]

Governor Delivers Speech at Final George Mason HS Graduation — Gov. Ralph Northam served as the commencement speaker at George Mason High School’s Class of 2021 graduation ceremony on Wednesday (June 2). It was the first ceremony at the City of Falls Church’s newly built school and the last one before it transitions to the new moniker of Meridian High School. [Falls Church News-Press]

Grant Approved to Replace McLean Field — “The Fairfax County Park Authority Board has approved a $20,000 Mastenbrook Volunteer Matching Fund Grant request from the McLean Youth Soccer (MYS) Association for improvements to Holladay Field in the Dranesville District. Board members voted in favor of the request at their meeting on May 26, 2021.” [Fairfax County Park Authority]

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The Falls Church City School Board voted Tuesday night (April 27) to rename two of its schools, effective July.

Thomas Jefferson Elementary School will now be called Oak Street Elementary School — a name it bore before it took the third U.S. president’s — and George Mason High School will be Meridian High School.

The vote concluded a lengthy process that involved public comments, surveys, and work by two renaming committees to generate new monikers for the schools in place of the names of white Founding Fathers who enslaved Africans. The approval came despite recent opposition from a group of high-profile citizens, including a former mayor and two former vice mayors.

“This has been a long and, at times challenging, process, but I do think we’re moving onto a newer and brighter time in Falls Church,” Board Chair Shannon Litton said.

Choosing the elementary school’s new name came easily. Each board member had the same top two picks — Oak Street and Tripps Run, in reference to a nearby creek.

Those who favored Oak Street argued, among other points, that naming the school after the creek is only one step removed naming it after a person, specifically the creek’s historical namesake, Silas Tripp, and that the name’s grammar and spelling could confuse students.

“If the run was not named after a person, I’d be in support of Tripps Run,” Vice Chair Laura Downs said. “I do have some concerns that, in the end, the body of water was named after a person, and we don’t want to find ourselves here years from now because of something someone found.”

For the high school, however, the board was split between Meridian and West Falls Church or West End before ultimately voting 5-2 for Meridian after many awkward pauses. A few members lamented the board-imposed rule of disqualifying the names of people dead fewer than 10 years, saying Ruth Bader Ginsburg would make a fine name.

Meridian’s proponents highlighted the fact that it had been proposed by a teacher, Meridian Street‘s history as a boundary for the original District of Columbia, and its global connotation, which they argued would be fitting for a school that offers the International Baccalaureate curriculum.

As a bonus, they added, “M” paraphernalia from the former Mason name will not be obsolete.

Opponents dismissed the bonus, criticized the name as generic, and worried that it would be unfamiliar to graduates, requiring frequent explanations of its ties to local history.

Elisabeth Snyder, the student representative to the board, said she could not find a clear frontrunner based on conversations with students and teachers. She shared that many had expressed support for Meridian because of “how it connects to IB and inclusiveness,” while acknowledging that the Falls Church association isn’t instantly apparent. Read More

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The Falls Church City School Board will hear suggested new monikers for two schools during its meeting tonight (Tuesday).

Two committees tasked with renaming George Mason High School and Thomas Jefferson Elementary School have narrowed down hundreds of names to their top five, which were submitted to the school board on Friday (April 9).

The school board voted last December to move forward with a renaming process after hearing from members of the public on both sides of the issue.

“I’m in support of changing the names of our elementary and high schools, because if one student feels uncomfortable walking into a building named for a person who did not respect the dignity of another human being, that’s one too many,” School Board Member Lawrence Webb said in December.

According to the committee’s final report, the top five contenders for the high school are:

  • Meridian High School
  • Metropolitan High School
  • Metro View High School
  • Tinner Hill High School
  • West End High School

Committee members said they considered names that reference places, ideas, or values, as well as “M” names and those with local connections or historical significance. It started with nearly 280 suggested names.

One name with some support that did not make the cut was Falls Church City High School. Falls Church High School already exists in the Fairfax County Public Schools system, though some recent letters to Falls Church News-Press indicate people hold a variety of opinions on which jurisdiction has a real claim to the name.

