Reston, VA

Fairfax County teenagers are vaping less than their peers nationwide, a county survey of middle and high school students found.

15.1% of the 48,915 students who responded to the 2019-2020 Fairfax County Youth Survey reported vaping within the past 30 days, compared to 22.5% of teenagers in the U.S. overall. The survey results were released on Oct. 20.

Nicotine remains the drug most frequently used for vaping, which involves the inhalation of an aerosol through a battery-powered device, but its usage declined from 16.7% in 2018 to under 12% in 2019.

About half as many students reported using flavoring in this year’s survey (5.5%) as they did in the previous year’s (10.3%), but the use of marijuana rose from 8% in 2018 to 9% in 2019.

The number of Fairfax County teens who say they have vaped within their lifetime dropped from 28% in 2018 to 25% in 2019, according to the survey, which is given annually to Fairfax County Public Schools students in sixth, eighth, 10th, and 12th grades.

Fairfax County did not add questions about vaping to its annual youth survey until 2018, making it hard to determine whether the decline in reported vaping is a real trend, but county officials are encouraged by the results.

“The rates for vaping among Fairfax County youth went down considerably from 2018 despite the upward national trend,” Fairfax County Office of Strategy Management for Health and Human Services public information officer Shweta Adyanthaya said. “This is a promising sign that our youth are heeding the concerns regarding vaping in general.”

County officials say they remain concerned about the health effects of vaping, especially during a pandemic caused by a coronavirus that attacks people’s lungs.

Research on how COVID-19 affects people who have used e-cigarettes is limited, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked a contaminant found in e-cigarettes to an outbreak of e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injuries (EVALI) that had killed or hospitalized 2,807 people in the U.S. as of Feb. 18.

Though it is a potential benefit, the CDC says the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as an aid for helping adults quit smoking is unknown. The agency warns against vaping for youth, young adults, pregnant adults, and adults who do not currently use tobacco products.

“We know that the brains of adolescents continue to develop until about the age [of] 25 and that nicotine can have harmful effects,” Fairfax County Health Director Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu said. “Now, with evidence that vaping may be linked with worse outcomes of COVID-19 infection, it’s more important than ever that we offer solutions to help young people.”

FCPS Student Safety and Wellness Office coordinator Stefan Mascoll says 697 students came to the office for tobacco-related substance abuse during the 2019-20 school year, a number that might have been higher if the COVID-19 pandemic did not close schools in March.

“Young people who use e-cigarettes may be vaping even more to cope with stress and social isolation, or they may be experiencing difficult nicotine withdrawal symptoms because of limited access to e-cigarettes,” the Fairfax County Health Department says.

To combat vaping, Fairfax County and FCPS have partnered with the nonprofit Truth Initiative to promote This Is Quitting, a free program that sends supportive text messages to teens and young adults seeking to quit e-cigarettes.

Started in January 2019, This Is Quitting has more than 206,000 enrollees nationwide. People in Fairfax County can join by texting VapeFreeFFX to 88709.

James Madison High School student Sid Thakker, who won an award from the National Institute on Drug Abuse in 2019 for a science fair project about nicotine addiction, has been assisting with the implementation of This Is Quitting in Fairfax County.

“As a senior in high school, I know students aren’t given much information on treatments if they are addicted, but the program is the perfect mix of creative treatments and advice,” Thakker said. “I am excited to see the impact it will make in FCPS.”

Image via Fairfax County

0 Comments

Fairfax County should attempt to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040 and eliminate all waste from county government and school operations by 2030, the Fairfax County Joint Environmental Task Force (JET) recommends in a new report.

Presented to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Oct. 20 and the Fairfax County School Board on Oct. 22, the report urges both boards, along with the Fairfax County Park Authority and the Fairfax County Regional Housing Authority, to commit to producing net-zero carbon emissions from their energy usage by 2040.

