Expected snowfall for D.C. area on Jan. 16-17 (via National Weather Service/Twitter)

(Updated at 11:55 a.m.) A Winter Weather Advisory has been issued for Fairfax County, as the D.C. area prepares for its second snowstorm of the year.

In effect from 1 p.m. today (Sunday) to 1 a.m. tomorrow (Monday), the alert warns of mixed precipitation that will create slippery, hazardous road conditions.

The National Weather Service anticipates snow accumulations of 1 to 3 inches and one-tenth of an inch of ice, along with wind gusts that could reach speeds of 45 miles per hour. With temperatures expected to drop below freezing tonight, travel could be affected through tomorrow morning.

The Virginia Department of Transportation began pretreating roads with brine on Friday (Jan. 14) and mobilized snow plow crews this morning, deploying more than 3,800 pieces of equipment throughout Northern Virginia, according to a 10 a.m. snow update.

“Plan your trips now to avoid all nonessential travel on Sunday into Monday, especially during the height of the storm, to avoid deteriorating conditions and to allow crews room to work,” VDOT said.

Fairfax County Public Schools has canceled all activities on school grounds after 1 p.m.

Fairfax Connector plans to continue operating regular Sunday service, but detours could be implemented along some routes starting at 3 p.m.

After the Jan. 3 snowstorm took out power for about 500,000 households across the state, including tens of thousands of people in Fairfax County, Dominion Energy says crews and contractors from as far away as Louisiana and Oklahoma will be on hand to assist with its emergency response.

“Our crews are ready to once again rise to any challenge this storm will bring,” Charlene Whitfield, Dominion’s senior vice president of power delivery, said in a news release. “Customers should prepare, as well, so they can remain safe until our work is done.”

Dominion advises avoiding downed power lines and reporting outages through its website or to 1-866-DOM-HELP (1-866-366-4357) to ensure the fastest possible response.

Map via National Weather Service/Twitter

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Another winter storm is brewing, potentially bringing 3 to 4 inches of snow to Fairfax County on Sunday and Monday (Jan. 16-17).

The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Watch for the D.C. area, including Fairfax County. The alert will take effect at 1 p.m. on Sunday and last through 7 a.m. Monday, when the snow is  expected to turn into a wintry mix with sleet and freezing rain.

The NWS projects total snow accumulations of 1 to 3 inches as the most likely scenario, though up to 5 inches could be possible. The forecast also includes up to an one-tenth of an inch of ice accumulation and wind gusts that could reach 45 miles per hour.

“Snow may fall at 1 to 3 inches per hour late Sunday afternoon and early Sunday evening, resulting in
nearly impassable roads,” the alert says, warning that slippery and hazardous road conditions could affect Monday’s commute.

Preparations for the coming storm are underway, with the Virginia Department of Transportation treating roads throughout Northern Virginia today.

“Since dry conditions are expected, we are able to brine throughout Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties,” VDOT spokesperson Kathleen Leonard told FFXnow. “Drivers will start to see those white brine lines, which really just gives us a little bit of time at the beginning of the storm, preventing ice from bonding to the pavement.”

Leonard says snow trucks will be staged tomorrow (Saturday) so that plowing operations can begin once the area gets about two inches of snow.

Gov. Ralph Northam, who will be officially succeeded by Glenn Youngkin tomorrow, declared a state of emergency today in anticipation of the storm.

“Declaring a state of emergency now allows our emergency responders to prepare, and to move supplies and equipment where they expect to need them the most,” Northam said. “This also gives Governor-elect Youngkin the ability to respond to any storm needs swiftly. I urge Virginians to take this storm seriously and make preparations now.”

VDOT and the Virginia State Police are both advising people to avoid traveling during the storm, though the police agency says all available troopers will be on patrol to respond to crashes and disabled drivers.

While schools will be closed on Monday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Fairfax County Public Schools says students and staff should bring their computers home today in case a snow day is needed next week.

Any snow days will include virtual learning, because the school system already used its five designated “traditional” snow days after a snowstorm slammed the D.C. region last week, disrupting transportation and power networks.