Meanwhile, Thomas Jefferson Elementary School could be renamed:

  • Mattie Gundry Elementary School
  • Oak Street Elementary Schoo
  • The Little City Elementary School
  • Tripps Run Elementary School
  • Truth and Justice Elementary School

The elementary school was originally a Fairfax County school named Oak Street School. When FCCPS became an independent school division, the name stayed, but when the city’s Jefferson Institute was demolished, the school board voted to adopt Thomas Jefferson’s name.

Tinner Hill and Mattie Gundry are the only suggestions with ties to people, which the committees flagged. FCCPS policy allows facilities to bear the names of people who have been dead at least 10 years, but some committee members say that they — or the people they represent — want to avoid possibly opening the school community up to controversy in the future.

Tinner Hill refers to Charles and Mary Tinner, who established a quarry in the area, and their descendent Joseph, who fought for civil rights and helped found the first rural branch of the NAACP.

“The committee raised concerns that selecting this name may be performative if not coupled with earnest work towards building equity in our schools and our community,” the report said. “Given the historical mistreatment of the Tinner Hill community, it is imperative that this name be considered as one part of a plan that will emphasize the value and respect due to the city’s African-American residents.”

The committee said it has spoken with members of the Tinner family who support the name for consideration.

“The Tinner Family expressed their gratitude and said that it is an honor that the Falls Church City community suggested the name of their family and their historic community represent the FCCPS high school,” the report said.

Gundry, meanwhile, was an educator who opened The Virginia Training School in 1899, making it the only school that served students with disabilities in the South. Some committee members expressed concern that future generations could determine that her school’s treatment of people with disabilities may not rise to modern standards.

Input on the monicker was also mixed because of a general disinterest in renaming the school after a different person.

“Feedback on this name was that we should avoid naming the school after a person,” the report said. “This name did not rank highly when students from three classrooms were polled.”

Full justifications and concerns for each name can be found in the reports.

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Today is the first day of hybrid learning in the City of Falls Church, and for some, it’s an introduction to the recently unveiled new George Mason High School.

Falls Church City Public Schools streamed a virtual ribbon cutting on Sunday (Feb. 21) to open the school and thank everyone involved in the process of completing this project.

“This has been a long time in the making,” FCCPS Superintendent Dr. Peter Noonan said. “I just want to thank everybody for your continued support for the last decade or more, making sure we were on track.”

The $108 million project to construct a new high school began in earnest with a bond referendum passed in 2017 to finance the construction. Workers broke ground on the endeavor in June 2019.

Among the features of the new five-story school are a black box theatre, a green roof, fabrication and robotics labs, a gym with an elevated running track, a main gym, and an auditorium. It also includes counseling offices, a café, library and media services, and maker space.

“My friends and I have been watching the schools go through this process of building a new high school since we were in elementary school, and it’s really wonderful seeing the final product,” said Elisabeth Snyder, a senior and the Falls Church City School Board’s student representative. “I can’t wait to learn in this building, and I know students are going to have a wonderful time learning in this building for generations to come.”

The new building is designed for a student capacity of 1,200 to 1,500.

The new high school was built next to the existing one. The school now connects to the adjacent Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School.

“Education has always been the crown jewel of our community and always will be,” City of Falls Church Mayor David Tartar said. “And this school will ensure for years and generations to come, students will be coming and learning the most important lessons in life here in this building.”

The old high school is set for conversion into a mixed-use development known as Little City Commons.

The names of the high school and Thomas Jefferson Elementary School are still subject to change after the city school board voted on Dec. 8 to rename both. The decision came after some community members advocated for the changes following protests against racial injustice and police brutality last year.

