Comstock Secures New Loan for BLVD — “Comstock Holding Companies’ capital markets group secured a $73 million loan with Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac) for the BLVD I luxury apartment tower, which is located at 1908 Reston Metro Plaza. The new 10-year loan replaces a maturing construction loan provided by Citizens Bank.” [Reston Patch]
Herndon Police Department Closed Today — The department’s office will be closed tomorrow in observance of Juneteenth. Officers and dispatchers will remain on duty to serve the community. [Herndon Police Department]
School Board Considers New Religious Holidays for Calendar — “The Fairfax County School Board is considering a 2021-22 Standard School Year Calendar that was developed with a focus on instruction and learning for students and includes four religious observance holidays. Two options for the 2021-22 school year were presented to the Board at its business meeting on June 18.” [Fairfax County School Board]
Photo by Ray Copson
Updated 6:25 p.m. — Corrects a reference to the survey as a study and that the 825 were FCPS staff members — not all teachers.
After COVID-19 disrupted Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) earlier this spring, teachers, staff and school board members are trying to find ways to offer more mental health support.
Throughout the last several months of remote learning, the focus has been on a combination of peer-led programs, remote family check-ins with school-sponsored mental health staff and a message of “resiliency,” according to Bethany Koszelak, a mental health specialist for FCPS.
“Yes, this has been hard on a lot of people, but most youth are resilient and bounce back,” she said, adding that FCPS has been coordinating with teachers to keep an eye on students who might need help.
Mental Health Chain of Command in FCPS
In the FCPS system, regardless of age or year, students typically have access to a therapist, psychologist and social worker who can provide social-emotional support.
Counselors, which Koszelak considers to provide something called “tier one” support, provide guidance lessons to cope with emotions and social issues. If students need additional support, they will be referred to the school-sanctioned therapists and psychologists by the counselors.
As the county’s school board considers a boost in funding for social-emotional learning in the next school year, part of the funds — if approved in the next few weeks — would go toward hiring more staff and possibly bringing on additional mental health professionals full time, according to Koszelak.
Though nothing is set in stone, Karl Frisch, who presents the Providence District on the school board, said he wants to improve the infrastructure for mental health.
“The last several months have likely caused some trauma here and we need to be in a position to respond to it,” he said. We anticipate students will have an increased need.”
Rising Demand for Mental Health Support
Though Koszelak said she doesn’t have statistics to back up an increase request, a survey released by the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers reported that 55% of the 825 staff members who responded said that their students’ mental health had deteriorated since the start of distance learning.
Still, students are not the only ones at risk for mental health challenges.
More than 90% of the teachers said that their stress level has increased since the start of distance learning in March.
“Respondents chose school counselors to have the highest positive direct impact on student mental health and social-emotional needs, followed by social workers, psychologists and parent liaisons,” the survey takeaway said, backing up the school board’s idea.
Among top sources of stress for teachers, many said that they felt anxiety over technology failures, a lack of direction from FCPS leadership and difficulty adjusting to new technology.
“They need to check in with teachers and really care how we’re doing. Right now, the only message we hear is you’re failing. Not providing mental health support to elementary during this time is so WRONG! These kids need it just as much as the middle and high school kids… If anything, we will all need increased mental health support when returning to school because we are all struggling right now,” one survey respondent wrote.
FCFT sent the survey results to Tysons Reporter on May 12, before the murder of George Floid that re-sparked wide-spread outrage over systemic racism and police brutality.
It is unclear how this might add a toll to students/staff mental health but Koszelak said that there are options for students to incorporate discussions about civil rights and current events in the classroom. She added that students even begin to learn about civil rights and Martin Luther King Jr. in the second grade.
Meeting an Invisible Need
In reality, though, the need for help is likely elevated since Frish said that students and families don’t always know how to ask for help when they need it or even realize that it could help.
Around the country, statistics show that issues like domestic violence and child abuse have risen since the start of lockdown since places like child care centers, schools and offices that would typically recognize signs of abuse in-person are closed.
“Children are specifically vulnerable to abuse during COVID-19. Research shows that increased stress levels among parents [are] often a major predictor of physical abuse and neglect of children,” the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration said in an online article.
To combat this, FCPS teachers were told to look for signs of violence and abuse while interacting with their students over Zoom, Koszelak said, noting that if a student wasn’t coming to class, a school counselor would be sure to reach out to the family.
