Our hyperlocal coverage areas each have their own section on the FFXnow site, but their archives will remain on the older domains, for now. Readers in the Reston and Tysons areas will continue to receive afternoon newsletters but can also sign up for FFXnow to bring them government, business, development and breaking news from across the county every weekday.
Social media accounts for Reston and Tysons will maintain their identity and remain active with the latest local news, with the exception of Reston Now’s Instagram, where you will now see content from across the county under the new FFXnow brand. If you haven’t already, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
We are excited to share more local reporting with you, Fairfax County. To send news tips, email [email protected].
Fairfax County police are investigating a fatal shooting that was reported just before 10 p.m. Monday in the 14800 block of Bodley Square. That is in the London Towne area of Centreville.
A man was pronounced dead at the scene. Sgt. Tara Gerhard, police spokeswoman, says this killing was not a random act and there is some sort of relationship between the victim and a man suspected of killing him.
The suspect was seen fleeing the area on foot.
Detectives from our Major Crimes Bureau continue to investigate. Multiple firearms were discovered at the scene. Anyone with information, please call 911. Follow our blog, https://t.co/lhGv3NDvYs, for details when available. #FCPD https://t.co/oRbNMW78XL
— Fairfax County Police (@FairfaxCountyPD) February 22, 2022
Face masks will still be required in Fairfax County Public Schools when students return on Tuesday (Feb. 22).
However, the school system acknowledged in a message to the community today (Friday) that universal masking may come to an end soon. Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed Senate Bill 739 into law on Wednesday (Feb. 16), allowing parents to opt their children out of school mask mandates starting March 1.
“We recognize our legal obligations and will maintain our commitment to the health and safety of our students and staff,” Superintendent Scott Brabrand wrote.
The school board joined a lawsuit last month to prevent Youngkin from enforcing an executive order that prohibited local schools from requiring masks. An Arlington County Circuit Court judge let Fairfax County and the other suing school systems keep universal masking in place while the legal process plays out, but the new state law has essentially rendered the lawsuit moot.
With S.B. 739 looking likely to pass the Virginia General Assembly last week, FCPS announced a plan on Feb. 10 to roll back its Covid health protocols, including by making masks optional once community transmission drops to a moderate level.
Brabrand says FCPS staff have started planning to roll back protocols in the hopes that case rates will continue to drop. He also noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to update its mask guidance for schools early next week.
“We will share updates as we receive them,” he said.
We ask everyone to do their part to keep our schools safe places to learn and to respect our educators and staff who are doing everything possible to keep our schools open and safe. Please monitor for symptoms and stay home when sick. Practice good hygiene, including covering coughs and sneezes, and washing hands frequently. We encourage vaccination for all eligible children and adults as the best way to prevent serious illness and reduce absences from in-person learning.
We also ask everyone to do their part to keep our schools positive and uplifting places to learn. As we finish this school year working our way through what is hopefully the late stages of the pandemic, let’s do so with respect, kindness, and support for all.
Though FCPS indicates that it intends to comply with the new state law, county leaders have expressed frustration with what they view as the General Assembly’s encroachment on the authority of local school boards — an argument that was the basis of the school boards’ lawsuit.
McKay said he hasn’t spoken to state Sen. Chap Petersen (D-34th), who represents the City of Fairfax, Vienna, and parts of Fairfax County. Petersen introduced the amendment to S.B. 739 that added the optional-masks provision to a bill that was originally focused on in-person learning.
“It’s the law now. It’s going to be implemented,” McKay said. “We will deal with it and deal with it effectively, but it’s just not a way to govern…telling a school system what to do.”
In FFXnow’s extremely informal poll, 81% of nearly 600 respondents support masks becoming optional in schools by March 1, in accordance with the state law.
Photo via FCPS
Presidents Day is Monday (Feb. 21), and the federal holiday — which is technically called Washington’s Birthday — will bring some noteworthy closings and schedule changes.
Banks, post offices, state offices:
- Post offices will be closed.
- Most banks will be closed. TD Bank will be open.
- State government services are generally closed, such as DMV centers.
County libraries, recreation centers, parks:
- All Fairfax County library branches will be closed.
- All Fairfax County Rec Centers will operate at their regular hours.
- Colvin Run Mill and Sully Historic Site will be closed.