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Monday Morning Notes

Second Dead Capitol Police Officer Was Madison Alumnus — The Capitol Police announced on Saturday (Jan. 9) that officer Howard Liebengood had died — reportedly by suicide — after being on the scene when a mob breached the U.S. Capitol last week. Liebengood attended Vienna’s James Madison High School in the 1980s and participated in the school’s wrestling team. [The Washington Post]

Fairfax County Libraries Return to Curbside Service Only — “Effective Monday, Jan. 11, all Fairfax County Public Library branches will provide curbside and virtual services only. Please stay home if you’re sick, if you’ve been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19 or if you’re awaiting your own COVID-19 test results.” [Fairfax County Public Library]

Bowlero to Move into Former Macy’s at Tysons Galleria — “Bowling alley operator Bowlero plans to open its fifth location in Greater Washington this November at Tysons Galleria…The new location will house 36 bowling lanes, more than 70 arcade games, a full-service kitchen, sports bar and audio-visual capabilities including hi-definition video screens above the bowling lanes.” [Washington Business Journal]

Construction on New George Mason High School Nearly Complete — “The new school set to replace the old George Mason High School in the City of Falls Church will be opened in the coming weeks, but in-person learning may not be allowed despite a recently announced reopening plan.” [Falls Church News-Press]

Fairfax County Requests Flexibility and Funding from State — During a public hearing on Jan. 9, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay told the county’s General Assembly delegation that localities need the flexibility to determine their own priorities as they try to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. [WTOP]

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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The Weekly Planner is a roundup of interesting events coming up over the next week in the Tysons area.

We’ve searched the web for events of note in Tysons, Vienna, Merrifield, McLean, and Falls Church. Know of any we’ve missed? Tell us!

Monday (Dec. 21)

  • The Longest Night (Online) — 5 p.m. — The Lewinsville Presbyterian Church (1724 Chain Bridge Rd.) in McLean is offering a virtual service for the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. The church says the event is a “more quiet and reflective” alternative to Christmas services that is “particularly meaningful people who, for a variety of reasons, find no joy in the Christmas season.” The service will stream on the church’s website and YouTube channel.
  • Holiday Happy Hour (Online) — 7:30 p.m. — The Providence District Council will send out 2020 with a “networking happy hour” for its December meeting, according to a Dec. 11 notice from the civic organization. Residents can access the gathering through this Zoom link.
  • GMHS Auction (Online) — From Dec. 21-28, Falls Church City Public Schools is hosting an online auction of classroom supplies, theater seats, and other memorabilia from George Mason High School, which is in the process of being replaced by a new campus. A link to the auction will be on the FCCPS website.

Wednesday (Dec. 23)

  • Polar Express Pajama Party (Online) — 3-3:30 p.m. — The Mary Riley Styles Public Library invites families to join a reading of the book “Polar Express” over Zoom. Interested participants can register by emailing [email protected] through Dec. 22 to receive a Zoom link for the event and a goody bag.

Thursday (Dec. 24)

  • Holiday Sing-A-Long — Earlier this month, Wolf Trap hosted two virtual concerts by the United States Marine Band, which performed festive music with a choir of 500 local singers. While the live performances took place on Dec. 5 and 19, video of the concerts is still available online to watch for free.
  • Nochebuena Christmas Eve Dinner — 4 p.m. at Blend 111 (111 Church St.) — Vienna-based Latin American restaurant Blend 111 is celebrating Christmas Eve by offering a five-course tasting menu with optional beverage pairings. Diners can eat at the restaurant or customize the meal for carryout.
  • Christmas Eve Illuminated — 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Immanuel Presbyterian Church (1125 Savile Lane) — The Immanuel Presbyterian Church’s Christmas Eve service will take the form of a drive-thru campus tour, featuring an illuminated nativity scene, live musical performances, and a “yummy treat” for visitors. Time slots are divided based on last name to avoid traffic back-ups in the parking lot, with 5:30-6 p.m. reserved for families with children under 12.

Friday (Dec. 25)

  • Christmas Brunch — 10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. at The Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner (1700 Tysons Blvd.) — Entyse Bistro at the Ritz-Carlton will serve traditional holiday dishes and seafood in a four-course meal on Christmas Day. The menu costs $95 for adults and $45 for children aged 4 to 12. Reservations can be made by calling 703-744-3999.
  • “Love for the Holidays” (Online) — Wolf Trap is streaming singer Darlene Love’s annual holiday show through the end of Christmas Day. Tickets to the on-demand show start at $35, and a portion of the proceeds go to support the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts.

