Morning Notes

Storm Brings Power Outages, Hail to Fairfax County — Thunderstorms swept through Fairfax County last night (Wednesday), resulting in reports of damaging winds and even hail “that toppled trees and wires.” As of midnight, Dominion Energy’s outage map showed thousands of people in the county without power, particularly around McLean. [Capital Weather Gang]

Farmer’s Market Nonprofit Awarded State GrantFRESHFARM will get a $50,000 grant from the Virginia Food Access Investment Fund to establish new fresh food mobile markets in food-insecure areas of Northern Virginia. The nonprofit operates several farmer’s markets in Fairfax County, including the ones at the Mosaic District and The Boro. [Patch]

More Traffic Control Sought for Great Falls Park — “Great Falls Citizens Association (GFCA) officials are seeking to have the federal government provide $100,000 in permanent, annual funding for U.S. Park Police to control traffic at Old Dominion Drive and Georgetown Pike outside the park’s entrance when park usage is especially heavy…Traffic congestion outside the park routinely occurs on weekends, holidays and fee-free days from March through early November, GFCA leaders said.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]

Madison HS Student Brings Books and Bikes to Tanzania — James Madison High School rising junior Sophia Brown organized a bicycle drive at the Vienna school in May and collected dozens of donated books to bring to Tanzania for a Girl Scout project. Sophia traveled to the East African country this summer with support from the nonprofit Wheels to Africa, which she has worked with since she was in second grade. [FCPS]

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Students read socially distanced in masks in Falls Church City Schools (courtesy Katie Heeter/FCCPS)

Virginia school districts will make their own rules regarding masking requirements for the upcoming school year, the state’s education and health departments announced today (Wednesday).

The Commonwealth will let a public health order that’s in effect until Sunday (July 25) expire, thereby ending a statewide mandate that kids over age 5 wear masks indoors at public and private schools and putting decisions in the hands of local officials.

“The science is clear that vaccinations and masks help keep our communities safe from COVID-19,” Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dr. Daniel Carey said in a statement. “The Commonwealth’s children and the individuals that help them learn will be protected by proven strategies, without a one-size-fits-all approach.”

Fairfax County Public Schools currently requires masks to be worn indoors for students, staff, and visitors when school is in session “until more students aged 12 and older are fully vaccinated and until younger students become eligible for vaccination.”

“We are reviewing the guidance and reaching out to hear from our community, and will share a plan early next week with staff and families,” FCPS spokesperson Julie Moult said in a statement.

Virginia’s new guidance says elementary schools should require students, teachers, and staff to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, until vaccines are available for young children. For middle and high schools, it recommends that students, teachers, and staff who are not fully vaccinated be required to wear masks indoors.

State officials said the change will allow districts to make their own decisions and the switch reflects changes by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which loosened its guidance earlier this month and advised that masks should be worn indoors by all individuals age 2 and older who are not fully vaccinated.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, by contrast, recommends that, unless they are unable to do so due to medical or developmental challenges, all school staff and students over the age of 2 should wear masks at school, even if they’re vaccinated.

The changes come as daily COVID-19 cases have increased in Virginia and the U.S., and the especially contagious delta variant now represents 83% of new coronavirus cases in the U.S., according to a CDC estimate.

Over 70% of students ages 12 to 17 in Fairfax County have been vaccinated. COVID-19 vaccines for those under the age of 12 are not yet authorized but currently undergoing trials.

The CDC has said that most students, including those with disabilities, can tolerate and safely wear a mask, but a “narrow subset of students with disabilities” may be unable to do so and should not be required to wear one.

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Morning Notes

Fairfax County Police Officer Shoots Woman — A woman was taken to the hospital in critical condition yesterday (Monday) after a Fairfax County police officer fired their weapon and shot her during a confrontation at a group home in Springfield. Police say they responded to the 8000 block of Gosport Lane by a disturbance call about a woman reportedly assaulting people. [The Washington Post]

Bijan Ghaisar’s Family Protests Park Police Task Force Appointment — “The parents of Bijan Ghaisar, a 25-year-old resident of McLean who was shot and killed by U.S. Park Police in November 2017, are protesting Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s decision to appoint former U.S. Park Police Chief Robert MacLean to head a new task force reviewing law enforcement policies…in the wake of the police’s violent crackdown in Lafayette Park in 2020 during the presidency of Donald Trump.” [Patch]

