Live Fairfax is a bi-weekly column exploring Fairfax County. This recurring column is sponsored and written by Sharmane Medaris of McEnearney Associates. Questions? Reach Sharmane at 813-504-4479.

There are so many fun things to do over Thanksgiving Weekend.

If you find yourself looking for an experience to create memories and get ready for the holiday season, here are a few of my recommendations!

Meadowlark’s Winter Walk of Lights is an elegant garden trail decorated with thousands of sparkling lights. The half-mile walk through the enchanting Meadowlark Botanical Gardens features nature themes and animated displays along a paved wheelchair and stroller-accessible trail. Stay warm by sipping on a hot beverage (with or without spirits) as you walk and s’mores to finish out the evening.

Welcome the beginning of the holiday season with a merry and bright tree lighting. Santa will spread holiday cheer and make his way through Mosaic on a firetruck with live entertainment and fun for the entire family.

Reston Town Center launches the season with the annual Reston Holiday Parade celebrating its 31st year! The one-of-a-kind, one-hour, half-mile parade along Market Street also welcomes the arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus in a horse-drawn carriage.

This show features 40-60 local juried artists and crafters offering original, handmade arts and crafts.

Come out to Shipgarten for their Thanksgiving Barks & Brews Festival! The event will include live music, live character performances from Princess Parties DC featuring Encanto as well as various activities, crafts and games throughout the day!

Come see some of the best comics in the DMV and let laughter burn off that last piece of pumpkin pie you shouldn’t have eaten.

Explore Fairfax with Sharmane Medaris of McEnearney.

Sharmane Medaris | Live Fairfax | www.soldbysharmane.com | [email protected] | @soldbysharmane | 813-504-4479 | 374 Maple Avenue Suite 202, Vienna, VA 22180

The preceding sponsored post was also published on FFXnow.com

This biweekly column is sponsored by The Mather in Tysons, Virginia, a forward-thinking Life Plan Community for those 62 and better.

November — a month containing both Veterans Day and Thanksgiving — is an ideal time to focus on feeling thankful. Concentrating on feelings of gratitude helps you feel happier and more positive in the short and long term.

“Multiple research studies have examined the benefits of a simple gratitude practice,” says Jennifer Smith, PhD, director of research at Mather Institute. The Institute is the research arm of Mather, a not-for-profit organization with three senior living communities that plans to open The Mather, a Life Plan Community for those 62 and better, in Tysons in 2024. The Institute is an award-winning resource for research and information about wellness, aging, trends in senior living and successful aging service innovations.

“Gratitude can help us feel more connected to others, increase positive emotions, and reduce negative thoughts,” says Dr. Smith. “And emphasizing the positive can create more positivity.”

The Gratitude-Happiness Link

Many studies have linked higher levels of gratitude to more happiness and satisfaction with life; in other words, it seems the more one feels gratitude, the happier and more satisfied one feels in general. One study that earned an Innovative Research on Aging Award from Mather Institute points out that older adults consistently report the highest levels of gratitude, compared to middle-age and younger adults. That link between level of gratitude and overall life satisfaction does not change with age, which means those over age 60 have a “happiness advantage” due to their high levels of gratitude.

The good news is that you can practice gratitude at any stage of life to actually improve your happiness, positivity and life satisfaction. One study showed that a regular habit such as daily journaling can enhance your long-term happiness by more than 10%.

Feelings of gratitude have also been shown to make us more resilient, boost optimism, increase self-esteem and reduce depressive symptoms. Focusing your attention on the positives rather than the negatives — which is what a gratitude practice does — can actually switch your outlook for the long term.

Physical Health Benefits

Feeling grateful also carries some physical benefits. It seems obvious that feeling optimistic and generally positive would impact one’s blood pressure, and research confirms this. A study of people with hypertension who were asked to practice gratitude at least once a week showed a “significant decrease” in their blood pressure. A similar study showed that practicing gratitude can improve quality of sleep.

Give Gratitude a Try

If you want to enjoy the benefits mentioned here, try to focus on feeling grateful at least three times a week, if not daily. Here are some examples of habits you might adopt:

  1. Gratitude journal: Whether you use a special notebook or scrap paper, take time every day or evening to list five things you feel grateful for. Ideally, you’ll save your lists so you can look back on them over time. Reviewing them will also increase your positive feelings.
  2. Thank-you notes: Write a note or email to someone who has had a positive impact on your life — whether it was a single action or a lifetime of support. Expressing your gratitude in writing gives you a chance to think more deeply about your thankfulness — and will make the recipient happy!
  3. Gratitude meditation: Take some quiet time to reflect on what you’re grateful for, then examine the feelings brought up when you identify those items, people or experiences. Focusing on what you value will bring moments of peace and joy.
  4. Share gratitude: Find a “gratitude buddy” — perhaps your spouse, child or a close friend — and take turns listing a few things you are grateful for. This adds extra depth to gratitude, as you can build off of each other’s comments.
  5. Take a gratitude walk: Take a stroll and look for positive things — from the walkability of your neighborhood to appealing sights and friendly people.

