Reston, VA

Inundated with messages from staff and community members on proposed changes to the 2021-22 calendar, Fairfax County School Board members directed Superintendent Scott Brabrand to redraft it.

During a work session on Tuesday (Mar. 2), the board told staff to consider ways to add flexibility through floating holidays. They said the calendar should take into account legal considerations, instruction, student wellness and pay for support staff, as well as survey preferences, absenteeism data, transparency and equity.

The school board will vote on a final calendar on Mar. 18.

FCPS announced last June that the school board will consider two ways to add in four religious holidays: Rosh Hashanah (Sept. 7, 2021), Yom Kippur (Sept. 16, 2021), Diwali (Nov. 4, 2021), and Eid al Fitr (May 3, 2022).

FCPS drafted a third proposal without those holidays in February, as some board members expressed reservations about the potential disruptions they would create.

“Support staff have been very vocal in terms of what the impact on their work will be,” School Board Chair Ricardy Anderson, who represents the Mason District, said on Tuesday. “I’m very mindful of what this means for our families who rely on schools for breakfast and lunch. We also know that we’re coming out of the pandemic, and we have had a lot of impact in terms of continuity of learning.”

Anderson reported receiving 269 messages from support staff, estimating at least 100 more. Member-at-large Karen Keys-Gamarra also said she received more than 700 written responses on the calendar.

Meanwhile, 286 students have signed a petition, and 76 clergy and faith organizations have signed a letter initiated by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington (JCRC) urging the board to add the holidays.

Responding to the news that FCPS would be developing a new calendar, the Pozez Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia said in a statement that it was heartened to see the board reject the calendar that did not include the new holidays.

“We are optimistic that the next option proposed will be one that is forward-thinking — acknowledging and respecting the cultural and religious diversity of the staff and students of faith in the county, as well as the community at large,” Pozez JCC Executive Director Jeff Dannick and President Susan Kristol said.

Member organizations of a Religious Observances Task Force, which FCPS formed to advise the school system on supporting religious minorities, had “strenuously” objected to the third calendar draft, saying its proposal lacked transparency.

“Given where the community has been at, where the process is so far, what data has revealed, it goes without saying that we need to give this a deliberate look,” member-at-large Abrar Omeish said.

During the work session, FCPS staff presented data from the past five years indicating that the number of absent students and staff rises on days of religious or cultural significance that are not observed in the calendar. But some board members said it is not high enough to provide secular justification for closing schools.

“Such data is a flawed indicator in this situation. It is well-known that public school students and employees very often feel forced to attend work and classes on even their most sacred holidays, for fear of being penalized or academically disadvantaged,” the Religious Observances Task Force argued in its February letter.

The school system has not “done a good job honoring religious holidays for students and employees,” Braddock District Representative Megan McLaughlin said. She told Brabrand that he and his team need to do better, and the board needs formal language to would hold him accountable.

Brabrand said FCPS can “do a better job” communicating what the division expects of children and staff on days of religious and cultural significance.

On top of concerns about pay, meals, and special education services, the proposed changes also carry legal ramifications. Schools can’t close for religious reasons unless it can be justified for secular reasons, such as absenteeism being too high for them to operate.

School board members suggested adding flexibility and protections without closing schools, such as “blackout days” — when students who choose to be absent would not be penalized — and “floating holidays” allowing staff to cash in a paid day off at any time. Some said the unenforceable guidelines for homework and test guidance around holy days should be turned into regulations.

Members also spelled out multiple areas where the calendar development process broke down, including the treatment of the Religious Observances Task Force.

For instance, the task force’s work was only included in a year-end ombudsman report, rather than being presented to the board on its own, which Mount Vernon District Representative Karen Corbett-Sanders says resulted in the findings becoming lost in the frenzy of Return to School planning.

The task force and other participants in the calendar development process had certain expectations for the calendar because of their advocacy, Hunter Mill District Representative Melanie K. Meren said.

Prince William and Arlington counties recently approved calendars with school closures on Eid, Diwali, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Loudoun County approved a calendar with closures on Eid, Diwali and Yom Kippur.

Photo via Sandeep Kr Yadav on Unsplash

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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

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Fairfax County Public Schools students will start resuming in-person instruction on Feb. 16 under a new timeline unanimously approved by the Fairfax County School Board yesterday.

