Approving a new calendar for the coming school year is typically one of the more routine duties administered by the Fairfax County School Board, but this time, it has become another decision complicated by competing priorities and added stakes.
The board will hold a work session at 11 a.m. today (Tuesday) to discuss proposals for the 2021-2022 school year calendar that would add four religious observance holidays not included in the current school calendar: Rosh Hashanah (Sept. 7, 2021), Yom Kippur (Sept. 16, 2021), Diwali (Nov. 4, 2021), and Eid al Fitr (May 3, 2022).
Faith organizations representing Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, and Sikh communities in the D.C. area have been advocating for Fairfax County Public Schools to recognize those holidays for years, an effort that began gaining traction in 2019 when the school board first convened a Religious Observance Task Force to advise the district on how it could better serve students of different faiths.
With input from the task force, a committee charged with developing the school year calendar released two drafts last June that both incorporated the proposed new holidays.
However, when the school board met on Feb. 2 to discuss the issue, FCPS presented a third draft that did not include the holidays, as some school board members expressed reservations about having more school closures after a year of the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting learning or making it more difficult for many students, among other concerns.
The religious groups involved in the task force — including the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS), the Durga Temple of Virginia, Hindu American Foundation, McLean Islamic Center, Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation, Sikh Foundation of Virginia, and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington (JCRC) — expressed “deep disappointment” in the new turn of events in a letter sent to the school board on Feb. 9.
Disputing the idea that closing schools on four extra days would significantly affect FCPS’ ability to address learning losses, the task force criticized the board for not notifying them or the public about the new proposed draft calendar. They also noted that other jurisidictions in Northern Virginia, including Arlington, Prince William, and Loudoun counties, already recognize some or all of the holidays in question.
“We are troubled that FCPS’ natural progression to a more inclusive understanding of equity and diversity now stands to be thwarted,” the groups said. “We urge you not to obstruct or delay progress, but rather to move forward with confidence and conviction.”
As of Mar. 1, 269 current FCPS students had signed a petition from JCRC calling for the school board to add the religious holidays.
The school board will vote to officially adopt a calendar for the next school year on Mar. 16.
Photo via Sandeep Kr Yadav on Unsplash
Those seeking justice for the murder of Nabra Hassanen, whose death rattled the Reston community this summer, will have their first day in court this week.
A preliminary hearing for the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s prosecution of murder suspect Darwin Martinez Torres, 22, will be on Friday in Fairfax County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court.
Judge Kimberly Daniel will preside over the hearing for the court, according to Rae Ann Stein, who works for the Fairfax County Court Services Administration in records management. The Juvenile and Domestic Relations court has jurisdiction over juvenile matters, including offenses committed by adults against juveniles under the age of 18.
Police say Hassanen was part of a large group of teenagers walking and biking on Dranesville Road at about 3:40 a.m. after a Ramadan service at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society. The suspect allegedly approached the group in a car and argued with a teenage boy. The group scattered, but police say Torres caught up a short time later armed with a baseball bat. Hassanen was struck and taken in the car. Her body was discovered later that day in a Sterling pond.
Torres, who is a citizen of El Salvador and was living in Sterling without legal permission, had a detainer request lodged against him by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
Hassanen was laid to rest as a martyr of her Muslim community on Wednesday, June 21. Later that same day, the community packed into Lake Anne Plaza for her vigil.
Torres was incarcerated at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center without bail, according to police. Authorities are seeking the harshest punishment, while many in the community are calling for the murder charges to be elevated to a bias-related crime.
Saving the Environment One Straw at a Time — Americans use 500 million plastic straws a day. Karan Marari, 11, of Reston, is aiming to reduce their use locally with his “no straw request.” He is educating restaurant owners, urging them to change their wait staff’s behaviors and practices that lead to the unsolicited placement of plastic straws in patrons’ drinks. [Reston Connection]
One Month Anniversary of Nabra’s Death — An event is scheduled for Sunday to mark the one-month anniversary Nabra Hassanen’s killing. The goal of the event is to ease people’s pain through prayer. [All Dulles Area Muslim Society]
Boating Safety Tips — The Marine Patrol Unit has published a list of safety tips for those who plan to spend time on the water. These include wearing a life jacket, checking the durability of one’s boat, bringing emergency items such as snacks and water onboard, and more. [Fairfax County Police Department]
Line Dancer to Instruct Tonight at Lake Anne — The “Take A Break” concert series at Lake Anne Plaza will continue tonight with a dance night from Cedar Creek. Learn to dance as the tunes take over. [Lake Anne Plaza]
As the community continues to grieve after last month’s shocking killing of 17-year-old Nabra Hassanen, the All Dulles Area Muslim Society is providing opportunities for support.
“It’s still having a shock wave, a ripple effect, however you want to describe it,” said Joshua Salaam, ADAMS Center chaplain, prior to a parent-outreach session Thursday afternoon at Forest Edge Elementary School. “People of all ages, all genders, all ethnicities are so traumatized by it.”