- The E.C. Lawrence, Hidden Oaks, Hidden Pond and Huntley Meadows nature centers as well as the Riverbend Park visitor center will be open from noon until 4 p.m.
- The McLean Community Center will be closed.
- Reston Community Center Hunters Woods will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., but the Lake Anne facility will be closed.
- Fairfax Connector buses will operate on a holiday weekday service plan. Check here for operating routes.
- Fairfax CUE service will operate on a modified weekday service.
- WMATA Metrorail service will operate on a “Saturday Supplemental” schedule from 5 a.m. until midnight on Presidents Day. On the weekend leading up to the holiday, it will run from 7 a.m. Saturday to 1 a.m. Sunday and 5 a.m. Sunday through midnight.
- WMATA Metrobus will operate on a Saturday service schedule for the holiday.
Fairfax County government:
- County government offices will be closed.
- Courts will be closed.
County trash and recycling:
- There will be no change in the county’s trash and recycling collection, but private haulers may have different schedules.
- County Public Works and Environmental Services administrative offices will closed.
- The recycling and disposal centers at the I-66 Transfer Station and I-95 Landfill Complex will be open.
Town of Herndon recreation and services:
- The Herndon Community Center will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
- The Town of Herndon will collect recycling.
Town of Vienna:
- Vienna’s town hall will be closed, but the community center will follow modified hours of 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. with special hours for its drop-in gym.
- Regular waste collection will take place.
Public bus lines might seem fixed to bus shelters, but changing those routes could give people greater access to jobs, medical services, and more.
That’s one way that bus networks in the D.C. area could be improved, a consultant told transportation stakeholders during a virtual “Bus Champions” roundtable held yesterday (Tuesday) by MetroNow, a conglomeration of commerce and transit advocacy groups.
The coalition is calling on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to follow through with a 2019 initiative called the Bus Transformation Project, which envisioned buses as the dominant mode of transportation for the region by 2030.
Scudder Wagg, senior associate of Jarrett Walker and Associates, a public transit consulting firm with offices across the country, discussed how bus network redesigns can improve communities by maximizing access to different destinations, creating more freedom and opportunity.
But speakers on the roundtable also acknowledged that such changes can disrupt commuters and even ruin what were once manageable trips for elderly riders and those with disabilities, so planners need to consider potential accommodations and ways to minimize disruptions.
Wagg noted that transit reworkings can be controversial, but in places like Alexandria, which implemented a redesign last year and introduced free fares, the overhaul resulted in increased ridership, Mayor Justin Wilson said.
In a similar vein, Fairfax County is exploring a reduced-fare option for low-income riders. For the time being, it has eliminated transfer fees between Metro trains and Fairfax Connector buses, except for express routes and the Wolf Trap shuttle.
Foursquare ITP President and CEO Lora Byala said the transportation firm recently led a revamp of the BaltimoreLink system that resulted in service to 28% more carless households, 32% more single-vehicle households, and other benefits.
Her firm also worked with Fairfax County on a route optimization study involving the Herndon and Reston areas involving the extension of the Silver Line Metrorail, where new stations could open this year. Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors is slated to vote on proposed service changes for that corridor on Feb. 22.
To prevent policy efforts from creating more disruptions than solutions, consulting firm speakers noted the importance of showing options to the public and engaging with riders throughout the process. Other kinds of travelers, such as drivers, can also provide insights, Byala said.
For WMATA, the pandemic has staggered many planned initiatives, such as evaluating a bus network redesign, according to a progress report by MetroNow released in January.
The report concluded Metro was on track with some initial efforts but behind on public outreach.
Previously, WMATA said it was coordinating with local jurisdictions for work on restructuring the region’s bus network to create a “customer-focused system that improves access to destinations, increases ridership, and makes efficient and equitable use of resources.”
The Fairfax County School Board unanimously approved its $1.2 billion capital project plan on Thursday (Feb. 10), setting in motion efforts to tackle overcrowding issues in the school system.
The plan, known as the Capital Improvement Program for fiscal years 2023-2027, sets priorities within a five-year time frame for new construction, boosting capacity and facility renovations.
Hunter Mill District School Board representative Melanie Meren said during the board meeting that the “difficult work” of analyzing boundaries will begin in the coming weeks.
