Reston, VA

Morning Notes

Wind Advisory In Effect Today — The National Weather Service has issued a wind advisory from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. today. Gusty windows could blow around unsecured objects and some power outages may be expected. [NWS]

Work on Lake Anne Garden Plot Begins — Reston Association is installing a 10-foot black vinyl fence around the perimeter of the garden. The project is expected to be completed within two weeks. [RA]

Fairfax County Jobless Rates Dip — The county’s unemployment rate fell nearly half a half-percent from December to January as part of an ongoing but slow trend toward recovery. [Sun Gazette]

Brabrand to Host Town Hall — Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand will host a virtual town hall meeting from 6-7 p.m. on Monday, April 12. He plans to discuss Gov. Ralph Northam’s latest guidance of graduations and other school events. [FCPS]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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In a divisive decision, the Fairfax County School Board voted late last week to recognize some religious holidays in the next school year, but fell short of giving students a day off on those days.

Next year’s academic year will not give students a day off on 15 religious observances, including Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Eid, and Diwali. In what proponents described as a middle-ground option, the holidays would be recognized as special days during which tests, quizzes, field trips, and other events would not be scheduled.

Overall, students would receive an allowance of 16 hours to make up for any religious or cultural reasons.

The following religious and cultural observance will be observed; Eid al-Adha, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Día de los Muertos, Diwali, Bodhi Day, Three Kings Day/Epiphany, Orthodox Christmas, Orthodox Epiphany, Lunar New Year, Ramadan, Good Friday, Theravada, Orthodox Good Friday/Last Night of Passover and Eid al-Fitr. The days were selected based on absentee rates over the last five years.

Employees will also be given up to 16 hours of any time missed for religious and cultural observances.

School board chair Ricardy Anderson touted the move as one that favors “equity and inclusivity.”

“It aims to center equity by elevating our systems’ respect for religious and cultural observances. While this final calendar for 2021-22 may not align with the goals of everyone in Fairfax County, it recognizes all religious and cultural observances where Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) has seen above-average absences over the last five years,” Anderson wrote in a statement.

In a letter to the FCPS community, Superintendent Scott Brabrand recognized that the discussion surrounding this issue was divisive and riled by faith organizations and parents.

“We acknowledge that while this has been a challenging discussion, FCPS is committed to equity for all of its students and staff. Moving forward, FCPS will establish a calendar development process that allows the School Board to identify clear criteria and priorities for the calendar; defines the roles of staff, Board, and community members; and creates a robust community engagement process that outlines how and where feedback will be solicited and shared with the Board,” Brabrand said.

But the decision drew concern from many local and area religious groups. In a joint statement, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Association of United Hindu and Jain Temples of Metropolitan Washington, Durga Temple of Virginia, Hindu American Foundation, Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, McLean Islamic Center, Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation, and Temple Rodef Shalom wrote that the school board’s attempt to divide religious groups backfired.

“While the school board has sought to divide us further, we have coalesced around this issue, strengthening our commitment to one another and to the equity of religious minority groups in Fairfax County. We will continue to hold the FCPS School Board and Administration accountable to ensure that our communities are not disadvantaged by the decisions taken today,” the statement reads. 

The new rules will go into effect when the school year begins on July 1. The board also voted to decouple Good Friday from Spring Break.

Photo via FCPS

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This year’s graduating classes may get to celebrate their achievements with socially-distanced graduation ceremonies.

Earlier this week, Gov. Ralph Northam released preliminary guidance for graduation ceremonies at high schools and universities this spring and summer.

“We are releasing this guidance early to allow schools to begin planning for this year’s events,” Northam said Wednesday in a statement. “While graduation and commencement ceremonies will still be different than they were in the past, this is a tremendous step forward for all of our schools, our graduates, and their families.”

Northam wants all outdoor ceremonies to be capped at 5,000 people or 30 percent of venue capacity.

Indoors events are limited to 500 people or 30 percent of the venue capacity. All attendees must wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines to the extent possible.

Seating areas should be reconfigured to accommodate social distancing, among other recommendations pitched by Northam.

Updated guidance is expected to be released as part of a forthcoming executive order.

The guidance comes as Fairfax County Public Schools prepares for a return to five days of in-person classes in the fall. Since Feb. 16, more than 98,000 students and staff members have resumed in-person classes.