Falls Church City Seeks School Supplies — “The City of Falls Church Housing and Human Services (HHS) team will help local families with free school supplies. Donations for all ages — and especially middle and high school students — can be delivered to City Hall (300 Park Ave.) through Friday, August 13.” [City of Falls Church]

Falls Church Startup Proposes Automating Tax Appeals — A startup co-founded by Falls Church City Councilmember Ross Litkenhous is looking to raise $2 million to fund a software platform that they say will simplify the property tax appeals process. Launched in February, Calvary Real Estate Advisors would help users fill out the assessment appeal, find ways to save money, and send the form to the right place. [Washington Business Journal]

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A Fairfax County Public Schools employee and parent speaks in favor of updates to its student handbook (via FCPS)

Cheers and applause came after the Fairfax County Public Schools board updated its student handbook to better document harmful and suspension-worthy conduct and protect different gender identities and expressions.

The updates that the school board approved Thursday (July 15) ensure that the handbook conforms with FCPS policies supporting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, gender-expansive, and other students (LGBTQ+).

Cementing established protections for students from being intentionally outed or misgendered, the move comes amid intensifying discrimination against transgender people in particular across much of the U.S.

The advocacy group Human Rights Campaign said in May that state legislatures have introduced — and in some cases, adopted — “unprecendented” amount of anti-LGBTQ+ measures, including many that specifically target young people and deal with schools.

Efforts in Loudoun County to adopt a policy ensuring students will be identified by their correct names and pronouns and use bathrooms that match their gender identity led to an ongoing lawsuit and a contentious school board meeting that resulted in an arrest and an injury.

While FCPS added gender identity to its nondiscrimination policy in 2015, the furor in Loudoun unnerved many Fairfax County LGBTQ+ students and staff.

“To the gender-expansive and transgender students and their families who have witnessed these attacks on their simple human dignity, I am sorry,” Providence District Representative Karl Frisch, Fairfax County’s first openly gay school board member, said on Thursday. “You deserve much, much more.”

Frisch detailed many of the approved changes to the Student Rights and Responsibilities (SR&R) book in a blog post:

For the first time ever, as an extension of the school board’s nondiscrimination policy, FCPS regulations, and Virginia code, this document specifically identifies several rights of particular interest to gender-expansive and transgender students. Among them are the right to use facilities that align with their gender identity, the right to be called by their chosen name and pronoun, the right to nondisclosure of their gender identity or sexual orientation, and the right to receive supports that ensure equitable access.

Other updates include a more detailed definition of hate speech, more specific language around the role of school resource officers, and an alignment of the school system’s policies on marijuana with its alcohol policies after Virginia legalized small amounts of the drug for adults 21 and older, effective July 1.

The Fairfax County School Board adopted a regulation stating that students should be called by their chosen name and pronouns, can use locker rooms and restrooms consistent with their gender identity, and can wear any clothing as long as it complies with the dress code in October.

The regulation also banned deadnaming, which has now been prohibited in the SR&R handbook, along with malicious misgendering.

The school board previously approved a regulation addressing many of these issues in July 2016, but FCPS decided to wait on officially implementing it to see the outcome of various court cases and legal issues. Read More

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Fairfax County will hold more summer classes for students with disabilities later this month after staffing issues put the program in jeopardy.

After families were informed that a teacher deficit was delaying the Extended School Year program, the school district adjusted it into two blocks, the first of which is already underway, to allow it to keep class sizes low but do more with less staff.

“We’re in a special education crisis,” Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand said Tuesday (July 13) during a work session with the school board.

He noted around half of the 400 job openings that the district currently has involve special education, but according to the school district, a second Extended School Year block is “almost fully staffed.”

“There is a full commitment that we will have a fully staffed second session of the ESY,” Mount Vernon District School Board Representative Karen Corbett-Sanders said, adding that FCPS notified families and provided a timeline for transportation, food services, and more.

Earlier this month, FCPS apologized for communications that suggested the “administration was faulting teachers for failures of the system to supply optimum programming.”

“Our staff members have gone far beyond ordinary expectations and we are grateful for their professional dedication,” the district said on social media.

While officials praised teachers and administrators for making services work this summer, FCPS is looking to build within its own ranks to help address long-term faculty shortages.

