Newsletter

Morning Notes

Metro Starts Testing New Faregates — As of Friday (June 25), Metro has installed new faregates at six rail stations, including the ones at Dunn Loring and West Falls Church, as part of a one-month pilot that will eventually see more than 1,200 gates replaced systemwide. The new faregates have “enhanced safety features, larger displays, and faster processing that will make passing through the gates quicker and easier.” [WMATA]

Telecom Company Settles Kickback Lawsuit — Level 3 Communications, a telecommunications and Internet service provider company with offices worldwide, including one in McLean, will pay a $12.7 million settlement in a civil lawsuit alleging that its managers accepted kickbacks to direct government contracts to specific contractors. [Patch]

Madison Wins Baseball State Championship — James Madison High School’s baseball team won the fifth state title in school history, the most for any Northern Virginia school, on Saturday (June 26) behind a dominant performance by senior James Triantos, who pitched a complete game with 12 strikeouts and gave up just one hit and one earned run to the Colgan Sharks. [WDVM]

Vienna Seeks Playwrights for Festival — “The Town of Vienna is calling all Actors and Playwrights ages 16+ in the DMV! The Vienna Playwriting Festival is looking for 6 actors and 6 short plays. Please email [email protected] for details. Submission deadline is June 30.” [Town of Vienna/Twitter]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday Morning Notes

Federal American Recovery Plan Will Prevent Metro Budget Cuts — Metro will not need to make the drastic service and personnel cuts proposed in its fiscal year 2022 budget, thanks to Congress’ approval of a new COVID-19 relief package that includes $1.4 billion for D.C. region transit agencies. The potential changes, which included closures of the McLean and Greensboro stations, would have taken effect in January 2022 if the advertised budget got approved. [WMATA]

Thomas Jefferson Admissions Changes Spur New Federal Lawsuit — “Fairfax County Public Schools is facing a second lawsuit over changes officials made last year to the admissions process at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, its flagship STEM magnet school. The suit, filed in federal court Wednesday, alleges the changes are discriminatory against Asian Americans and therefore violate the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.” [The Washington Post]

Ramp Closure Planned for I-495/I-66 at Fairview Park — The ramp from southbound Interstate 495 to westbound Interstate 66 will be closed from 11 p.m. Saturday (March 13) to 7 a.m. Sunday, and again on 10 p.m. Sunday to 4 a.m. Monday. The ramp will have two exit lanes when it reopens, one of which has been closed since late January for the construction of a new ramp as part of the Transform 66 Outside the Beltway project. [Patch]

Vienna Town Council Debates Undergrounding Utilities — “Placing utility lines underground in Vienna’s Maple Avenue corridor would beautify the streetscape and improve service reliability, but at a steep cost. According to a feasibility study…presented at the Vienna Town Council’s March 8 work session, utility undergrounding in 10 locations would cost an estimated $22 million – the equivalent of about half of the town’s general-fund budget for one year.” [Sun Gazette]

Capital One Appoints New Board Members — “McLean banking giant Capital One Financial Corp. (NYSE: COF) has appointed executives from Facebook Inc. and Nike Inc. to its board of directors, the company said Tuesday. In May, shareholders will vote on the election of Ime Archibong, head of new product experimentation at Facebook, and Craig Williams, president of Jordan Brand at Nike.” [Washington Business Journal]

Vienna Fire Department to Host Two Inova Blood Drives — The Vienna Volunteer Fire Department (400 Center St. S) will hold two blood drives this spring for Inova, one from 1-7 p.m. on March 25 and the second from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on April 2. Face coverings are required at both events. [@ViennaVFD/Twitter]

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Tuesday Morning Notes

Route 7 Construction Leads to Gas Leak — Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department units were dispatched to the 9100 block of Leesburg Pike yesterday afternoon (Monday) when workers “struck a large gas line,” resulting in an outside gas leak. A building at that address was vacant, and the incident did not affect traffic. [FCFRD/Twitter]

McLean Resident Helps Neighbors Get COVID-19 Vaccine — “Over the past week and a half, [Katja] Hom has helped more than 30 people get vaccination appointments at Safeways in McLean, Arlington, Vienna and other parts of Northern Virginia.” [Patch]

Virginia Tech to End Therapy Program at Falls Church Campus — “The master’s program in marriage and family therapy (MFT) will end in August 2023, the university told the Washington Business Journal. The program’s clinic, at 7054 Haycock Road, which provides low-cost mental health services to low-income residents and training opportunities for students, will also shut down.” [Washington Business Journal]

