Ellmore Farmhouse (via Fairfax County Government)

A nonprofit dedicated to helping people with disabilities has formally submitted plans to Fairfax County for a new program that will operate out of the Ellmore Farmhouse in Herndon’s Frying Pan Farm Park.

ServiceSource signed a 29-year lease for the property at 2739 West Ox Road on May 24 after the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the nonprofit as the newest addition to the park authority’s Resident Curator Program earlier that month.

Now, county planners are reviewing a special exception application to permit an adult day support center at the farmhouse, so ServiceSource can establish a Long-Term Community Integration Services program with classes, training, and other services for adults with developmental disabilities.

“This application presents a unique opportunity to collocate a meaningful community service on County parkland and appropriately renovate a historic structure,” Scott Adams, an attorney representing ServiceSource, said in a statement of justification. “The synergy of collocating the proposed facility within Frying Pan Farm Park will serve as a peaceful setting with natural and recreational amenities for the program’s participants while also serving to further activate and support the park.”

Filed on Aug. 16, the application proposes allowing about 15 clients and six staff members at the Ellmore Farmhouse from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays.

Intended to help integrate participants into the general community, the program will offer a variety of activities depending on the day, including:

  • Community engagement activities, which could include volunteering in Frying Pan Farm Park’s visitor center and at Kidwell Farm
  • Skill building and training opportunities
  • Music, dance, and art classes
  • Visits to local sites and small businesses
  • Classes on computers, nutrition, and other life skills
  • Reading groups
  • Planning meetings with family members, ServiceSource employees, and Fairfax County-Falls Church Community Services Board staff

ServiceSource plans to collaborate with the Fairfax County Park Authority on additional amenities for Frying Pan Farm Park visitors, such as a “grab-and-go” cafe with snacks and drinks that would employ adults with disabilities.

The nonprofit also proposes selling candles, soap, tote bags, and other items handcrafted by people with disabilities through its self-employment program. All proceeds would go to the individuals who made the products.

As a resident curator, ServiceSource has committed to rehabilitating the two-story, 3,300 square-foot farmhouse by improving its accessibility and incorporating green building designs, while also preserving its historic character.

It is obligated to provide public access to the property, including at least one annual open house, and to deliver annual reports to the park authority, which owns the site, according to the lease, which won’t take effect until the special exception request and any other necessary permits are approved.

As part of the special exception application, ServiceSource has asked the county to waive a requirement that it provide an estimate for the maximum number of trips that will be generated by the facility, citing the limited number of participants in the proposed program.

It is also seeking waivers of any requirements to dedicate, construct, or widen existing roads and to provide a minor paved trail on the site that’s included in the county’s Comprehensive Trails Plan Map.

“The limited scope of the application does not warrant the construction of a new trail and users of the Adult Day Support Center will [be] dropped off and picked up by vehicle,” the statement of justification says. “There is an existing sidewalk that connects the Ellmore Farmhouse to the pedestrian crosswalk at West Ox Road and an existing trail along the southern portion of West Ox Road.”

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Morning Notes

New Capital Bikeshare station at Vantage Hill (via vantagehill/Flickr)

Virginia PTA Official Resigns after Fairfax County Rally — Virginia Parent Teacher Association Vice President of Training Michelle Leete resigned Saturday (July 17) after drawing heat for her speech at a rally in support of transgender students before the Fairfax County School Board’s meeting on July 15. Leete is also a leader of the Fairfax County NAACP, which said in a statement yesterday (Sunday) that it stands “firmly” by her and that her remarks have been taken out of context. [The Washington Post]

Man Arrested for Reston Town Center Carjacking — Last Wednesday (July 14), Fairfax County patrol officers found a stolen car in the parking lot of Kohl’s in Herndon and arrested the man inside, charging him with grand larceny, possession of stolen items, and two drug-related charges. Police believe he was also responsible for a carjacking that occurred in Reston Town Center on June 12. [FCPD]

Gerry Connolly Trail Partially Closes Starting Today — “The Gerry Connolly Cross County Trail will be closed between mile markers 3.2 and 3.8 in the Difficult Run Stream Valley Park from Monday, July 19 through Friday, Aug. 6, 2021…The closure of this section of trail north of Route 7 (Leesburg Pike) will allow crews to perform maintenance on the Potomac Interceptor sanitary sewer.” [Fairfax County Park Authority]

Reston Kindergartener Awarded Grant — The Reston Accessibility Committee awarded a grant through its Financial Aid Outreach Program to a Reston kindergarten student with special needs. The grant will help the student’s family purchase sensory toys for a home-based therapeutic program. It’s the third grant that RAC has distributed as part of the program. [RAC]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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The Fairfax County School Board approved a framework yesterday (Thursday) to seek federal COVID-19 money, with the stipulation that it gets increased oversight and input on how the money will be spent.

The roughly $189 million plan would start with the upcoming school year and extend to June 2024. It is intended to help Fairfax County Public Schools respond to issues stemming from the pandemic.

“While we did have a public hearing about where people would like us to target our monies, we have not had the opportunity to get the greater details from the superintendent and his team,” Braddock District Representative Megan McLaughlin said.

The school board thanked district administrators for developing the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) framework after learning about the incoming funds in May, but several board officials questioned whether the proposal was sufficiently detailed and provided enough accountability.

“The ESSER funds are unlike other funding by the federal government in that it has a requirement to have extensive community input and outreach,” Mount Vernon District Representative Karen Corbett-Sanders said.