More than two-thirds of the state’s public school teachers and staff have received at least one dose of the vaccine. The statewide positivity rate for COVID-19 also continues to fall, currently standing at 5.4 percent.

Last year, some students celebrated with car parades, while other schools returned to virtual celebrations or graduate photo opportunities.

With this in mind, we’d love to know what you think about how and if in-person graduation ceremonies should resume this year. Let us know in the poll below.

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Fairfax County Public School students will attend in-person classes five days a week when the new academic year starts this fall, FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand pledged yesterday (Tuesday) at a school board work session.

The commitment came on the same day that FCPS welcomed third and sixth-grade students back into classrooms. This was the final cohort to be phased into hybrid learning, where students who choose to can receive two days of in-person instruction and two days of virtual instruction.

Since FCPS initiated its Return to School plan on Feb. 16, more than 98,000 students and staff members have resumed in-person classes. That number will exceed 109,000 students when the transition finishes this Thursday (March 19), according to Brabrand.

Brabrand told the school board that a combination of low levels of reported COVID-19 transmission in schools, declining case rates in the county as a whole, accelerating vaccination efforts, and new research on social distancing in schools gave FCPS officials the confidence to plan to begin the upcoming 2021-2022 school year with full-time in-person classes.

“We have shown that we can return our students and staff to our buildings in a way that is safe and steady,” Brabrand said. “We are confident that we can deliver on a five-day return for all students in the fall, knowing that, while we can adapt to any situation, in-person learning really is the best option for our students and staff.”

According to a presentation by FCPS staff, 0.2% of 86,526 students and staff expected to return to in-person classes have tested positive for COVID-19 since Jan. 26, and only 0.02% reported being infected due to transmission in schools.

As of Tuesday, FCPS had recorded 1,107 cases among students, staff, and visitors since Sept. 8.

FCPS Department of Special Services Assistant Superintendent Michelle Boyd reported that the “overwhelming majority” of employees have now been vaccinated, and the school system is working with partners like the Fairfax County Health Department and Inova to get the vaccine to the remaining individuals.

FCPS also anticipates having in-person graduation ceremonies for this year’s high school seniors, though rules for prom, all-night graduation parties, and other social gatherings will likely be more stringent.

Brabrand said Gov. Ralph Northam and the Virginia Department of Health are expected to issue guidance for school districts before April.

With all grade levels now in hybrid learning, FCPS has started to plan for summer school, which will take place in person from late June to early August at all schools for over 40,000 students — 10 times the usual summer school attendance, according to FCPS Chief Academic Officer Sloan Presidio.

Presidio says schools will coordinate enrollment in summer programs with individual families “based on identified student need” in terms of both academic and social-emotional factors.

FCPS also plans to provide up to four days of in-person classes starting after spring break to students who have been struggling the most this year, particularly students with disabilities and English-language learners.

To ensure there is room for those students, anyone who opted for hybrid learning must be in attendance by March 26, the day before spring break begins, or they could be reverted to all-virtual classes.

“If students have registered to attend in-person, we need them to do so on a regular basis,” Presidio said. “It’s really important, because those seats and the capacity in our buildings really is at a premium.”

Even if social distancing guidelines shrink from six feet to three feet, as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering, Brabrand cautioned that expanding in-person learning will carry challenges, from ensuring there is adequate space and staffing to convincing skeptical families that schools can operate safely with mitigation measures in place.

He told the school board that limited virtual learning will still be available on a more case-by-case basis, but FCPS believes that most students need in-person classes to have the best chance at being successful in school.

“We have an equity imperative to have all of our students back in person in the 2021-22 school year who don’t otherwise have specific health conditions that would prevent them from returning in the fall,” Brabrand said.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott, slides via FCPS

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Monday Morning Notes

Silver Line Extension Could Open Early Next Year — Phase two of the Silver Line is expected to open in early 2022, according to Metro’s general manager. The announcement comes after the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority said it will be ready to turn the project over to Metro by Labor Day weekend. [WJLA]

County Hires Health Care Support — The county is hiring substitute and relief counselors as part of its efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and administer vaccines. [Fairfax County Government]

More Solar Panels Coming to County Schools — The Fairfax County School Board voted to install solar panels on a number of school buildings in order to limit greenhouse gas emissions and improve efficiency. The school system plans to begin the project at three schools and eventually phase out to 87 sites. [Fairfax County Public Schools]

Public Hearings on Metro Budget Begin — A number of budget hearings begins this week. Metro is facing a major budget shortfall due to a dip in ridership. [Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority]

Northam Reflects on One Year of COVID-19Families, friends and neighbors are mourning the more than 9,000 Virginians who died in the coronavirus pandemic over the past year, Gov. Ralph Northam said Sunday in a video. Many others have lost jobs, income, a sense of security and knowing what would happen next as lockdowns and the virus turned life upside down. [Reston Patch]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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The Fairfax County School Board unanimously adopted an advertised Fiscal Year 2022 budget for the county public school system when it met last Thursday (Feb. 18).