Fairfax County Police Hit With Civil Rights Violation Lawsuit — “A Black man who was Tasered and punched by a White Fairfax County police officer without apparent provocation in 2020 filed a federal lawsuit Monday claiming his civil rights were violated, he was subject to excessive force, and he was falsely arrested.” [The Washington Post]

ViVa Vienna Organizers Hopeful for Memorial Day Weekend Event — Organizers of the Town of Vienna’s annual ViVa Vienna festival hope to hold the event on Memorial Day weekend as usual, after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam raised the attendance limit on outdoor amusements from 250 to 1,000 people. The festival will likely still operate a little differently to accommodate social distancing protocols. The town will determine a date on Apr. 5. [Sun Gazette]

Fairfax County Board Chair Praises New Federal COVID-19 Relief Package — “Glad to see that the Senate support Americans through @POTUS’s American Rescue Plan. With the $350B to state/local govs, we can continue to provide the assistance our residents need.” [@JeffreyCMcKay/Twitter]

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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A former Oakton High School student is seeking a new trial in her lawsuit against the Fairfax County School Board involving a sexual assault that occurred on a school band trip in 2017.

Attorneys representing the plaintiff, known as Jane Doe, and the school board delivered oral arguments to the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit remotely on Monday (Jan. 25).

According to Public Justice, the nonprofit representing the plaintiff and her family, Jane Doe — then a junior — and another bandmate — then a senior — were sitting next to each other on a bus when he touched her without her consent.

Filed in 2018, the nonprofit’s original complaint alleged that administrators and employees failed to take meaningful and appropriate action. According to the complaint, administrators threatened to discipline her and discouraged her from reporting the assault to police or taking legal action.

In August 2019, a jury with the U.S. District Court in Alexandria found that Jane Doe was sexually harassed and that the experience negatively impacted her education. But the jury did not find the Fairfax County School Board could be held liable for the deprivation of her education as a result of her assault.

The jury determined that the school board did not have “actual knowledge” about the assault, though one juror later said there was confusion over the term’s definition. As a result, the jury did not discuss the final question in the case, which asked whether the school board acted with deliberate indifference toward Doe’s complaint.

FCPS’s liability, which appears to hinge on the extent to which school officials knew an assault had taken place and whether they took sufficient action to address the plaintiff’s concerns, is now being relitigated.

“There may be hard actual knowledge cases, but this isn’t one of them. This family did all they could to put the school on notice,” Public Justice attorney Alexandra Brodsky said in her argument on Monday. “This court should remand a new trial so a jury can reach, for the first time, the question of whether the school did enough.”

Stuart Raphael, the attorney for the school board, argued that the board did not have “actual knowledge” because Doe — in a conversation with Fairfax County Public Schools Director of Student Services Jennifer Hogan — did not describe her experience as sexual assault or nonconsensual. He added that Doe was “incredulous” when another administrator asked if she would press charges.

He argued that these facts, as well as inconsistencies between the stories that reached administrators, support the jury’s initial finding that the school board had no “actual knowledge” of the sexual assault.

“It cannot be that a school administrator’s failure to understand what constitutes sexual harassment is an absolute bar to liability,” Brodsky said.  “That’s why this court and others have treated a failure to categorize reports of sexual harassment as evidence of a deficient response.”

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Hot N Juicy Crawfish can stay in the Falls Church spot it’s called home for the last five years.

The dispute erupted when the landlord, FMR Development LLC, claimed that the restaurant (116 W. Broad Street) did not pay its rent for April within a required timeframe.

The landlord returned the restaurant’s checks in April and May, claiming that the restaurant was in violation of its lease, according to correspondence between the attorneys for the landlord and restaurant. In June, the landlord filed an eviction lawsuit, claiming the restaurant owed roughly $24,000 in rent and late fees for April and May.

Hot N Juicy’s attorneys told Washington City Paper, which first reported the eviction threat, that earlier in the pandemic, the landlord tried to force the restaurant to sign a lease amendment that would make it easier to remove the restaurant out. The newspaper also reported that the co-owner said he asked his landlord for a rent abatement or deferment in March.

Jeffrey Romanick, the landlord’s attorney, and Scott Rome, one of the restaurant’s attorneys, told Tysons Reporter this week that they reached an agreement out of court that allows the restaurant to stay in the space.

Photo via Hot and Juicy Crawfish Falls Church/Facebook 

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Two lawsuits against the Town of Vienna have been resolved now that Sunrise Senior Living’s plans are moving forward to occupy a different Maple Avenue location.

Steven Briglia, the town’s attorney, told the Town Council on Monday (March 9) that “soon the ink will be dry on both.”

