Tysons, VA

A Fairfax County Public Schools student reported being targeted by anti-Asian slurs and other kinds of harassment during an encounter at Longfellow Middle School in McLean earlier this week, FCPS confirmed to Tysons Reporter.

The Fairfax County Police Department says a juvenile reported to an officer on Tuesday (March 23) that he was confronted by “several other juveniles” while attempting to use a recreational field at Longfellow around 6:20 p.m. on March 22.

According to police, the individual said that the people who confronted him “made derogatory remarks relating to his race and natural origin. The juvenile also mentioned the group spat near him.”

The student was not injured or assaulted, but the incident is under investigation by the school resource officer assigned to Longfellow Middle School. The FCPD says it is also “working collaboratively with our partners in FCPS to ensure that all students are treated fairly and with respect.”

While the incident took place on Longfellow grounds, the victim does not attend that school, according to FCPS spokesperson Helen Lloyd.

“The student involved was not a student at Longfellow Middle School, nor were any of the alleged perpetrators,” Lloyd said. “This incident took place out of school hours and is still being investigated, including whether the alleged perpetrators were FCPS students.”

FCPS acknowledged the ongoing investigation in a letter to the McLean community from Longfellow Principal Jim Patrick and McLean High School Principal Ellen Reilly. The letter, which was provided to Tysons Reporter by FCPS, states that the slurs reportedly directed at the student were anti-Asian.

“We stand with our Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students, staff and community and unequivocally denounce racism and discrimination of all kinds and to condemn all acts of hate,” Patrick and Reilly said in their letter. “We are committed to ensuring safe spaces for all of our students and interrupting any experience that would cause pain and trauma as a result of racialized (or other identity based) violence.”

The reported incident occurred on the same day that public officials and community members gathered in Annandale for a vigil to mourn the eight people — including six Asian women — who were shot and killed in the Atlanta area on March 17, a tragedy that put a spotlight on the racism that people of Asian descent experience in the U.S.

The Pew Research Center found last summer that the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic fueled an uptick in discrimination against Asian Americans.

In a report released on March 16, the advocacy coalition Stop AAPI Hate said since March 2020, it has recorded 3,795 hate incidents — ranging from verbal harassment and shunning to physical assaults — including 140 incidents in the D.C. area.

When it met on March 18, the Fairfax County School Board unanimously supported a resolution condemning violence and discrimination against Asians and Asian Americans. The county board of supervisors followed suit on Tuesday (March 23).

FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand issued a statement last week saying that the school system “condemns all acts of violence” while acknowledging the “misinformation and xenophobic language that have led to aggression toward, harassment, and exclusion of our students and families from AAPI communities.”

“It is our responsibility to ensure that all people are treated with dignity and humanity in our schools,” Brabrand said. “These behaviors are more than being unkind and will not be tolerated. Our success and well-being as a school division depends upon us standing united against any acts of violence and hatred committed against any person or group within our community.”

FCPS says that anyone with information related to the incident at Longfellow Middle School should contact their school principal or Fairfax County police.

Photo via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

Virginia Becomes First Southern State to Abolish the Death Penalty — Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation yesterday (Wednesday) that made Virginia the 23rd state to eliminate the death penalty. The move reflected a “dramatic shift” for a state that has recorded the second-most executions in the U.S. Del. Mark Keam (D-Vienna) celebrated the new law as “one of the most consequential votes” he’s cast in his 12 General Assembly sessions. [Associated Press]

Inova Mass COVID-19 Vaccination Site to Open Next Week — The mass vaccination facility that Inova Health Systems is setting up in Alexandria will open next Monday (March 29), Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay says. The site has the capacity to vaccinate about 12,000 people per day and “will be particularly helpful to those in South County.” [Chairman Jeff McKay]