“The teachers still had live video conference calls with students,” according to Koszelak. “You can gauge when there are some concerns and the teachers know there are protocols to reach out to the clinicians.”
In addition to basic screening measures, FCPS mental health experts were also keeping a keen eye on families with a history of known problems, she added.
Additional Resources for Students and Families
FCPS offers a variety of programs to assist both students and families.
- Parent Resource Center: tips on how family support will benefit students
- KOGNITO: a walk through difficult conversations with students
- Student Voice Campaign: student sourced media on healthy coping mechanisms
- Mental Health First Aid for youth
- Our Minds Matter Virtual Club Meeting
- Parent Wellness Consultations: for middle and high school students
Some of these resources are met with concerns though: “I did Mental Health First Aid training several years ago, but it was never implemented at my school,” one teacher wrote in the FCFT survey.
“I think there needs to be widespread training in this program at each school for any and all teachers, coaches, counseling staff, and administrators who are willing and able to handle it because we need as many resources for students and staff as possible,” the teacher added.
Looking Ahead to Upcoming School Year
Though kids are on summer break, the Fairfax County School Board is considering hiring 10 more mental health care specialists and increasing funding for various social-emotional learning programs.
Board members are considering a $7 million addition to the program but it is still uncertain how the money would be distributed.
They are expected to vote on changes and plans for the upcoming school year during the upcoming June 26 meeting, according to Koszelak.
Return to School Public Hearing — The Fairfax County School Board is holding a public hearing on plans to return to school for the next academic year. The virtual meeting is set for Thursday, June 18 at 6:30 p.m. [Fairfax County Public Schools]
Herndon Police Department is Hiring — The local police department is seeking certified police officers to join the department as a lieutenant. [Herndon Police Department]
Current COVID-19 Hospitalizations Dip — “Fewer than 1,000 Virginians are now hospitalized for treatment of COVID-19, and the number of cases continued to slow both statewide and in Northern Virginia, according to reports Saturday morning. The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association reported only 959 coronavirus patients in state hospitals, the lowest number since the organization began providing data in early April… Only 342 of those patients were in Northern Virginia, down from a high of 818 on April 30.” [InsideNova]
Reston Association Updates Pool Information — A release posted by the association mistakenly included information that children under eight would not be allowed admission to four pools opening later this month. The press release has been updated. [Reston Association]
Photo via vantagehill/Flickr
Northern Virginia Enters Phase Two — “Eating inside a restaurant, going back to the gym and in-person worship services: Starting Friday, all of these activities will be allowed for residents of Northern Virginia as the region enters phase two of reopening. Businesses and houses of worship will have to adhere to safety standards and capacity limits to lessen the threat that customers could spread coronavirus. Virginia advises that you’re still safer at home.” [NBC4]
The Return to School — Fairfax County Public Schools’ Superintendent Scott Brabrand says that he plans to present the school system’s plan to the school board on Monday. Schools are expected to offer a mix of in-person and online learning. [FCPS]
Deadline for Boat Permits Nears — The registration and renewal deadline for permanent mooring permits is June 30. Reston Association will conduct annual boat monitoring and inspections after June 30. [Reston Association]
Members Sought for Covenants Committee — RA is also seeking members to fill three seats on the committee for a three-year term. The committee administers the use and maintenance of covenants in Reston’s deed. [Reston Association]
Photo via vantagehill/Flickr
To examine the next steps in community recovery and look toward the future after COVID-19, Cornerstones hosted a virtual town hall earlier this week with Fairfax County officials.
As a Reston non-profit organization, Cornerstones helps community members in need of things like food and housing, they work with leaders around the community to achieve mutual goals like One Fairfax.
Officials from the Fairfax County School Board and members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors reflected on the economic downturn, consequences for affordable housing and social programs, assistance for those struggling with homelessness, and new resources for students.
Among some of the largest changes for the board of supervisors, were the cuts to the upcoming fiscal budget, according to Drainsville District Supervisor John Foust.
“The thing that hurt me the most was, as chairman of the housing committee, we had originally planned to put an additional $25 million into the housing fund,” he said.
Many low-income workers, who have been already been hit-hard by COVID will continue to struggle if there isn’t affordable housing available for them, agreed Walter Alcorn and John Foust.