School officials are working to apply for COVID-19 relief from an ESSER III fund (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief). The money comes from the $1.9 trillion stimulus in the American Rescue Plan Act, passed by Congress and signed into law in March.

Previous federal COVID-19 relief plans included ESSER funds administered by state education departments, though local school districts had to apply to obtain the funds.

The school board was slated to vote on a plan for how to spend the roughly $189 million that FCPS is seeking when it meets tomorrow (Thursday).

The money would cover a three-year span, starting with the upcoming school year through June 2024. Intended to help schools safely open after a challenging year due to the pandemic, the funds can be used to support school operations and address students’ social and emotional needs.

The proposed plan would allocate $46.2 million to special education staff, which amounts to a 7% salary increase to cover the extra 30 minutes needed each day to file Individualized Education Program paperwork due to the pandemic, according to FCPS.

The funding sought would also involve around $2.5 million for professional development. According to Tuesday’s presentation to the school board, that effort would involve two new employees each year. It isn’t immediately clear if that’s all for salaries or if other expenses are involved.

Other requests include $54 million for academic interventions, $2 million for cybersecurity, $15.9 million for after school programming and transportation at high schools, and $20.1 million for a summer 2022 learning program.

Board members pressed FCPS officials for more accountability and strategic planning in its plans for the federal funds. Community members previously weighed in through focus groups in May and June, online feedback, and a June 7 public hearing.

Wilda Smith Ferguson, a parent of a child with special needs in the district, said during the June meeting that the school system’s decisions regarding protocols haven’t taken children like hers into consideration.

“She is totally dependent on her teachers and the support staff at the high school that she attends,” Ferguson said. “I would like to see some of the money in the grant go to, basically, instead of ‘trickle down,’ trickle up. Figure out what is best for the most vulnerable and work up.”

The deadline for FCPS to apply for ESSER funds is Sept. 1.

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Left to right: Olympic athletes Andrew Seliskar, Chioma “CiCi” Onyekwere, and Trevor Stewart (via University of California — Berkeley, University of Maryland, and North Carolina A&T)

Several Olympians competing on the world stage in Tokyo this summer can trace parts of their athletic journeys back to Fairfax County.

Swimmer Andrew Seliskar, discus thrower Chioma “CiCi” Onyekwere, and runner Trevor Stewart all qualified for the 2020 Olympics, which will take place from July 21 to Aug. 8.

The games were delayed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and they will be held without spectators after Japan announced on Friday (July 9) that it would enter a fourth state of emergency starting today (Monday) due to rising cases of the virus.

Seliskar, who graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in 2015, is taking on his first Olympics after two previous qualifying attempts at ages 19 and 15, including one where he “narrowly missed” a semi-final spot.

As a student, he broke a national high school record for the 100-yard butterfly in 2014 near Richmond with 53.24 seconds, and he won four national titles swimming at the University of California in Berkeley before becoming a professional swimmer.

The 24-year-old McLean native told Fairfax County Public Schools that he relishes his competitions against high school rivals.

“Those were great memories, and for my swimming career, those are some of the best ones,” he said.

He also told WJLA-TV that his Olympic dream began swimming with a youth swim team, the McLean Marlins.

Heats for the men’s 4×200-meter freestyle relay are scheduled for 6-8:30 a.m. EDT on July 27, and the final will air from 9:30 p.m. EDT on July 27 to 12:05 a.m. EDT on July 28.

Robinson Secondary School graduate Onyekwere will represent Nigeria at the Olympics, since she is a dual citizen of that country and the U.S.

“I feel like Nigeria made me the person I am today, so it’s so nice to give back in some kind of way and represent them,” she told FCPS.

The Michigan-born former University of Maryland athlete currently holds Nigeria’s discus throw record of 63.3 meters, which she set in April in Chula Vista, California, as part of the Nigerian Olympic Trials.

The 27-year-old engineer works for Ford and relocated back to Fairfax County last fall to be with family amid the pandemic, FCPS noted.

The qualifying round for the women’s discus throw is 8:30 p.m. EDT July 30, and the final is 7 a.m. EDT Aug. 2.

Stewart, who graduated from South County High School in 2016, will run the 4×400-meter relay race for Team USA.

His teammates include a fellow student at North Carolina A&T State University. The pair were part of a 4×400 relay team that won national titles this year for the indoor and outdoor track seasons, capping his senior year.