Judge Sets Hearing for Park Police Shooting of McLean Resident — U.S. District Court Judge Claude M. Hilton has scheduled a status hearing for April 23 to determine whether the two Park Police officers charged in the 2017 fatal shooting of Bijan Ghaisar “can be criminally prosecuted by the state of Virginia…or whether they fall under amnesty for federal officers from state criminal laws.” [The Washington Post]

Virginia Senator Discusses Experience with COVID-19 — “During a Senate health committee hearing earlier this month, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine made a surprising admission: Long after contracting COVID-19, the Virginia Democrat is still experiencing strange symptoms. Kaine revealed last May that he and his wife had tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies following an onset of symptoms in March.” [U.S. News]

Falls Church Native Develops Website to Help Navigate Vaccine Registration — 20-year-old Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology graduate Eric Lin worked with a classmate at Harvard University to design a website called COVID Vaccines Info Guide that “would act as a one-stop-shop that provides comprehensive information for all 50 states.” [Falls Church News-Press]

McLean Resident Opposes Proposed Comprehensive Plan Changes — A Dominion Woods resident argues that Fairfax County’s proposals for revitalizing downtown McLean would overburden schools and create longer commutes by inviting an influx of new residents with “little upside” for existing residents. He says residential construction should be capped at 960 units over the next 10 years, high rises should be prohibited on properties next to Franklin Sherman Elementary School, and additional traffic studies should be conducted. [Connection Newspapers]

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Morning Notes

(Updated at 9:20 a.m.) Fairfax County Gets New General Registrar — “The Fairfax County Electoral Board appointed Scott O. Konopasek as the county’s new general registrar and director of elections at its March 11, 2020, meeting. He will lead the Fairfax County Office of Elections following the retirement of the current registrar Gary Scott who has worked in the office for the past 24 years. Konopasek’s tentative starting date is April 19.” [Fairfax County Government]

Metrobus to Expand Service Starting March 14 — Metro will increase bus service to 80% of pre-pandemic levels starting next week to accommodate increased ridership demand. Some routes, including Route 28A between the Tysons and King Street-Old Town Metro stations, will have service completely restored to pre-pandemic levels, while others will get supplemental buses or have weekend service restored. [WMATA]

Tysons One East Developer Joins Expansion of The Boro — The D.C. developer Akridge has partnered with The Meridian Group on its plans to expand The Boro in Tysons with additional mixed-use development. Akridge is also behind the Tysons One East tower that Fairfax County approved last year for Old Meadow Road near the McLean Metro station. [Bisnow]

House Fire in Vienna Extinguished — “Units on scene of a house fire in the 10400 block of Hunt Country Lane. First arriving reported smoke showing from two story home. Small fire located and extinguished. All occupants safe. Crews checking for extension.” [Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department/Twitter]

McLean Student Wins State Journalism Competition — “McLean High School senior Marina Qu has been named the 2021 Virginia Journalist of the Year by the Virginia Association of Journalism Teachers and Advisers. Qu serves as editor-in-chief of The Highlander newsmagazine and The Tartan literary magazine; she has been on both publications’ staff for three years.” [FCPS]

FEMA Gives Virginia Funding for COVID-19 Vaccinations — “The Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded $38.6 million in funding to support COVID-19 vaccination efforts in Virginia. A grant of $1,814,688 will be used to pay for staff needed to administer vaccines, while a grant of $36,750,003 has been made available to establish a number of mobile vaccine sites across the state.” [Patch]

Vienna Decks Out “Love” Sign for St. Patrick’s Day — “Friends of the Washington & Old Dominion Trail Trail Patrol volunteer was kind enough to pose for this. #LOVEViennaVA sign has been decorated for St. Patrick’s Day, so snap away #spring #March.” [Town of Vienna/Twitter]

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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When Madeira School sophomore Sevginaz Gurleyici had the chance to show NASA scientists an app that she helped develop, she thought it could not get better than that.

Then, it did. Last week, NASA recognized her group as one of the top 10 teams in the 2020 NASA App Development Challenge, which was held last fall.