To help work through that trauma, the ADAMS Center along with Fairfax and Loudoun counties have been reaching out into the community to lend strength. Further relief opportunities have been announced for later this month, including listening sessions, youth hangouts and a letter-writing campaign.
In addition, a public gathering to reflect on the tragedy is scheduled for Sunday, June 16, from noon-3 p.m. at the ADAMS Center (46903 Sugarland Road, Sterling). Abidah Ali, ADAMS Center youth coordinator, said the afternoon will be directed toward young people, but all members of the community are invited to attend and show their support.
Salaam said the July dates are the beginnings of a year-long support plan to help the community work its way through the stages of grief.
“[The plan] involves a diverse way of healing — some might be with animals, some might be with art, some might be with writing,” he said. “We want it to be long-term, so youth and parents are given hope that they’re not just going to be forgotten about in a week.”
To be kept up-to-date on future activities related to coping with the loss, text @e4Nabra to 81010. You can also stay connected through the ADAMS Youth website.
As the community continues to recover after last week’s brutal killing of a Reston teenager, one activist says the psychological impact on surviving youth will live on.
“For many of us in Northern Virginia, it’s really during Ramadan where we carve out special places to feel like home,” said Aya Saed, a Harvard Law School student and organizer for the Deeply Rooted Retreat for Black Muslim Youth. “For the crime to have happened in this moment is really quite traumatic to young people who are just starting to creating safe spaces for themselves and forever.”
Saed and other prominent members of the area’s Muslim community appeared on “The Kojo Nnamdi Show” today on WAMU to reflect on the slaying of Nabra Hassanen and discuss its implications on a future generation of Muslim children.
Nabra, 17, was attacked and abducted in the early morning hours June 18 while walking back from McDonald’s after an overnight service at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society. She was beaten to death and her body was found in a Loudoun County pond. Fairfax County police say that her killing followed an extreme case of road rage.
“Any time this type of incident happens, it runs deep,” said Joshua Salaam, ADAMS Center chaplain, of the community atmosphere following Nabra’s death. “Any individual can point back to five [or] six incidents in the last year where the victim was a Muslim.”
“I think mosques are doing what they can to ensure extra security measures in place,” she said. “People are looking over their shoulder [and] they’re taking self-defense classes just to be prepared.”
Saed said that kids Nabra’s age, both locally and elsewhere in the country, have been rocked by what happened to her that morning.
“It’s worth talking about the kinds of psychological impact this is having,” she said. “For many young Muslims, this is the only reality that they know in the United States.”
Edwin Roessler, Fairfax County Police Department chief, told media prior to the start of a vigil in Nabra’s honor Wednesday that test results are being awaited before any official statement can be made.
“At this point in time right now, it’s an active investigation,” Roessler said. “We’re pursuing that possibility [that a sexual assault happened], but we have to wait for forensic examination results and the report of autopsy from the medical examiner to confirm whether or not that took place.”
The assaults Nabra suffered prior to her death were “one continuous event” that began in Fairfax County and ended in Loudoun County, Roessler said. He reiterated once again, emphatically, that no evidence has emerged that points to the killing as being a hate crime.
“Right now, that is a myth on social media,” Roessler said. “There is no evidence at this point in the investigation, at all, that this was hate-motivated.”
Roessler said if anyone has information that would point toward the crime being bias-motivated, he wants to hear it. But he shot down several questions from media regarding rumors about the suspect’s motives.
Imam Mohamed Magid of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society expressed his confidence in the work of the Fairfax County Police Department, and he thanked them for all they have done already to help put the pieces together.
“We are so glad that they were able to find [the suspect] and get him into custody very quick,” Magid said. “The community has trust in [the police] in this investigation. They told us they will not leave any stone unturned in this investigation, and we appreciate that.”
The suspect, a 22-year-old Salvadoran national named Darwin Martinez Torres, remains in custody at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center. He has a court date set for July 19.
Homicide detectives from the Fairfax County Police Department will continue to lead the investigation into the death of 17-year-old Nabra Hassanen of Reston.
Jurisdictional issues have arisen since the crime, which took place just before 4 a.m. Sunday. Police say Nabra was assaulted and abducted near the intersection of Dranesville Road and Woodson Drive, which is just east of the Fairfax/Loudoun county line. Police say she was then taken to Loudoun County, where she was assaulted again and her body was thrown into a pond.
According to police accounts, Nabra and a group of friends had been at a Ramadan service at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society and were on their way back after going to breakfast at the McDonald’s in the Town Center at Sterling plaza. Both of those places are just west of the Fairfax/Loudoun line.
“The Fairfax County Police Department has partnered closely with the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office with the common goal of justice for Nabra as well as for her family, friends and community,” FCPD said in a news release. “Our department will continue to work alongside the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney as this case moves forward.”
Police have charged 22-year-old Darwin Martinez Torres, a Salvadoran national, with murder in the case. They say Torres became enraged with the group of teens and exited his car wielding a baseball bat, striking Nabra. An autopsy revealed her cause of death as blunt force trauma.
Nabra was finishing her sophomore year at South Lakes High School.