Along the Silver line in Tysons and Reston, Foust said that he and his team are working to lower the income level requirements for workforce housing so more people can afford to live in the area in which they work.
When COVID- 19 shut down the local libraries and other public spaces, Alcon said that this caused the homeless population to become more visible to the public and institutions which aim to help them.
“It made visible a problem our library had been shielding for many, many years,” he said.
Alcorn wants to work with Cornerstones to provide daytime services for homeless people that will allow them to empower themselves and become self-sufficient.
It might take longer to accomplish certain programs but it all depends on priorities, he said. “A priority for me is making sure that our homeless shelter is rebuilt and our library is as well.”
Education and Student Support
For students at-risk students, many of which qualify for free and reduced lunches, the FCPS has instituted a plan to bring in 10 new social workers and a few special education teachers, according to Melanie Meren, the school board representative for the Hunter Mill District.
When the pandemic caused school closures earlier this year, FCPS “nutrition staff began rerouting food supplies and began a very robust program to distribute food,” Elaine Tholen, Drainsville FCPS Board Member said, that county busses were actually dropping food off to disadvantage families at regularly scheduled bus routes.
Until this point, FCPS served around 1.2 million meals and delivered 22,000 laptops to students, according to Tholen.
Going forward, Tholen said that FCPS will be working with teams of bilingual teachers and parent liaisons to ensure that every student has the resources they need to be successful in distance learning.
“We understand that this individualized care is so important,” she said.
Still, county and school board officials remain optimistic about the road ahead.
“When the pandemic first started hitting our community, we really saw a lot of people step up and ask how they could help,” Alcorn said.”We were able to connect a lot of those folks with organizations with Cornerstones.”
Alcorn also noted that he finds it hopeful to see how many people around town who have come out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement after George Floyd’s murder.
“I’ve been to a number of marches and demonstrations within the last week. The feeling is positive without exception,” he said.
Herndon Man Arrested no Charge of Sexual Battery — Police arrested Javier Enrique on, 56, for misdemeanor sexual battery. According to the Herndon Police Department, Palma groped a woman who was walking on the Washington & Old Dominion Trail overpass in the 300 block of Herndon Parkway. Police are asking residents with information about other incidents to call 703-435-6846. [Herndon Police Department]
School Board Approves FY2021 Budget — “The Fairfax County School Board has approved the revised Fiscal Year 2021 (FY 21) budget. The budget, revised due to the COVID-19 pandemic, reduced the previously recommended transfer increase from Fairfax County from $85.5 million to $7.3 million and includes a reduction of $4.8 million from the state. Along with other budget cuts, the total amount of the FY 21 budget was reduced by $67.0 million.” [Fairfax County Public Schools]
New Crime Show Features Reston-based Company — “A Northern Virginia tech company that combines advanced DNA analysis with old fashioned genealogy to help police departments solve crimes is seeing its work go to the small screen. ‘The Genetic Detective’ debuts on Tuesday night on ABC. It stars CeCe Moore, a genealogist who works with Reston, Virginia-based Parabon NanoLabs to help police departments solve cold cases.” [WTOP]
Silver Line Service Officially Suspended — “Metro has suspended Silver Line service and closed nine stations in Northern Virginia from Memorial Day to fall, hoping to accelerate construction plans during the agency’s summer shutdown. WMATA already planned to close Vienna, Dunn Loring and East Falls Church stations this summer to reconstruct platforms.” [NBC4]
Photo by Beth Allgaier
A new elementary school in Herndon that will open in August officially has a new name.
The Fairfax County School Board voted last week to name the new elementary school on the existing McNair Elementary School campus.
The new building, which will serve students from third to sixth grade, will be called McNair Upper Elementary School. The existing building, which will serve students from pre-K through second grade, will be called McNair Elementary School.
The school system reached out to the community earlier this year to seek comment on possible names for the new school.
Here’s more from FCPS on the process:
In accordance with FCPS Regulation 8170.8, a one-month period of public comment was held beginning January 29, and a community meeting was held on February 19 to solicit name suggestions from the community. Community members also had the opportunity to submit recommendations and feedback via an email link. A public hearing was held on February 20 and, after compiling feedback from stakeholders, Superintendent Scott S. Brabrand recommended on March 5 that the School Board name the new facility McNair Upper Elementary School, the most frequently suggested name by stakeholders. The recommended name aligns with other FCPS paired schools, such as Fort Belvoir Upper and Bailey’s Upper.