Photo by Arisa Chattasa on Unsplash

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The Falls Church City School Board unanimously voted on Tuesday (Dec. 8) to rename both George Mason High School and Thomas Jefferson Elementary School.

The decision came after months of debate that involved two separate public hearings and an independently conducted survey that garnered more than 3,000 responses.

Emphasizing the care they took to consider different perspectives, the seven school board members ultimately agreed that Falls Church City Public Schools should adopt new monikers for its elementary and high schools in recognition of its goal to create a welcoming, inclusive environment for all.

“I’m in support of changing the names of our elementary and high schools, because if one student feels uncomfortable walking into a building named for a person who did not respect the dignity of another human being, that’s one too many,” School Board Member Lawrence Webb said.

The school board launched an effort to consider whether to rename Mason and Jefferson on June 30 after some community members started advocating for the changes in response to the protests against racial injustice and police brutality sparked by George Floyd’s murder in May.

During two hour-long public hearings in October, community members weighed Mason and Jefferson’s legacies as key figures in the formation of the U.S. against the pain they inflicted as slaveholders. Falls Church’s history of excluding Black people, the impending completion of a new George Mason High School campus, and the cost of renaming the schools also came up.

FCCPS estimates that renaming Mason would cost $96,760 and renaming Jefferson would cost $13,500. The school system also spent $8,500 to hire the consultant K-12 Insight to administer a public survey on the topic.

Presented to the school board on Nov. 17, the survey of students, staff, parents, and the general community found that 56% of respondents preferred to maintain the status quo, while 26% supported a name change for Mason and 23% supported one for Jefferson.

School Board Chair Greg Anderson noted that the survey was just one avenue used to solicit public feedback.

“The survey wasn’t a referendum or a generalizable, statistical, random sample of public opinion,” Anderson said. “…The survey was informative, but not decisive on its own and should be viewed as information.”

Now that the name changes have been approved, FCCPS Superintendent Peter Noonan will be accepting nominations for advisory study committees that will recommend new names to the school board. The board will announce the timeline for that process at an upcoming meeting, FCCPS says.

Anderson said the school board should continue to address inequity in education by reviewing FCCPS’s curriculum, hiring practices, and policies around diversity and discrimination. He also suggested developing a public space to educate people about Mason and Jefferson as well as the City of Falls Church’s history.

“Honestly, I’m not sure I know what this all looks like, but I think it’s an idea worth considering,” Anderson said.

Photo courtesy FCCPS

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(Updated 10/25/19) The City of Falls Church is a 10-minute drive from rapidly expanding Tysons, but members of the Falls Church City Council want to maintain the feeling of a small community while still capitalizing on innovation and growth.

The City of Falls Church operates as an independent entity under the Falls Church City Council while Tysons still has no official governing body of its own, outside that of Fairfax County.

Councilmember Ross Litkenhous said that Falls Church wants to stay unique and its small population and efficient city council allows the city to stay “agile.”

“We are by no means trying to keep up with anybody,” he said.

Tysons Reporter talked to the councilmembers, seeking their input about the future of Falls Church.

“Always Been a Cut-Through”

Several councilmembers said the city is already seeing increased traffic thanks to Tysons’ urban sprawl.

The increase in traffic was brought on by the tolls on I-66 and the increasing popularity of apps like Google Maps, Litkenhous said.

Litkenhous worked in commercial development for 10 years before becoming a councilmember.

Councilmembers were originally told by the Virginia Department of Transportation that the addition of freeways tolls around the area would not impact traffic flow, he said, but people started driving through the city to avoid the tolls.

Now, the city is faced with concerns about pedestrian and bicycle safety that come with more traffic. Litkenhous cited several incidences concerning the safety of residents, especially kids.

There have been a few pedestrian deaths in the last few months in the Falls Church area, which are spurring discussions with officials.

But, Vice Mayor Marybeth Connelly noted that it is important to remember that “Falls Church has always been a cut-through” and a “crossroad” in the Northern Virginia area.

“Mini Tysons”

In August, the city broke ground on a new project that focuses on improving pedestrian access and traffic flow near the upcoming George Mason High School.