Police say they are not investigating Nabra’s death as a hate crime; however, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond Morrogh has said he will continue to weigh the possibility before deciding how to proceed with the case. Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman says he supports the decision to keep the case in Fairfax County and “will lend any assistance if requested.”
Services for Nabra Hassanen will take place this afternoon at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (46903 Sugarland Road, Sterling).
Hassanen was killed Sunday after what police say was an extreme road-rage incident on Dranesville Road. She was walking along with friends back toward the ADAMS Center from McDonald’s.
The ceremony will take place at 1:30 p.m. at the ADAMS Center. South Lakes High School released the following information this morning for those who would like to attend:
- The ADAMS Center has two levels. Those attending who do not practice the faith will be seated either in the sanctuary area in chairs off to the side or on the balcony level. Men and women are separate in the sanctuary area and guests seated in that area will also be separate by gender.
- Please dress conservatively — shirts should be elbow-length or below and pants or skirts should be at or below the knee. Dressing conservatively is expected. Head coverings or scarfs for women are appropriate if you choose.
- The funeral service is not very long (30 mins). For those who are guests, our role will be to reflect in quiet while observing the traditional prayers. Unlike most Christian services, there are not usually speakers or tributes done.
- There are no flowers — do not bring nor do any groups need to send.
- The burial will take place afterward [at Sterling Cemetery]. The ADAMS Center is providing some transportation for those who would like to attend. Please note that the burial is a very quiet, somber ceremony with a lot of tradition. The men in the family take the active role. It is most appropriate for family and close friends to attend.
Our thoughts & prayers are with Sr. Nabra's family, May Allah (swt) grant comfort, serenity, strength and patience in this difficult time. pic.twitter.com/i459PWzixt
— ADAMS Center (@ADAMSCenter_) June 21, 2017
A public vigil in Nabra’s memory is also planned for 6:30 p.m. tonight at Lake Anne Plaza. More than 1,400 people have indicated on Facebook that they plan to attend. Check the Facebook page for information about parking.
The All Dulles Area Muslim Society says it is “devastated and heartbroken” after a 17-year-old girl was killed near the mosque early Sunday morning.
Police and the ADAMS Center both report the girl was walking with a group of teens along Dranesville Road early Sunday morning when a man exited his vehicle and assaulted and abducted Hassanen. The other members of the group were helped by “community members,” according to ADAMS, and directed back toward the mosque. ADAMS Center personnel contacted authorities in Loudoun and Fairfax counties, who began their search for the girl.
A suspect, 22-year-old Darwin Martinez Torres of Sterling, was arrested a few hours later when he was spotted “driving suspiciously” in the area of the abduction. A female body was found at about 3 p.m. Sunday in a pond in Sterling; the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner will provide identification and determine the exact cause and manner of death.
“We thank both Fairfax County Police and Loudoun County Sheriff’s departments for their diligent efforts in investigating and apprehending a suspect,” the ADAMS Center said. “We call on law enforcement to investigate and determine the motive of this crime and prosecute to the full extent of the law.”
The Fairfax County Police Department says Hassanen’s killing is not being investigated as a hate crime.
— Fairfax Co. Police (@fairfaxpolice) June 19, 2017
Hassanen was a sophomore at South Lakes High School, where counselors will be on site today. Counselors will also be at the ADAMS Center to assist anyone in need of support.
A vigil has also been slated for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Lake Anne Plaza.
This article will be updated as more information becomes available.
Image via LaunchGood.com
(This article was updated at 9:05 p.m. with information that the girl is believed to be a South Lakes High School student, and again at 9:45 p.m. after police confirmed the girl was from Reston.)
Police say a body found this afternoon is likely that of a Reston teenager who went missing after an overnight activity in the Herndon area, and a Sterling man is in jail facing a murder charge.
Tawny Wright, spokesperson for the Fairfax County Police Deparment, said during a media briefing that officers responded at about 4 a.m. Sunday for a report of friends who couldn’t find a member of their group. Officers initiated a search for a 17-year-old girl in the area of Dranesville Road and Woodson Drive, near an unidentified facility the teens had left.
“Our investigation has determined that she was out walking with her friends when, for some reason, they got into a dispute with a man driving a car,” Wright said. “We’re looking into the details of exactly what happened, but for some reason, the man got out of the vehicle and he assaulted one of the group.”
Wright said the girl who was assaulted was the missing teenager, whom she did not identify. After a search that was assisted by the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, the grisly discovery was made at about 3 p.m. Sunday.
“Remains of a female were found in a pond off of Ridgetop Circle,” Wright said. “Detectives unfortunately do believe that was our victim, but the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner will confirm the remains’ identity and determine the exact cause and manner of death.”
South Lakes High School sent an email Sunday evening saying it is believed the girl was a student there. Principal Kim Retzer wrote:
“Police are investigating the death of a teen who was reported missing earlier today. It’s believed that the missing teen is one of our students and while we await further news about this very sad incident, I would also ask that you refrain from engaging in rumor and speculation on social media about today’s events.
I wanted you to be aware of these developments and to inform you that we will have crisis counselors at the school beginning tomorrow morning. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victim’s family.”