The board intended to formally vote on the latest proposal from FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand during its regular meeting on Thursday (Feb. 4), but enough members stated that they would support the plan during the board’s work session on Tuesday that they ultimately decided to not wait to give their consensus.

“While there’s no guarantee for anything in life regarding a pandemic, I think this is a strong plan with the resources we have to return to some semblance of what school was like before COVID,” Melanie Meren, who represents Hunter Mill District on the school board, said. “Of course, a lot will be different, but I think it’s needed to help people recover their learning loss.”

As with previous Return to School plans, families have a choice between all-virtual learning and a hybrid model with two days of in-person learning and two days of distance learning. All students have been learning virtually since FCPS returned from winter break.

Under the new timeline, students who opt to get some in-person learning will return to school buildings in phases, starting on Feb. 16 with about 8,000 special education and career and technical education students and concluding with third through sixth-grade students on Mar. 16.

This schedule deviates from the one that was implemented in the fall before being suspended in having elementary school students restart in-person learning at the same time or even later than their older peers in middle and high school, whose return will be staggered across Mar. 2 and 9.

Braddock District Representative Megan McLaughlin questioned the two-week gaps between groups of elementary school students, noting that Loudoun County Public Schools plans to have students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade in buildings by Feb. 16.

FCPS officials attributed the extended timeline for elementary schools primarily to staffing issues.

As of Feb. 1, FCPS has filled 74% of the 846 classroom monitor positions that it says are needed to restart in-person learning, but that still leaves 205 vacancies. The biggest gap is in grades three through six, where 94 positions – or 46% — remain vacant.

FCPS Deputy Superintendent Frances Ivey told the school board that, while some may prefer a more aggressive timeline, discussions with elementary school principals indicate that most of them support Brabrand’s proposal.

“There’s an overall positive consensus to the timeline, and recommendations were made based on that feedback,” Ivey said.

Brabrand acknowledged that not all teachers and staff will be fully vaccinated by the time in-person learning restarts, but more than 7,000 FCPS employees had received their first dose by Jan. 25, and nearly 90% of staff members had scheduled an appointment with Inova by Jan. 27.

Inova stopped scheduling first-dose appointments on Jan. 25 due to an anticipated drop in supply levels, but FCPS rescheduled approximately 5,000 appointments that had been canceled over the past weekend, and Brabrand says he is “really confident” that the remainder will be taken care of in the next week or two.

“There really isn’t a perfect Return to School timeline. We’re trying to balance so many competing factors, and that’s what’s been hard,” Brabrand said. “…I am proud of what Inova and the county health department did. They brought us in with open arms and worked through the glitches.”

Even with vaccinations, implementing mitigation protocols like face masks, social distancing, and good hygiene and cleaning practices will be “paramount” to enabling safe in-person learning, according to Brabrand’s presentation.

Individual schools or classes could revert to virtual learning based on COVID-19 transmission levels and staff capacity within those schools, as well as community spread as indicated by the 14-day case rate per 100,000 people and 14-day testing positivity rates.

The inability to create six feet of distance between students on buses will be a challenge, but FCPS officials say they are working with transportation staff to address those concerns, and adequate personal protective equipment will be available for all workers.

“We have certainly enough PPE on hand, and the quality for which we’re purchasing is based on health department guidelines,” FCPS Chief Operating Officer Marty Smith said. “…We certainly wouldn’t want to undercut the safety of our staff or students.”

Now that the school board has settled on a Return to School plan, Brabrand said he is committed to ensuring teachers, staff, administrators, and students get what they need to safely and successfully transition back to in-person learning.

“We’ve got to stay on the data,” Springfield District Representative Laura Jane Cohen said. “We’ve got to be as transparent as humanly possible and a lot more transparent than we have been able to be up to this point. Our staff and families deserve to know what they’re walking into.”

Images via FCPS

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As a tumultuous year of school closures and virtual learning inches toward a close, students in Fairfax County Public Schools say they are exhausted and feel forgotten by the administration and school board.

Their frustrations bubbled over during a school board meeting on Dec. 3. Two students took issue with recent headlines about upticks in failing grades and the board’s focus on how to resume in-person classes over how to improve the distance-learning experience.

John R. Lewis High School student Kimberly Boateng, who previously served as the school board’s student representative, chastised the board, saying its members have not demonstrated that they have turned the comments and criticisms she has submitted by letter, email and tweet into action.

She urged the county to do better, saying that she is tired of “aspirational goals” and wants the board and FCPS administrators to take concrete actions.

