Tysons, VA

The Fairfax County School Board unanimously adopted an advertised Fiscal Year 2022 budget for the county public school system when it met last Thursday (Feb. 18).

The $3.2 billion budget includes a $60.3 million increase in Fairfax County Public Schools’ request for funding from the county board of supervisors to increase employee compensation rates by 3%, a significant change from what FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand proposed in January.

Anticipating a tough financial year due to the continued impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brabrand had originally proposed freezing staff salaries aside from $3 million to complete a three-year push to bring the salaries of instructional assistants and public health training assistants up to 50% of the salary scale for teachers who have bachelor’s degrees.

Improving employee compensation has been a priority of the school board in recent years, as the board seeks to restore over $70 million and nearly 2,700 positions that have been cut since 2008, according to Lee District Representative Tamara Derenak-Kaufax.

“As a board, we must be committed to making certain we are hiring and retaining the best and brightest employees to teach our children, to counsel our children, to transport our children, to feed our children, and to ensure that their social and emotional needs are being met,” Derenak-Kaufax said. “In order to do so, we must be competitive with our surrounding jurisdictions.”

On top of the requested county transfer funds, FCPS projects that it could receive an additional $13.4 million in state revenue to cover the compensation increases based on a proposed budget from the Virginia State Senate that would provide a 3% salary bump for public school educators.

When approving the advertised budget, the school board also amended Brabrand’s proposed budget to include an additional $1.4 million to hire instructional coaches at six Title I elementary schools and create pay parity for elementary school principals and assistant principals.

Overall, the FY 2022 advertised budget seeks to increase FCPS funding by 2.4%, or $75.5 million, compared to the school system’s approved FY 2021 budget.

In addition to employee compensation, the increase provides for expanded preschool special education classes, retirement rate increases and rising health care costs, and support for student needs related to the pandemic, according to FCPS.

The budget also includes $4.9 million and 50 staff positions for English as a Second Language programs at the elementary school level, along with $500,000 and three positions for a collective bargaining team after the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation in 2020 allowing localities to recognize collective bargaining rights for public employees starting on May 1.

Karen Corbett-Sanders, who represents Mount Vernon District on the Fairfax County School Board, noted that the advertised FY 2022 budget does not include money for possible summer school programming, which will instead come from federal COVID-19 relief funds that Congress approved in December.

“We recognize that the past year has been incredibly difficult for our community,” Brabrand said. “This budget is designed to bring hope to students, their families and our staff by providing the resources each of them needs to help recognize and support all their extraordinary contributions during this pandemic.”

While not included in the advertised budget, the school board also directed Brabrand to identify funds to create positions for a neuro-diversity specialist and a trauma-informed social emotional learning specialist, roles that are, respectively, intended to provide support for students with disabilities and address students’ mental health needs.

At-large member Rachna Sizemore Heizer, who was a disability rights advocate before being elected to the school board in 2019, says having a neuro-diversity specialist could be “transformative” in helping eliminate disparities in academic achievement and discipline for students with disabilities.

“A neurodiversity-oriented approach, with its focus on student strengths, positive teacher expectations, and inclusion of the lived norms of students with disabilities within the norms of classrooms, can improve outcomes for students with disabilities and set them up for success after they leave FCPS,” Sizemore Heizer said.

County Executive Bryan Hill is scheduled to present his proposed FY 2022 budget to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors tomorrow (Tuesday). The school board will present its advertised budget to the Board of Supervisors on Apr. 13 and adopt an approved FY 2022 budget on May 20.

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After a lengthy process, the Fairfax County School Board has approved a new moniker for the Fairfax school formerly known as Mosby Woods Elementary School.

The board voted 10-2 in favor of renaming the building Mosaic Elementary School during a meeting yesterday (Thursday).

The new name was adopted more than half a year after Providence District School Board Representative Karl Frisch and at-large member Karen Keys-Gamarra made an initial appeal to rename the school on June 18.

“Mosaic is not perfect. Mosaics are not perfect,” Frisch said on Thursday. “But the irregular pieces of stone, glass and ceramic that make mosaics result in something special. That is my hope for Mosby Woods community.”