To achieve this goal, the task force suggests that Fairfax County aim to cut its carbon emissions in half from 2019 levels by 2030, while transitioning to renewable sources to generate 25% of its energy by 2030 and 50% by 2040.

The task force also recommends reducing the total amount of energy used by all county facilities by 25% by 2030 and 50% by 2040, and requiring all new county buildings and major renovation projects meet net-zero energy standards starting in 2021.

Other recommendations proposed by the JET include:

  • Fairfax government and schools should aim to produce zero solid waste by 2030
  • The Fairfax Connector bus fleet should transition to electricity or other non-carbon-emitting fuel sources by 2030, with the Fairfax County Public Schools fleet and non-bus vehicles following suit by 2035
  • The county government and schools should develop resources to educate students and adults about job options in “green” industries, including renewable energy, green building, resource and wildlife management, and stormwater management

“The JET’s ambitious goals and recommendations send a powerful message that our county and school system are committed to doing what it takes to protect our environment and address the threat of climate change,” Providence District School Board member Karl Frisch said.

Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions executive director Meg Mall, one of nine community members on the JET, says her environmental advocacy group is “pleased that strong goals have been incorporated” into the task force’s report and hopes to see continued collaboration not just between different county agencies, but also between Fairfax County and the general public.

“FACS has been a strong advocate for the adoption of aggressive goals in the county’s climate mitigation and adaptation work,” Mall said. “…The county must lead by example within its own operations while concurrently working toward community-wide goals.”

The Board of Supervisors and school board formed the JET in April 2019 to coordinate county government and schools efforts to address climate change, energy efficiency, and environmental sustainability issues.

While the threat of climate change has loomed for decades, its urgency became newly apparent when the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report in 2018 that found the world must achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and potentially avoid the most drastic impacts of climate change.

In addition to creating the JET, Fairfax County signaled that it intends to prioritize climate issues by establishing the new Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination in July 2019 and awarding contracts to solar providers in December to install solar panels at more than 100 publicly owned facilities.

The Board of Supervisors will discuss the JET recommendations and get updates on the solar power purchase agreement initiative, the development of a Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP), and the county’s yard waste collection bag policy during its environmental committee meeting today at 11 a.m.

Staff photo by Catherine Douglas Moran

0 Comments

Fairfax County inched closer to transitioning to renewable energy yesterday (Tuesday) when the Board of Supervisors authorized county staff to lease Reston Community Center and seven other county government-owned facilities so they can be outfitted with solar panels.

Providence Community Center will have rooftop solar photovoltaic panels installed on its main building at 3001 Vaden Drive, which operates as a government center for Providence District as well as a community meeting facility.

The other facilities that the county board approved to be leased to Sigora Solar following a brief public hearing are:

  • The Herrity Building (12055 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax)
  • The Pennino Building (12011 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax)
  • The North County Government Center (1801 Cameron Glen Dr., Reston)
  • Springfield Warehouse (6800 Industrial Road, Springfield)
  • Noman M. Cole Pollution Control Plant lab building (9399 Richmond Highway, Lorton)
  • I-66 Transfer Station, workers’ facility building, and truck wash building (4500 West Ox Road, Fairfax)

The eight facilities are among the first locations approved for solar photovoltaic panels as part of Fairfax County’s extensive contract with Sigora Solar, which was announced on Dec. 10 as the largest solar power purchase agreement initiative by a Virginia municipality at that point.

As the PPA service provider, Sigora Solar is responsible for designing, permitting, installing, and operating rooftop solar panels at all facilities participating in the program, which also includes facilities owned by Fairfax County Public Schools, Fairfax County Park Authority, and Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

Under the PPA, Fairfax County will not bear any costs for the design, permitting, or construction of the solar panels, Fairfax County Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination director Kambiz Agazi says.

Instead, the county will purchase on-site electricity from Sigora.