Whether you’re a natural pessimist or an optimist, try a regular gratitude practice. It will improve your outlook right away, and could result in lifelong benefits.

The Mather, projected to open in Tysons, VA, in 2024 for those 62 and better, is a forward-thinking Life Plan Community that defies expectations of what senior living is supposed to be.

The preceding sponsored post was also published on FFXnow.com

The annual exhibit returns to Reston in early December (courtesy RCC)

Reston Community Center will host its 24th annual gifts and shopping exhibit in early December.

The Gifts from the HeART Exhibit and Holiday Gift Shopping Event will take place on Dec. 3 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at RCC Lake Anne (1609-A Washington Plaza North).

“Gifts from the HeART is an event that brings the community together, showcases great local artists, and helps Cornerstones,” RCC Arts Education Director Cheri Danaher said. “Our artists and the community eagerly participate in this unique shopping event, and their support of Cornerstones exemplifies the Reston spirit of providing support for those who need it.”

Started in 1999, the annual exhibit and sale has raised more than $19,000 for the nonprofit Cornerstones over the past 23 years, according to RCC.

Artists will display their creations on display in the Jo Ann Rose Gallery at RCC Lake Anne through Jan 9. The 3D gallery exhibit will remain on display through Feb. 18. Artist entry fees and 10% of all sales will be donated to Cornerstones.

Proceeds will go toward the organization’s Embry Rucker Community Shelter, Laurel Learning Center, and community services, including emergency food assistance and job counseling.

RCC will offer a directory of visual artists on its website the day of the exhibit. Interested shoppers can shop directly from the artists’ links.

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Curative will operate COVID-19 testing mobile labs at six sites in Fairfax County (courtesy Fairfax County Health Department)

Curative is set to shut down all of its public COVID-19 testing sites in the D.C. region, including Fairfax County, by the end of the year.

All six Covid public testing sites run by Curative in collaboration with Fairfax County are expected to cease operations sometime next month, a Fairfax County Health Department spokesperson confirmed to FFXnow.

While the county didn’t confirm a specific date, DCist reported earlier this week that all of Curative’s testing sites will be closed by Dec. 15.

Per the county health department, the reason for the closure is a lack of demand.

“The County health department has closely collaborated with Curative over the past several months,” FCHD spokesperson Lucy Caldwell wrote FFXnow in an email. “There has been a decline in demand for testing in recent months, perhaps since home tests are widely available and convenient for people to use at home, as well as ample supplies available at pharmacies and retail locations.”

Fairfax County partnered with Curative this summer to open six new mobile testing sites at community centers, libraries, and a church in Bailey’s Crossroads, Centreville, Springfield, and Groveton.

An additional site was added in Annadale on Hummer Road, but that one closed earlier this week due to “low utilization and ongoing maintenance issues with the van used for this specific route,” Caldwell said.

Other neighboring localities had partnered with the California-based contractor dating back to early 2021. At times, there were long lines at the Arlington sites, particularly during the holiday season.

Over the last year, the county has gradually seen a number of covid testing sites close. The mass Covid testing site at the Fairfax County Government Center was closed in February, only a month after its launch.

The county’s mass vaccine clinics have also been winding down and are scheduled to close in mid-December.

There will still be Covid testing options in the county, however. The health department offers testing at five county clinics, per the website, but an appointment is required.

Additionally, Fairfax County Public Schools will offer diagnostic testing to all teachers, staff, and students from Nov. 28 to 30 from 5-8 p.m. at five locations. Registration is required, and testing is intended for those who have Covid symptoms or have been exposed to someone who has Covid.

For the moment, no additional county testing sites are scheduled to launch, but any changes will be posted on the health department website.

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Morning Notes

The streak of a plane descends over Royal Lake Park in Burke (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Thanksgiving Closures — Fairfax County government offices will be closed tomorrow and Friday (Nov. 25), though some facilities like the county rec centers will only close for Thanksgiving Day. Fairfax Connector buses will operate Sunday service tomorrow and holiday weekday service Friday, while Metro will have a Sunday schedule tomorrow and resume regular service Friday.