The $3.2 billion budget includes a $60.3 million increase in Fairfax County Public Schools’ request for funding from the county board of supervisors to increase employee compensation rates by 3%, a significant change from what FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand proposed in January.

Anticipating a tough financial year due to the continued impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brabrand had originally proposed freezing staff salaries aside from $3 million to complete a three-year push to bring the salaries of instructional assistants and public health training assistants up to 50% of the salary scale for teachers who have bachelor’s degrees.

Improving employee compensation has been a priority of the school board in recent years, as the board seeks to restore over $70 million and nearly 2,700 positions that have been cut since 2008, according to Lee District Representative Tamara Derenak-Kaufax.

“As a board, we must be committed to making certain we are hiring and retaining the best and brightest employees to teach our children, to counsel our children, to transport our children, to feed our children, and to ensure that their social and emotional needs are being met,” Derenak-Kaufax said. “In order to do so, we must be competitive with our surrounding jurisdictions.”

On top of the requested county transfer funds, FCPS projects that it could receive an additional $13.4 million in state revenue to cover the compensation increases based on a proposed budget from the Virginia State Senate that would provide a 3% salary bump for public school educators.

When approving the advertised budget, the school board also amended Brabrand’s proposed budget to include an additional $1.4 million to hire instructional coaches at six Title I elementary schools and create pay parity for elementary school principals and assistant principals.

Overall, the FY 2022 advertised budget seeks to increase FCPS funding by 2.4%, or $75.5 million, compared to the school system’s approved FY 2021 budget.

In addition to employee compensation, the increase provides for expanded preschool special education classes, retirement rate increases and rising health care costs, and support for student needs related to the pandemic, according to FCPS.

The budget also includes $4.9 million and 50 staff positions for English as a Second Language programs at the elementary school level, along with $500,000 and three positions for a collective bargaining team after the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation in 2020 allowing localities to recognize collective bargaining rights for public employees starting on May 1.

Karen Corbett-Sanders, who represents Mount Vernon District on the Fairfax County School Board, noted that the advertised FY 2022 budget does not include money for possible summer school programming, which will instead come from federal COVID-19 relief funds that Congress approved in December.

“We recognize that the past year has been incredibly difficult for our community,” Brabrand said. “This budget is designed to bring hope to students, their families and our staff by providing the resources each of them needs to help recognize and support all their extraordinary contributions during this pandemic.”

While not included in the advertised budget, the school board also directed Brabrand to identify funds to create positions for a neuro-diversity specialist and a trauma-informed social emotional learning specialist, roles that are, respectively, intended to provide support for students with disabilities and address students’ mental health needs.

At-large member Rachna Sizemore Heizer, who was a disability rights advocate before being elected to the school board in 2019, says having a neuro-diversity specialist could be “transformative” in helping eliminate disparities in academic achievement and discipline for students with disabilities.

“A neurodiversity-oriented approach, with its focus on student strengths, positive teacher expectations, and inclusion of the lived norms of students with disabilities within the norms of classrooms, can improve outcomes for students with disabilities and set them up for success after they leave FCPS,” Sizemore Heizer said.

County Executive Bryan Hill is scheduled to present his proposed FY 2022 budget to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors tomorrow (Tuesday). The school board will present its advertised budget to the Board of Supervisors on Apr. 13 and adopt an approved FY 2022 budget on May 20.

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Local closures are in effect today as snow continues to fall in the Reston area today.

A Winter Storm Warning is in effect through early Friday morning, with the possibility of three to six inches o of snow and one-tenth t one-quarter inch of ice is also expected.

Fairfax County government offices and courts are closed today and all employees have been given emergency leave.

The Fairfax Connector will operate a on holiday weekend service schedule. If road conditions get worse, service may be reduced further.