The solar PPA is expected to help Fairfax County reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and its electricity costs, though county staff could not yet provide specific numbers for how much the installation of solar will reduce emissions or how much money the county is expected to save.

“We will have an approximation as soon as we have a permitted design,” Agazi said. “We hope to have that in the next three to four months.”

The eight facilities that were the subject of yesterday’s public hearing are among 113 possible projects in the first phase of Fairfax County’s PPA with Sigora, which could ultimately include a total of 247 facilities based on a request for proposals that the county issued in 2019.

County staff say they will return to the Board of Supervisors in the future to get approval to lease the 18 other county government-owned facilities included in the first phase of the PPA.

Image via Flickr/Minoru Karamatsu

0 Comments

Over the past week, Fairfax County recorded its highest seven-day average for COVID-19 cases since mid-June, a potentially worrying development as the weather turns colder and forces more activities indoors.

Fairfax County’s weekly average for new COVID-19 cases hit 118 on Oct. 14, its highest since the county averaged 126 cases over seven days on June 13, according to the latest data from the Virginia Department of Health.

While the seven-day average has dipped back down in subsequent days to 85 cases on average as of Sunday (Oct. 18), Fairfax County joins the rest of Virginia in seeing an upward trend in cases in October, even if its numbers remain significantly lower than those seen in other parts of the state.

On top of reporting two new deaths, both of them on Oct. 17, Fairfax County added 598 COVID-19 cases during the week of Oct. 13-19. The Fairfax Health District has a cumulative total of 22,916 cases, 617 deaths, and 2,239 hospitalizations.

The zip code 22042, which contains West Falls Church south of Route 29, remains the most heavily affected part of the Tysons area, adding 28 cases over the past week for 1,173 cases overall and 3,497 cases per 100,000 persons in a population of 33,537 people.

Though COVID-19 cases in Fairfax County have ticked up in October compared to late September, the county has not yet seen another surge in transmissions like the one that hit this spring, which peaked with a weekly average of 303 cases on May 31.

Since that spring surge, Northern Virginia in general has been reporting lower case rates than the rest of the state, with a moving seven-day average of 238 cases as of Oct. 19 compared to 799 cases on average for all other regions.

As a whole, Virginia recorded a seven-day moving average of 1,037 on Oct. 19, and the state has added 7,258 COVID-19 cases over the past week for a statewide total of 166,828 cases. Virginia has reported 11,882 hospitalizations and 3,457 deaths.

With public health experts predicting that the COVID-19 pandemic will worsen this winter as the weather gets colder, Fairfax County officials are discouraging people from engaging in trick-or-treating, indoor costume parties, and other traditional celebrations for Halloween this year.

“In general, the more closely you interact with others and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread,” Fairfax Health Director Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu said. “For people who are more likely to experience severe illness from COVID-19, celebrating virtually or with members of your own household may be the safest way to enjoy the holiday.”

Image via CDC on Unsplash, Virginia Department of Health

0 Comments

Fairfax County Public Schools could expand in-person learning to more students starting next week based on current health data, FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand says in a presentation that he will deliver to the county school board at its work session tonight (Thursday).

Virginia Department of Health data indicates that Northern Virginia has started seeing a slight uptick in reported COVID-19 cases in October, with 314 cases reported on Oct. 15 for a seven-day moving average of 248 cases. However, the burden and extent of community transmission in the region is still considered low as of the week that ended on Oct. 10.

Coupled with efforts to implement mitigation strategies recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and prepare staff for instructional and operational changes, Fairfax County’s current health metrics supportFCPS continuing to phase in in-person learning, Brabrand’s presentation says.

After introducing in-person instruction for select specialized career preparation classes on Oct. 5, FCPS is planning to expand in-person learning to some of its early childhood special education services, including its preschool autism class, on Oct. 19.

Under Brabrand’s tentative timeline, FCPS will continue phasing cohorts of students – mostly younger students and students with special education needs – into in-person classes throughout the rest of the year before introducing hybrid learning for all students in early 2021.