Person Dies in Lincolnia House Fire — “One person was found dead inside a home following a fire in Fairfax County, Virginia, late Monday night. Fairfax County Fire and Rescue said firefighters responded to a two-alarm fire on Monday night in the 6600 block of Pine Road in the Lincolnia area.” [WTOP]

Five Guys HQ Ditching Lorton — The fast-food chain Five Guys will move its corporate headquarters to 1940 Duke Street in Alexandria next year after roughly a decade in Lorton. The company, whose Northern Virginia roots date back to its first restaurant in Arlington, has leased a nearly 40,000-square-foot space at 10718 Richmond Highway since 2012. [Washington Business Journal]

Thousands Registered to Vote on Election Day — “This year 3,200 Fairfax County residents took advantage of our first-ever same-day voter registration program. This is a fantastic addition to our democratic process, and our Office of Elections processed each new registration and ensured that every legal ballot was tallied.” [Jeff McKay]

Local Artist’s Work Appeared in Black Panther Sequel — “[Jomo] Tariku, an Ethiopian American furniture designer who is based in Springfield, Virginia has several of his pieces featured in the film, including a black wood chair with a starkly curved back that manages to reflect Tariku’s African roots and look futuristic at the same time.” [DCist]

Virginia Prepares for Winter — The Virginia Department of Transportation and other agencies are using “new tools and strategies” after a Jan. 3 snowstorm shut down I-95, stranding “hundreds of people overnight without food, water or gas. The plans include modifying the staging of snowplow and towing crews, new police drones to assess conditions from the air and improved communications with the public, including a new text-messaging system.” [The Washington Post]

Last Day to Share Recipe for County Cookbook — “Be part of a cookbook featuring our community’s diverse traditions and history. We are collecting recipes for an eBook anthology Fairfax County Cooks: A Community Cookbook. Recipes should be submitted online” [Fairfax County Public Library/Twitter]

Reston Arts Center Town Hall Coming — “Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn and county staff are hosting a second town hall — this one virtual — to discuss the proffer for a potential arts center in Reston…Your input will enable the Board of Supervisors to make an informed decision during the next couple months.” [Hunter Mill District News]

It’s Wednesday — Clear throughout the day. High of 57 and low of 34. Sunrise at 7:02 am and sunset at 4:51 pm. [Weather.gov]

Editor’s Note — FFXnow will be taking a couple of days off for Thanksgiving. Barring breaking news, publication will resume Monday (Nov. 28). We hope you have a fulfilling (and filling) holiday!

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The Vantage Hill townhouse redevelopment proposed in Reston (via Craftmark Homes)

A project to redevelop a portion of the Vantage Hill condominiums property in Reston with townhouses is barreling to final approval from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

At a Nov. 16 meeting, the Fairfax County Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of a plan to replace an abandoned swimming pool on the property at 11600 Vantage Hill Road with 28 townhouses.

Hunter Mill District Planning Commissioner John Carter said the project is critical to help stabilize an existing affordable housing community in Reston.

“It’s a small project with a significant impact on an older neighborhood,” Carter said.

The plan by Craftmark Homes will help the 152-unit condominium building on the property shore up for critical upgrades and maintenance needs. The sale of the property will address a backlog of long-needed upgrades.

In response to concerns from area residents, the developer refined its proffers to preserve more native plans and incorporate electric vehicle charging stations.

Each townhouse unit will have the opportunity to build a charging station and install solar panels, while the condo units will have the potential for five additional charging stations, Carter said.

The developer also tweaked its proffers to provide details for the timing of construction and overall management of the site when construction begins.

The change was made in response to concerns from residents of Mediterranean Villa, a residential community adjacent to the project area.

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Even with one month left, 2022 is the deadliest year for Fairfax County pedestrians in more than a decade.

Through October, vehicle crashes have killed 22 people on streets and highways in the county — the most since at least 2010, the earliest year in Virginia’s Traffic Records Electronic Data System (TREDS). The previous high came in 2018 and 2019, when there were 17 fatalities each.

The state data doesn’t yet include the teen who died last Wednesday (Nov. 16) after being hit while crossing Columbia Pike in Bailey’s Crossroads.

However, the teen was among the almost two dozen people represented at Oakton High School on Sunday (Nov. 20) by electronic candles and empty chairs covered by shroud-like white sheets. A Fairfax Families for Safe Streets (Fairfax FSS) volunteer read their names in a hushed cafeteria for the community group’s World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims ceremony.

“We have experienced many more tragedies than we are able to name individually today,” Fairfax FSS volunteer and board member Chris French said, noting that the list didn’t include 18 non-pedestrians killed on county roads or people who survived crashes but still suffered physically, financially and emotionally.

