Reston, VA

A former Oakton High School student is seeking a new trial in her lawsuit against the Fairfax County School Board involving a sexual assault that occurred on a school band trip in 2017.

Attorneys representing the plaintiff, known as Jane Doe, and the school board delivered oral arguments to the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit remotely on Monday (Jan. 25).

According to Public Justice, the nonprofit representing the plaintiff and her family, Jane Doe — then a junior — and another bandmate — then a senior — were sitting next to each other on a bus when he touched her without her consent.

Filed in 2018, the nonprofit’s original complaint alleged that administrators and employees failed to take meaningful and appropriate action. According to the complaint, administrators threatened to discipline her and discouraged her from reporting the assault to police or taking legal action.

In August 2019, a jury with the U.S. District Court in Alexandria found that Jane Doe was sexually harassed and that the experience negatively impacted her education. But the jury did not find the Fairfax County School Board could be held liable for the deprivation of her education as a result of her assault.

The jury determined that the school board did not have “actual knowledge” about the assault, though one juror later said there was confusion over the term’s definition. As a result, the jury did not discuss the final question in the case, which asked whether the school board acted with deliberate indifference toward Doe’s complaint.

FCPS’s liability, which appears to hinge on the extent to which school officials knew an assault had taken place and whether they took sufficient action to address the plaintiff’s concerns, is now being relitigated.

“There may be hard actual knowledge cases, but this isn’t one of them. This family did all they could to put the school on notice,” Public Justice attorney Alexandra Brodsky said in her argument on Monday. “This court should remand a new trial so a jury can reach, for the first time, the question of whether the school did enough.”

Stuart Raphael, the attorney for the school board, argued that the board did not have “actual knowledge” because Doe — in a conversation with Fairfax County Public Schools Director of Student Services Jennifer Hogan — did not describe her experience as sexual assault or nonconsensual. He added that Doe was “incredulous” when another administrator asked if she would press charges.

He argued that these facts, as well as inconsistencies between the stories that reached administrators, support the jury’s initial finding that the school board had no “actual knowledge” of the sexual assault.

“It cannot be that a school administrator’s failure to understand what constitutes sexual harassment is an absolute bar to liability,” Brodsky said.  “That’s why this court and others have treated a failure to categorize reports of sexual harassment as evidence of a deficient response.”

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Inova Health Systems has cancelled all appointments for people looking to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Starting today (Tuesday), the nonprofit healthcare provider will cease administering first doses of the Pfizer-BioTech vaccine for the foreseeable future due to a change to the Virginia Department of Health’s distribution process that has “severely diminished” supplies for Inova.

According to Inova, vaccine doses are now being sent directly to local health districts, which are responsible for allocating supplies.

“We understand and share the frustration that this news brings to our patients,” Inova said. “When we receive more supply inventory, we will first prioritize patients who had an appointment scheduled and then focus on opening further appointments up to eligible groups.”

Anyone whose appointment has been canceled will be contacted by Inova to reschedule once the needed supplies are available.

People who have already received a first dose and need a second one will be prioritized, and their appointments have not been affected, Inova says.

Inova says it has administered more than 70,000 vaccine doses to healthcare workers and select groups in phase 1b of Virginia’s COVID-19 vaccination plan, including patients aged 75 and older, emergency first responders, public safety personnel, and school employees.

Fairfax County Public Schools formed a partnership with Inova that enabled about 40,000 teachers and staff to start receiving the vaccine on Jan. 16. FCPS spokesperson Lucy Caldwell said then that all workers who wanted the vaccine should be able to get the two required doses through Inova’s clinics, which were expected to last three weeks.

“This is very disappointing news but we will continue to work with our partners from Inova and the Fairfax County Health Dept to secure vaccine for our staff as soon as we can,” FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand said in a statement. “We must keep the faith.”

The changes in vaccine distribution methods will also reduce the already insufficient supply available to the Fairfax County Health Department, according to Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay.