For hybrid learning, students can choose to remain completely online or to receive two days of in-person instruction and two days of virtual instruction. This phase will start on Jan. 4 for grades three to six and on Feb. 1 for grades seven through 12.

“We believe in-person instruction is best to meet our students’ academic, social, and emotional needs,” Brabrand’s presentation says. “We want to phase students back to in-person instruction as safely, efficiently, and as early as possible. All phase-in decisions will be made with student and staff safety as the highest priority.”

FCPS is also proposing a pilot to test a concurrent instructional model where teachers would work simultaneously with students in the classroom and online. The pilot would start next week with first-grade students at Kings Park Elementary School in Springfield and English, math, and science classes at West Springfield High School.

The number of pilot sites will scale up later in October, according to Brabrand’s presentation.

FCPS says a concurrent instructional model would provide scheduling flexibility, save teachers from having to plan separate activities for in-person and virtual students, and allow students to continue receiving instruction whether they are online or physically in their school building.

Possible challenges include the additional burden on teachers as they transition to a concurrent model, the difficulty of managing a classroom with both in-person and online students, and the potential for video and audio issues to affect students’ learning experience.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle facing FCPS as it attempts to resume in-person learning after the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools in March is the availability of teachers and support staff, who have expressed concerns about returning to the classroom due to the possible health risks.

An FCPS survey of teachers and instructional support staff found that 84 percent of respondents have a desire to return to support in-person instruction, but the school system only heard back from 56 percent of the individuals that were surveyed. People who did not respond are assigned to in-person instruction by default.

Of the respondents who suggested they would not return for in-person instruction, 259 people said they would request Americans with Disabilities Act accommodations for health concerns. 47 people cited childcare responsibilities, while 41 people would take a leave of absence and 11 people said they would resign or retire.

After conducting its own survey, the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers reported on Oct. 6 that almost 53 percent of its members would consider taking a leave of absence or resigning if asked to return to work in person, with only 9.7 percent of respondents saying they feel safe returning.

The federation, which serves as a labor union for FCPS educators and staff, has criticized the county’s return-to-school plan as lacking in transparency and detail.

While some of the metrics sought by the federation are in Brabrand’s presentation for tonight, including the availability of personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, FCFT says it has still not gotten a commitment from FCPS to provide clear metrics for determining school closures, train all staff on protocols before everyone returns to school buildings, maintain a daily public record of cleanings, or explain how its new mask regulation will be enforced, among other demands.

“We are pleased to see that FCPS is providing some additional details to the School Board tonight,” FCFT organizer Tiffany Finck-Haynes said in a statement. “We do continue to have unanswered questions regarding the plan, have significant concerns with the concurrent teaching model proposed, and continue to urge FCPS to adopt our 11 Pillars of a Safe Reopening.”

The Fairfax County School Board’s work session is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. The board will not formally vote on Brabrand’s proposed return-to-school plan, but FCPS staff recommends that the board give a consensus to support the plan.

Photo courtesy FCFT

0 Comments

Reston Association will need to get creative in order to fund its planned renovation of the Lake Thoreau Pool.

The majority of residents who spoke at the association’s board of directors meeting on Thursday expressed support for funding the project in 2021 so that it can reopen in 2022 as planned. Members urging board members to consider a variety of funding and design options if necessary to make it more feasible.

Suggestions included opening the pool up to non-RA members, turning the pool into a shallow-end-only facility to make maintenance easier, and opening up the pool deck year-round so that it could be utilized for other activities.

“Now that we are all living through this pandemic, we know the huge importance of outdoor spaces,” Giselle Agosto Hincapie, whose family lives in walking distance of the pool, said. “The idea of completely eliminating the pool or delaying the construction project is truly disheartening. I think a pool can be incorporated with year-round amenities in this space.”