The 24-year-old switched from karate to track and field when he was in ninth grade. To prepare for the upcoming games, he has turned to prayer and meditation, according to FCPS.

“I worked hard for this,” he told FCPS. “There’s always room for improvement, but I’ve made it right now. I’ve made it right here.”

Heats for the men’s 4×400 meter relay are slated for 7:25 a.m. EDT Aug. 6 and 8:50 a.m. EDT Aug. 7 for the final.

The Tokyo Olympics will feature a total of 339 events across 33 sports. They will be broadcast and live-streamed in the U.S. by NBC.

Photo composite via University of California — Berkeley, University of Maryland, and North Carolina A&T

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Cooper Middle School student Kriesh Tivare uses an oscilloscope (courtesy of the Tivare family)

A 13-year-old Great Falls resident’s science experiment about recharging electric vehicles while they’re in motion won him statewide honors.

Kriesh Tivare earned the State Merit Award for Virginia in the national “3M Young Scientist Challenge” last month for an experiment that examined how to make contactless charging a reality using coils in a roadway to power a toy car.

“It basically charges the car as it drives over,” Kriesh said.

A partnership between the engineering company 3M and Discovery Education, the Young Scientist Challenge takes place annually and is open to students in fifth through eighth grade. Competitors submit short videos explaining the science behind a possible solution to a problem they see in their community.

A panel of judges selected a merit winner from each state as well as 10 finalists, who will compete in a final event at 3M’s headquarters in Saint Paul, Minnesota, in October. The overall winner will receive $25,000 and the opportunity to get a mentorship from the company.

In his prize-winning experiment, Kriesh explains how switches on a road could be pressed by a tire to close a circuit and use electromagnetic induction to power a vehicle, rather than having stationary charging stations restoring power.

Kriesh got the idea when his family would go on trips and have to hunt for and spend time at charging stations for their Tesla Model 3, which they normally charge every day. During one family trip in 2019 to Boston, range anxiety was evident as they had to break every five to six hours, taking 45 minutes to an hour to recharge.

“At the mall, there’s this one spot that’s dedicated to…charging, and a lot of the charging stations are already being utilized,” he said, contrasting the amount of charging stations to gas stations.

Kriesh created his own materials using a fishing rod to wrap coils hundreds of times around small PVC piping.

He used a frequency generator to power coils on a roadway model and an oscilloscope to measure how much power was induced, experimenting with different coils and frequencies to maximize efficiency.

Heading into eighth grade at Cooper Middle School in McLean, Kriesh enjoys history and math classes and could see himself as an astronomical engineer, discovering a planet or looking for life in space.

Contactless charging — the term Kriesh used for his contest entry — is becoming a reality. For example, the company ElectReon Wireless Ltd. has deployed its technology on public roadways in Israel and Sweden for buses and trucks.

Researchers in California examined the technology in the 1970s and 1980s and eventually tested electric vehicles in motion. A 1992 report investigating the feasibility of electrifying highways noted a roadway inductor would cost a “few million dollars per lane mile,” but equipment costs for vehicles were “considerably more uncertain” at that time.

A research team at Cornell University, led by electrical and computer engineering associate professor Khurram Afridi, has been working on improving road-powered charging technology for electric vehicles, which they say could have uses from electrifying highways to supporting autonomous forklifts and robots in manufacturing warehouses.

Afridi said in a video about the technology that the timing could be right to introduce changes to infrastructure in need of repair.

Kriesh is interested in continuing his experiment by looking at how 5G signals could allow road coils to charge a vehicle without pressure plates, avoiding the need for his model car to drive over switches.

“In the future, the 5G network will replace the switches within the road to activate the coils in the road instantaneously,” Kriesh said in his contest video. “Dynamic charging could be a promising future for smart, driverless vehicles.”