McKay explained the changes in a newsletter released last night:

The Virginia Department of Health has announced that they will only receive 105,000 vaccine doses per week from the federal government. For context, last week the Fairfax County Health Department alone received over 22,000 doses from VDH for the 168,000 residents eligible for a vaccine. This is in part due to two changes at the federal and state levels, not the County level. At the federal level, there is a nationwide shortage of COVID-19 vaccine. At the state level, unfortunately they have decided to change distribution to per capita, as opposed to the amounts County’s and hospital’s have ordered.

McKay says the county will prioritize the more than 50,000 people 75 and older who had registered to get vaccinated before Virginia expanded eligibility for phase 1b. Public safety personnel and people living in correctional facilities and homeless shelters will continue to get the vaccine through special clinics.

“It is profoundly unfortunate that despite all of our efforts at the local level that we must again ask for patience, which is frustrating for all of us,” McKay said. “I hate to have to share this news, but I also want to be transparent about the situation we are in.”

Photo by Karen Bolt/Fairfax County Public Schools

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Fairfax County is changing up its Stuff the Bus food drive this winter to support increased demand for food while accommodating challenges presented by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Typically held twice a year, Stuff the Bus will kick off its 10th year of existence with buses parked at select locations throughout the county from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Jan. 30 and Feb. 6.

During the two-day food drive, community members can stop by the buses to donate nonperishable food that will help restock local food pantries, which have reported an uptick in the need for food and drops in volunteer rates during the pandemic.

To prevent the potential transmission of the novel coronavirus, donors should wear a mask or other face-covering when at a Stuff the Bus site, and Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services (NCS) is directing people to place their donations directly inside the buses through their rear doors, rather than approaching the front door or the bus drivers.

Fairfax County is also encouraging people to make online monetary donations to the participating nonprofits in lieu of donating food in person.

According to the county, virtual donations give food pantries more flexibility, allowing them to purchase in bulk, stock up on fresh food, and obtain “culturally appropriate foods, which better meet the needs of the diverse communities they serve.” It is also less labor-intensive.

“Nonprofits often rely on the work of volunteers to sort and shelve donations,” NCS says. “The COVID-19 virus has greatly impacted volunteers’ ability to serve, especially older adults or those with pre-existing conditions.”

The Hunter Mill District Supervisor’s Office will accept donations at 1801 Cameron Glen Drive. A complete list of all locations is available online.

Donations at the McLean Government Center will benefit LINK, which provides emergency food to people in the Herndon, Sterling, and Ashburn communities. The Patrick Henry Library drive will support Western Fairfax Christian Ministries on Jan. 30 and Cornerstones on Feb. 6.

The two Providence District locations — the supervisor’s office and James Lee Community Center — will support the Annandale Christian Community for Action on Jan. 30 and the Falls Church Community Service Council on Feb. 6.

A list of the most frequently requested food items can be found on the Stuff the Bus website.

Based on unemployment and poverty data, the Capital Area Food Bank estimates in its October 2020 Hunger Report that there has been a 48% to 60% increase in food insecurity in the D.C. region since the pandemic began.

Image via Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services

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Wednesday Morning Notes

Local College Student Launches Tutoring Company — ‘In the wake of the coronavirus and its impact on students’ learning in Fairfax County Public Schools, a 2019 alumnus of South Lakes High School in Reston and second-year engineering student at Georgia Institute of Engineering recently founded S4S Tutoring.’ [The Connection]

Deputy Sheriff Dies from COVID-19 — Frederick Butch Cameron, a deputy sheriff with the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office, died in the line of duty yesterday due to COVID-19. [Fairfax Sheriff]

Customs Officers Revive Woman at Dulles Airport — ‘Customs and Border Protection officers helped to revive an unconscious woman who had stopped breathing Sunday morning at Washington Dulles International Airport. The 50-year-old Indian national had traveled to Virginia with her husband on a flight Sunday morning from New Delhi, India.’ [Reston Patch]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Fairfax County Public Schools is getting its first electric school bus today as part of a statewide initiative led by Dominion Energy.