The decision to change the school’s name came with support from descendants of the school’s namesake, Colonel John S. Mosby. The descendants sent a letter to the school board to request Fairfax County rename the school in the interest of “maintaining an inclusive environment for all students.”

Mosby was a Confederate commander who led a guerrilla campaign against Union supply and communications lines throughout northern Virginia during the Civil War.

“Today was an opportunity to say we live in a community, we live in a county that speaks over 200 languages and has people from all walks of life,” member-at-large Abrar Omeish said. “Mosaic is a way to bring everyone together under that name.”

Inspired by the school’s relative proximity to the Mosaic District in Merrifield, the name “Mosaic” was one of five options that Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand recommended on Oct. 22 to replace Mosby Woods.

The two votes against renaming the school to Mosaic came from Keys-Gamarra and Mount Vernon District Representative Karen Corbett-Sanders. Corbett-Sanders did not give her support to the new name out of concern that it “is associated with a different geographic region than that where the current school is located.”

Keys-Gamarra expressed disappointment about comments from some community and staff members who she said dismissed the idea of renaming the school after notable women of color, such as Mae Jemison, Sylvia Mendez, Patsy Mink, and Rebecca Lee Crumpler.

“I heard it more than once: ‘These people don’t represent us.’ And I heard it from staff. That was hurtful to me because there is no denial that these are great Americans,” Keys-Gamarra said. “I’ve spoken to community members — at least one — that had that view until our conversation. They said, ‘We have Asians and Hispanics, and we have so many people. That’s why these people don’t represent us and Mosaic is so much better.'”

The school board voted on Oct. 8 to change the school’s name. The board had originally been scheduled to select a new name in December but postponed its decision to solicit more community engagement.

Image via FCPS

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Thursday Morning Notes

Ribbon Cutting Held for New Scotts Run Trail — “Fairfax County leaders on Feb. 4 cut the ribbon for the new Scotts Run Trail, which with serpentine curves connects the Pimmit Hills neighborhood with the McLean Metro station on the eastern edge of Tysons.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]

Sunrise of McLean Residents Get COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic — Residents and employees of the assisted living community Sunrise of McLean “received their first doses at a clinic hosted by CVS on Jan. 28. Sunrise Senior Living is working to schedule a clinic for second doses within the next few weeks in coordination with CVS Health.” [Patch]

Vienna Inn Prepares 61st Anniversary Celebrations — “To mark the 61st anniversary, Vienna Inn is hoping to achieve a new goal with a 1960 meal challenge. The restaurant hopes to provide 1960 meals for front-line workers and first responders by the end of February.” [Patch]

School Board Criticized for Delaying Decision on New School Holidays — “Religious leaders in Northern Virginia are criticizing the Fairfax County Public School board after some members signaled they won’t back a task force’s recommendation to add…four additional days off to observe Jewish holidays Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Hindu festival Diwali and the Muslim celebration Eid al-Fitr.” [The Washington Post]

Fairfax County Seeks Community Input on Affordable Housing — A public comment period has opened on the one-year and five-year plans that guide Fairfax County’s housing and community development goals and how it spends the roughly $8.5 million in federal funds it receives annually to address community housing and human services needs. [Fairfax County Government]

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Friday Morning Notes

Contract Awarded for Madison High School Addition — The Fairfax County School Board approved a $13.3 million contract to Meridian Construction Co. as part of its consent agenda last night (Thursday). The addition project will give James Madison High School in Vienna about 32,000 square feet of new space, and construction is expected to start this spring. [FCPS]

Northam Calls General Assembly Special Session — The special session will begin on Feb. 10 to “align the legislative calendar with the customary 46-day length for odd-numbered years. This special session will coincide with the conclusion of the current 30-day session that began on January 13, and will ensure the legislature can complete its work on the state budget and pandemic relief.” [Virginia Governor’s Office]

Temporary Nutley/I-66 Ramp to Open on Sunday — A new, temporary ramp for drivers exiting I-66 West to Nutley Street North and South is scheduled to open in Vienna on Feb. 7. The traffic pattern change was originally expected to take place last week, but it was delayed by the snow. [VDOT]

Movie Theater Still Promised at Founders Row — Developer Mill Creek told the Falls Church Economic Development Authority earlier this week that it remains committed to finding a movie theater for the mixed-use project. Parts of the project could open in September with hopes that a theater will be in place between December 2021 and May 2022. [Falls Church News-Press]