Kimley-Horn, the consultant hired to develop design concepts for the pool project, estimates that its first proposal, a more straightforward renovation that stays within the site’s existing footprint, would cost somewhere between $2.9 million and $3.5 million.

This design would install a zero-depth wading pool in what used to be the facility’s deep end, expand the parking lot and bathhouse to meet Fairfax County and Americans with Disabilities Act code requirements, and incorporate an elevated observation and lounge deck.

A second proposal that would involve a more extensive overhaul of the site would cost between $3.8 million and $4.6 million, though Kimle-Horn landscape architect Ron Kagawa says there has been a “great preference” for the simpler concept.

Kagawa says a significant part of the project’s cost is tied to the need to level out the site so that it is more accessible and to construct an approximately 450-foot-long retaining wall along the lakefront and around the parking lot.

Chris Schumaker, Reston Association’s senior capital projects operations manager, estimates that if RA picks the first project concept, it would need to commit an additional $3.1 million on top of the $350,000 allocated to the Lake Thoreau project in 2020, possibly splitting the $3.45 million total cost between $1.6 million in 2021 and $1.5 million in 2022.

However, Reston Association also has five other pools and three tennis courts that are expected to need renovations between 2022 and 2031.

Adding these other projects on top of the Lake Thoreau pool funding, the association’s repair and replacement reserve fund could drop into a negative balance by 2023 and not recover until 2027, according to Schumaker’s projections.

“A lot of our facilities are nearing that 40, 50-year age mark,” Schumaker said. “We can safely assume there are going to be some major projects coming down the pike that we’re going to need to be aware of and planning for.”

RA’s Board of Directors will discuss options for financing the Lake Thoreau pool renovation in more detail during a special working session on Oct. 8.

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

0 Comments

An update on Fairfax County’s Reston Comprehensive Plan Task Force is planned for tonight’s Reston Association Board of Directors meeting.

Established by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Jan. 14, the Reston Comprehensive Plan task force has been tasked with reviewing the county’s Reston Master Plan, which guides land use, development, infrastructure, and the general vision and environment for the Reston community.

As a homeowners’ association that represents 21,346 residential units in the Reston community, Reston Association is represented on the task force by Secretary and North Point District director John Mooney with Chief Operating Officer Larry Butler serving as an alternate.

“There have been no decision points yet with the Reston Comprehensive Plan Task Force so the RA Board has not weighed in,” Mike Leone, Reston Association’s spokesperson said. “RA’s primary interest in participating on the task force is to ensure our members’ interests are heard during the task force process.”

Fairfax County originally amended Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan with a section specific to Reston in February 2014 to establish a vision for transit station areas created in anticipation of the arrival of Metro’s Silver Line.

The Board of Supervisors adopted a second phase of the Reston plan amendment in June 2015 to address the area’s village centers and residential areas, aligning the Comprehensive Plan’s recommendations with existing development.

While the Reston Comprehensive Plan was amended in 2018, the need to reexamine the plan more extensively emerged last year after county officials and residents clashed over a proposed zoning ordinance amendment that would have increased the density limits for Reston’s planned residential community district.

The proposed zoning amendment was intended to ensure Reston will be able to accommodate anticipated future growth, but many residential groups, including Reston Association, Reston 20/20, and the Reston Citizens Association, argued that it would be more effective to modify the comprehensive plan before considering changes to the PRC district density limits.

The Fairfax County Planning Commission ultimately agreed with opponents of the proposal, voting unanimously in February 2019 to recommend that the county supervisors do not amend the zoning ordinance until an amendment to the Reston Comprehensive Plan is in place.

The Board of Supervisors voted that March to indefinitely defer the proposed zoning ordinance change.

After taking office in January, Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn moved to establish the Reston Comprehensive Plan task force, which consists of 24 members with seven alternates and held its first meeting on May 11.