Enrollment at the current elementary school has increased steadily from 897 in 2001 to 1,342 in 2016. The new school is intended to relieve current overcrowding at McNair Elementary School.
Image via Google Maps
The rollout of the second week of distance learning by Fairfax County Public Schools continues to be wrought by challenges.
Earlier this morning, FCPS noted that many people are still having problems logging on the Blackboard Learn, the online system used for distance learning. School officials say that updates made by Blackboard over the weekend have not corrected delays with the system.
“We are aware that some students were able to access the 24-7 system early, however as the volume increased, we received word that access was intermittent or slow, in some cases requiring multiple log-on attempts. Once inside the system, Blackboard Collaborate worked well and that resource is continuing to be used by some teachers,” FCPS wrote in a statement.
The Fairfax County School Board is expected to receive an update on the rollout of distance learning on Thursday (April 23). The virtual meeting begins at 10 a.m.
Last week, FCPS canceled distance learning because of major failures with the system. Students and teachers were unable to log on and teachers felt they were unprepared to log in.
The school system’s top leadership officials conceded that the rollout of the plan was a failure and apologized for missteps. They also noted that the school system did not implement seven recommended upgrades to the software over the last two years.
A recent Washington Post story shed light on major security problems that occurred last week. Students appeared on-screen naked and flashed weapons while other chats were hijacked by racist, homophobic and inappropriate language, according to the story.
The story also flagged delays in the rollout of distance learning, which took roughly four weeks, including spring break:
In staff meetings held in late March, teachers suggested using programs such as Zoom to facilitate face time with students, according to educators, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid retribution. But those ideas were shot down by higher-ups, who cited concerns about security.
That anxiety was well-founded: Schools across the country have fallen prey to “Zoom bombing,” a phenomenon in which anonymous users disrupt online classes with hateful rhetoric or sexually explicit images. Nonetheless, Zoom and popular platforms like it had helped school districts, businesses and even families get connected quickly during a time of upheaval.
Fairfax settled on a solution many were less excited about: online learning tools offered by Blackboard. Caldwell said the division has a contract with Blackboard for $2.6 million in 2020, which includes an extra $150,000 per month that the division agreed to pay the firm during the shutdown.
In interviews, teachers described Blackboard as a lumbering program that they found more difficult than other technologies and more likely to malfunction. The school district was planning to switch to another online platform, Schoology, in 2021, Caldwell said.
A community petition to hold FCPS “accountable for educating our kids during [a] pandemic” has received 937 of the 1,000 needed signatures. The petition calls for an independent audit of decision making and events prior to the rollout of distance learning.
FCPS plans to continue its distance learning plan tomorrow.
Photo via FCPS
Fairfax County school board members expressed major dismay over the botched rollout of the school system’s first week of distance learning, including security issues and technical problems with Blackboard’s system.
At an online meeting today (Thursday), school officials acknowledged the school’s leadership failed to ensure adequate security measures were in place when students and teachers logged on to online sessions.
Teacher-led distance learning was canceled this week due to technical issues the school system is working to resolve.
FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand told the school board today that the issues have been two-fold: capacity and load issues on Blackboard’s end and failures to implement and monitor security protocol by FCPS.
Sloan Presidio, the school system’s assistant superintendent for instructional services, described security issues as a “leadership failure.”
“We failed to properly train the staff,” Presidio said, adding that the school’s leadership did not communicate how teachers should properly set up online sessions and make sure security settings were in place.
In some cases, students were able to set up and run unmonitored chat sessions that were not seen by moderators. Some students were able to log on with fake names and upload inappropriate photos.
“We absolutely share the concern and the dismay at some of the behavior that was reported,” Tim Tomlinson, Blackboard’s chief product officer, said. “It’s unconscionable.”
Although instructors were given guidance on how to maintain security and set up online sessions, school officials said the information was not properly disseminated. Once school officials were made aware of security issues, additional guidance on security was provided.
School board member Megan McLaughlin said she was “shocked” the 10th largest school system in the country did not conduct load testing prior to the launch of the system.
“There is no getting around it,” McLaughlin said.
In addition to security challenges, the system experience log-in issues on the first day of learning, following by problems associated with Blackboard’s servers. The Reston-based company is working on upgrades to the system to resolve ongoing issues.