“It’s an embarrassment that we have pockets of poverty in this county that are borne out by school boundaries,” Meren said.
It also includes $2 million in preliminary funding for a new elementary school near the extension of the Silver Line. A location for the school — which will cost nearly $40 million — has not yet been determined.
Despite big-ticket spending, school board members expressed lingering concerns about future capacity issues, particularly in the western part of the county.
According to the CIP, enrollment in Fairfax County Public Schools has dropped by 10,415 students since the COVID-19 pandemic became a factor in the second half of the 2019-2020 school year. The decline is projected to continue over the next five years, but the county’s population and housing inventory are both expected to grow through 2050.
At-large representative Abrar Omeish described coming issues as an “equity challenge” and encouraged the school system’s staff to continue evaluating where future needs may arise.
The plan does not fully fund a high school for the western area of the county, but the site acquisition process will begin this year.
Laura Jane Cohen, the Springfield District representative, said she was concerned that some capacity improvements may come too late. Centreville High School is already at 130% of its capacity, and a renovation is not planned until 2025.
Capacity improvements are planned at West Potomac High School (119% capacity), Justice High School (110%), and Madison High School (104%).
The CIP identifies improvements based on five-year membership projections and classroom-use information. Last year’s CIP, however, did not include a five-year projection due to the pandemic and a virtual start to school.
FCPS is expected to consider adjusting school boundaries in order to shift capacity as needed and “whenever it is practicable to do so,” according to the CIP.
The timeline of implementing a boundary consultant contract has been delayed by the pandemic, planning for virtual learning, and the shift to in-person instruction.
In the newly approved CIP, the following schools are also slated for renovations:
- Hybla Valley ES
- Washington Mill ES
- Braddock ES
- Fox Mill ES
- Oak Hill ES
- Wakefield Forest ES
- Louise Archer ES
- Crossfield ES
- Mosaic ES
- Bonnie Brae ES
- Cooper MS
- Frost MS
- Oakton HS
- Falls Church HS
Partial funds are allocated for the following schools:
- Bren Mar Park ES
- Brookfield ES
- Lees Corner ES
- Armstrong ES
- Willow Springs ES
- Herndon ES
- Dranesville ES
- Centreville HS
Dranesville District Representative Elaine Tholen lauded staff for creating a new renovation queue, which ranks the order in which schools should be renovated. Tholen noted that the queue was last updated in the early 2000s.
“I am hopeful that we will continue to move this forward,” Tholen said.
She said staff has already begun looking for a consultant to examine updates to the renovation queue.
A 62-year-old Maryland resident faces almost two decades in prison for a string of armed robberies that spanned the D.C. area last year, including three incidents in Fairfax County.
Jon Karl Mcree Fleet was sentenced to 17 years today (Tuesday) after pleading guilty to using a firearm in five robberies committed between Jan. 24 and March 13, 2021, Department of Justice prosecutors announced.
“At the time of the robberies, Fleet was a convicted felon, having previously been convicted for armed robberies, and was thus prohibited from possessing a firearm,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Virginia said. “Fleet’s lengthy and violent criminal history qualifies him as a ‘Career Offender.’”
According to an affidavit from William Beechum, the investigating FBI agent, Fairfax County police first responded to an armed robbery report at the Macy’s in Springfield Town Center around 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 24, 2021.
Surveillance footage showed the suspect displaying a gun to the clerk at the cash register. Approximately $300 was reported stolen.
Similar robberies were subsequently reported on:
- Feb. 11: McDonald’s (505 South Van Dorn Street) in the City of Alexandria
- Feb. 17: Exxon gas station (1276 Crain Highway South) in Crofton, Maryland
- Feb. 21: Subway (10428 Campus Way South) in Largo, Maryland
- Feb. 23: Papa John’s (5860 Columbia Pike) in Bailey’s Crossroads
- March 7: Marathon Gas Station (8405 Westphalia Road) in Upper Marlboro, Maryland
- March 13: Domino’s Pizza (8133 Watson Street) in Tysons
The affidavit says Fleet was identified using cell phone data and video surveillance footage that captured his vehicle, clothes, and the use of “a sawed-off shotgun with distinctive blue tape,” which was spotted in the Upper Marlboro and Tysons robberies.