Started by European nonprofits in 1995, World Day of Remembrance is commemorated on the third Sunday of every November as an occasion to mourn those lost and a call to take action to prevent future losses. FFS also had events in Alexandria and Arlington.

Fairfax FSS urged local and state officials to make safety improvements throughout the area, especially in corridors known to be dangerous to pedestrians like Columbia Pike and Blake Lane — where two Oakton High School students were killed and a third was seriously injured in June.

  • Installing automated speed enforcement at all schools
  • Deploying proven safety measures around schools and activity centers, such as rapid flashing beacons, HAWK or pedestrian hybrid beacons, and lighting at unsignalized crossings
  • Implementing a dedicated safe routes infrastructure plan for all Fairfax County schools
  • Implementing speed management solutions on all high injury and multilane arterials, for example, speed feedback signs, road diets
  • Improvements to pedestrian signals and timing for pedestrians to cross high traffic streets safely
  • Installing crosswalks and accessible ramps to all approaches at signalized crossings

Speed cameras likely coming

Fairfax County is moving to make that first demand at least a reality. Spurred in part by the fatal Oakton crash, the Board of Supervisors is expected to approve a speed camera pilot program after a public hearing on Dec. 6.

The six-month pilot will only involve nine schools and a work zone on Route 28, but Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said the county is committed to expanding it to all eligible sites.

The initial list of schools is still being determined, Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis told FFXnow.

“I’ve been a big advocate and remain a big advocate of automated traffic cameras,” Davis said. “I know that’s coming to Fairfax County, and that changes driving behaviors. There’s no doubt about it.”

While glad to see the county take action, Fairfax FSS volunteers questioned why a pilot is needed when cameras have proven effective elsewhere — including Maryland’s Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, where Davis previously worked.

Fairfax City began operating cameras at all four of its schools, plus two county schools, in October, and Arlington County approved a program in January with no pilot stage. Alexandria City could follow suit next year.

“I think the pace and the urgency is not where we’d like to see it,” French said of the county’s speed cameras plan. “There’s just not enough urgency. Change is happening too slow, and people are dying in the meantime.”

Fairfax County is much larger than those jurisdictions, with nearly 200 public schools compared to Arlington’s 30, so county officials felt a pilot will help ensure the speed cameras are implemented successfully before they’re installed everywhere, Palchik said.

She and Karl Frisch, who represents Providence District on the school board, emphasized that success will be measured by whether drivers change their behavior, not the revenue generated by speeding citations.

“I hope people see that they’re installed and they drive better, and they drive slower, because that’s the desired outcome,” Frisch said. “The desire is to make sure people are driving safer.”

Holistic approach needed

Beyond the speed camera pilot, the county is approaching traffic safety from a variety of angles. Some projects focus on specific sites, such as a rerouting of school buses away from Blake Lane and a plan to spend $100 million on pedestrian improvements over the next six years.

Others are broader in scope, from the “Take a Moment” educational campaign launched in September to a new “Safe Streets for All” program. The county also selected the consultant Street Simplified to study streets that can be improved before crashes occur.

The consultant has finished collecting data at 70 intersections that it’s now analyzing, according to Palchik.

“We’ve come a long way, but there is so much work left to do, and we don’t want to see one more life lost because of a preventable crash,” Palchik said. “It really does take all of us. It takes messaging, the change in behavior, the change in infrastructure, the change in enforcement to really do everything we can to achieve that goal.”

Still, in most cases, the county’s ability to address safety concerns hinges on cooperation from the Virginia Department of Transportation, which maintains most roads.

While county officials said they’ve been collaborating with VDOT on many initiatives, including potential speed limit reductions on Richmond Highway and Route 7, Fairfax FFS says engaging the state has been a challenge. VDOT staff and the county’s General Assembly legislators were no-shows at the World Day of Remembrance event, despite all being invited.

French and fellow Fairfax FFS board member Phil Kemelor say VDOT relies on studies that can take months even for spot changes like signal or sidewalk upgrades. By law, the state also values congestion mitigation over safety, accessibility and other factors when prioritizing projects for funding in Northern Virginia.

“It’s a bureaucracy, and they just don’t have the will to change anything,” Kemelor said. “It’s like the process is more important than the people, speaking bluntly.”

VDOT’s Northern Virginia district office didn’t directly address its absence from Sunday’s event but said in a statement that it is working to “improve safety and mobility for all”:

VDOT continues to actively work with our stakeholders including county agencies, elected officials, transit providers, community members, and advocacy groups to improve safety and mobility for all of the users of our regional transportation system. We live, work, and raise our families in Northern Virginia and continue to look at innovative ways to continue to usher in more multimodal solutions in our region.