“I’m tired of the ‘we see you’ emails, the ‘we hear you’ tweets,” she said. “…Students are surrounded by so much grief, trauma, and death, and we are expected to continue on as if this is normal. This is not normal.”

As the board’s current student representative, South County High School student Nathan Onibudo said he is caught between knowing the extent of the county’s efforts to address the challenges caused by COVID-19 and experiencing the reality of student life.

“I see what’s possible and I see the hard work being put in,” he said. “[Many students] feel like somehow, they’re being forgotten even though all the conversations are about them.”

He told the school board that, for many students, the debate over whether they should learn virtually or in-person has become secondary to the struggle to survive each day.

“Students are simply suffering,” he said.

Boateng echoed that sentiment, saying that she feels unable to take a mental health day because it would bury her deeper under tasks.

“Students are sitting in front of their computer screens wondering when they’re going to catch a break, and the break never comes,” she said.

During an open comment period later in the school board meeting, FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand and a handful of board members promised to take action.

“Nathan, I heard you. Our leadership team heard you, our principals heard you, our staff heard you,” Brabrand said. “Kimberly, I sat with you here last year. I heard you. We want your voice and your input as we continue through this year, and we will use your recommendations to make the changes necessary to be sure students are heard, listened to, respected, valued.”

Mount Vernon District Representative Karen Corbett Sanders noted the board is also hearing about the impact of the pandemic on the county’s school children from parents, parent-teacher associations, neighbors, and relatives.

Springfield District School Board Member Laura Jane Cohen told the students that the board is “trying to get better answers.”

“I know sometimes it rings hollow, but please, hang in there and just know that we’re trying to make things better right now,” Cohen said.

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Driven by the uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic, 8,959 students left Fairfax County Public Schools this school year with elementary school students, particularly kindergarteners, representing the most withdrawals.

About 87% of the students who left are in elementary school, and of those, 2,208 students would be kindergarteners, according to a Membership Trends Report presented to FCPS School Board members last Wednesday (Nov. 4). This report is used to inform the school board’s capital improvements planning process.

Transfer rates to other public schools in Virginia and the U.S. are on par with previous years, but FCPS has seen new spikes in students who transferred to private schools in Fairfax County or who switched to homeschooling.

“Right now, this is an unprecedented time, and it is reflected in the data we have,” Jeffrey Platenberg, the FCPS assistant superintendent of facilities and transportation services, said. “We have a lot going on and we don’t know how to proceed forward until we get this pandemic under control. To do anything during this time might not be recommended by the wisest of folks, because the data reflects such a marked difference from last year.”

If the dip in enrollment is temporary, FCPS will see a bubble in kindergarten next year that will roll through Fairfax County for the next 12 years, according to Superintendent Scott Brabrand.

“You have to do some things differently in our facilities for the next decade,” he said.

School board members and FCPS staff are already bracing for kindergarten enrollment to surge both when FCPS welcomes them back to school on Nov. 16 and for the next academic year starting in the fall of 2021.

That influx is a source of concern for school principals, Springfield District School Board member Laura Cohen says.

“Short-term and long-term kindergarten problems, how are we going to solve this?” Cohen asked.

Brabrand said FCPS is “overstaffed in kindergarten” because it acquired staff in the spring, when attendance had not yet taken a hit, rather than in late summer, when the hiring pool is much smaller.

“I know people don’t want to hear the ‘t-word’ of trailers, but we’re going to have some space challenges at those schools,” he said.

The remaining membership decreases were more modest, with 217 middle school students, 392 high school students, 356 center and alternative program students, and 165 students in other programs.

Yearly, FCPS sees thousands of students leave for public schools in other states, but the number of students who instead chose to homeschool or attend a private religious or secular school in the county this year is out of the ordinary.

Nearly 1,900 left to be homeschooled this year, up from 264 last year. About 1,100 left for a private religious school in Fairfax County, and 713 for a non-religious private school, up from 296 and 237 last year, respectively.

“When you look at those who have chosen [private schools], there is a significant increase over the prior year,” Platenberg said. “That’s pretty informing why families chose to withdraw from FCPS.”

Of the five FCPS regions, the largest withdrawal rates come from Region One, which has schools in Herndon, Reston, Vienna, and the Langley area of McLean, and Region Three, which encompasses the area south of the city of Alexandria.

“I’m concerned when I look at some of these numbers at our high school level,” At-Large School Board Member Rachna Sizmore Heizer said.

