LGBTQIA+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual/agender, and other gender and sexual minority identities (via Sharon McCutcheon/Unsplash)

Students and staff in the LGBTQIA+ community expressed relief yesterday (Tuesday) after Fairfax County Public Schools announced that it will return a pair of challenged, queer-centered books to library shelves.

“Gender Queer: A Memoir” by nonbinary author Maia Kobabe and Jonathan Evison’s “Lawn Boy” — a coming-of-age story about a Mexican American man that deals with race, class, and sexual identity — were pulled from circulation in late September after parents complained that they contained graphic sexual content unsuitable for children.

Two committees convened to review the books determined the complaints were without merit and that the books have literary merit in line with FCPS’ goal of supporting a diverse student body, including through its library materials, the school system said.

The Pride Liberation Project, a student-led LGBTQIA+ advocacy group, praised the decision as an affirmation of its argument that the books are “valuable sources of support” for vulnerable students, not pornography or pedophelia as alleged by the complaints.

“I am relieved that our libraries will continue to have books that depict people like me,” a Westfield High School student said in a news release. “It is isolating when LGBTQIA+ students are singled out and already limited Queer representation is taken away.”

FCPS Pride, an LGBTQIA+ advocacy group for employees, said its members were pleased that “Gender Queer” and “Lawn Boy” will be returned to circulation.

Kobabe’s memoir will be reinstated at the 12 high schools that currently own it, and Evison’s novel will be available at seven high schools, according to FCPS.

“Having read the the books and knowing that FCPS has a commitment to including and welcoming all students, we had faith that the process would be followed and literature that allows LGBTQIA+ students to see themselves, and which allows their peers to see that they exist, would be returned to circulation,” FCPS Pride said in a statement.

With book challenges cropping up across the country in recent months, many of them targeting books about gender and sexual identity or race, FCPS Pride co-president Robert Rigby Jr. tied the complaints against “Gender Queer” and “Lawn Boy” to a larger political backlash to LGBTQIA+ inclusion, pointing to a blog post accusing teachers of using Gay-Straight Alliances to “recruit” children that was shared by the Fairfax County Republican Committee as an example.

FCPS Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services Department Noel Klimenko confirmed to FFXnow that formal complaints were filed against the two books, but the issue gained attention when conservative-leaning media outlets and advocates shared mother Stacy Langton’s remarks from a contentious school board meeting on Sept. 23.

“LGBTQ students and their peaceful existence in classes and schools have become ‘collateral damage,’ with uncaring people exploiting their existence for other purposes,” Rigby said.

Langton wrote in an opinion piece for the Washington Examiner that her complaint stemmed from concern about pornographic materials in schools, not as an objection to LGBTQ characters, stating that she’s aware of the discrimination that community faces because her mother was lesbian.

Klimenko, who made the final decision to reinstate “Gender Queer” and “Lawn Boy,” says book challenges tend to get politicized since they deal with free speech issues and people’s subjective opinions about what constitutes objectionable art.

The publicity around Langton’s complaint and claims that the books depicted pedophelia, which turned out to be unfounded, prompted FCPS to remove the books from circulation — a departure from past practices, as the school system has historically left books on shelves while they’re under review.

“We decided we needed to have an abundance of caution and go ahead and remove those books,” Klimenko said. “But now that this decision has been made, the books will be returned to the libraries that had them prior to the challenge.”

FCPS’ regulation on handling book challenges doesn’t explicitly state whether books should remain available while being reviewed.

Klimenko says staff will consult with school board members and other stakeholders to see if there were any concerns with how the two-month-long process played out, but overall, FCPS upheld its established policies, which had not been tested since the last library material challenge in 2015.

“I think it’s really important that Fairfax County Public Schools has a procedure for both identifying books to put in our libraries and also for challenging them,” she said. “I feel like we’ve taken great care and deliberation with this decision.”

Fairfax County School Board Chair Stella Pekarsky, who represents Sully District, says there have not been any conversations so far about reexamining the challenged materials regulation, which was last updated on Feb. 16.

She expressed support for parents playing “a robust and active role in their children’s education.”

Langton told the Washington Examiner earlier this month that she was barred from the Fairfax High School library after visiting with her son to check out a book.

FCPS doesn’t accommodate unscheduled visits to school libraries or other instructional spaces during class hours, but it allows pre-arranged visits before and after the school day. Its library catalogs can also be viewed online.

“I encourage parents to be involved in conversations with their students about all aspects of their school experience, including their literary choices,” Pekarsky said in a statement. “I continue to trust the professionalism of our school librarians and appreciate the time and care they devote to procuring collections that will serve a diverse student body.”