Judge Faults Fairfax County Prosecutors for Failing to Notify Victim of New Trial — A circuit court judge determined that the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney failed its legal obligation to inform a man who was allegedly threatened with a gun in a confrontation at a Springfield Chick-fil-A in August that he had an appeals hearing. County prosecutors had declined to participate in the case, as the office has shifted its focus to felonies and more serious misdemeanors. [The Washington Post]

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Fairfax County Public Schools students will start resuming in-person instruction on Feb. 16 under a new timeline unanimously approved by the Fairfax County School Board yesterday.

The board intended to formally vote on the latest proposal from FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand during its regular meeting on Thursday (Feb. 4), but enough members stated that they would support the plan during the board’s work session on Tuesday that they ultimately decided to not wait to give their consensus.

“While there’s no guarantee for anything in life regarding a pandemic, I think this is a strong plan with the resources we have to return to some semblance of what school was like before COVID,” Melanie Meren, who represents Hunter Mill District on the school board, said. “Of course, a lot will be different, but I think it’s needed to help people recover their learning loss.”

As with previous Return to School plans, families have a choice between all-virtual learning and a hybrid model with two days of in-person learning and two days of distance learning. All students have been learning virtually since FCPS returned from winter break.

Under the new timeline, students who opt to get some in-person learning will return to school buildings in phases, starting on Feb. 16 with about 8,000 special education and career and technical education students and concluding with third through sixth-grade students on Mar. 16.

This schedule deviates from the one that was implemented in the fall before being suspended in having elementary school students restart in-person learning at the same time or even later than their older peers in middle and high school, whose return will be staggered across Mar. 2 and 9.

Braddock District Representative Megan McLaughlin questioned the two-week gaps between groups of elementary school students, noting that Loudoun County Public Schools plans to have students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade in buildings by Feb. 16.

FCPS officials attributed the extended timeline for elementary schools primarily to staffing issues.

As of Feb. 1, FCPS has filled 74% of the 846 classroom monitor positions that it says are needed to restart in-person learning, but that still leaves 205 vacancies. The biggest gap is in grades three through six, where 94 positions – or 46% — remain vacant.

FCPS Deputy Superintendent Frances Ivey told the school board that, while some may prefer a more aggressive timeline, discussions with elementary school principals indicate that most of them support Brabrand’s proposal.

“There’s an overall positive consensus to the timeline, and recommendations were made based on that feedback,” Ivey said. Read More

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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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Work on a new roof and synthetic turf field for McLean High School will begin this summer after the Fairfax County School Board approved contracts of nearly $1 million combined for the two projects yesterday (Thursday).

A $386,480 contract to replace the school’s roof went to R.D. Bean, Inc., which was selected out of a pool of seven companies that submitted bids for the project on Dec. 18.

The field replacement will be done by Astro Turf, LLC, for $548,500. Four other contractors were in contention for the project, which received bids on Dec. 9.

“These critical improvements will help McLean High School continue offering world-class educational and athletic opportunities for our students as the school division and community work to address ongoing capacity needs,” Providence District School Board Representative Karl Frisch said.

FCPS says that the replacement of McLean High School’s existing turf field, which was installed in 2012, is part of an ongoing, division-wide program to maintain the quality and usability of school athletic fields.

The roof, which was built in 1997 with some additions constructed in 2001, will be replaced in one-month phases over the next four summers. This year’s work will encompass approximately 30,000 square feet of roofing.

McLean High School is currently undergoing construction for a 12-classroom modular building that is expected to be finished in the next couple of weeks, Dranesville District Representative Elaine Tholen told the school board on Tuesday (Jan. 5).

The modular will replace 12 trailers at McLean, which is about 300 students over capacity as of the 2019-2020 school year, according to the most recent Fairfax County Public Schools proposed Capital Improvement Program (CIP).

FCPS staff did not calculate program capacity utilization for the current school year in the proposed FY 2022-2026 CIP, because the majority of students have been learning remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even with the modular, McLean High School will still have 22 temporary classrooms in trailers.