The $15 million infrastructure investment will make the area safer and open up accessibility to the future mixed-use retail space, Cindy Mester, the Falls Church Assistant City Manager, said.

The mixed-use retail space is being developed by the same people who built the Wharf in D.C., Mester said, adding there will be a grocery store, a senior living facility, an arts center, restaurants and retail shops in the development.

Mester referred to the upcoming space as Falls Church’s own “Mini Tysons.”

Enticing Techies

When it comes to the evolution within the city’s limits, Litkenhous supports the idea of Falls Church evolving as a tech hub.

“Here in Falls Church, we’ve had a chance to capitalize on the indirect spinoff [of Tysons],” Litkenhous said.

With the new startups and tech companies in Tysons, it allows local high school students to take on fellowships or internships with innovative and entrepreneurial companies, according to Litkenhous, further encouraging students to pursue STEM-related fields.

With the new startups and tech companies in Tysons, it allows local high school students to take on fellowships or internships with innovative and entrepreneurial companies, according to Litkenhous.

Though Litkenhous said he would love to have some of these companies move into Falls Church, he realizes offices are limited and added that a co-working space within city limits would be a solution. “We can’t work in a vacuum here and we recognize that,” he said. 

A Stroll in a New Direction 

Unlike Tysons through, Litkenhous said Falls Church focuses on small businesses and walkability within city limits. “We’ve got Tysons beat on walkability by a mile.” 

Last year, the City Council started the “Live Local Campaign,” sparked by Litkenhous, which encourages people to eat, play and spend money within the city’s limits.

Councilmember Phil Duncan said he keeps tabs on local businesses moving into the city and tries to support them by attending grand openings.

“I think there’s a good mix of big names and more local, family-run businesses,” he said, adding that some businesses that would have previously passed up Falls Church might realize that it is a new market.

“This whole area will become a great American city,” Duncan said.

Coming up in November, the city will host its second “Live Local Campaign” to encourage people to spend money within the community by eating at local restaurants and shopping for holiday gifts from small companies.

Both Litkenhous and Connelly said they want people to follow in their example and take advantage of all the dining and shopping options within the area.

Ultimately, Mester said she thinks the people in Falls Church help to make it special and unique.

“We have a caring and wonderful workforce,” she said. 

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Community leaders and city officials celebrated the start of an infrastructure project located in the heart of an upcoming mixed-use development in the City of Falls Church.

During a keynote address for the groundbreaking today (Monday) ceremony at George Mason High School, Councilmember David Snyder said that this $15.7 million dollar project will create a safer and more economically successful community around the West Falls Church Metro.

The new improvements, according to the City of Falls Church, include:

  • synchronization of four new traffic signals
  • a high-intensity, pedestrian-activated crosswalk on Haycock Road
  • pedestrian access improvements, such as widening sidewalks
  • bus stop enhancements
  • bicycle access improvements, including near the newly installed Capital Bikeshare stations near the high school campus
  • utility undergrounding and relocation

The money for the project was acquired through the Northern Virginia Department of Transporation.

Infrastructure issues that have been building up over many decades will finally be addressed with this project, Snyder said.

“Twenty years ago this project would not have occurred,” Snyder said. “This is a classic example of the system working.”

The project is still in the “beginning stages,” according to the City of Falls Church website, adding:

The timing of project design and construction will be coordinated with the new High School construction and future Little City Commons development. City staff expects that design, engineering, and environmental work would begin in Fiscal Year 2021, with construction beginning in Fiscal Year 2022.

Lindy Hockenberry, who taught at George Mason High School for 30 years, served for eight years on the Falls Church City Council and spent another 11 years on the city’s Planning Commission before retiring, attended the groundbreaking to show support for the project.

“Its been my life dream to replace George Mason,” she said adding that the school has serious infrastructure problems, like leaky ceilings.

The new high school campus is already under construction and is slated to be completed by early 2021.

Until then, the students will remain in the same building, which will eventually be demolished for a new commercial center, similar to the Mosaic District, Hockenberry said.

“This will be truly multi-modal,” Snyder said, adding that this these updates will allow people easier access to the Metro.

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