The first lawsuit involved a Vienna couple suing town officials for approving the rezoning for a mixed-use development at 380 Maple Avenue.

“The parties have agreed it can be dismissed with prejudice,” he said. “It has been removed from the court docket.”

The mixed-use development site is now being considered for a Sunrise Senior Living Facility.

After the Town Council killed Sunrise’s original plans to bring a facility at the corner of Maple Avenue and Center Street, Sunrise sued Vienna officials for $30 million.

Sunrise then proposed to take over the 380 Maple Avenue spot and its plans have been moving forward with the town.

Briglia said that on Friday (March 6) that the Sunrise has agreed to drop the case.

“They are very happy with locating to 380 [Maple Avenue] and to move forward on that,” he said, adding that the non-suit “will remove the cloud on that property.”

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A McLean man linked to a neo-Nazi group pleaded guilty today (Tuesday) to possessing firearms as a drug user and lying to buy a semiautomatic rifle

Andrew Thomasberg, a 21-year-old who is a member of the Atomwaffen Division, is accused of purchasing a semiautomatic rifle for a third party, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

“He transferred that firearm to that third party after purchasing it,” the press release said. “Thomasberg also possessed at least four firearms while unlawfully using controlled substances, including marijuana, psilocybin mushrooms and opium.”

“In federal court in Alexandria on Friday, FBI Special Agent Shawn Matthews, who testified that his focus is domestic terrorism, said Thomasberg took part in the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017 with a neo-Nazi group called Vanguard America,” The Washington Post reported.

Thomasberg was arrested in September, according to The Washington Post story.

More from the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia:

“Lying to the FBI is a federal crime, and Thomasburg lied to hide an additional crime,” said Timothy R. Slater, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office. “The FBI works with our partners to take criminals possessing illegal firearms off the streets.”

According to court documents and testimony, Thomasberg has association with white supremacist organizations, such as Vanguard America and Atomwaffen Division.

Thomasberg pleaded guilty to making a material false statement in relation to the purchase of a firearm and to possessing firearms while being an unlawful user of or addicted to controlled substances…

Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Timothy R. Slater, Assistant Director of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, made the announcement after U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady accepted the plea. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony W. Mariano and Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald L. Walutes, Jr. are prosecuting the case.

Thomasberg will be sentenced on Feb. 28, 2020 and faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, according to the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Photo via Joe Gratz/Flickr

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Parents and disability rights groups are suing Fairfax County Public Schools for allegedly using seclusion and restraint improperly for students with disabilities, the Washington Post reported last night (Tuesday).

One of the parents suing, Jennifer Tidd, reportedly lives in Reston and her 12-year-old son attended Kilmer Center, a public special education school in the Vienna area that is run by Fairfax County.

“Tidd’s son was secluded on at least 745 occasions and excluded from class several hundred more times over seven years, according to court papers,” the Washington Post reported.

An investigation by WAMU earlier this year discovered hundreds of cases where FCPS students were restrained or put in seclusion multiple times — despite FCPS repeatedly telling the federal government otherwise.

The WAMU investigation highlighted stories from parents who alleged that improper seclusion and restraint happened at Armstrong Elementary in Reston and Eagle View Elementary in Fairfax.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, according to the Washington Post.

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Monday Morning Notes

Whole Foods Is Hiring — The new store in Tysons is holding hiring events on Friday and Saturday. [Patch]

Tysons Development Moves Forward — “The 3 million-square-foot View at Tysons, featuring what would be Greater Washington’s tallest office building… just emerged from a long staff review with a recommendation for approval.” [Washington Business Journal]

Chefs Compete In Tysons Challenge — “An epic battle of chefs from six local restaurants competed in ‘Tysons Challenge,’ a Charity Classic event sponsored by The St. James at The Tower Club in Tysons Corner, Va. on Friday, Sept. 20.” [Inside NoVa]

Trail Links Up Tysons to Vienna — “A web of trails snake through the Vienna and Tysons area in northern Virginia, but for decades, they didn’t connect to each other… Now, after 20 years of work, residents are celebrating the final link in that network.” [Greater Greater Washington]

Lawsuit Continues Over Tyson Man’s Death —  “The family of Bijan Ghaisar, who was fatally shot by two U.S. Park Police officers in November 2017, has refiled its lawsuit against the federal government after it was dismissed from the case on technical grounds earlier this year.” [Washington Post]

Debates Begin For County Chair Contenders — “Candidates for Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chairman on Sept. 23 offered starkly different visions of the county and its prospects during a forum at the Fairfax County Government Center.” [Inside NoVa]

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