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Morning Notes

Wolf Trap Goes Full Capacity Starting in August — Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts will return to full capacity in August for the second half of its summer season. Unveiled yesterday (Tuesday), the lineup for August and September includes Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Indigo Girls, and Renée Fleming with the National Symphony Orchestra. [Patch]

Justice Department Will Assist in Bijan Ghaisar Case — The Justice Department will allow FBI agents to cooperate in the prosecution of two Park Police officers charged with manslaughter for shooting and killing McLean resident Bijan Ghaisar in 2017. The move reverses a decision made during the Trump administration and could help the Fairfax County prosecutors on the case. [The Washington Post]

Longtime McLean Hardware Store Owner DiesMcLean Hardware owner Glenn Kirby Wiggs died on June 5 at Medstar Washington Hospital Center at 71 years of age. He had operated the store for almost 40 years after purchasing it in 1984, and he continued visiting twice a week from his home in Frederick, Maryland, even as his health declined. [Patch]

Merrifield Student Advances in Spelling Bee — Akshita Balaji of Merrifield is one of 30 students to advance to the Scripps National Spelling Bee’s semifinal round after she spelled two words correctly and gave an accurate definition for a third word during yesterday’s quarter-finals. Broadcast on ESPN2 at 7 p.m. on June 27, the semifinals will determine the 10 to 12 spellers who will go to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., for the finals on July 8. [Inside NoVA]

1st Stage Celebration Sold Out — Tickets for 1st Stage’s first in-person event since February 2020 have sold out. The theater company’s June 27 outdoor concert reading of “A New Brain” at The Boro will still be available for other viewers to watch via an online livestream. [1st Stage/Twitter]

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Morning Notes

MCA Shares Concerns About McLean Central Park Proposal — The McLean Citizens Association unanimously approved a letter last week highlighting its reservations about the Fairfax County Park Authority’s McLean Central Park redesign. Top concerns include noise and traffic impacts from the proposed amphitheater and a need to coordinate with other county projects, such as the McLean downtown revitalization plan. [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]

Federal Relief Will Be Windfall for Falls Church City — The Falls Church City Council learned Monday (June 7) that the city will receive an estimated $18 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds over two years, including $15 million from the American Rescue Plan and about $2.9 million from the CARES Act. Councilmembers say it’s “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” for a city with an annual operating budget of just over $100 million. [Falls Church News-Press]

McLean Student Will Compete on Reality TV Show — Max Feinberg, a rising senior at McLean High School, will appear on Season 13 of American Ninja Warrior, a reality TV series where athletes compete to navigate obstacle courses. This is the show’s first season with a lowered age limit of 15. Feinberg’s episode will air on NBC on June 23. [Dranesville District School Board Member Elaine Tholen]

Falls Church Arts Grant Program Opens for Applications — “The City of Falls Church welcomes applications for eligible non-profit organizations that support the arts, culture, theater, and history based within the City of Falls Church. The application deadline is July 21, 2021 and funds must be utilized before May 16, 2022.” [City of Falls Church]

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Morning Notes

Capital One Center Nears Next Opening — The Washington Business Journal toured Capital One Center as the mixed-use development prepares to open more facilities, including The Perch, a skypark set to open this summer, and Capital One Hall, the performing arts venue that will open in October. The complex will accommodate about 10,000 Capital One employees, but it’s also intended to appeal to local residents like The Boro or The Wharf in downtown D.C. [Washington Business Journal]

Fairfax County Introduces Transportation Debit Card — The new Transportation Options, Programs & Services (TOPS) initiative replaces the county’s existing taxi voucher programs. Serving older adults, people with disabilities, and low-income residents, TOPS provides a transportation debit card in lieu of paper vouchers and supports more transportation options, including rideshare, Metro, and public buses. [Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services]

Wolf Trap National Park Superintendent Leaves — Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts Superintendent George Liffert left the role he’d held since 2016 in May to take over Prince William Forest Park in Triangle, the National Park Service announced yesterday (Tuesday). Wolf Trap Deputy Superintendent Ken Bigley is now serving as acting superintendent until a permanent successor is selected. [NPS]

Madison HS Seniors Graduate — James Madison High School held an in-person graduation ceremony for its Class of 2021 at Jiffy Lube Live in Prince William County. Principal Greg Hood invoked the many musicians who have performed at the outdoor amphitheater in a speech to the new graduates, who were commended for their perseverance and motivation in an unusual year. [Madison HS/Twitter]

Falls Church City Wins Mayor’s Fitness Challenge — The City of Falls Church bested the Town of Vienna and Fairfax City in an eight-week competition to determine the “Most Fit Community.” Falls Church participants averaged 1,622.28 minutes of exercise, followed by Vienna with an average of 1,484 minutes and the City of Fairfax with an average of 1,289.25 minutes. [Town of Vienna/Twitter]

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