Reston, VA

A bill long championed by Del. Ken Plum (D-Reston) to expand the definition of hate crimes cleared the Virginia House of Delegates with a 60-39 vote on Wednesday (Feb. 19).

If approved by the state Senate, the bill would add gender, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation and disability as categories covered by hate crimes.

Currently, the law defines hate crimes as an illegal act directed against individuals or property because of the person’s race, religion or national origin.

Plum and Del. Richard Sullivan, Jr. pushed for the measure. Last year, a similar bill proposed by Plum died in a House committee. Republicans on the committee stated that the change would unnecessarily complicate the law, which already punishes violence.

Hate crimes must be reported to the Department of State Police by local law enforcement agencies.

File photo

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Parents and disability rights groups are suing Fairfax County Public Schools for allegedly improperly secluding and restraining students with disabilities, according to a report by the Washington Post.

The lawsuit, which was filed on Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, alleges that the school system used practices to “silence, detain, segregate and punish students with disabilities,” according to the complaint.

One of the parents suing the school system — Jennifer Tidd — lives in Reston. Her 12-year-old son attended Kilmer Center, a public special education school operated by the county in Vienna.

“Tidd’s son was secluded on at least 745 occasions and excluded from class several hundred more times over seven years, according to court papers,” the Washington Post reported.

The Fairfax County Public School system told the following to the post:

The parents, Jennifer Tidd, Pamela Ononiwu and Ashley Thomas, are accusing the 189,000-student school system of using the practices to “silence, detain, segregate, and punish students with disabilities,” according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Fairfax school officials said they have completed a thorough and independent review of seclusion and restraint guidelines, and added staff, increased training and appointed an ombudsman for special education. The school system also created a task force to look at best practices for restraint and seclusion. The parents who filed the lawsuit lambasted that task force as a “public relations ploy.”

 “We acknowledge that the use of restraint and seclusion is an especially sensitive and challenging issue and is appropriate only when less restrictive alternatives fail,” Superintendent Scott Brabrand said in statement released late Tuesday. “We will continue to base our procedures and practices on that guiding principle.”

A March investigation by WAMU found that some Fairfax County schools isolated or restrained students and failed to report the incidents to the federal government. The investigation featured the stories of parents whose children were restrained at Armstrong Elementary in Reston and other area schools.

File photo

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A South Lakes High School teacher who was reported missing earlier this month was identified as the motorcyclist found dead Thursday near Fairfax County Parkway.

Simon Chang, 39, of Ashburn, was a special education teacher and a member of the boys basketball coaching staff. He was reported missing on August 16.

The news comes just days before students return to SLHS. Kim Retzer, the school’s principal, wrote the following message to parents about Chang’s passing:

The South Lakes High School community is mourning the death of one of our teachers, Simon Chang. As a special education teacher and member of the boys basketball coaching staff, Mr. Chang was as a beloved member of the Seahawk family. He will be remembered for his positivity and dedication to our staff and students.  He will be greatly missed. We have been in contact with Mr. Chang’s family to offer our condolences and support. 

We feel it is important for you to be aware of this situation so that you can provide any support your children might need.  Our counselors and an FCPS crisis team will be available Monday to meet with any students or staff who need assistance.  All staff will have information on where to direct students who need support. We are taking every step we can to be responsive to the needs of our students and families.  Please reach out if there are ways we can support you.  

Our thoughts are with Mr. Chang’s family and friends during this difficult time.

Police believe Chang was riding a motorcycle from Lee Highway to northbound Fairfax County Parkway when the motorcycle ran off the shoulder of the ramp and drove into a wooded area near a pond.

Chang’s body was found on Thursday, August 23 after a groundskeeper found the wreckage.

Detective do not believe other vehicles were involved in the accident. It is unclear if speed or alcohol were factors.

Photo via Loudoun County Government

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Friday Morning Notes

No rush for rush hour service — “Metro plans to stick with rush-hour service cuts implemented last summer for years to come, an update to the rail fleet plan to be presented to the Metro Board Thursday suggests.” [WTOP]

A life line — Coffee pod maker Keurig Green Mountain is partnering with Reston-based LifeFuels to increase sales of its high-tech, battery-operated water bottles. [WTOP]

In it for the ride — Young adults ages 10 and up with special needs get a tour of Frying Pan Farm Park Today, as well as a wagon ride and a chance for some social dancing. [Fairfax County Government]

In school sports — South Lakes High School JV Boys Soccer and Girls Soccer teams secured wins over Herndon High School yesterday. [South Lakes Athletics]

Photo by Jami Ojala

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Trace the story of the Blind Boys of Alabama, a legendary gospel quartet that blossomed after its members met in the 1930s at a segregated, state-run institute for the blind, this Sunday at Reston Community Center.

As part of the ReelAbilities Film Festival, an offshoot of the New York film festival, CenterStage will show the film, “How Sweet the Sound — The Blind Boys of Alabama,” at 3 p.m. at RCC Hunters Woods.

The documentary is directed and produced by Reston’s own Leslie McCleave. The independent filmmaker graduated from Herndon High School and was raised in Reston. The screening will be followed by a conversation with McCleave, who currently teaches film and video production at Emerson College in Boston, Ma.

The festival, run by the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia, features films by and about people with disabilities. Screenings will take place at several venues throughout Northern Virginia.

Sunday’s screening is restricted to viewers ages 18 and above.

For more information about other screenings, visit the festival’s website.

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Home share, a nationwide housing program, is offered in just 16 states, according to the National Shared Housing Resource Center. The program, which allows individuals to exchange housing for help in the home, is coming to Fairfax County soon.

GraceFul Homeshare, a family-owned organization that offers in-home care for seniors and older adults with disabilities, is in the process of establishing a home share program for Herndon and Reston. The organization is currently seeking homeowners interested in participating, tenants and volunteers.

The system allows homeowners to offer accommodation to a homesharer who agreed to provide money and/or  help with household tasks in exchange for housing. Advocates say home sharing is an efficient use of existing housing stock, helps preserve the fabric of the neighborhood and lessen the need for care services and long term institutional care.

Examples of homesharers include senior citizens, people with disabilities, working professional and individuals at risk of homelessness.

Interviews and background checks will take place before introductions are arranged. Each part will pay an application fee. If the application is accepted and a match is made, the homework will pay a fee for the service.

For more information about the program, email Dan Flavin at [email protected] for more information. GraceFul serves Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William and Arlington counties in Virginia, Maryland’s Montgomery County and surrounding areas.

 

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Thursday Morning Notes

Holiday Toy Distribution Set for Today — The Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department will host a toy distribution today to offer toys to more than 350 children at 3304B Culmore St. in Falls Church. The distribution will begin at 10 a.m. [Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department]

Fairfax County Park Authority and Pathways Sign Agreement — The partnership will allow adults with disabilities to intern in programs and activities by FCPA. The ultimate goal of the program is to provide competitive employment chances for qualified individuals. For more information, contact the pathways to careers employer relations coordinator John Gyourko at 571-249-9468 or [email protected]. [Fairfax County Government]

Free Wine Tasting on Friday at 1194 Market St. —  Celebrate the holiday season at Boxwood Estate Winery’s Trellis with a free wine tasting sponsored by The Tasting Room from 7 – 10 p.m. [Reston Community Center]

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