All Fairfax County Public Schools and central officers are also closed today. In-person and virtual learning is also canceled.

Today’s school board meeting will take place virtually at 7 p.m.

Here’s more from the Fairfax County Department of Transportation on recent changes.

Routes 231232335351393394395396 422432461494495556585599624634697698699722724 and 985, which will not operate 

Route 980 will run every 12-15 minutes instead of every 6-8 minutes.

Passengers are encouraged to check the status of routes online before heading to a bus stop. If a bus is on detour, the county’s BusTracker will not reflect real-time estimated arrival information.

The county has also cancelled all COVID-19 vaccine clinics administered directly the Fairfax County Health Department for today. Residents will receive an email with a re-registration link for the upcoming week.

Reston Association’s member services office is also closed for appointments today. Members can call or email RA for more information.

Photo by Marjorie Copson

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Tuesday Morning Notes

FCPS to Host Annual Special Education Conference — The school system’s sixteenth annual special education conference will be held virtually on Saturday, April 17th. [FCPS]

Local Town Halls Set for This Week — Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn is hosting a town hall tonight and Thursday. The first meeting is with the Reston district police station commanders and the second is with Alcorn. [Fairfax County Government]

Northern Virginia Returns to In-person Schooling — ”The case numbers of the new variants in Virginia are increasing as some school systems in Northern Virginia prepare to resume in-person instruction this week. The counties are returning to in-classroom learning before all teachers have received their COVID-19 vaccine.” [Reston Patch]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Barring an abrupt change in plans, Fairfax County Public Schools students will start returning to school buildings next week for the first time since classes resumed after winter break in January.

The Fairfax County School Board approved a new Return to School timeline last Tuesday (Feb. 2) that lets 8,000 students in special education and career and technical education programs get two days of in-person instruction and two days of virtual instruction per week starting on Feb. 16. All FCPS students will be phased into the hybrid learning model by Mar. 16, though students who choose to stay all-virtual can do so.

The school board’s decision came three days before Gov. Ralph Northam announced on Friday (Feb. 5) that all school divisions in Virginia must offer families some form of in-person learning option by Mar. 16, citing the need to prevent learning losses.

An FCPS report released in November found an uptick in failing grades during the first quarter of the 2020-2021 school year, particularly for students with disabilities and English-language learners, and research from the CDC suggests schools can deliver in-person instruction safely as long as mitigation protocols are followed, including mask-wearing and social distancing.

With COVID-19 cases declining in Fairfax County recently and FCPS staff prioritized for vaccinations, FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand expressed confidence last week that the division can pull of a successful return to in-person learning.

However, FCPS officials also said that transporting students will be a challenge due to the inability to ensure enough spacing on buses, and employees raised concerns in the past through the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers about inadequate implementation and enforcement of mitigation measures. FCPS has recorded 939 COVID-19 cases among staff, students, and visitors since Sept. 8.

Do you think FCPS is ready to restart in-person learning? Should the district move faster to expand in-person learning, or should it take a more cautious approach? Should schools be looking to resume in-person instruction at all?

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Tuesday Morning Notes

Local Police Conduct Mock Travel Stops — The Fairfax County Police Department conducted mock traffic stops for drivers with disabilities. Police and community members came together to learn how to safely interact with one another during traffic stops. The goal was to ensure that drivers with disabilities are well-versed in what happens during traffic stops. [Local DVM]

Health Department Hires Staff to Help with Pandemic Response — The county’s health department is looking for nurse practitioners, physician assistants, registered nurses and licensed practical nurses to join its vaccination team on a part-time, temporary basis. The plan is to hire 100 people. [Fairfax County Government]

In-school Learning to Resume Next Week — Fairfax County Public Schools will bring back its first group of students for in-person instruction on Feb. 16. Students who have already selected to return to in-person instruction will still be able to do so two days a week. [FCPS]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Monday Morning Notes

Local Podcast Explores ‘Gray Love’ — Reston resident Laura stasis is returning with the second season her podcast for people over the age of 50. The podcast is called Dating While Gray. [Reston Patch]

True Food Kitchen On Track for April Opening — The business is still on track for an April opening in Reston Town Center. It will be located at 11901 Democracy Drive. [The Burn]

Delayed Opening for Inova Vaccine Clinic — Because of yesterday’s wintry mix, Inova’s vaccination center is planning for a delayed opening today. All canceled appointments will be honored. [Inova]

School Board Approves Capital Improvement Program — The Fairfax County School Board approved the capital improvement program for FY2022-2026. The program includes partial funding for the Silver Line Elementary School. [FCPS]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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All school divisions in Virginia have been directed to establish options for in-person learning by Mar. 15, Gov. Ralph Northam announced today (Friday).