Photo via Sharon McCutcheon/Unsplash

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Hunter Mill Supervisor Walter Alcorn helps a Cornerstones effort to get bags that have food and gift cards as well as other bags with toiletries to those in need. (Photo via Cornerstones/Instagram)

With giving Tuesday on the horizon, the season of charity and gift-giving has arrived.

A number of local organizations have launched year-end campaigns and donations drives. We’ve rounded up some ways to help your neighbors and local nonprofit organizations.

Santa’s Ride

Drop off new unwrapped toys, games, books, and gifts to any Fairfax County police station through Saturday, Dec. 11. The items will be donated to Fairfax Hospital, the Georgetown Lombardi Cancer Center and other children in the community. The Town of Herndon’s police department is also participating.

Toys for Tots

The county’s fire and rescue department is taking part in the annual campaign. Residents can drop off unwrapped and new toys at any Fairfax County fire station through Sunday, Dec. 12.

Knitting Communities Together

Donate new or gently used handmade hats, gloves, mittens, scarves, and socks for adults and children. Items are distributed to local nonprofits like Cornerstones, Homestretch and ShelterHouse. Donations can be made through Jan. 5 at a number of locations, including the Herndon Senior Center in Herndon and the Pimmit Hills Senior Center in McLean.

Reston Winter Coat Closet

The Hunter Mill District Office and Cornerstones are collecting new or gently used winter coats and new hats, scarves and gloves for neighbors in need. Donations can be dropped off at the North County Governmental Center in Reston between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Dec. 11 and Jan. 8.

Reston Elf Store

The recently renamed Cathy Hudgins Community Center at Southgate and the Reston Teen Center are collecting a wide variety of items. Suggested donations include candles, robes, nail polish, home goods, gloves, shaving kits and flashlights. Donations can be dropped off through Dec. 10 at the center in Reston.

Gift Cards

The county’s domestic and sexual violence services office is also accepting gift card donations. Mail cards by Thursday, Dec. 9, to Vanessa Cullers at the Domestic Violence Action Center or Gulira Alieva at Domestic and Sexual Violence Services.

The police department’s victim services division is also collecting gift card for child victims and witnesses of domestic and sexual violence. Residents can drop off gift cards or send them to Saly Fayez, Victim Services Section, 12099 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax, VA 22035.

Know of any other local opportunities to get into the giving spirit? Let us know in the comments below.

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Meet Comical Coco, an adult chi mix, a 15-pound happy little guy who is reportedly great with other dogs and kids.

Here’s what Stone’s friends at Safe Haven Puppy Rescue had to say about him:

Meet Coco, a 4 year old chi mix who weighs about 15 pounds. This happy, friendly little guy will make his adopters a wonderful companion.

Coco is up to date on his shots, dewormings, and has been neutered. This beautiful little fella is going to be the apple of his new family’s eye so don’t delay in making this love muffin a member of your family!

So, what do you think. Are you and Comical Coco the perfect match?

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With Thanksgiving on the horizon, many local entities and organizations will be closed.

Fairfax County government offices and Fairfax County Public Schools will be closed for Thanksgiving (Thursday, Nov. 25) and Black Friday (Nov. 26). County libraries are also closed both days.

Fairfax County Circuit Court, General District Court, and Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court close at noon today (Wednesday) through Friday.

The Fairfax County Animal Shelter is open for services by appointment only. For emergencies, contact Animal Protection Police at 703-691-2131.

All Department of Motor Vehicle service centers will be closed from Nov. 25 through Nov. 27.

While the Fairfax Connector has regular service today, riders can expect Sunday service on Thursday and holiday weekday service on Friday. More details on specific routes are available online.

Metrorail and Metrobus will also operate on a Sunday school tomorrow and offer week day service on Friday.

All recreation centers will open Thursday from 5 a.m. to noon with the exception of George Washington Recreation Center. All centers reopen on Friday.

The Fairfax County Government Center and South County Government Center vaccine clinic and the Tysons Community Vaccination center will be closed Thursday through Sunday for Thanksgiving. More locations are available online.

For trash and recycling collection, residents should contact their trash and recycling collector directly for any schedule changes due to the holiday.

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Lake Anne Plaza during the Reston Multicultural Festival in 2021 (Staff photo by David Taube)

Newly elected Lake Anne condominium association president George Hadjikyriakou is looking to help improve the historic community, built in the 1960s, that’s in need of tens of millions of dollars in repairs.