Fleet was arrested by U.S. Marshals deputies in D.C. on April 21, 2021, and extradited on April 26 to Fairfax County, where he has been detained since then.
A federal grand jury indicted Fleet on Aug. 19, 2021, handing down 10 total charges, including multiple counts of robbery and use of a firearm in connection to a violent crime. He was also charged with one count of possession of a firearm by a prohibited person.
He had previously been convicted of armed robberies in Charles County and Anne Arundel County, Maryland, in 2002.
Fleet ultimately entered a plea agreement on Oct. 19 where he admitted guilt to the use of a gun in the Bailey’s Crossroads and McLean robberies in exchange for getting the other charges dismissed. Federal prosecutors also agreed to not pursue cases against him for any involvement in the Crofton and Upper Marlboro robberies.
The 17-year prison sentence is the minimum term required by federal law.
The plea agreement also requires Fleet to pay back the McDonald’s, Macy’s, Subway, Papa John’s and Domino’s stores that were robbed. The restitution totals $1,501.95, with the largest amount of $500 going to Subway.
Photo via Google Maps
As climate change intensifies, Fairfax County residents could see searing temperatures increase, turning most summer days into scorchers by the end of the century.
“The new climate projections report is a stark reminder that we are likely to experience serious and significant changes as a result of greenhouse gases warming our world,” Kambiz Agazi, director of the county Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination, said in a statement.
Currently, Fairfax County averages about a week’s worth of days at or above 95 degrees. The future depends on how effectively the world curbs greenhouse gas emissions.
Under a lower-risk scenario, where emissions peak around 2040 and then stabilize by 2100, the county could see 28 days of at least 95-degree temperatures by 2050 and 36 days by 2085, according to the report.
If the average global atmospheric carbon dioxide level more than doubles from 2020 to 2100, however, that higher-risk trajectory puts the county at over a month’s worth of 95-degree days by 2050 and over two months’ worth by 2085.
The report also forecasts that the county will see stronger rains as well as a drastic drop in the number of snow days — from around nine days per year to three days or fewer by the end of the century.
“Regardless of which future scenario best aligns with our trajectory, Fairfax County’s governance of assets, systems, and population is likely to be strained if the county is not adequately prepared for these plausible futures,” the report said.
The Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination developed the report as part of its Resilient Fairfax initiative to find strategies and a roadmap for responding to climate problems.
It was accompanied by a NASA report that found temperatures can be as much as 47 degrees higher in urbanized parts of the county compared to undeveloped, forested areas.
A survey conducted for the Resilient Fairfax initiative indicated that residents are already concerned about the impact of severe storms, rising temperatures, and other repercussions of climate change, according to results released in November.
“From stronger storms to longer stretches of extreme heat and humidity, Fairfax County is not immune to the effects of climate change and this report is a crucial piece of the puzzle as we prepare our community to be more resilient in the future,” Agazi said.
Fairfax County’s COVID-19 case levels have almost dropped to where they were before the omicron variant took over.
The Fairfax Health District, which also encompasses the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, added 172 cases today (Monday), bringing its total for the pandemic up to 174,578 cases. With 189 cases, yesterday was the first day since Dec. 14 with fewer than 200 new cases.
According to Virginia Department of Health data, the district is averaging 261 cases per day for the past week, the fewest since Dec. 16. The seven-day average has now been on a downward trajectory for a full month after hitting an all-time high of 2,590 cases on Jan. 13.
Hospitalizations have declined as well, dipping into negative numbers after 25 each were subtracted on Feb. 9 and 11, meaning there were duplicates or ones that belonged to another district. During this past surge, hospitalizations peaked at a weekly average of 6.4 on Jan. 6.
The disease caused by the coronavirus has hospitalized 4,378 Fairfax Health District residents over the past two years.
While the worst of the omicron wave appears to have passed, the scope of the damage that the highly transmissible variant wrought is only just emerging, as the VDH continues to confirm and report Covid-related deaths.
The Fairfax Health District has recorded 84 deaths so far this month, the majority of which likely occurred in January. 1,364 residents have died from Covid since the first fatality was confirmed on March 21, 2020.
Fairfax County’s community transmission level remains high, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, thanks to a case rate of 189.97 per 100,000 people over the past seven days. The testing positivity rate, however, has dipped down to 8.6%, which is in the “substantial” category.