The bus is expected to arrive at the Stonecroft Transportation Center in Chantilly. It is the first of eight vehicles that FCPS will receive from Dominion in an initial deployment of 50 buses throughout Virginia.

FCPS says it anticipates getting the remaining seven buses by the end of January.

Made by Thomas Built Buses, the new vehicles will join Fairfax County’s fleet of approximately 1,625 diesel-fueled school buses, one of the largest in the country.

“Electric school buses in FCPS will benefit not only the school division and its community, but the entire national capital area,” FCPS says. “…They will help reduce carbon emissions, serve as a resource for national emergency planning efforts, and provide stability and capacity to the grid with meeting increasing energy demands.”

While electric buses are more expensive to purchase than diesel ones, they are cheaper to maintain and operate. FCPS is covering the difference in the initial cost with a grant from Dominion Energy, which also funded the installation of electric charging infrastructure at the Stonecroft facility and is responsible for maintaining the equipment.

FCPS says training for bus drivers, maintenance technicians, and other staff will start once the first bus arrives. The vehicles will undergo testing before being assigned to routes in early to mid-April, though whether there will be any students for them to transport at that time remains to be seen.

The arrival of Fairfax County’s first electric bus is a welcome step forward for community members and public officials who have been advocating for a transition to electric vehicles, citing health and financial benefits as well as environmental ones.

One of the most prominent advocates for electric school buses has been the Fairfax County branch of the national climate advocacy group Mothers Out Front, which launched a campaign in 2019 calling on FCPS to commit to converting its entire fleet to electric power by 2024.

“We are so excited for Fairfax to get its electric school buses on the ground and running,” Mothers Out Front Fairfax co-leader Barbara Monacella said in a statement. “…Every electric school bus we add to our fleet reduces the air pollution from diesel that harms our kids’ health, and brings us closer to our goal of converting every bus in order to reduce emissions and fight climate change.”

The community advocacy group has teamed up again with Del. Mark Keam (D-35th) on legislation that would create a state fund for school districts to purchase electric buses, a move aimed at addressing concerns about the amount of control Dominion has over the current initiative.

Last year, lawmakers opted to pursue the utility company’s pilot program instead, but Monacella says Keam will reintroduce his bill when the Virginia General Assembly convenes for its 2021 session on Wednesday (Jan. 13).

“We applaud the buses Fairfax has added, and we hope to add more through the state grant fund in the future,” Monacella said. “With every electric bus we add, we move the needle for our kids’ health and their future in the face of climate change.”

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Wednesday Morning Notes

Virginia Polar Dip Goes Virtual — The annual event is going virtual this year due to the pandemic. Camp Sunshine is allowing participants to take patron several virtual events at any point between Feb. 6-14. [Camp Sunshine]

Microsoft Expands with New Lease — The company is expanding its presence in Northern Virginia by signing a lease in Rosslyn. [Bisnow]

Local Music Students to Perform in Virtual Concert — ‘Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) choral teachers have put together a virtual choral concert and presentation involving 350 middle and high school students from 37 secondary schools. The concert and presentation of student work will air at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, January 27.’ [FCPS]

Photo by Marjorie Copson

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More students and teachers in the Fairfax County County Public Schools system have been identified as victims of a ransomware attack that took place in September.

In a letter to parents, FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand said his staff has identified more people who may have been impacted by the attack.

”In line with our commitment to providing credit monitoring and identity restoration services to those who may need them, we have distributed additional individualized notices to ensure all eligible members of our community who wish to utilize these services have access to them,” Brabrand wrote in a letter to parents and students last night.

On Sept. 11 — just a few days after virtual learning resumed — hackers posted personal information of some students and staff on the dark web. Maze, a group of cybercriminals, claimed responsibility for the attack, which uses ransomware to prevent users from accessing files. In some cases, data is extracted and held hostage until a ransom is paid.