His wife, Vicky, and he own Kalypso’s Sports Tavern at Lake Anne Plaza, and he became president of the Lake Anne of Reston Condominium Association following an Oct. 27 election. George Hadjikyriakou discussed the community’s needs with Reston Now.

The condomonium association has been embroiled in politics and other issues for more than a year.

“My priorities are to first and foremost establish a more open and transparent organization, follow our bylaws and the Virginia Condo Act, and to focus on the infrastructure repairs noted in the County’s report,” he wrote in an email, noting that the board of directors will engage members on decisions regarding property owned by all of its members.

In a report prepared for the county, architectural firm Samaha Associates previously identified an extensive list of repairs at Lake Anne Plaza. The costs to fix the issues amounted to over $37.7 million.

Of that total, nearly $20 million involve high-priority issues that could involve potential safety issues if not promptly addressed, according to the 109-page report. Some of those items include:

  • Ponding water issues on several buildings’ roofs that need replacement, including the Market-Deli building, where mold has accumulated on top. It hasn’t been replaced in over 20 years, based on documentation the county collected.
  • Replacing elevators in coming years at the 15-story residential building Heron House as they reach the end of their lifespans, which would require nearly $2.9 million
  • Over $1.3 million in parking lot issues that involve extensive cracking and potholes.
  • Fixing damaged brick, concrete and retaining walls and addressing electrical code violations at a commercial side of Chimney House, which abuts the parking lot and main walkway. And surrounding a water fountain, the main residential-business plaza also has deteriorating balconies.

The election results come as the community has faced aging-infrastructure problems that left tenants without hot water for months earlier this year.

“Our priorities as a community should be to ensure that our neighbors can have consistent heat, air conditioning, hot water, and no more water intrusion to their units causing unhealthy living conditions,”  Hadjikyriakou also wrote.

Lake Anne Plaza was the first village center for Reston and became part of the National Register of Historic Places in 2017, thereby limiting what kind of work can be done there. It continues to be a center for dining, farmers markets and cultural events. Hadjikyriakou noted that the county’s Architectural Review Board and Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn have expressed interest in the community, which could help with additional sources of funding.

Previously, a board of directors for the condo association some 15 or 20 years ago began undertaking the day-to-day property management activities of the community, which Hadjikyriakou believes was a mistake, he wrote. He said by email that he’s looking for directors to remove that responsibility from the board, which  he said should focus on governance instead of daily operations, and shift those duties back to a real property management company.

Hadjikyriakou also wrote one of the initiatives the condo association will seek to do is explore ways to use common areas to help generate revenue.

“We ask that people be patient and give us an opportunity to organize and prioritize the many necessary projects required to make our buildings safe and structurally sound for generations to come,” he wrote.

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Morning Notes

Juvenile Arrested in Connection with Robbery — A 16-year-old was arrested on charges of robbery and weapons offenses in connection with a robbery that happened on Nov. 16. Police said the suspect allegedly demanded a victim’s backpack while displaying a gun and then left the scene on the victim’s bike. The incident happened on the 800 block of Ferndale Avenue. [Herndon Police Department]

Reston Association Receives Award — The association was recognized for excellence in programming for its parks and recreation department’s camps in a box program. The award recognized innovative programs that contributed to the betterment of the community. [RA]

A Discussion with the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department — Fire Chief John Butler told the McLean Citizens Association that the department is preparing for the future by stepping recruitment and enhancing community partnerships. [Inside NOVA]

Why You Should Leave Leaves Alone — The Fairfax County Park Authority c=enncourages residents to leave leaves on the ground in order to help hibernating insects like caterpillars and to improve the health of your lawn. [Fairfax County Government]

A Decision on Renaming Lee and Lee Jackson Memorial Highways — The Confederate Names Task Force will meet on Tuesday to determine if the highways should be renamed. [Fairfax County Government]

Photo by David Taube

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Individuals in Fairfax County’s annual Hypothermia Prevention Program enjoy a meal (courtesy FACETS)

Faith communities are once again opening their doors to Fairfax County’s homeless population this winter after a year-long hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The county’s Hypothermia Prevention Program, which began in 2005, will run from Nov. 28 through April.

As in past years, the service will be operated by FACETS, a nonprofit organization that helps individuals affected by poverty, hunger and homelessness. The program serves people in across the county and the City of Falls Church in partnership with the local government and more than 40 faith communities.

FACETS Executive Director Joe Fay notes that the move was inspired by faith partners who felt more comfortable opening their doors due to the state’s high vaccination levels.

“The pandemic continues to create greater need and complicates efforts to help meet those needs,” Fay acknowledged, adding that safety measures will remain in effect to protect staff, volunteers and guests.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the county to adapt the program last year, as space limitations and the age of many volunteers made the churches and other buildings used in the past less viable.