Students crunched lunar terrain data to create an app that visualizes the South Pole region of the Moon. NASA will be using aspects of the 10 winning apps for its own program to help astronauts communicate on and navigate the Moon’s surface.

NASA developed the competition to gather ideas from students as it gears up to land the first American woman and next man on the Moon with the Artemis Program, which will serve as preparation for missions to Mars.

Gurleyici joined a team of four students from Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington: Alex Janninck ’22, Daniel Kippenhan ’22, Elaine Ly ’21 and Claire Toia ’23. The team will participate in a NASA leadership event in February.

“I honestly had not mentally prepared myself for the possibility that we would be selected for the culminating event,” Gurleyici said.

A NASA official said during a live-stream announcement that these students “displayed great teamwork by maximizing each team’s strengths in completing both the coding and non-coding aspects of the challenge.”

Being separated by geography and school was hard, but Gurleyici said she managed to stay connected with her teammates virtually. They used texting, the communication platform Discord — which is popular among teens and gamers — and Code With Me, which she called the “Google Docs of coding.”

Janninck, who had programmed robots with her for two years, recruited Gurleyici after running out of leads for a fifth teammate at his school. Though her lack of experience with Python, the coding language needed for the competition, contributed to some nerves, Gurleyici stepped up anyway.

She found other teammates were in the same boat. Unfazed, Janninck and Ly sent their teammates Python resources to pore over and coached them along the way.

The team had to sprint to the end,  frantically debugging the code and creating a video demonstrating the app.

“I know there were late nights in the final home stretch,” Gurleyici said.

A lover of all things science, this project was the first time Gurleyici dove into space exploration and innovation.

“I was open to learning, which is what I think I brought to the team,” she said.

Grateful for her team and the challenge, the Madeira School student said she wants to keep coding and competing.

“I’d love to spread interest — while not forcing it on them — amongst my own friends in school,” she said. “I’m interested in medicine, so finding a project or competition where coding and medicine work hand-in-hand would be interesting.”

Images via Bishop O’Connell High School, Melissa Pore

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A quartet of students from James Madison High School in Vienna have enlisted in the fight to find a cure for blood cancers.

Fairfax County Public Schools reported today (Wednesday) that Emery Stratman, Ella Stratman, Ainona Black-Planas, and Matthew Wilken have been accepted as candidates for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s 2021 Students of the Year campaign.

The LLS Students of the Year campaign is a leadership development program intended to support high school students as they prepare for college or a profession by teaching them skills in entrepreneurship, marketing, and project management.

Participants spend seven weeks working to raise funds for LLS and to increase awareness about blood cancers, including leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, and myeloma.

The students who raise the most funds as either an individual or a team by the end of the seven-week competition will be named Student(s) of the Year.

“Students participating in the Mid-Atlantic Region’s annual scholarship and fundraising challenge have been nominated for their leadership, passion to find a cure for blood cancers, and involvement in the community,” FCPS said.

The 2020 Students of the Year campaign raised over $2.7 million with more than 240 students and 35 teams participating, according to the campaign’s website.

The 2021 campaign will launch on Jan. 23, 2021 with a grand finale on Mar. 13.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society has invested nearly $1.3 billion in blood cancer research. The nonprofit also provides free information and support services to patients and advocates for policies that would remove barriers to healthcare, according to the organization’s website.

According to Yale Medicine, blood cancers are caused by the excessive production of white blood cells in bone marrow. They account for about 10% of all cancers diagnosed in the U.S. annually, and childhood leukemia makes up about 25% of all cancers in children.

Photo via Google Maps

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Falls Church and Fairfax County officials are revisiting efforts to rename schools with names linked to the Confederacy as communities across the U.S. tackle a racial reckoning.

The resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of police killing George Floyd in Minneapolis has reignited discussions of how buildings, monuments and places with Confederate ties perpetuate racial oppression.

The push to remove names and images linked to the Confederacy at local schools isn’t new.