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Reston Sprint Triathlon will return next year (via CORE Foundation)

Restonians can officially enjoy a series of multi-sport events for adult and youth athletes, including a Reston staple: the Reston Triathlon.

CORE Foundation, a nonprofit organization that aims to address charitable needs, has launched “Racing in Reston,” a series of events that grows out of the popular Reston Sprint Triathlon, which started out as a singular community event in 2007.

The move revives the triathlon that had been organized each fall by the Reston Triathlon Association since 1984. Last year, the group announced that the event would be discontinued due to financial and logistical issues.

“CORE Foundation wants to see this event which was unique to so many families in our community, continue,” the foundation said in an announcement earlier this month, noting that it worked closely with the previous board to bring the triathlon back.

The event has been renamed the Reston Olympic Triathlon “to avoid confusion with our Sprint event,” event organizers said.

The “Racing in Reston” series includes the Reston Sprint Triathlon, which is slated to happen next year on June 4, and the second annual Reston superhero youth triathlon, which is coming in the fall of next year. The series will conclude with the 37th annual Reston Olympic Triathlon on Sept. 10, 2023.

Registration is currently open for the 17th annual Reston Sprint Triathlon. The cost of tickets is $110 for individuals and $200 for relays if purchased before Jan. 4.

The Olympic triathlon will open with a 1,500-meter open water swim in Lake Audubon and will be followed by a 25-mile bike and 10K run in Reston.

Going forward, the event will be held annually on the first Sunday following Labor Day.

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The newly constructed I-66 Express Lanes from Gainesville to Centreville will open ahead of schedule (courtesy FAM Construction)

If you’re driving along the highways in Northern Virginia, do you usually hop into an express lane or do you prefer to tough it out in the normal lanes with the rest of the proletariat?

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) announced last week that the new I-66 Express Lanes running from the Beltway down to Centreville are set to fully open today (Tuesday).

“[VDOT and partners] announced today that the westbound direction of the new 66 Express Lanes from I-495 (Capital Beltway) to Route 28 in Centreville remains on schedule to open on or about this Saturday, Nov. 19,” VDOT said in a release. “The eastbound direction of this same 13-mile section of express lanes is expected to open by the end of November and could open as early as next Tuesday, Nov. 22, depending on weather and other factors.”

Along with the expansion, this month marks the 10-year anniversary of the express lanes opened on I-495. Since Express Lanes started being added to the highways around Northern Virginia, they’ve become largely ubiquitous along I-495, I-95 and I-395.

Intended to allow faster travel, the lanes charge vehicles based on demand, which can lead to eye-popping tolls. In two weeks, drivers will need to have at least two passengers to use the I-66 lanes for free, an increase from the current HOV-2 requirement.

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Morning Notes

A robot putters around George Mason University (photo by Susan Woolsey)

I-66 Express Lanes Fully Open Today — “The eastbound direction of the new 66 Express Lanes from Route 28 in Centreville to I-495 (Capital Beltway) is on track to open on Tuesday, Nov. 22…When this final section opens, the entire 22.5-mile 66 Express Lanes corridor from Route 29 in Gainesville to I-495 will be open with tolling and HOV-2+ rules in effect.” [VDOT]

Mini Satellite Built by TJ Students Going to Space — “On Tuesday, November 22, at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, NASA is scheduled to launch the TJ REVERB CubeSat as part of the SpaceX-26 Commercial Resupply Service Mission en route to the International Space Station…Led by Robotics lab director Kristen Kucko, many students from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology have had a hand in this historic launch.” [FCPS]

Supreme Court Passes on FCPS Sexual Assault Lawsuit — “On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a motion by the Fairfax County School Board to take up a case involving a lawsuit filed by a former high school student over the school system’s response to a sexual harassment incident that occurred while on a school trip.” [Patch]

Fire at Springfield TGI Fridays Under Investigation — “Building fire on 11/17 at 8:27 PM, in 6700 block of Frontier Drive, Springfield. Fire in kitchen of restaurant. Fire was contained under commercial hood system. No civilian injuries. One firefighter sustained minor injury. Damages: $30K.” [FCFRD/Twitter]

Hollin Hills Parks Reopen — “Dozens of community members gathered Nov. 19 to celebrate the reopening of Brickelmaier and Charles Goodman Parks in the Hollin Hills neighborhood of Alexandria. The parks were closed to the public in spring 2021 for a stream restoration project led by Fairfax County’s Department of Public Works and Environmental Services.” [On the MoVe]

Deaf Student Thrives on Woodson Marching Band — “Michael Gouin, 17, spends his days proving people wrong after he became the first deaf drummer to join the Woodson High School Cavaliers marching band two years ago. On Friday night, as the marching band geared up for their final home game of the year, Gouin is proud of how far he has come.” [ABC7]