She said schools with high rates of students who qualify for free- and reduced-price meals are seeing higher enrollment drops from last year to this year. She asked staff whether these changes are due to students not logging in and dropping out.

“We really are tracking that very carefully,” Deputy Superintendent Francis Ivey said.

This is not the first time schools with higher levels of families below federal poverty lines have been impacted by current events, Platenberg said.

“We’ve seen those trends with economic changes and changes in administrations, lags and shifts that occur,” he said.

Photo via FCPS

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Tuesday Morning Notes

Reston Named Hottest Neighborhood for Home Sales –Reston was named one of the hottest neighborhoods in the greater Washington area. The community came in at number 15, with a median sale price of $561,200, a roughly eight percent change over 2019. [Washington Business Journal]

Fairfax County Underwater Search Practice at Lake Newport Pool  Reston Association is working with the Fairfax County Police Department’s underwater search and recovery unit for training at the pool. FCPD conducts similar training about once a month. [Reston Today]

School Board to Discuss Metrics for Reopening — Fairfax County Public Schools’ Superintendent Scott Brabrand will offer update his team’s development of health and operational metrics to determine when in-person instruction will resume. The meeting begins today (Tuesday) at 4 p.m. [FCPS]

Photo via Marjorie Copson

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Updated at 10:45 a.m. — Corrects reference to Lake Braddock Secondary School.

As the Fairfax County public school system prepares for the fall, some teachers’ unions are expressing concern about how safe in-person learning might be during the pandemic.

To accommodate both families and teachers, FCPS asked both groups to fill out a form by July 10, stating whether they would prefer to stick with a distance learning plan or return to the classroom. After this date, many teachers will find out if they will be required to return or stay at home.

The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers and Fairfax Education Association released a press release calling for increased transparency and a clearly outlined health plan for reopening.

Though teachers are allowed to request a full-time remote-learning position, this cannot be guaranteed according to the current plan.

“Teacher placements will be contingent upon student enrollment numbers in the online program; teacher placement decisions will be tiered by individual teacher’s medical need, family medical need, and preference,” FCPS documents said.

Additionally, teachers with medical conditions that increase the risk of COVID-19 will be given “flexible leave and telework assignments,” the plan said.

David Walrod, who teaches 7th grade at Lake Braddock Secondary School, said as a member of the teacher’s union that he wishes teachers would get of choice of whether or not they work remotely.

“Personally I’m hoping that I get a remote position because personally I don’t feel that they will be able to keep schools as safe as they think they are,” he said, adding that he is also concerned for his own young daughter.

“Our educators are overwhelmingly not comfortable returning to schools. They fear for their lives, the lives of their students and the lives of their families,” Tina Williams, the president of Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, said in the press release.

At the school board meeting last Tuesday (June 23), the board members discussed various concerns and options for reopening.

Melanie Meren, the Hunter Mill District representative on the board, spoke on behalf of teachers during the meeting. “We cannot skimp on [personal protective equipment],” she said. “We need to advocate for that if we don’t have the funds.”

Not everyone will be satisfied with whatever is ultimately decided, Karl Frisch, who represents the Providence District, told his fellow board members.

Frisch said that he’s spent almost 100 hours with local families, community members and stakeholders discussing options for the upcoming school year. “There is no perfect solution to this problem,” he said. “We must consider any contingency that may come and meet us.”

FCPS officials have said that input from local health and state health officials will inform reopening plans.

Superintendent Scott Brabrand told the school board earlier this month that he is worried about the realities of social distancing in schools and wants to prevent staff from resigning over safety concerns.

FCFT’s press release called for teachers and educators in the county to speak up about their concerns.

Walrod said that he hopes Fairfax County will adopt a new model like the one for a school district in Pennsylvania where all students and staff will be working and learning remotely for 75 days into the school year until the school board members have a clearer understanding of COVID-19.

Walrod said that there is a chance parents will overwhelmingly want their kids to take advantage of distance learning so there will be less of a demand for in-person lessons.

Kimberly Adams, the president of the Fairfax Education Association, said in a press release that the group is advocating for remote learning until a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 is available.

“All staff should be provided the ability to continue virtual instruction as long as there is community spread of this virus,” Adams said. “We will continue to make every possible effort to assist FCPS in developing a plan that keeps health and safety first.”