Fairfax County officials renamed JEB Stuart High School to Justice High School in 2017, with students changing the mascot in 2018. Fairfax High School’s principal changed the mascot this year. A few weeks ago, the Fairfax County School Board voted to rename Robert E. Lee High School to honor late U.S. Congressman John Lewis.

Tysons Reporter looked into how the two public school systems have tackled the renaming issue this summer and what’s coming up for schools in the Tysons area.

Falls Church Moving Forward With Renamings

After several meetings and hundreds of public comments, the Falls Church City School Board made the decision to move forward with renaming George Mason High School and Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in late June. Both Founding Fathers were slaveholders.

A few months ago, a petition with more than 250 signatures and growing public pressure prompted the school board to start considering the name changes in the second week of June.

“We’re at a point where it’s time to really begin the conversation,” Greg Anderson, the school board’s chair, said at a school board meeting this summer.

One of the biggest renaming questions the school board tackled is whether or not to hire a consultant to aid in the process, with some members saying it was a good idea in order to maintain neutrality and to gather more information about Mason and Jefferson and others pointing out the costs.

“Lots of folks don’t really know the history of who he is,” School Board member Lawrence Webb said about Mason.

The school board resolved that dilemma this week by voting to hire Herndon-based K-12 Insight to conduct the surveys, the Falls Church News-Press reported.

Now that the school board has approved moving forward with the renaming process, they will need to decide what the new names will be.

The school board wants to make sure the renaming process isn’t rushed, agreeing that it’s important to get many perspectives on this issue.

“I think we need to take our time so we know what the community has to say,” said Susan Dimock. Read More

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A new tutoring service and study space will soon open in McLean, offering families a place to bring kids for extra help in school or just find a quiet place to work.

Called ‘The STUDY studio on Elm,’ the facility is located at 6846 Elm Street in McLean and run by Carly Latessa, a Northern Virginia native, the website said. The studio posted on Facebook that it opens next Tuesday, Sept. 8.

Students seeking a place to study outside of school can sign up for either a private desk or room at the studio. The location also offers places for group work too.

Pricing varies depending on the time of day and time. For example, a desk can be reserved for $8/hour from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. and $5/hour from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m.

Memberships are available on a monthly basis for $50 f0r an individual and $80 for families with two kids. “Membership fees cover cleaning supplies, strong wifi, snacks, water refill, printing and a committed staff,” the website said.

The business also offers flexible tutoring options starting at $35/hour. “Tutoring sessions can be held at our space, in your home or virtually,” the website said adding that tutoring is also available for a wide variety of subjects.

Tysons Reporter reached out to Latessa for an interview but didn’t receive a response.

Image via Google Maps

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School is starting again for kids in the Tysons area, leading parents and educators to not just focus on possible health risks from COVID-19, but also from students who haven’t gotten their required vaccines.

Even though it’s starting the new school year off virtually, Fairfax County Public Schools is requiring all of its students to be up-to-date on required immunizations.

Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found indications that fewer kids are getting immunizations — possibly due to parents’ worries that their kids will catch COVID-19 at the doctor’s office.

In addition to COVID-19 concerns, some parents are now worried if vaccine-preventable diseases pose a new threat from unvaccinated kids, National Geographic reported.

The CDC said in July that health care providers seem to have the capacity to give kids their routine vaccinations.

Fairfax County officials are urging parents to get their kids vaccinated. This summer, the county expanded its number of community childhood vaccination clinics and the hours for the clinics offering the school-required Tdap vaccine.

Let us know in the poll and comments below if your kids have all their required vaccinations for the new school year.

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

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Fairfax County officials warn that vaping may be linked to a higher rate of COVID-19-associated side effects.

Today (Monday), the county’s Office of Emergency Preparedness and Response shared information on the possible associations between vaping and the novel coronavirus, noting that vaping and e-cigarettes have grown in popularity among teens and young adults in the last few years.