While the incident remains under investigation, Brabrand said that the school system is working with the FBI and Virginia State Police to investigate the attack.

Brabrand’s complete letter is below, after the jump.

Read More

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All Fairfax County Public Schools students will learn virtually tomorrow (Wednesday) as the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area braces for its potential first snow of the year.

While the heaviest precipitation is expected to fall more toward the western part of Virginia, the National Weather Service issued a winter weather advisory at 4:00 p.m. today for Fairfax County, predicting that the area will see mixed precipitation with about one to three inches of snow and sleet accumulation.

The advisory will be in effect from 10 a.m. on Wednesday to 1 a.m. on Thursday.

“Plan on slippery road conditions,” the NWS says. “The hazardous conditions could impact the morning or evening commute.”

That forecast is a slight downgrade from the agency’s projections on Monday, when it issued a winter storm watch suggesting that Fairfax County could see more than five inches of snow.

Still, FCPS has decided to close all school buildings to students.

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Tuesday Morning Notes

Reston Association Phone Service Restored — After experiencing issues with inbound calls to its member services line, phone service has been restored. [RA]

Snow Days Possible During Virtual Learning — With snow expected on Wednesday and into Thursday, school officials are saying they still anticipate providing “additional approaches” for observing snow days that could include teacher-led and independent learning. Days off are also possible. [Fairfax County Public Schools]

Fairfax County Shelter Offers Safe Adoption — Local police are looking into cases of puppy scams in the area. A spike in the number of pet scams has also been reported. [Reston Patch]

Search Underway for Classroom Monitors — The school system is currently looking to hire temporary classroom monitors. A job description is available online. [FCPS]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Fairfax County Public Schools could start expanding in-person learning to more students again in January.

Under a draft timeline that FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand presented to the county school board last night (Thursday), all students will learn virtually for the first week after winter break, which lasts from Dec. 21 through Jan. 3.

Students who opt for hybrid in-person/virtual learning would then begin returning to school buildings on Jan. 12, starting with five cohorts that encompass pre-K and kindergarten students, as well as students in special education, English learners, and other specialized programs.

Elementary school students will be phased in, two grades at a time, between Jan. 19 and Feb. 2. Middle and high school students have been split in two groups, with seventh, ninth, and 12th graders returning on Jan. 26, and eighth, 10th, and 11th graders returning on Feb. 2.

“This plan is contingent on health and operational metrics being met,” Brabrand emphasized. “We’ll provide the board an update on this plan on Jan. 5 at our next monthly return-to-school work session and as needed as we get closer to the target dates for the groups.”

During the school board work session, Brabrand also laid out plans for a revised bell schedule to accommodate the increased time and reduced capacity needed to transport students to school by bus, a change that he acknowledged will present challenges for some families and employees.

“However, it is the only way we can return all of our grade levels back to in-person following health and safety guidance,” he said.

To address concerns about students falling behind academically while learning online, FCPS will loosen its grading policies and implement a system of interventions to give more individualized support to students who are struggling. English learners and special education students will also receive targeted support, including teacher-family conferences and regular check-ins.

Brabrand’s Dec. 10 presentation represents represent FCPS’s first concrete effort to resume a process that began on Oct. 5 but was suspended on Nov. 16 after Fairfax County’s COVID-19 caseload exceeded established thresholds for phasing students back into in-person learning.

Whether the new Return to School plan will actually come to fruition as proposed remains to be seen, as the Fairfax Health District continues to report record levels of COVID-19 transmission.

Brabrand alerted the school board that about 4,100 students are on track to revert back to all-virtual learning on Dec. 14, because tomorrow could mark the seventh day in a row where the county averages more than 200 new cases per 100,000 people and has more than 10% COVID-19 tests come back positive over a two-week span.

The superintendent said that FCPS has already sent letters to families whose students will be affected letting them know that a return to virtual learning could happen, though it will be confirmed on Saturday.