Photo courtesy Dan Dennis on Unsplash

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Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) unveiled its proposed fiscal year 2021-25 Capital Improvement Program (CIP) last week.

In November, Fairfax County voters approved a $360 million school bond referendum that includes $2 million in planning funds for a new “Silver Line elementary school,” along with other construction and renovation projects.

“Funds approved in the 2019 School Bond Referendum and previous referenda will address approximately $500 million of the five-year requirement, leaving a balance of approximately $573 million unfunded,” according to FCPS.

For the new Silver Line elementary school, permitting would happen in FY 2022, with permitting in FY 2023 and construction from FY 2024-2026, according to the CIP draft.

The revised budget estimates the Silver Line elementary school will cost $39.5 million.

“Anticipation of the completion of the Silver Line Metro has already spurred higher density residential growth along that corridor which may result in an increase in students within FCPS,” according to the CIP draft.

Along with the Silver Line school, the proposal addresses a new elementary school in the northwest area of the county to address current overcrowding in the McNair Elementary school area, with a projected budget of $34.8 million.

In addition to the Silver Line school, the CIP also includes information on a new high school that would provide relief to high schools in Centreville, Chantilly, Herndon, Oakton, South Lakes, and Westfield areas.

The new high school is projected to cost $157 million.

A public hearing will be held on the CIP on Jan. 7 at 6 p.m. at Jackson Middle School (3020 Gallows Road), followed by a school board work session on it on Jan. 13. A vote on the CIP is scheduled to take place on Jan. 23.

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(Updated 12/28/19) Come Jan. 1, the Fairfax County School Board will have a lot of new faces.

The 12-member board will see eight newcomers in 2020.

Half of the school board’s incumbents decided not to seek reelection, including: Ilryong MoonRyan McElveen, Jane Strauss, Pat Hynes, Sandy Evans and Dalia Palchik. The two Republican incumbents — Elizabeth Schultz and Thomas Wilson — lost their reelection bids.

At-Large Member Karen Keys-Gamarra won reelection, along with:

Here is information on the new incoming members, who took their oaths of office on Thursday (Dec. 12) at Jackson Middle School.

At-Large Members Abrar Omeish and Rachna Sizemore Heizer

Omeish and Heizer, along with incumbent Karen Keys-Gamarra, beat three opponents for the At-Large seats.

Heizer has worked as a college professor, disability justice advocate and lawyer, according to her campaign website. Omeish is the co-founder of Give, a youth-led nonprofit and led the county-wide campaign for an anti-bullying campaign, according to her campaign website.

Hunter Mill District: Melanie Meren

Meren, a former U.S. Department of Education employee, beat her opponent, Laura Ramirez Drain. Meren is a parent and small business owner who has lived in Fairfax County for more than 15 years, according to Reston Now

Dranesville District: Elaine Tholen

Tholen beat three opponents. A resident of Fairfax County for 25 years, Tholen most recently served as the director and treasurer for the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District, according to her campaign website.

Mason District: Ricardy Anderson

Anderson beat opponent Tom Pafford. She has been a community volunteer, a veteran of the National Guard Army Reserve and lived in Annandale for more than 10 years, according to her campaign website.

Providence District: Karl Frisch

Frisch beat opponent Andrea Bayer in the election. Frisch has served as the executive director of consumer watchdog Allied Progress, was a small business owner and worked as a staffer for the Committee on Rules in the U.S. House of Representatives, according to his campaign website.

Springfield District: Laura Jane Cohen

Cohen beat two opponents, including Republican incumbent Elizabeth Schultz. Cohen has been a resident in the county for nearly 20 years and is a former preschool teacher, according to her campaign website.

Sully District: Stella Pekarsky

Pekarsky beat Republican incumbent Tom Wilson. She was previously an FCPS ESOL teacher, small business co-owner and trustee on the Fairfax County Board.

Come 2020, the school board seats will all be filled by Democrats.

“Corbett Sanders will remain chair of the School Board and Derenak Kaufax will remain as vice-chair,” according to FCPS. “School Board officers are elected at the first meeting in July of each year.”

The board also includes a non-voting student representative who is selected by the Student Advisory Council.

Image via FCPS/YouTube, photo via Melanie Meren website, photo via Facebook

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Several local schools were acknowledged by Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand and the Fairfax County School Board for bridging achievement gaps in English and math.

Aldrin and Armstrong Elementary School were among the top ten schools in the county to achieve the highest average increase across all reporting groups in English.