As for vaccinations, 960,269 Fairfax Health District residents — 81.1% of the population — have received at least one dose, including:
- 90.4% of residents 18 and older
- 96.4% of 16-17 year olds
- 91.9% of 12-15 year olds
- 50.8% of 5-11 year olds
About 73.2% of the district’s population is now fully vaccinated, amounting to 866,579 people, including 82.2% of adults. The VDH reports that 39.6% of the county population has gotten a booster or third dose.
Anticipation of a vaccine soon becoming available for children younger than 5 was dampened last week when the Food and Drug Administration announced on Friday (Feb. 11) that it would delay a planned meeting on whether to authorize the two-shot regimen requested by Pfizer and BioNTech.
The manufacturers said they will instead wait until early April to seek authorization, giving them time to collect data on all three planned doses for children between 6 months and 4 years of age.
Fairfax County businesses added nearly 9,000 jobs over the course of 2021, even with the uncertain environment created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the county’s economic development authority says.
According to a press release, the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority worked with 146 businesses that added a total of 8,973 jobs to the Fairfax County economy.
The businesses came from a variety of sectors, from manufacturing and real estate to information technology and cybersecurity. They were also spread out throughout the county, including Chantilly, Reston, Fairfax, Tysons, and Herndon.
Of the 146 businesses that reported job growth, 14 were newcomers that the FCEDA had courted to come to Fairfax County. Many were attracted not just from other areas of the U.S., but from other countries.
The seafood company Starkist, which is owned by Korean-based Dongwon Group, is relocating its headquarters from Pittsburgh to Reston Town Center. Other examples include the Canadian-based Brookfield Residential Properties and Israeli aerospace and defense company D-Fend Solutions.
According to data provided by the authority, the sector that saw the most growth was information technology services, which accounted for 2,648 new jobs, or 29.5% of the new positions in the county.
Much of that growth came courtesy of Herndon-based Peraton, which added 1,200 positions in 2021. The contractor announced plans in December to move its corporate headquarters to Reston Town Center.
“We would be proud to announce almost 9,000 jobs in any new year,” FCEDA President and CEO Victor Hoskins stated in the press release. “But very few communities can claim the kind of diversity that we have in our business community.”
FCEDA also touted that 25 of the American companies that came to the county are owned by women, minorities, or veterans.
Those businesses were found mainly in the information technology sector and include the Fairfax-based Kreative Technologies, which created 296 jobs, and Tysons-based Alpha Omega Integration, which created 154 jobs.
The nonprofit Community Foundation of Northern Virginia released a report in June 2021 showing that minority-owned businesses in Fairfax County have suffered more acutely than white-owned businesses during the pandemic.
The report stated that while the number of minority-owned businesses remained flat, revenue and staffing dramatically decreased, while unemployment insurance claims rose.
Fairfax County has worked to support local businesses during the pandemic by distributing federal relief funds through a series of grant programs, including the Fairfax RISE initiative that distributed more than $52 million in 2020 — 72% of which went to minority, women, or veteran-owned businesses.
The COVID-19 testing site at the Fairfax County Government Center has closed less than a month after its launch.
The Virginia Department of Health shut down the Community Testing Center yesterday (Wednesday) as part of a statewide shift away from mass test sites in favor of a mobile “CTC+” initiative focused on communities with accessibility barriers.
“As the community response has decreased at the large-tent, fixed testing sites, the Virginia Department of Health is transitioning to a flexible response where the testing van can be moved and located in areas with low access to testing,” VDH COVID-19 Testing Co-Lead Suzie Trotter said by email.
The Fairfax County CTC opened on Jan. 15 in response to the omicron variant’s arrival in December, which pushed local Covid caseloads to record heights and triggered soaring demand for testing that strained limited supplies.
Trotter says the number of tests conducted at VDH’s nine CTCs “dropped off significantly over the past week,” as the latest surge in the pandemic has started to recede. The supply shortage has also eased with an increased availability of testing kits through pharmacies and other retail sites, along with the launch of a federal program that mails free at-home kits.
The Fairfax CTC conducted tests for 4,394 people over its 19 days of operations, according to Trotter, who says the closure date was determined far enough in advance to cut off appointments.