School officials have stressed the importance of mitigation strategies, such as social distancing and face mask requirements, to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread and avoid the need to return all students to distance learning. FCPS announced earlier this week that it is assembling safety teams to monitor adherence to public health protocols at schools that have reopened.

However, the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers reported yesterday that it had recorded 72 safety violations since Oct. 23 through an online safety violation tracker. Members also reported in a survey conducted by the labor union that they have not seen consistent use of masks, social distancing, respiratory etiquette, and proper cleaning and disinfecting practices.

Since Sept. 8, FCPS has recorded 454 COVID-19 cases out of 12,104 in-person students and staff, a more than 3% positivity rate.

The FCFT argues that FCPS should transition all students and staff to virtual instruction until Fairfax County’s COVID-19 positivity rate drops below 5% and all of its standards for a safe reopening are met.

“FCPS’ introduction of a ‘mitigation strategies’ metric is important, but should not be prioritized over community spread of COVID-19,” FCFT President Tina Williams said in a statement. “…Our schools are part of our community and if COVID is spreading in our community, that means it is spreading in our schools.”

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Lake Anne Elementary School will receive a grant from the Virginia Department of Education to boost its security.

The grant award of $104,000 covers Garfield ES and Lake Anne ES. It will pay for video monitoring systems, voice and video internal communications systems, school bus cameras, mass notification systems, access control systems, two-way radios, and other security upgrades, according to a release by Fairfax County Public Schools.

The award was developed with the help of the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services. Priority is given to schools most in need of security, schools with high numbers of offenses, schools with needs flagged in a security audit, and unmet funding needs.

This year, the program expanded to include funding for security equipment on school buses, according to Lucy Caldwell, the system’s director of news and information.

“FCPS intends to use the funds to enhance security systems at these schools,” Caldwell wrote in a statement to Reston Now. “Even though this is not a ‘normal’ school year, security and safety of our school buildings, staff, students and visitors is always a high priority.”

FCPS is one of 102 school divisions to receive the grant.

Photo via Google Maps

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Fairfax County Public Schools is creating “Safety Teams” of staff members and retirees to monitor adherence to COVID-19 safety protocols at schools that have reopened to students.

Charged with enforcing the implementation of mitigation strategies recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the teams will conduct random on-site spot checks, provide education and resources, and report data to administrators, according to a news release that FCPS published yesterday (Monday).

“The role of these teams is to help protect staff and students, and to make sure we all know what we can do to ensure safe, clean, healthy spaces,” FCPS Assistant Superintendent of Facilities and Transportation Services Jeff Platenberg said. “We’ve been training teams and conducting checks in recent weeks across FCPS.”

To limit the transmission of COVID-19, the CDC says schools should, at a minimum, ensure that students and staff consistently and correctly use masks, maintain social distancing to the extent possible, practice hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, clean and disinfect facilities, and collaborate on contact tracing with local health officials.

The announcement that FCPS has deployed safety teams comes as school officials face dueling pressures from reports indicating that virtual learning has hampered many students’ educational experience and from teachers’ unions who arguethat in-person classes are unsafe.

FCPS currently has approximately 5,500 students receiving in-person instruction, all of them in special education, career preparation, and other specialized programs.

FCPS returned 2,900 students to distance learning and suspended plans to bring more students into school buildings on Nov. 16, when the COVID-19 transmission rate in Fairfax County surpassed 200 new cases per 100,000 people.

The percentage of positive COVID-19 tests over the last 14 days also has to be lower than 10% for students to start or remain in class.

As of Dec. 7, Fairfax County’s COVID-19 case rate is now more than double the 200-case threshold at 431.4 new cases per 100,000 people within the past 14 days. The test positivity rate is currently at 9.4%.

The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers and Fairfax Education Association, two unions that represent faculty and staff in FCPS, have urged FCPS to return all students to virtual learning.