At its last meeting on Sept. 14, the task force tentatively approved topic areas, reviewed the comprehensive plan’s planning principles, and got an overview of transportation issues in Reston from Fairfax County staff, according to meeting materials.

Alcorn, who is facilitating the task force, says the group has also discussed Reston’s projected population and planned transportation improvements.

“After five meetings and 10 hours of engaged discussion, I am very excited about the work being done by the task force,” Alcorn said. “The task force is really just getting started and participation from interested members of the community is encouraged. The output of this work will guide Reston’s built and natural environment for decades to come.”

With the comprehensive plan review and community engagement process expected to take between 12 and 18 months, the task force has scheduled meetings through December, with the next one set for Sept. 30.

Other notable items on tonight’s agenda for the RA Board of Directors include:

  • Approval of the proposed work plan for the multimodal transportation committee, which gives advice and policy recommendations on transportation infrastructure related to Reston
  • A third-quarter information technology update, including information about the association’s new website
  • A status update on completed, ongoing, and upcoming RA capital projects, including an overview of funding for its Lake Thoreau project
  • A progress update on the recreation facilities working group, which is evaluating the condition, usage, and costs of the association’s recreational facilities

According to a summary in tonight’s agenda, the cancelation of camps, programs, and events, along with a shortened pool season, have had the most significant financial impact on Reston Association, lowering operating expenses by $2 million to offset a $1.5 million drop in revenue as of August.

Staff Photo by Jay Westcott

0 Comments

Fairfax County Public Schools must now wait until a formal grievance process has concluded to impose discipline against students and employees found to have committed sexual harassment or assault.

With three members abstaining and one not present, the Fairfax County School Board voted 7-1 on Sept. 17 to amend the FCPS Student Rights and Responsibilities book, which contains the district’s student conduct policies, to specify that discipline in Title IX cases cannot be dealt until the completion of the grievance process, including any appeals.

The board also agreed to discuss its new sexual harassment regulations further at a future work session to potentially bolster protections for both people who file complaints and those subject to the discipline process.

Necessitated by new federal rules regarding Title IX cases, which concern sexual and gender-based discrimination, the Student Rights and Responsibilities amendment is an extension of a new district regulation that dictates how Fairfax County schools will handle sexual harassment complaints.

Effective as of Aug. 26, Regulation 2118 establishes a separate process for reporting, responding to, and resolving sexual harassment complaints than the one used for other offenses, such as drug use and even sexual misconduct that does not meet the definition of harassment.

Where other potential student conduct violations are generally addressed by school principals, formal complaints of sexual harassment will be reviewed by Title IX investigators in the FCPS Office of Equity and Employee Relations, and hearing officers under the superintendent are now responsible for determining whether a complaint is founded and what discipline to impose.

All appeals go to the school board’s appeals committee except for an appeal of a complaint’s dismissal, which would be heard by the district’s deputy assistant superintendent.

Under Regulation 2118, potential disciplinary consequences for sexual harassment and related offenses, including assault, stalking and dating violence or domestic violence, can include expulsion, reassignment, long-term suspension of more than 10 school days, and exclusion from school-sponsored activities.

The new FCPS regulation also requires that any school employee who witnesses or receives a report of sexual harassment report it to their principal or assistant principal. Students and parents are expected to report sexual harassment to the principal or assistant principal, but they can also go directly to the district’s Title IX coordinator.

Upon receiving a report of sexual harassment, a school principal is obligated to contact the complainant to offer options for supportive measures, which range from counseling and seating, locker, or bus reassignments to a no-contact order and scheduling and class changes, and explain the process for filing a formal complaint if they choose.

Principals and other school-based administrators are not involved in the formal grievance process, FCPS assistant division counsel Ellen Kennedy told the school board at its Sept. 17 meeting.

These new procedures bring the Fairfax County public school system in compliance with a new Title IX rule that was issued by the U.S. Department of Education on May 6 and took full effect on Aug. 14.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs and activities. It has been regularly used to combat sexual assault and harassment in schools and colleges, but the Education Department’s new rule represents the first time that purpose has been cemented with a legally enforceable regulation.