The state is also encouraging school divisions to develop plans to offer some form of classroom instruction during the summer. While extending the school year will not be mandatory, the governor’s office says his administration “is in the process of determining additional resources” to support summer school, including ensuring that educators are properly compensated.

“Our children need to catch up to be ready for learning in the fall,” Northam said during a press conference. “I want our schools to do this safely, and I want them to prioritize students who needs this the most…But it’s time for this to happen. It’s critical to prevent greater learning loss and to support our children’s health and well-being.”

Virginia State Superintendent for Public Instruction Dr. James Lane and State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver released interim guidance on Jan. 14 for local education and health officials to use as they determine when and how to offer classes and other activities to students in person.

Northam said he had a “very open, frank conversation” with superintendents from around the state before announcing the Mar. 15 deadline for offering in-person classes.

He also noted that “none of this is set in stone,” but declining COVID-19 case numbers, including testing positivity rates and hospitalizations, as well as increases in vaccinations give him confidence that schools will be able to proceed with reopening and summer school plans.

The governor’s announcement comes just three days after the Fairfax County School Board approved a plan to start phasing students into hybrid in-person learning on Feb. 16. All students who choose to get in-person classes instead of remaining all-virtual will be back in school buildings by Mar. 16 under the timeline developed by Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand.

FCPS officials have discussed the idea of extending the school year in the hopes of providing more in-person instruction and compensating for the learning losses many students have reportedly experienced as a result of distance learning. However, no official plans have been established yet.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new research last week that indicates schools can safely operate in-person as long as they implement and enforce mitigation measures, including mask-wearing and social distancing.

“In-person learning is critical to the current and future well-being of our children,” Oliver said. “[The Virginia Department of Health] remains committed to supporting school districts in getting kids back into classrooms as we work to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and get Virginians vaccinated.”

Photo via Governor of Virginia/Facebook

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Thursday Morning Notes

Reston Association Has No Plans to Remove Snow with Plows — The association does not plan to remove snow on its pathways because they do not have enough snow on them for the organization to safely operate the plows. Instead, crews have removed high traffic areas by hand. [RA]

Virtual Instructional Job Fair Set for Feb. 20 — Fairfax County Public Schools is hiring a virtual job fair on Saturday, Feb. 20 from 8-11:30 a.m. Virtual interviews are planned from Feb. 22 through March 5. [FCPS]

Fairfax Connector Issues Reminder of Mask Requirement — Fairfax Connector passengers are reminded that they must wear a mask or a face covering, as now federally mandated, when taking public transit or visiting a transit hub in Fairfax County. This safety measure, which has been in place on board Fairfax Connector buses since May 2020, aims to protect passengers and bus operators during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.’ [Fairfax County Government]

Reston District Station Town Hall Set for Today — The police department will introduce its new data dashboard at a virtual meeting today at 5 p.m. [Zoom]

Photo via Marjorie Copson

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Monday Morning Notes

Winter Weather Advisory In Effect — A Winter Weather Advisory is in effect for the area until noon today. Light, mixed precipitation is possible and snow accumulations of up to one inch are expected. [National Weather Service]

Reston Men Charged in Vehicle PursuitAn officer attempted to stop a 2007 Ford Focus for a traffic violation. The driver initially pulled over but then drove away, resulting in a pursuit. The driver, Chris Kpadeh, 20, of Reston, stopped down the road and was taken into custody. He was charged with reckless driving, speed to elude, and driving on a suspended license. A passenger, Mohamed Abdalla, 21, of Reston, was charged with two counts of possession of a concealed weapon and possessing a magazine for a firearm with the capacity of 20+ rounds. [Fairfax County Police Department]

No Snow Day Today — All county schools will take part in virtual learning today. Students will follow their regular Monday schedule for virtual instruction. [Fairfax County Public Schools]

Deadline for Reston Association Assessments Approaches — Members have until March 1 to pay their 2021 assessment. Installment plans are also available. [RA]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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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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