Armstrong Elementary School, Herndon Middle School and Herndon High School earned the excellence in equity award for the highest average increase in math.

Lake Anne Elementary School was one of the top schools in the county to achieve the greatest reduction in the English achievement gap.

Awards were given based on school performance in the 2018-2019 school year and revised accreditation standards approved by the Virginia Board of Education in 2017.

Photo via Facebook

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Following recent changes to state law, the Fairfax County School Board is drafting a policy to store and administer cannabis-derived medication to students at school.

The board is set to discuss the draft policy at a meeting tonight (Monday). Earlier this year, the Virginia General Assembly passed three bills that would expand access to the medications. Under the changes, students who have proper documentation can use cannabinol (CBD) oil and tetrahydrocannabinol acid (THC-A) oil at school.

The oils are derived from the cannabis plant and have been used by healthcare providers to treat conditions like chronic pain, anxiety, migraines, attention disorders, seizure, and other ailments.

The bill also protected school nurses from being prosecuted for possessing and distributing the oils — in accordance with school board policy.

Under the policy, students who have documented permission from a parent or guardian and a licensed practitioner of medicine or osteopath can receive the toils at school. Parents and guardians would also be required to provide the oils to students.

The board will discuss the draft policy at a work session tonight at 6 p.m.

Photo via Unsplash

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The Fairfax County School Board is considering a plan to grant middle and high school students an excused absence for taking part in protests, rallies and walkouts.

The board’s governance committee discussed the proposal earlier this week. If approved, students would be given one excused absence from school per year to take part in “civic engagement activities by providing prior notification to the school with evidence of a sponsored/organized event or activity,” according to the draft proposal.

In a letter submitted to the board in February, board member Ryan McElveen said county schools enforced inconsistent policies when students organized walkouts in response to recent school shootings. He wrote the following in his proposal to the board:

A year ago, the devastating tragedy in Parkland galvanized students, parents, and citizens around the country to call for an end to gun violence, a powerful movement demanding action by our elected representatives that continues to this day. The Fairfax County School Board amplified this advocacy through our Resolution on Gun Violence Prevention, which became a national model for School Board resolutions around the country. School systems cannot oppose nor endorse any specific calls to action, but they are constitutionally obligated to recognize and uphold the first amendment rights of students choosing to engage in political activities that do not infringe on the rights of others or disrupt the instructional day. While FCPS provided guidance to schools about how to respond to students who wanted to walkout in support of gun violence prevention in 2018, there was inconsistent enforcement of those procedures in schools, including how schools designated excused student absences. I have spoken with many community members who would like clearer policy guidance in the event of future civic engagement activities.

The discussion is expected to continue on October 2.

At a September 4 meeting, board members sought to ensure that the proposal would not interfere with the school system’s efforts to curb chronic absenteeism. The school board is still seeking information on the absenteeism status of the county’s schools, whether or not other school districts have adopted similar proposals and the projected impact of the proposal on absenteeism.

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Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Labor Day is the traditional time that election campaigns get underway, but in Virginia with an election schedule different from that in most states election campaigns seem to be continuous. Voters in most states have the year off, but Virginia voters this November will face ballots filled with candidates for local and state elections. And next year when all states have federal elections for members of Congress and the presidency Virginians will have those elections too. If the outcomes were not so important people in the Commonwealth could grow weary over all these elections. Some of the low turnout at the polls on election day could probably be attributed to voter fatigue.

If someone has not yet knocked on your door or sent you information in snail mail or social media, you need to get ready for the flurry of campaigning that is about to happen. On November 5 voters will elect all 100 members of the House of Delegates and the 40 members of the Senate. In addition to the many critical issues facing the state, the elections this year will determine if the Republicans maintain their razor thin majorities in both houses or whether the Democrats will take one or both houses. Polling indicates that the Democrats are in a very strong position for a coup. Find out your election district if you have forgotten by going to Voter Information.

At the local level in Fairfax County voters will elect their representatives on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and on the Fairfax County School Board. In addition voters will elect three at-large members of the School Board. The election also includes the sheriff and the Commonwealth’s attorney. That’s a lot of candidates to be knocking on your door, calling you on the phone, and sending you dozens of slick brightly colored post cards touting their strengths and sometimes alerting you to the weaknesses in their opponents. As has been observed many times the system may seem to have its abuses and flaws, but no one has been able to come up with a better system.