While U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos heralded the new rule as a historic step to protect students’ safety and due process rights, sexual assault survivors’ advocacy groups say that it will discourage victims from reporting harassment, shield schools from liability, and make it more difficult to hold perpetrators accountable, according to Inside Higher Education.

Attorneys general from 18 states, including Virginia, are seeking to have the Title IX regulations declared unlawful in a federal lawsuit that was originally filed on June 4. On Aug. 10, a district judge in New York denied the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary injunction to prevent the new rule from taking effect as scheduled on Aug. 14.

Though one of the most-criticized changes — a requirement that officials hold live hearings of sexual assault cases with cross-examinations of both parties — applies just to universities and colleges, Fairfax County school board members made their objections to the new Title IX rule clear even as they passed an amendment to align the district’s policies with federal regulations.

“Broadly speaking, it is the accused who are getting the benefit of the Department of Education’s changes here, and it is the accusers who are being hung out to dry,” Providence District representative Karl Frisch said.

Springfield District Representative Laura Jane Cohen framed her frustrations with the new Title IX regulations through her own experience of being sexually assaulted when she was in sixth grade, an incident that was never formally reported or investigated.

While she believes the Education Department’s new regulations make the process more difficult for people who report sexual harassment, Cohen says the proposed Student Rights and Regulations amendment is the only option currently available to hold people who violate sexual harassment policies accountable.

“It’s crummy, but there has to be something to protect the people who have been sexually assaulted and sexually harassed, our staff, our students, period,” Cohen said. “We have an obligation to those kids, and without this [amendment], there is no recourse for them.”

In addition to altering the Title IX reporting, investigation, and disciplinary procedures used by both K-12 and higher education institutions, the Title IX Final Rule redefines sexual harassment as “any unwelcome conduct that a reasonable person would find so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it denies a person equal educational access.”

That sets a higher bar for what constitutes sexual harassment than the “preponderance of the evidence” standard used by the Obama administration, though sexual assault, stalking, dating violence, and domestic violence allegations do not need to meet the “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive” threshold.

The Final Rule also directs elementary and secondary schools to require all employees to report notices of sexual harassment and have the investigation of a complaint and the determination of whether the accused student is responsible be conducted by different people.

Braddock District Representative Megan McLaughlin voted against adopting the amendment. Rachna Sizemore Heizer, Abrar Omeish, and Karen Keys-Gamarra, the board’s three at-large members, abstained after raising concerns about a lack of flexibility for handling Title IX cases based on students’ varying needs or circumstances.

Regulation 2118 and the accompanying SR&R amendment lay out specific, systemwide steps for handling sexual harassment complaints. That reduces the risk of policies being applied inconsistently based on the judgment of individual schools and administrators, but the documents also do not differentiate cases based on factors like age, for instance, prescribing mostly uniform reporting and investigation procedures and disciplinary responses for students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Board members also worried that these regulations could contribute to existing inequities in student discipline, which tends to be applied disproportionately to students of color and students with disabilities.

“This is a problem that I’m very worried about, given many of our students with disabilities who have needs in the social skills area: understanding, reading body cues, body language,” Sizemore Heizer said. “There’s a lot of direct instruction that we need to teach our students with disabilities around consent, around reacting to body language.”

When asked if the board could postpone voting for a public work session or not adopt new Title IX discipline guidance, FCPS division counsel John Foster stated that not complying with federal regulations could put the district at risk of legal action and a loss of federal funding, and the Student Rights and Responsibilities amendment is necessary to determine sanctions for students who engage in sexual harassment.

“If we don’t have a process in place, we’re going to have students who potentially engage in misconduct and don’t face any consequences for it,” Foster said. “That’s just a bad place, I think, for the school system to be and also a bad place for accusers to be.”