“VDH has a role to continue to support the safety net and support testing to those that either have difficulty getting to a test site or have low access to testing in their community,” Trotter said. “Mobile vans will allow access to testing in areas that have never had the opportunity to have testing nearby.”
Set to begin operations on Tuesday (Feb. 15), the CTC+ initiative consists of vans that will travel to different locations with no-cost PCR diagnostic tests based on community need, as requested by local health departments.
There will be just one van to serve the entire Northern Virginia region, but Trotter says it will “maintain a weekly presence” in the Fairfax Health District, though an official schedule has not been determined yet.
The Fairfax County Health Department will evaluate a variety of factors when choosing testing sites, such as case levels and positivity rates, the availability of existing testing resources, and accessibility, spokesperson Lucy Caldwell told FFXnow.
“This resource joins other FCHD testing resources that will continue to target communities most in need of testing,” Caldwell said by email.
Other testing options include health care providers, retail pharmacies, and FCHD clinics. The county has also restarted its mobile laboratory, which tests people with symptoms and is next scheduled to appear at the Safeway at Engleside Plaza in Mount Vernon.
Planning is underway for a memorial to commemorate Fairfax County’s COVID-19 victims and the impact of the pandemic.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeffrey McKay said at a meeting on Tuesday (Feb. 8) that his office has been working with county team on the creation of a memorial.
The board approved the proposal to direct staff from Facilities Management, the Park Authority and other agencies to put together, by May 1, a cost estimate, timeline and design options for a memorial to be built on county or park property.
“We started this conversation early on and staff is well on their way to bringing back some formal recommendations on a creative way that we can permanently recognize the loss of life, but also all the personal sacrifices people in and throughout this county and region have made over the last two years,” McKay said.
McKay recalled joining public health officials on March 7, 2020 to announce the first presumptive COVID-19 case in Virginia, now 23 months ago to the day of the board meeting.
“Since that time, as we know, life has not been the same,” he said.
In his board matter, he discussed how residents have embraced vaccinations, masking, physical distancing, testing, and quarantine to protect themselves and the community.
As of Feb. 1, more than 80.0% of all Fairfax County residents have received at least one vaccine dose and there are more than 300 vaccination sites across the county. Our school age kids who have received at least one vaccine dose include: 46.7% of children 5-11 years, 90.1% of those 12-15, and 94.6% of those age 16-17 years.
While this is great positive progress, we all know we still feel the impact of the significant loss of life our community has experienced throughout the pandemic. There have been more than 170,000 COVID-19 cases within the Fairfax Health District. Sadly, this has resulted in more than 4,400 hospitalizations and 1,284 deaths.
Fairfax County has seen a decline in Covid cases over the past few weeks since the omicron variant fueled a spike around Christmas.
As of yesterday, the Fairfax Health District, which includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, has recorded a total of 173,393 cases, 4,401 hospitalizations, and 1,344 deaths.
McKay emphasized that he wanted the county to do something permanent to memorialize the last two years.
“I want to make sure that we don’t forget ever the lives of so many people in Fairfax County who passed away as a result of Covid, especially those very early on, when we were still learning about the importance of so many of the safety measures and the importance of vaccinations, that didn’t get a chance to even do those right things that I mentioned in my Board Matter and sadly perished,” he said.
Updated at 2:20 p.m. — Senate Bill 739 passed 21-17, with Fairfax County Sens. Janet Howell, Dick Saslaw, and Scott Surovell joining the opponents after supporting the amendment to allow parents to opt out of school mask requirements yesterday.
Earlier: Fairfax County Public Schools’ universal masking policy has encountered pushback from an unexpected source: its own state legislators.
Led by Sen. Chap Petersen (34th District), multiple Democratic senators representing Fairfax County joined Republicans (yesterday) to pass a bill amendment that would let parents opt their children out of school mask requirements, undercutting the still-undecided lawsuit filed by FCPS and six other local school boards.
The amendment is part of Senate Bill 739, which requires schools to provide in-person instruction. Petersen and chief sponsor Republican Siobhan Dunnavant (Henrico County) got a similar bill adopted last year, but this version contains no mention of mitigating the spread of COVID-19.
The full bill is being debated by the Senate this afternoon (Wednesday).