As schools reopen virtually and in-person in the Tysons area, county officials want people who vape to know that initial research shows that vaping, which has been linked to lung damage, could be tied to more severe complications of COVID-19.

“According to the 2018-2019 Fairfax County Youth Survey, 20% of Fairfax County Public School students ages 13 to 18 vape, similar to the national average of 20.8%,” the message said.

The “significant shift” of people in their 20s or younger getting COVID-19 that Gov. Ralph Northam pointed out in late July is continuing both statewide and in Fairfax County.

As of today, data from the state health department shows that people in their 20s represent roughly 17.7% of the total COVID-19 cases in the Fairfax Health District — the third-highest age group behind people in their 30s (19.3%) and 40s (17.9%). Statewide, people in their 20s account for the highest percentage (20.1%) of all of the age groups for COVID-19 cases.

The county’s health department now plans to launch a text to quit program with the Truth Initiative aimed at kids and young adults, the county said.

The county, which noted that research on vaping and COVID-19 is limited and still ongoing, spotlighted work done by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the Stanford University School of Medicine.

“Young people who had used both cigarettes and e-cigarettes in the previous 30 days were almost five times as likely to experience COVID-19 symptoms, such as coughing, fever, tiredness and difficulty breathing as those who never smoked or vaped,” Stanford found.

While researchers in France earlier this year claimed that nicotine may prevent the virus from attaching to cells, the Centers for Disease Control says that smokers may be at an increased risk for worse COVID-19 complications than non-smokers.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

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As Fairfax County Public Schools prepares for virtual classes, some private schools in Reston and Tysons are bringing students back into classrooms.

Four private and parochial school administrators told Tysons Reporter a high demand for in-person instruction and their ability to socially distance students are the main reasons they are offering in-person learning.

Green Hedges School in Vienna noted an increase in enrollment interest for the 2020-21 school year, according to Jenn Boehnen, who is the head of the school.

After initially planning for a hybrid of in-person and online classes, FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand announced in July that the public school system, which is the largest one in Virginia, would open virtually on Sept. 8 for the fall. Concerns about public health safety and staffing levels prompted the switch to fully online classes.

Unlike big public schools with larger class sizes, the private school administrators Tysons Reporter spoke to said that they will be able to keep students spaced out.

Green Hedges is requiring that students sit in assigned seats for lunch and snack time, according to the school’s reopening plan. The seats will be 6 feet away from each other and students will have the option to eat outside when possible. Additionally, the school is instructing students to stay 6 feet away from each other during recess.

Photos the school shared on Facebook show desks spaced out in the classrooms.

Oakcrest School near Crowells Corner plans to move classes with 20 or more students outside, weather permitting. The school is looking to use its 23-acre campus to keep its approximately 260 students safely spread out.

“We’re trying to implement as many safety precautions as possible without disrupting the normal rhythm of the school day,” said Miriam Buono, who heads up operations at Oakcrest.

To further ensure social distancing, Oakcrest is implementing unilateral stairways to avoid overcrowding in the halls. The school is also extending passing periods from five to 10 minutes to compensate for the stairways and to allow students to step outside for mask breaks.

In addition to figuring out how to keep students physically distanced, school administrators are also finding ways to deal with another new element: getting kids to wear face coverings for several hours.

To address the issue of mask fatigue, St. Joseph Catholic School in Herndon is allowing teachers and students to pull down face coverings when 6 feet apart or when alone. Students will also be able to remove their masks while eating.

Even while many private schools in the Fairfax County area are planning for in-person learning, some are offering a virtual option for families with health concerns. The school administrators told Tysons Reporter that they have to remain flexible if new state guidelines or a COVID-19 surge requires a switch to fully-virtual learning.

Some local schools are taking a hybrid approach, like BASIS Independent McLean in Tysons. The school planned to reopen with a combination of in-person and online classes, Inside NoVa reported.

Administrators want parents to know they are tracking the ongoing conditions to determine whether or not in-person classes are safe.

Photos via Green Hedges School/Facebook

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