Tomlinson said that Blackboard “had no indication that these problems would occur” and shared a statement from the company apologizing for the disruption.
“We are working with FCPS to require students to log in to the FCPS 24-7 site and authenticate their identity before they are permitted to join a virtual classroom,” according to the Blackboard statement.
Tomlinson also noted that FCPS chose not to update its software for three years to the latest system. Seven updates were publicly available but not applied, he said.
But Maribeth Luftglass, assistant superintendent of the school system’s department of information technology, noted that the school system was never told those upgrades were required for performance purposes, especially prior to the launch of distance learning. She also added that the system was due for a planned upgrade this June.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic hit locally, the school system had plans in place to replace Blackboard Learn, a virtual learning environment, with Schoology, another distance learning tool operated by PowerSchool Unified Classroom, over the next two years.
The school system hopes to pilot the system in the fall.
School Board Responds
School board members also questioned why distance learning proceeded if there was indication there were technical problems prior the launch. Several of the members urged FCPS to consider learning alternatives, like resources from Google.
“If Blackboard can’t handle this, lets try Google” Laura Jane Cohen, who represents the Springfield District. “Everyone has worked too hard to make this happen.”
According to the presentation, less than half of the teachers have Google Classroom sites, which could be used as a learning supplement.
“There would be significant teacher training required and additional workload on teachers to create these sites,” the presentation said. “Additionally, Google Classroom is not linked to the student information system and teachers would have to manually create courses.”
The presentation notes that students and teachers have equal permissions on Google Meet, which could let students override teacher content, and that guest access is allowed.
“Additionally, Google engineers expressed concern about handling the volume of FCPS users,” the presentation said.
Other school board members said a two-hour delay in instructor-led learning on Wednesday was not communicated effectively to the school community.
Brabrand apologized for not making the “right call” when he called for the two-hour delay.
“We could have communicated it better,” Brabrand said, adding that his mistake “caused undue confusion for our teachers and our principals.”
Blackboard is currently working on software patches this week to address the capacity issues behind the login difficulties, Luftglass said.
On April 14, Blackboard Learn and Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, a real-time video conferencing tool, were linked with a new feature that will only allow students enrolled in a class to join the class session and ban guest access, school officials said. Additionally, a back-up plan is being developed using Collaborate Ultra, they said.
FCPS aims to resume its synchronous learning on April 20.
Catherine Douglas Moran contributed reporting
Image via FCPS
As the coronavirus pandemic creates turmoil for the fiscal year 2021 budget considerations, Fairfax County Public Schools aims to mirror Fairfax County’s budget revision approach.
The Fairfax County School Board tackled changes to the FCPS budget during its meeting yesterday.
Marty Smith, the chief operating officer for FCPS, shared in a presentation that Superintendent Scott Brabrand is looking to mirror the reduction strategy being used for the county’s budget.
The presentation also noted that FCPS aims to maintain its existing staff, but will defer compensation increases to fiscal year 2022. Amendments and new strategic investments will also be pushed.
Extended Pay For Some Substitute Teachers
The school board also unanimously approved a motion that continues pay for part-time, temporary, hourly employees through April 24.
The motion applies to long-term substitute and does not include short-term substitute teachers.
The school board will reconsider pay for those employees when the superintendent provides more information to the board for the meeting on April 16.
At that upcoming meeting, the board will decide pay for the remainder of the school year.
“To Be Determined”
While FCPS is expecting several one time savings, many of the costs associated with the pandemic are still unknown.
So far, all of the financial amounts for categories, like social emotional supports and a COVID-19 second wave contingency plan, listed in FCPS’s “Post COVID-19 Response Plan” are “TBD,” according to the presentation.
Financial impacts related to unemployment and paid leave under the Families First Coronavirus Actare also unknown at this time.
FCPS may also face another, yet-to-be-determined impact: more students.
Brabrand said during the meeting that FCPS must prepare for a possible influx of students.
“It’s a job creation area and we have families in private school who may be financially impacted,” he said.
Image via FCPS/YouTube
Although schools will remain closed through the academic year due to a state order, Fairfax County Public Schools will kick off distance learning on April 14.
Beginning next week, teachers will receive virtual training to begin the transition. Last week, elementary and middle school principals met with the school system’s leadership to receive updates on the overall plan for resuming instruction.