The ESSER III money will support school operations, cover increased workloads for Individualized Education Program (IEP) staff, aid academic interventions, address students’ social and emotional needs, help with translation services for students, and more.

The largest costs, as identified by district staff so far, would involve:

  • $54.9 million for academic intervention
  • $46.2 million for special education teacher contracts
  • $23.3 million for social and emotional learning needs
  • Nearly $20.2 million for summer 2022 learning
  • Nearly $14 million for afterschool programming and transportation

According to an FCPS presentation about the program, the ESSER money should address the impacts of the pandemic especially for students who have been disproportionately affected, and at least 20% must be used to address learning loss, among other rules.

The money will come through the Virginia Department of Education from the American Rescue Plan Act that was passed by Congress and signed into law in March.

Corbett-Sanders said FCPS faces an Aug. 1 deadline for submitting a general framework to the state before giving a more specific plan for how it will spend the funds by Sept. 1.

“Rather than just greenlighting, ‘They’re giving us $188.6 million, we’re going to put it in a line item list,’ we felt that it was important to have a little bit more comprehensive planning around the ESSER funds grant,” Corbett-Sanders said.

With the board’s initial approval, Superintendent Scott Brabrand will present an official ESSER III plan prior to the board’s Aug. 26 business meeting. He will present more detailed information, including targeted goals, operational timelines, and accountability metrics in a September work session.

The board’s motion also stipulated that state-filed amendments to the plan that reach $100,000 or more must be authorized by the board.

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Fairfax County will hold more summer classes for students with disabilities later this month after staffing issues put the program in jeopardy.

After families were informed that a teacher deficit was delaying the Extended School Year program, the school district adjusted it into two blocks, the first of which is already underway, to allow it to keep class sizes low but do more with less staff.

“We’re in a special education crisis,” Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand said Tuesday (July 13) during a work session with the school board.

He noted around half of the 400 job openings that the district currently has involve special education, but according to the school district, a second Extended School Year block is “almost fully staffed.”

“There is a full commitment that we will have a fully staffed second session of the ESY,” Mount Vernon District School Board Representative Karen Corbett-Sanders said, adding that FCPS notified families and provided a timeline for transportation, food services, and more.

Earlier this month, FCPS apologized for communications that suggested the “administration was faulting teachers for failures of the system to supply optimum programming.”

“Our staff members have gone far beyond ordinary expectations and we are grateful for their professional dedication,” the district said on social media.

While officials praised teachers and administrators for making services work this summer, FCPS is looking to build within its own ranks to help address long-term faculty shortages.

School officials are working to apply for COVID-19 relief from an ESSER III fund (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief). The money comes from the $1.9 trillion stimulus in the American Rescue Plan Act, passed by Congress and signed into law in March.

Previous federal COVID-19 relief plans included ESSER funds administered by state education departments, though local school districts had to apply to obtain the funds.

The school board was slated to vote on a plan for how to spend the roughly $189 million that FCPS is seeking when it meets tomorrow (Thursday).

The money would cover a three-year span, starting with the upcoming school year through June 2024. Intended to help schools safely open after a challenging year due to the pandemic, the funds can be used to support school operations and address students’ social and emotional needs.

The proposed plan would allocate $46.2 million to special education staff, which amounts to a 7% salary increase to cover the extra 30 minutes needed each day to file Individualized Education Program paperwork due to the pandemic, according to FCPS.

The funding sought would also involve around $2.5 million for professional development. According to Tuesday’s presentation to the school board, that effort would involve two new employees each year. It isn’t immediately clear if that’s all for salaries or if other expenses are involved.

Other requests include $54 million for academic interventions, $2 million for cybersecurity, $15.9 million for after school programming and transportation at high schools, and $20.1 million for a summer 2022 learning program.

Board members pressed FCPS officials for more accountability and strategic planning in its plans for the federal funds. Community members previously weighed in through focus groups in May and June, online feedback, and a June 7 public hearing.

Wilda Smith Ferguson, a parent of a child with special needs in the district, said during the June meeting that the school system’s decisions regarding protocols haven’t taken children like hers into consideration.

“She is totally dependent on her teachers and the support staff at the high school that she attends,” Ferguson said. “I would like to see some of the money in the grant go to, basically, instead of ‘trickle down,’ trickle up. Figure out what is best for the most vulnerable and work up.”

The deadline for FCPS to apply for ESSER funds is Sept. 1.

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With the start of the new school year quickly approaching, the latest Fairfax County Public Schools town hall will focus how staff will support students with disabilities in a virtual learning environment.

Tomorrow (Wednesday), FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand will talk to some of the school system’s special education staff.

“Staff members will explain what they do to support students with disabilities in Fairfax County and will talk about student engagement in the virtual environment, family partnerships, student support, and specialized instruction,” according to FCPS.

The town hall is set to run from 6-7 p.m. and will be livestreamed. People can  submit questions in advance by emailing [email protected] or calling 1-800-231-6359 during the town hall.

Recently, Brabrand has held town halls on Wednesdays to talk about the plans for the virtual return to school and answer community members’ questions.

FCPS has a town hall about the return to school in Spanish scheduled for next  Tuesday, Sept. 1, from 6:30-7:30 p.m., followed by a town hall on Wednesday, Sept. 2, on resources for parents.

Image via Fairfax County Public Schools

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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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