“Childhood is a moment. You turn around and it’s gone. A child grows up, and when a child loses two years to this, not based on science…but on somebody’s construction of science, that’s a tragedy,” Petersen said after calling mask requirements “a violation of the First Amendment” for “forcing [families] to adopt a statement that they or their family don’t believe in.”
If approved by the Republican-controlled House of Delegates, the measure would turn Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s much-debated executive order into law. As written, it wouldn’t take effect until July 1, but the governor could potentially add an emergency clause to get it implemented by the end of February, according to The Washington Post.
FCPS reiterated its belief that universal masking remains necessary in a statement to FFXnow, noting that Fairfax County is still seeing a high level of Covid transmission in the community, even after a significant decline in cases over the past month.
“We recognize we are all tired of COVID-related health measures, but choosing a random date to stop that is not supported by science is not the way to keep our students and staff safe, nor our schools open for in-person learning,” FCPS said. “A roll back of any of our layered prevention measures needs to be in line with community transmission data and in line with health and scientific recommendations.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends universal masking, a stance shared by local health officials, according to FCPS.
Petersen told FFXnow that he has been talking to FCPS for the past year but expressed frustration that the school system hasn’t set a deadline for lifting its mask requirement or “shown scientific proof” that it has made a difference in limiting Covid’s spread.
County health officials explained at a virtual town hall last month that, while there are variables based on the kind of mask and how well it fits, the vast majority of evidence indicates that masks work and are most effective when worn by everyone.
“We are working with health experts to determine a safe and effective plan to scale back when it is appropriate to do so,” FCPS said. “FCPS will continue, as it has since this pandemic began, to prioritize the health and safety of all students and staff above politics and political expediency.”
Petersen says he agrees with Youngkin that face masks should be optional in schools, but he believes the decision should be made by the legislature, not the governor.
“People that want to move on [from Covid restrictions] and let kids live normal lives support it,” he told FFXnow, declining to comment on the split within Fairfax County’s Senate delegation.
Petersen’s amendment was approved 29-9, with Sens. Janet Howell, Dick Saslaw, and Scott Surovell among the supporters. George Barker, Jennifer Boysko, Barbara Favola, and Dave Marsden voted against the measure.
Howell’s office told FFXnow that she was unavailable to comment on the vote, while Saslaw did not return a request for comment by publication time.
Surovell told The Washington Post that he supported the amendment in part on the assumption that it would not take effect until July.
In an email sent to FFXnow at 10:10 p.m. yesterday, Boysko said she had been “on the phone all night with constituents and school board members who are upset about the amendment.”
“They want to be able to follow scientific data to make decisions that will protect students, school staff members and all of their families,” she wrote. “This should not be a political issue but one based in CDC guidance and would allow school boards the autonomy to look holistically to make decisions that would best suit their communities.”
Photo via Waldemar Brandt/Unsplash
Fairfax County Public Schools intends to prohibit guns from all properties that it owns or leases amid heightened concerns about the safety of students, staff, and elected officials.
The Fairfax County School Board agreed unanimously at a work session yesterday (Tuesday) to direct Superintendent Scott Brabrand and his staff to develop a draft policy for its governance committee to consider at its March 1 meeting.
Firearms are already banned from public and private school grounds in Virginia, but this policy would take advantage of a measure approved by the General Assembly in 2021 giving local school boards the authority to also designate administrative buildings as “gun-free zones.”
Laura Jane Cohen, who represents Springfield District on the school board, proposed adopting the ban with Providence District Representative Karl Frisch, saying at the work session that she believes it should “happen sooner rather than later” in light of “some of the threats many of us have gotten.”
“We’ve seen a huge uptick in the last year and a half of people who are targeting elected officials and threatening violence,” Cohen told FFXnow. “So, that’s certainly part of the impetus, to make sure that people are not allowed to bring firearms into the places where we’re having our meetings.”
While narrow in scope, the potential ban would include the Gatehouse Administration Center, which houses FCPS central offices and other facilities used by the school board and division staff.
Public school officials across the country have reported encountering increased hostility over the past couple of years, as topics like pandemic-related health protocols and critical race theory have become hot-button political issues.
The Justice Department moved in October to create a task force focused on threats of violence against school boards and administrators.
Cohen is one of five Fairfax County School Board members targeted for recall over the decision to close schools for much of the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, but she doesn’t believe the threats she’s received are related to that campaign.