“Launching a distance learning plan to reach 189,000 students that engages nearly 16,000 classroom teachers is a complex challenge. We acknowledge that distance learning cannot reasonably replace daily in-person instructional programs, and we will not be trying to replicate the regular school day,” FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabard wrote in a letter to parents yesterday (Thursday).
The board is will consider the distance learning plan, graduation requirements and other matters related to COVID-19 at a special meeting today (Friday) at 11 a.m.
Challenges to transition to distance learning include how to best support special student populations, receiving copyright permissions to broadcast and print materials, and the limited availability of technology for learning.
The proposal includes closing all third-quarter grades as of March 13 and assigning a “no mark” for the fourth quarter to “allow students’ work in the 4th quarter to positively influence their final grades” for high school and middle school students.
For elementary school students, no fourth-quarter grades will be assigned “due to equity issues of access to technology and limited student ability to submit work.”
The Virginia Department of Education says it will ensure seniors who are on-track to graduate as of the school systems’ closure will graduate on time.
High school students will participate in teacher-led instruction and independent learning. Teachers are expected to contact students beginning next week.
Middle school students will receive learning packets for language arts, math, science, and social studies. Virtual, teacher-led instruction will be conducted for these four classes. Teachers for electives will post learning activities to Blackboard.
Elementary school students will also distribute learning packets to students beginning this week. Teacher-student engagement online will be emphasized, as well as teacher check-ins, phone calls and emails with students. Parents will also receive a published schedule of instruction from school principals.
Draft proposals before the board on learning schedules are below.
Students enrolled in special education programs will have access to resources online as well. More information about other programs, including guidance for English to Speakers of Others Languages, is available online.
The distribution of 15,000 wireless hotspots and laptops for students in need has already begun. Braband said other details on the distance learning plan are expected to be released in the coming days.
State House Votes to Abolish Lee Jackson Day — Virginia moved one step closer to abolishing the holiday that honors two Confederate generals. The bill would remove Lee Jackson Day as a state holiday and Make Election Day, the Tuesday after the first Monday in November, a state holiday instead. [WAMU]
County Seeks 911 Call Takers — The county is seeking call takers for the emergency line. Applications are due by Feb. 14. [Fairfax County Government]
School Board Approves Capital Improvement Program — “The FY 2021-25 CIP addresses uneven growth throughout the division because of changes in population, new development, and net migration. It continues to include potential capacity and capital solutions to schools which are currently or projected to be over capacity.” [Fairfax County Public Schools]
Photo via vantagehill/Flickr
Fairfax County Public Schools’ Superintendent Pitches Budget — The $3.2 billion budget for fiscal year 2021 was presented to the county’s school board earlier this month. It represents a 5.8 percent increase over the previous budget. [Fairfax County Public Schools]
Reston-based Company Names Chief Product Officer — “Reston-based higher education software company Ellucian has named Stephen Laster as its chief product officer… Ellucian provides products for higher education such as student information systems, data analytics tools and graduation-tracking platforms for more than 2,700 customers.” [Virginia Business]
Staff photo by Jay Westcott
(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 Moon, Ryan 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:
- Braddock District Representative Megan McLaughlin
- Lee District Representative Tamara Derenak Kaufax
- Mount Vernon District Representative Karen Corbett Sanders
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.
Three Fairfax County Public School teachers — including two local residents — were charged in connection with the assaults of six children with intellectual disabilities at Freedom Hill Elementary in Vienna.
Cylmeera Gastav, 48 of Herndon, and Cecilia Maria Benavides, 59, of Alexandria, were charged with felony cruelty, injuries to children, misdemeanor assault and battery. They were placed on leave after the investigation began.
The school’s former principal, Scott Bloom, 39, of Reston, was charged with failing to report the abuse to law enforcement of child protective services, as required by law. A total of 18 counts were handed down by a jury.
Chief Edwin Roessler Jr. said described the victims as “nonverbal students with intellectual disabilities” and pledged to provide support to victims and their families as the case is prosecuted in the justice system.
The Fairfax County Police Department conducted a press briefing on the investigation, which has been ongoing since September, earlier today. A teacher tipped law enforcement about the incidents.
Marty Smith, chief operating officer for Fairfax County Public Schools, said he was deeply disturbed by the allegations.
“We are deeply saddened by this situation and resolve to do all we can to support our students, their families and others who have been impacted,” Smith said.
Photo via FCPD