“In schools that are already open, COVID-19 cases are increasing and employees report unsafe working conditions,” the FCFT said as part of a letter-writing campaign. “Fairfax County must transition everyone to virtual learning until it is safe.”

FCPS has recorded 387 COVID-19 cases since Sept. 8, including 300 staff members and 58 students. 21 cases involved staff at multiple sites, according to the school system’s COVID-19 dashboard.

Platenberg says the data that FCPS collects through its new safety teams will help officials determine where to devote additional education or resources in their effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 in schools.

“We want to make sure we are consistently implementing the CDC’s strategies,” Platenberg said. “This is new for all of us, and so far, we are encouraged by what we see.”

Photo via FCPS

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Tuesday Morning Notes

FCPA Director Retires After 40 Years — “Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) Executive Director Kirk Kincannon announced his retirement this week, ending his tenure with the award-winning agency effective Feb. 12, 2021. Kincannon, a seasoned parks and recreation professional with four decades of national experience.” [Fairfax County Government]

‘HOPE’ Letters on Display at Reston. Hospital Center — A new installation with the word “Hope” is on display at the entrance of Reston Hospital. Center. [COVID-19 U.S. Honor Quilt]

Updates on Vaccine in Fairfax County — The county offers information on the COVID-19 vaccine, which is an mRNA vaccine.  These vaccines teach our cells to make a protein that triggers an immune response in our bodies. [Fairfax County Government]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

 

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A South Lakes High School junior has found a unique way to give back to her local community amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The student, Christina, learned how to make face masks and donated around 1,000 masks to her school’s food pantry. The effort began after. When she first began the project, she placed the masks in little free libraries and donated other masks to her neighbors.

In a recent release, Fairfax County Public Schools stated that she is now known as the “mask lady” in her own neighborhood. Her last name was not released due to privacy reasons.

South Lakes is proud of how these siblings exemplify the best of the FCPS Portrait of a Graduate as Ethical and Global Citizens. Their daily actions show how they contribute to solutions that benefit the broader community and demonstrate empathy, compassion and respect for others,” the statement reads.

Here’s more from FCPS on the venture:

A teen who loves crafts and art, Christina is inspired by her teachers at South Lakes, local artists, and summer classes she has taken at Reston Community Center.

Christina and her family stayed at a Ronald McDonald House Charity when a sibling was being treated for cancer. She spent her time there helping the other families by offering to babysit and host spa days. She also spent hours every day painting mugs and glasses that the charity sold to donors. Christina creates paintings that are sold to benefit Saint Jude’s Research Hospital.

She also enjoys working with people with special needs. Four years ago, her youth group volunteered as fishing coaches, pairing with people with special needs to compete in the Cape Charles Queen of the Bay Fishing Tournament. She enjoyed it so much that she returns to volunteer each year.

Photo via FCPS

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Tuesday Morning Notes

Concerns Voiced About Zoning Modernization Project — Reston Association’s Board of Directors have written a letter to the Hunter Mill District Supervisor voicing concerns about the county’s ongoing zoning ordinance modernization project.  Concerns highlighted include the need for more public review and issues related to accessory living units and home-based businesses. [RA]

FCPD Mourns Loss of K9 — “We are heartbroken to share the news of the recent passing of one of our retired patrol canines, K9 Blitz. K9 Blitz served the Fairfax County community from 2008 to 2012, when his handler left the Canine Section due to a career promotion. K9 Blitz was a Belgian Malinois who was also specially trained to assist our SWAT team on operations.” [Fairfax County Police Department]

Reminder: Taxes Due Dec. 7 — If real estate taxes aren’t already built in your mortgage, the second installment of this year’s real estate tax is due by Dec. 7. Payments can be made online. [Fairfax County Government]

FCPS Establishes Student Equity Ambassador Leaders Program — “Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) has established a new leadership program–Student Equity Ambassador Leaders (SEALS)–to amplify student voices and provide an increased understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion through leadership development, projects, and relevant experiences of high school students.” [FCPS]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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