In the hopes of providing further relief from overcrowding, FCPS is conducting a boundary adjustment study that could potentially shift some future McLean students to Langley High School.

“I am happy to see this investment in infrastructure at McLean High School along with our modular classroom construction and several building modifications,” Tholen said. “These necessary enhancements will serve current and future students and staff as we continue efforts to alleviate overcrowding at the school.”

Photo via McLean High School PTSA

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Fairfax County Public Schools students will not start returning to in-person learning next week as planned.

After getting an update on local COVID-19 trends last night (Tuesday), the Fairfax County School Board gave its support to FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand’s suggestion that the school system delay bringing students back into buildings until February at the earliest.

“We can take some of the feedback today…and take a pause right now and come back with some more information about vaccinations and a revised timeline with input from our principals and our teachers,” Brabrand said.

All students are currently learning virtually after a two-week winter break, but FCPS had hoped to restart in-person instruction for some students in special education and career and technical programs on Jan. 12.

Other students were scheduled to follow in phases over the next month, with the last group of middle and high school students starting hybrid in-person learning on Feb. 9.

However, with COVID-19 surging in Fairfax County and vaccines not yet rolling out to school employees, school board members, principals, and teachers’ unions expressed concern that it would be unsafe for both students and workers to restart in-person learning.

Virginia Department of Health data shows that Fairfax County has exceeded multiple thresholds established by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for determining the risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools.

As of today, the county is averaging 520.6 new cases per 100,000 people over the past 14 days, and the 14-day testing positivity rate is at 13%. The number of new cases per 100,000 people in the past week is up 26.2% compared with the previous week.

In addition, FCPS has recorded 649 COVID-19 cases among employees, students, and visitors since Sept. 8. Brabrand told the school board that there have been 20 outbreaks in school facilities, even though only 11,810 students and staff have participated in in-person instruction this school year.

The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, which represents FCPS educators and staff, has pointed to those case rates as evidence that the school system has not adequately implemented mitigation measures like social distancing and face masks that would reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

“We are deeply concerned that FCPS is rushing to reopen schools while COVID-19 cases are surging like never before,” FCFT President Tina Williams said in a statement issued prior to last night’s school board meeting. “We all want nothing more than for students and staff to return to school for face-to-face instruction, but right now, it just is not safe.”

Brabrand told the school board that he will bring a presentation reevaluating how FCPS should proceed with its Return to School plan on Feb. 2.

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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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Fairfax County Public School administrators are looking to write a new policy that will ban secluding children across the division by 2023.

The new policy governing when and how children can be restrained or secluded would also require administrators to contact parents the day of an incident and to review data every quarter. After being restrained or put in a room alone, students would meet with a trusted staff member who could provide positive supports.

“We are delighted that FCPS recognizes that they were in shocking non-compliance with federal regulations,” Fairfax County Special Education Parent-Teacher Association President Michelle Cades told Tysons Reporter. “We are really optimistic that reporting is going to improve and that there is going to be more transparency.”

According to the policy, starting in 2021, seclusion will only be allowed at Burke School and Key and Kilmer Centers.

“We’re requesting that it be prohibited in 99% of schools now, but 100% is our desire, 100% is our goal,” Assistant Superintendent of the Special Services Department Michelle Boyd said in a work session last week.

The policy would go into effect Jan. 1, 2021, and includes some clauses that respond to feedback from parents and other stakeholders. FCPS will hold a public hearing on the new policy on Friday.

These changes come one year after a 2019 WAMU investigation found hundreds of instances of restraint and seclusion in FCPS, even though the school division had not reported a single incident to the U.S. Office of Civil Rights for 10 years.

“We have to make sure that people feel confident, not just in the new policy, but that we are implementing the data collection with fidelity,” Superintendent Scott Brabrand said during a Dec. 1 work session. “We have to acknowledge that for too many years, we reported no information, as did other school districts, and it was wrong.”

At-Large School Board Representative Abrar Omeish questioned what data FCPS is relying on to be confident that a new restraint and seclusion policy will be implemented properly.

“I worry about relying on this information, when we have reason to believe that it is not reliable,” she said. “We should imagine the worst-case scenario and put in place the checks that are going to hold us accountable to make sure we’re not wronging kids in the process.” Read More

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