Retired Nats Star Lowers Price on Great Falls House — “Attention, bargain shoppers — Black Friday has started early. You can now buy Ryan Zimmerman’s Great Falls estate for the discounted price of…$7.495 million. That’s right, the former Nationals player dropped the price on his 13,232-square-foot home by $400,000.” [Washingtonian]

Pancake Breakfast Planned at Turner Farm — “The Turner Farmhouse Foundation (TFF) is hosting its third-annual pancake breakfast and open house on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, from 9:30 to 11 a.m. Parking is available on site, with volunteers able to assist. The event is open to the public at no cost.” [Fairfax County Park Authority]

Police Give Away Anti-Theft Devices for Vehicles — The Crime Prevention Unit from the Fairfax County Police Department’s Sully District Station has partnered with G&C Tire and Auto Service to offer free CATETCH/CATGUARD Anti-Theft Labels for catalytic converters. The event will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Dec. 10 at G&C’s shop at 14008 Willard Road in Chantilly. [FCPD/Facebook]

It’s Tuesday — Clear throughout the day. High of 53 and low of 31. Sunrise at 7:00 am and sunset at 4:52 pm. [Weather.gov]

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The Virginia Board of Education held a public hearing last week on new draft standards for history and social studies (via VDOE/YouTube)

Fairfax County’s teacher unions expressed relief after new state-proposed history standards were rejected by a governor-appointed board late last week.

On Thursday evening (Nov. 17), Virginia’s Board of Education voted unanimously to again delay approving new history standards drafted by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE).

The proposed standards had numerous admitted mistakes, errors and typos, and was radically changed from a 400-page working draft first publicly released over the summer.

The new document was also significantly shorter. A longer “framework” document which will include information on how to teach the material will be released next summer, per the Washington Post.

“We are pleased to see that the Board of Education has heard the voices of teachers, students, parents, and community activists,” Fairfax County Federation of Teachers (FCFT) President David Walrod said. “The draft of standards presented [Thursday] was hastily assembled, with multiple new versions being released in a matter of days.”

Among the most discussed changes in the draft standards were omissions of both Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Juneteenth as holidays. They also described Virginia’s indigenous peoples as America’s “first immigrants,”

The draft also eliminated racism in America as a central theme to be taught in many grades, while removing instances of teaching students about culture and government outside Europe and the U.S.

The board’s rejection came after a four-hour public hearing where a number of speakers, including Walrod, called the new standards a “whitewashing” of history.

The VDOE first released this draft less than a week before the board was scheduled to vote on it, leading members to complain about the short timeframe for reviewing such large changes.

The approval had already been postponed from August after a previous draft was similarly riddled with mistakes and errors. That draft was also about 400 pages long, compared to the 57-page document this time around.

Composed of appointees from the last three governor administrations, creating a bipartisan group, the board directed VDOE last week to rework its draft to fix mistakes and incorporate more of the August draft. When approved, the standards will be implemented for the 2024-2025 school year.

State Superintendent Jillian Balow apologized for some of the errors and a few had been corrected before last week’s meeting, but citing the significant changes and short timeframe, Board President Daniel Gecker said approving the draft now would be “disrespectful” and not result in “the Board’s best product.”

Board member Anne Holton called the new draft a “disaster.”

“I have defended the administration’s handling of this matter, both publicly and privately,” she said. “I have told people who thought that this was an attempt to whitewash…to calm down. We are really just trying to get it right. I no longer have that confidence and can no longer say that to those folks.”

Prior to the hearing, FCFT and the Fairfax Education Association (FEA), a union representing 4,000 county public school employees, said the new draft standards are “loaded with political bias” and “only teach one view of history,” potentially setting “the state of Virginia back decades” if approved.

The Fairfax County branch of the NAACP called them “racist” and “factually incorrect.”

As a former third-grade teacher, Walrod was distressed to see the social studies standards for that grade, which are “typically an introduction to world history including Mali, Egypt, China, Greece, and Rome, had been reduced to a Eurocentric curriculum focusing only on Greece and Rome.”

“We hope the next draft of the standards will look closer to the version presented in August, which has been assembled with input from historians, educators, educational leaders, pedagogical experts, families, and community leaders,” he said after the vote to delay. “We hope the next draft will not be created by people and groups that Superintendent Balow refused to even name.”

The FEA said it was “happy” the state education board “listened to the citizens of Virginia and delayed action on the new draft document.”