“It seems to really span the gamut…CRT or masks or…any number of things, just the fact that there are Democrats on the board,” Cohen said, noting that she often sees an uptick in harassment whenever she expresses support for the LGBTQ community or discusses gun violence prevention.
She says the threats have come over email, social media, voicemail, and even by letter. Most of them get sent to the FCPS Safety and Security Office, though a few have risen to the level of getting reported to the police.
“I wouldn’t say I’m by any means the only board member targeted, but it’s definitely made a real impact in my life and my family’s lives for sure,” she said.
The proposed gun prohibition is similar to an ordinance that Fairfax County adopted in 2020 after the General Assembly granted local governments the option to ban the possession of firearms on their public properties.
In accordance with state law, the policy will have exceptions for current and “qualified” retired law enforcement officers.
The school board also directed Brabrand and his staff to evaluate FCPS’ curriculum, safety protocols, and professional development practices related to gun violence and suicide prevention, building off of an effort to notify families about Virginia’s secure firearm storage laws.
Board members said a review is needed to ensure the school system’s security threat assessments, staff training on procedures for reporting concerns, and other policies are updated and effective in the wake of surging gun violence in schools, citing the Nov. 30 school shooting at Oxford High School in Michigan as a relevant example.
“It’s always been an issue, but it is frankly coming back to the top of the list of concerns in our community,” Brabrand said. “What can we do beyond what we’ve done in the years past to be more proactive in getting the awareness out to families and students?”
While the fight over masks has dominated headlines, Fairfax County Public Schools faces another potential courtroom battle over its quarantine policy for students exposed to someone who tests positive for COVID-19.
The parents of two Sunrise Valley Elementary School students have filed a lawsuit against FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand, School Board chair Stella Pekarsky, and Fairfax County Health Department Director Gloria Addo-Ayensu, calling the 10-day quarantine requirement unconstitutional.
Submitted to the U.S. District Court in Alexandria on Dec. 23, the complaint argues that unvaccinated students should have the same exemption from quarantining as their vaccinated peers if they were infected with Covid within the past 90 days.
“This discriminatory treatment of students with natural immunity against COVID-19 is arbitrary and irrational,” the complaint says, urging the court to prevent FCPS from enforcing its policy.
FCPS told FFXnow that it “won’t be commenting on the litigation.”
Represented by the New Civil Liberties Alliance, which describes itself as nonpartisan but has right-wing leanings, parents Eric and Jenny McArthur say their daughter, identified as M.M., was required to quarantine for 10 days starting on Dec. 2 after being identified as a “potential close contact” of a student or staff member who tested positive for Covid.
They argue that she shouldn’t have had to quarantine, because she contracted COVID-19 in late October, isolating at home for two weeks before returning to school in person on Nov. 13.
Since Jan. 10, FCPS has allowed students and staff to avoid quarantining if they are asymptomatic, can wear a face mask, and meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s criteria for an exemption.
The CDC says close contacts of someone with COVID-19 don’t need to quarantine if they’re up to date with vaccinations, including recommended boosters, or they were infected within the last 90 days, as confirmed by a positive viral test record.
In their complaint, the McArthurs say their daughter did not get tested while sick because she had family members who already tested positive for COVID-19 and were displaying symptoms. They also didn’t know it would be necessary to get a quarantine exemption.
“M.M. suffered mental and emotional distress, as well as learning loss, as a result of being excluded from in-person school,” the complaint says.
While a court date in the lawsuit hasn’t been set yet, NCLA filed an emergency motion for a preliminary injunction on Feb. 1, asking the court to require FCPS to let M.M. and her brother return to in-person school after they were required to quarantine again on Jan. 31.
The attorneys say in a brief that neither child has gotten a Covid vaccine “because their parents strongly believe such vaccination is not in their medical best interests.”
In explaining why the McArthurs oppose the vaccine, the complaint primarily cites a joint declaration by scientists who advocated against lockdown restrictions in the initial days of the pandemic. The statement was criticized by many as dangerous and unethical.
According to the CDC, initial studies found “no significant difference” in the overall level of protection provided by a previous infection compared to vaccinations, but data from U.S. hospitals indicated that people hospitalized with COVID-19 were 5.5 times more likely to have been infected before than they were to have been vaccinated.
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