0 Comments

A two-story, single-family home in Reston caught fire on Sept. 19, displacing two occupants and leaving approximately $65,500 in damages.

The Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department dispatched units to the 11500 block of Greenwich Point Road at 5:17 on Saturday after receiving a report of a house fire.

Witnessing fire on the house’s roof when they arrived on the scene, responders worked to control the fire from the building’s exterior before transitioning inside to extinguish the blaze.

The fire was accidental in nature, resulting from an electrical event that started in the interior wall of a second-floor bedroom, the department reported in a news update on Wednesday.

According to the fire and rescue department, two occupants were home at the time of the fire. They self-evacuated after a neighbor who observed flames on the roof alerted them to the fire, which did not activate smoke alarms due to its location in the house.

No civilian or firefighter injuries have been reported as a result of the fire.

0 Comments

Campaign contributions to the Town of Herndon’s mayoral and town council races have been relatively sparse with Election Day just over a month away.

Campaign finance reports filed with the Virginia Department of Elections on Sept. 15 show that Sheila Olem and Roland Taylor, the two candidates seeking to replace outgoing Mayor Lisa Merkel, have received $925 and $957, respectively, in total contributions since January.

According to her latest campaign finance report, which covers the period from July 1 to Aug. 31, Olem received a $250 donation from Fairfax City Councilmember Janice Miller on Aug. 1. She also loaned $500 to her campaign in July and has gotten $175 in small cash donations since January.

Taylor, a public servant in local law enforcement, is responsible for all of the financial donations to his campaign.

By contrast, Merkel, who announced in January that she will step down at the conclusion of her fourth term as Herndon’s mayor, received more than $17,500 in contributions for all three of her reelection campaigns, topping $20,000 in both 2014 and 2016, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.

Olem, who currently serves as Herndon’s vice mayor, attributes the sluggish rate of donations to the town’s mayoral contest to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, which is driven by close contact between people and, as a result, has limited candidates’ ability to interact with voters in-person.

Olem says she tries to keep supporters updated through email and Facebook, but she is aware that not everyone uses social media, and emails will not reach people unless they are on her campaign’s mailing list.

“That’s the most difficult part of it, and I don’t think that’s good for the voters,” Olem said. “I usually have several events, and then people will come and chat with me, and they’ll give donations. It’s just really hard this time.”

Sean Regan leads candidates for the Herndon Town Council in terms of campaign contributions.

A member of Herndon’s Planning Commission since 2012, Regan is one of 10 people vying for a seat on Herndon’s six-member town council.

The $6,710 in campaign contributions that Regan has reported to the state since January is more than twice as much as what any other candidate has accumulated, though much of that money comes out of his own pocket.

In addition to receiving $700 in cash donations, Regan has given $6,000 to his campaign in the form of a $2,000 direct donation and two separate $2,000 loans.

While Regan has the highest cumulative total of contributions, rival town council candidate Stevan Porter has attracted the most donors, receiving $2,583 from 18 different contributors as of Aug. 31.

Financial support for Porter’s campaign has mostly come from individual donors, but the IT professional and paramedic has also reported two separate $100 in-kind contributions from the Libertarian National Committee for the use of an eCanvasser campaign management system.

Total contributions to the other Herndon Town Council candidates’ campaign include:

Naila Alam, Bessie Denton, Pradip Dhakal, and Syed Iftikhar have not reported any campaign contributions as of Virginia’s Sept. 15 filing deadline for candidates who will be on the ballot for this November’s election. Denton and Iftikhar withdrew their candidacy after the results of the local Democratic caucus.

Virginia law requires that candidates seeking public office disclose all campaign contributions and expenditures to the state.

Full campaign finance reports for Herndon’s mayoral and town council candidates are available on the Virginia Department of Elections website.

Image via Town of Herndon

0 Comments
×

Subscribe to our mailing list