The new draft was riddled with inaccuracies, but most importantly it omitted parts of history that did not align with Governor Youngkin’s political and controlled narrative. If our students are at the center of what is being done; if we are truly looking out for their best interest then we owe it to them to teach the truth (the good, the bad, and the ugly) about American History and Virginia History.

A Fairfax County Public Schools spokesperson said the district won’t be commenting. School Board Chair Rachna Sizemore Heizer didn’t respond to FFXnow’s inquiry by publication time.

When asked to respond to the board’s postponement and criticism of the draft from the local unions, among others, Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s office referred FFXnow to public comments he made on Friday (Nov. 18).

Expressing disappointment in the draft’s “omissions and mistakes,” Youngkin suggested some of the pushback stems from confusion over the absence of a framework or curriculum in the new document. He asked folks “to be patient.”

A revised draft is expected to come back to the board in early 2023.

Virginia reviews its standard history curriculum for students every seven years, making this the first review since 2015. This year’s process has been particularly fraught after Youngkin issued an executive order banning “critical race theory” in schools.

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Reston Association (file photo)

Reston Association members will see a 3% increase in annual assessment dues next year.

At a meeting on Thursday (Nov. 17), RA’s Board of Directors voted to increase member fees from $740 to $763 as part of its $20.7 million budget for 2023.

The board held off higher increases in the annual fee by buying it down with $1 million in cash surplus from last year.

An attempt by board member Glenn Small to use savings from not filling current vacant positions — roughly $781,000 — failed to gain clout with the board.

The move was suggested by RA’s fiscal committee in an effort to keep the assessment from growing at “too big of a percentage,” RA CEO Mac Cummins said.

Citing conversations with RA members, Small said he was concerned about fee increases over the last 15 years, including a 69% increase in fees from 2007 to this year. He compared the increase to a 44% hike in the number of full-time staff.

“We need to find a way to stabilize and reduce assessments,” he said.

But Cummins cautioned that failing to fill some positions could have a direct operational impact on the organization and members.

The long-term outlook of fee increases is unclear, particularly when the cash surplus was utilized this year, according to board members. Assessments are due on Jan 1.

Board member Bob Petrine said he was confident that the new CEO’s initiatives will provide long-term planning and direction.

“I think we will see a more robust process going forward,” Petrine said.

The budget doubles boat mooring fees for 2023. Fee increases are also proposed for non-resident memberships. For example, an all-access family pass for pools, tennis and pickleball may increase from $450 to $522.

The board also moved to remove $381,000 in funding for lighting improvements at Barton Hills Tennis Courts for this year. Instead, funds were shifted to next year to offset new projects like a refurbishment of the ballfields at Hunters Woods.

An additional $300,000 was allocated to another future pool of money for the renovation of the Barton Hill courts.

Cummins also added a line-item of $50,000 for organizational assessments and development.

The budget — 71% of which covers staffing and staff-related costs — also includes two new positions for a registrar and an administrative assistant for covenants.

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Fairfax County Fire and Rescue engine ladder (file photo)

Firefighters, medics and other Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department employees will have a union represent them in the county’s first collective bargaining negotiations for public workers in over 40 years.

Over 800 FCFRD workers participated in a 13-day election last month to determine whether to have union representation for contract talks with the county government, which will establish pay, benefits and other working conditions.

The only union in contention, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local 2068 won with a decisive 797 votes, or 95.2%. The only other option on the ballot was to have no representation, which received 40 votes, the union announced Friday (Nov. 18).

With 1,533 members, Local 2068 represents firefighters, fire marshals, mechanics, medics and emergency dispatchers employed by Fairfax County. 837 eligible voters — 54.6% — cast a ballot in the election from Oct. 12-31.

“This is a monumental day for the members of our department,” IAFF 2068 President Robert Young said in a news release. “But it’s also a monumental day for all Fairfax County employees, and all of the residents of our community. We’ve shown that when Fairfax County workers come together…we have the power to have a say in the decisions that impact our lives and the lives of the communities we serve.”

After Virginia ended a 44-year ban on collective bargaining for public sector workers in May 2021, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopted an ordinance on Oct. 19, 2021 granting employees the right to organize, elect union representatives and participate in union activities.

Under the ordinance, the county will recognize separate bargaining units for the fire department, police and other county workers. Elections haven’t been held yet for the police and general government units.

With negotiations expected to begin in early 2023, Local 2068 says one priority will be addressing the staffing shortages that have affected the fire department and other county agencies, from police to the park authority and public library system.

Local 2068 says first responders have been forced to work mandatory overtime, adding 12 to 24 hours on top of their standard 24-hour shift “sometimes with little to no notice.” The union says its members have performed over 80,000 hours of “holdovers” — equal to 3,333 24-hour days.