As a change-up to traditional campaigning I sponsor a free family picnic to get entire families involved for everyone is welcome and as a way to reduce the costs of campaigns to constituents who are expected to contribute at most events. Bring your family and join us at Temporary Road Park in Reston at the corner of North Shore Drive and Temporary Road on Saturday afternoon, September 7, 4 to 6 pm. Let us know you are coming at [email protected] so that we have enough food prepared. Other candidates are expected to come.

We can enjoy the end of the summer holiday season and the beginning of the fall campaigns in a relaxed environment. The issues before us are too important to not participate in the process regardless of your political persuasion. Our outdoor social can get us in the mood for yet another round of voting in Virginia.

File photo

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Melanie Meren won the endorsement of the Hunter Mill District Democratic Committee for school board with 80 percent of the vote on Wednesday.

The self-described Fairfax County parent leader, whose platform centers around “strong education,” is one of three candidates that were seeking the Hunter Mill District seat on the Fairfax County School Board.

“We are excited to support Melanie’s campaign for School Board and thank outgoing School Board member Pat Hynes for her many years of service to Hunter Mill, to our students and teachers,” wrote Gordon Simonett and Denver Supinger, co-chairs of the HMDDC.

Andy Sigle, former president of Reston Association’s Board of Directors, and Laura Ramirez Drain, whose campaign focuses on Family Life Education and the budget, were also running for the board seat. The seat was vacated by longtime Hunter Mill District Representative Pat Hynes in January. Meren’s endorsement bumps other candidates out of the race.

Paul Berry, Meren’s campaign manager, wrote the following about the endorsement:

Meren and her husband Drew are 14 year residents of Hunter Mill District, where their two children attend public school. After graduating with a Master’s degree in Public Policy she worked in early childhood education at the US Department of Education’s Title 1 office managing a $15 million grant program for the nation’s most underfunded schools. After leaving the Dept. of Ed she founded her own education policy firm that advocates in particular for environmental education in public schools. Her professional and personal lives overlapped in 2016 when budget cuts threatened a multi-million dollar reduction in school funding. She responded by successfully advocating for and recovering $60 million through community activism and organizing parents in Hunter Mill. 

Meren won with an overwhelming 109 votes, while Sigle had 27 votes.

An official endorsement by the Fairfax County Democratic Committee is expected on May 21. Meren’s name will be on the November ballot without party identification.

Photo via Melanie Meren website

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Andy Sigle, the outgoing president of the Reston Association’s Board of Directors, is running for the Hunter Mill District seat on the Fairfax County School Board.

Sigle announced his decision to run on Feb. 19 on Facebook about a month after Hunter Mill District Representative Pat Hynes said that she won’t seek re-election.

In his announcement, he wrote:

My wife, Kim, and I have put four children through the FCPS school system, the last one graduating in 2017. I am a strong advocate of student equity and access in our public schools, support of our teachers, establishment of infrastructure that keeps up with development within our community, as well as a driver for family and community engagement and sustainability initiatives. I bring to the role more than twenty five years as a manager and executive in the telecommunications industry along with a MBA from the University of Chicago. I have a proven track record of tackling difficult situations and creating positive results through a focus on asking sensible questions, holding reasonable discussions, collaboration and collegiality. Again, I know I can make a difference on our school board and I ask for your support.

Since then, Sigle has highlighted his work as the former president of the South Lakes High School PTSA board, which included organizing a series of diversity and inclusion workshops, helping to establish the school’s food pantry and moderating a discussion between Hynes and Hunter Mill District Supervisor Cathy Hudgins meant to educate the community.

Sigle’s bio says that he has turned his attention to community work after 28 years in the telecommunications industry.

Sigle first joined the RA’s Board of Directors in 2011 and was elected president last year. He also sings in The Reston Chorale, chairs the Southgate Community Center Advisory Council and is a member of the Reston Historic Trust’s Board of Directors.

Earlier this month, Sigle nabbed a new role as the chief operating officer and vice president of external relations for Leadership Fairfax, a nonprofit that aims to inspire private and public sector individuals to tackle community issues.

Laura Ramirez Drain and Melanie Meren are also running for the school board seat.

The Hunter Mill Democratic Committee is slated to host a candidate forum on Wednesday, April 10, at 8 p.m. at Lake Anne Elementary School (11510 N Shore Drive).

The committee also plans to hold an endorsement meeting on May 8 at Lake Anne ES.

Photo via Facebook

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