The county instead set up its own sites and used hotels, which provided a good alternative to congregate settings because they allowed for social distancing, reducing transmission of the virus, Tom Barnett, the director of the county’s Office to Prevent and End Homelessness told FFXnow.

While most of us were told to stay home to avoid the virus, people experiencing homelessness did not have that option. Older adults and people with pre-existing health conditions were especially vulnerable,” Barnett said. “Fairfax County expanded shelter capacity with hotels through the pandemic to accommodate the increased demand for shelter.”

As the focus shifts back to congregate settings, nonprofit organizations have been able to hire more staff to sustain operations at their shelters.

Barnett says faith communities returning to the hypothermia prevention program is a “tremendous resource.”

After a brief dip to moderate transmission levels, COVID-19 cases appear to have returned to August levels. The county’s level of community transmission has returned to substantial.

Barnett noted that the program will attempt to increase social distancing, require masks for guests and staff, and increase the frequency of facility cleaning. Hotels will remain open through the winter in order to isolate, quarantine, and protect individuals and to reduce overcrowding in other shelters.

The program is open to any adult in need of immediate shelter.

Existing shelters that serve single adults and auxiliary programs through faith community partners run the program, which offers warm shelter, food, and other supportive services. FACETS will also offer case management for guests who wish to move into safe and stable housing.

The number of people who are homeless and unvaccinated remains a challenge, FACETS spokesperson Shawn Flaherty says. The organization plans to focus on vaccine availability and health education this year, especially as economic anxiety and food insecurity appear to be on the rise.

“The pandemic has created more economic strain which is impacting the county’s homeless population. Also, they struggle to get personal protective equipment, and it [has] been harder for them to connect with resources and basic needs,” Flaherty said.

COVID-19 vaccines will be available for all guests.

The organization plans to continue operating a shelter out of a hotel in Alexandria for individuals impacted by the pandemic.

Despite the constraints, the Hypothermia Prevention Program was able to serve an average of 215 guests per night last year.

Barnett does not expect increased demand this year due to the pandemic.

“We are confident that we have the resources and connections in place to serve our unsheltered neighbors this winter,” he said.

Photo courtesy FACETS

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After months of deliberation, the Town of Herndon has officially eased restrictions on accessory dwelling units.

The changes, approved unanimously by the Herndon Town Council earlier this month, allow the by-right use of ADUs in single-family units. The move eases current restrictions on renting out spaces inside and in detached units, which are were previously allowed only through special exceptions. The change also removes the age restriction on ADUs to those over 62 or disabled.

“People have told us they want it,” said council member Signe Freidrichs.

The move comes as neighboring jurisdictions loosen restrictions for accessory units. Fairfax County eased rules for home conversions in June.

Councilmembers said the policy change was a good method to increase the stock of affordable housing in the town while ensuring that the town’s essential workers and teachers could live where they worked.

“This is part of an overall revitalization of housing in Herndon that needs to be addressed,” said council member Cesar del Aguila, adding that he was not worried about the impacts of easing restrictions on ADUs.

While issues like changing the character of neighborhoods and overburdening infrastructure may arise, council member Pradip Dhakal noted that people are already renting out portions of their homes.

He said he was hopeful it would boost the town’s supply of affordable housing. He cautioned that it was not a solution to the issue.

David Stromberg, the town’s zoning administer, emphasized that residents would still need to comply with a variety of other requirements.

Town of Herndon Mayor Sheila Olem also noted that residents would still need to go through the zoning and permitting process, requiring code-compliant stoves, staff review of plans, and property inspections before the space is occupied.

Councilmembers debated the merits of allowing the by-right use of ADUs for townhouses. Councilmember Sean Regan suggested asking the town’s planning commission to revisit the issue in a separate process.

ADUs inside or attached to homes cannot exceed 40 percent of the main unit or 1,200 square feet. The maximum for detached units is 900 square feet. Only up to three people can live in an ADU separate and in addition to one family in the main unit.

One additional parking space would be required for ADUs while two would be required for detached units in single-family homes. For detached units, the town council also expanded setbacks from two feet to 10 feet on the rear and sides of the property. Comparatively, Arlington requires a five-foot setback while Alexandria’s setback varies between 1.5 and five feet.

While the effort is intended to allow the slow densification of the town, Stromberg said he only expects two or three by-right uses every year.

Photo via Town of Herndon

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Fairfax County Public Schools has reinstated two books that were recently pulled from library shelves after some parents took issue with their sexual content.

“Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe and “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison — both books that center on LGBTQIA+ individuals exploring their identities — will be returned to shelves based on recommendations from committees formed to review the materials, FCPS announced today (Monday).

“The decision reaffirms FCPS’ ongoing commitment to provide diverse reading materials that reflect our student population, allowing every child an opportunity to see themselves reflected in literary characters,” the school system said in a news release. “Both reviews concluded that the books were valuable in their potential to reach marginalized youth who may struggle to find relatable literary characters that reflect their personal journeys.”

FCPS pulled the two books from circulation in late September after local mother Stacy Langston complained at a school board meeting that they contained graphic sexual content akin to pornography, including depictions of pedophelia.

Langston said her complaint was inspired by similar protests at a school board meeting in Texas. Since then, protests of books have proliferated across the country, with a nearly decade-old challenge of Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” in Fairfax County even figuring into Virginia’s recent gubernatorial race.

Langston’s challenge prompted FCPS to form two committees to review the books, led by its library services coordinator.

According to FCPS, each committee consisted of two teachers, two parents, a school-based administrator, a member of its Equity and Cultural Responsiveness team, and two high school students.

The committees were formed by FCPS Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services Department Noel Klimenko, who randomly selected members from “a pool of stakeholder representatives” submitted by schools.

FCPS says both committees determined that the pedophelia claims were unfounded and that they both have literary value that justifies keeping them in schools.

Klimenko made the final decision to reinstate the books after receiving the committees’ recommendations, in accordinace with the school system’s regulation for handling challenges of school materials.

“I am satisfied that the books were selected according to FCPS regulations and are appropriate to include in libraries that serve high school students,” Klimenko said. “Both books have value beyond their pages for students who may struggle to find relatable stories.”

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When Herndon mayor-elect Sheila Olem was sworn in last December, the traditional ceremony was much different than usual: It took place as a private affair with attendee limits due to COVID-19.

“We all got individually sworn in,” she said Monday, reflecting on her time in office. “It’s been a year.”

Olem previously listed COVID-19 as her top priority for her term, which lasts for two years. Since starting her new role, the town has scaled back from the staggering of schedules for public works crews, which began in 2020, to mitigate and help control the spread of the virus.

With vaccines now readily available and Olem fully vaccinated with a booster, all Pfizer-BioNTech shots for COVID-19, some pre-pandemic routines are returning. In June, meetings went back to in person. And in August 2020, the Herndon Community Center reopened.

Much has changed, but the pandemic’s effects still linger in this town of nearly 25,000 people. The Town Council is back to meeting in person, but face-mask-required signs still cover government buildings.

About 75% of the town’s costs are personnel, and town leaders, including the mayor, have sought to help keep their morale up, Olem said. The vacancy rate for the town’s 200-plus positions is 10% or higher, she said, noting that she and town Manager Bill Ashton will deliver meals to town departments to thank them for their service, although a holiday celebration with awards will have to be done virtually.

The town is also getting $25.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act money, so staff are reviewing how the funding could help with one-time expenses that they’re allowed to be used for, such as infrastructure costs. Olem noted money could be used for a pool-cleaning system at the Herndon Community Center.

The pandemic’s uncertainty comes as the town is still waiting for the Herndon Metrorail Station to begin serving the yet-to-open Silver Line Phase II extension, which would include service to the Dulles airport.

Olem noted one of her accomplishments has been maintaining trash service in a time when staffing issues with private haulers has led to delays nearby and nationwide.

Mayor discusses development, parking and future

During Olem’s time as mayor, the town has begun moving forward with a proposal for three developers to pay $500,000 to help study an area for redevelopment. The review, within 1/4 to 1/2 miles of the Metro station, would cover an area mostly north of Herndon Parkway. A committee that will include a representative for each developer has not yet formed, but Olem said the town is in no way bound to the committee’s recommendations.

However, there is still no firm groundbreaking date on the delayed redevelopment of downtown Herndon by Comstock.

Meanwhile, the town considered in August whether rules should be changed to address off-street parking, which isn’t metered. Olem said other areas have done so and noted how commercial trucks can sit in areas in the town.

“We’ve got to bring this back,” she said. “If we don’t have anything on the books, there’s nothing we can do.”

The Town Council considered a proposal to allow $50 fines against drivers who park within 10 feet of driveways to help with safety due to traffic visibility and to help with access for trash pickup, but it decided during an Aug. 10 meeting that it would hold off on the matter. Council members asked for more information on neighborhoods affected and possible consequences.

For the remainder of her term, Olem, who has been on council since 2010, said she’s interested in maintaining Herndon’s sense of place and historical homes where possible.

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