“Having members work such excessive mandatory overtime isn’t just bad for their health, but it’s a potential hazard for the community members we serve,” Young said. “We look forward to addressing this issue at the bargaining table.”

Collective bargaining negotiations will last up to November 2023. A resulting agreement won’t take effect until July 1, 2024, when the county’s fiscal year 2025 begins.

Some issues could be addressed earlier as part of the upcoming fiscal year 2024 budget process, which will begin in earnest when County Executive Bryan Hill presents his proposed plan on Feb. 21.

Young said Local 2068 will advocate for merit and cost of living pay increases as well as funding for automated ambulance loaders — stretchers where the legs automatically fold up as the device is rolled into a vehicle.

“We’re the only jurisdiction in the region that doesn’t have access to these tools, tools that not only help prevent members from being injured, but also help us deliver faster and safer service to the community,” Young said.

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The annual parade returns to Reston Town Center this Friday (via TAA Public Relations)

Reston Town Center’s holiday parade is set for this Friday (Nov. 25), kicking off a series of holiday events for the season.

The annual parade, now in its 31st year, will march down Market Street at 11 a.m.

At the conclusion of the half-mile-long parade, Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus will arrive on a horse-drawn carriage. The event also includes balloons, entertainment, and marking bands.

Following the parade, the couple will be on hand for the town center’s annual Christmas tree lighting at 6 p.m.

The parade is sponsored by Reston Town Center, Reston Community Center and Reston Town Center Association.

A character meet and greet is slated for 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. at Fountain Square. Mini-train rides are scheduled for 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the pavilion. Horse-drawn carriage rides take place between 6-10 p.m. at the pavilion as well.

Parking is free in all garages on Friday.

As in previous years defined by the pandemic, parade bells will not be distributed.

“We hope to continue this popular tradition in the coming years when social distancing is not an issue,” event organizers said.

The parade has once again been nominated for USA Today’s annual Readers’ choice awards for the best holiday parades in the country.

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A mini-van takes the new I-66 Express Lanes in the Centreville area (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

If you plan on driving the newly extended I-66 Express Lanes next month, make sure there are at least two other people in the car to avoid paying a toll.

The entire length of the I-66 toll lanes will shift from HOV2 to HOV3 in early December, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) recently announced.

Starting Dec. 5, only those with traveling with three or more people will be able to use the lanes for free. This is a change from the previous standard of two or more passengers.

Single riders or those traveling with just two passengers will have to pay a toll, with the price varying based on traffic volumes (known as “dynamic tolling”).

The change will apply to the entire 32-mile length of the I-66 Express Lanes, including the existing 9-mile section inside the Beltway (I-495) from Dunn Loring to Route 29 in Rosslyn. A new Beltway ramp to I-66 just opened this week.

That portion of I-66 operates as HOV on weekdays during peak hours and in peak directions. Otherwise, the express lanes are free and have no occupancy requirement.

Hours of operation for I-66 Express Lanes inside of the Beltway (screenshot via VDOT)

VDOT also notes that, in order to use the lanes during rush hour, drivers need an E-ZPass transponder.

The state transportation agency said in a press release that the new requirements are “consistent with HOV requirements on the other express lanes in Northern Virginia.”

In a statement to FFXnow, a VDOT spokesperson said consistency and federal environmental standards were the biggest reasons for the change:

This change supports the National Capital Region’s Transportation Planning Board’s policy to change HOV-2 to HOV-3 throughout the region in order to move more people with fewer vehicles and comply with the federal Clean Air Act Amendment. This change is also consistent with the other express lanes in Northern Virginia on I-95, I-395, and I-495, and is aligned with Virginia’s policy that HOV-3 be the requirement for toll-free travel on all privately-operated express lanes in Virginia. This rule applies to I-66 Express Lanes Outside the Beltway, which are operated by I-66 Express Mobility Partners under a public-private partnership with the Commonwealth.

The switch from HOV2 to HOV3 was first approved in 2016 by Virginia’s Commonwealth Transportation Board.

The portion of the express lanes inside the Beltway opened five years ago, accompanied by a good amount of griping about the high toll prices.

The 22-mile section outside of the Beltway is almost fully operational after about six years of work. A 9-mile stretch from Route 28 in Centreville to Route 29 in Gainesville opened in early September, and the westbound lanes from I-495 in Dunn Loring to Route 28 became operational yesterday.

The eastbound lanes could open as early as tomorrow, a few weeks ahead of schedule, VDOT says. Work in the corridor will continue through mid-2023 on other elements of the Transform 66 project, including new interchanges and a parallel shared-use path.

A version of this story appeared earlier on FFXnow’s sister site, ARLnow.

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