Dropping up to 3 inches of snow per hour, Winter Storm Frida affected 58,000 miles of roadway across Virginia and took out electricity for approximately 500,000 households, according to VDOT, which is part of a multi-agency review of the state’s response after hundreds of motorists were stranded for hours on I-95.

In Fairfax County, snowfall totals on Jan. 3 ranged from 4.5 inches in Herndon to 11.8 inches in Franconia.

Photo via National Weather Service

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After only five days of in-person instruction so far, Fairfax County Public Schools has reported 620 COVID-19 cases and quarantined 1,534 students this month.

FCPS has paused 11 classes since schools reopened after winter break on Monday (Jan. 10), spokesperson Julie Moult said in an email, meaning in-person learning was suspended to enable contact tracing.

Virtual classes kick in after three days of absences at the latest, Moult says.

Students with COVID-19 must isolate for 10 days, while those exposed must quarantine for five days, in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent guidelines.

There have been 470 cases involving students, about half the number seen in all of December, according to a FCPS COVID-19 dashboard. For staff, there have been 143 COVID-19 cases and 247 quarantines this month.

The cases come after only one week of in-person classes for FCPS. Students’ two-week winter break in December was essentially extended by another week earlier this month due to winter weather, using the district’s entire allotment of traditional snow days for the school year.

Coronavirus cases have surged in the region and country, with an average case peaking at least three times as high as any other surge, which previously had been last winter.

This week, FCPS saw cases involving over five people at the following schools:

  • 11 students at Cub Run Elementary
  • Nine students and a staff member at Lake Braddock Secondary School
  • 24 students and one staff member at Madison High
  • 16 students at Oakton High
  • 13 students at Robinson Secondary School
  • Eight students and one staff member at Whitman Middle School
  • 10 students at South Lakes High

Last year, FCPS quarantined 47 staff and 1,411 students in November, and 324 staff and 3,603 students in December.

The slew of coronavirus cases are part of an ongoing surge in infections fueled by the omicron variant, with Fairfax County currently averaging over 2,400 cases a day.

In anticipation of an uptick in cases, FCPS shared a plan last week for handling faculty absences, even as officials reiterated a commitment to keeping classes in person.

The surge has affected other county government services as well. Citing a high number of staff vacancies due to COVID-19 cases, Fairfax County Public Library announced earlier this week that, starting on Jan. 17, all branches will be temporarily closed on Sundays and Mondays until April 1.

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A new COVID-19 testing site is coming to Fairfax County, potentially easing up the current scramble for tests amid a surge in cases locally and statewide.

The Virginia Department of Health will open a community testing center tomorrow (Saturday) at the Fairfax County Government Center. The site will be set up in large tent in parking lot B, which is in the southwest corner of the complex.

With the capacity to administer 500 tests a day, the site will operate Saturdays through Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. by appointment only. Appointments will become available online one day before testing officially begins.

Here’s more from the county on how appointments will be administered:

Anyone who makes an appointment but cannot keep it or finds testing elsewhere is asked to cancel their CTC appointment so that the slot will be free for someone else.

CTC test results will be automatically sent via text or email message to individuals being tested, based on the information provided in the appointment system. PCR test results are usually available within a few days and are very effective in detecting an active COVID-19 infection, even if a person is asymptomatic (not showing signs of illness).

Testing is recommended for individuals who have COVID-19 symptoms or have been instructed to test following a COVID-19 exposure. A PCR test should not be done by those seeking to return to work or school after completing isolation for a COVID-19 infection as PCR tests may remain positive even after an individual is no longer infectious.

While appointments are required, all visitors are asked to be patient as there might be wait times. Please dress warmly as part of the line may extend outside. This is not a drive-in event so attendees will need to park and enter the tent.

The county continues to set daily records for new cases. Residents report that testing remains elusive throughout the county.

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Martin Luther King Jr. addressing the crowd in Washington at the Civil Rights March in 1963 (via National Archives)

Expect the usual array of closings this Monday (Jan. 17) to remember the legacy of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

Closures will affect public facilities, including schools and post offices, as well as most in-person banking services. Most other private businesses, however, will be open.

Here’s a list of other local services and how they’ll be affected.

DMV

All DMV offices will be closed Monday.

Fairfax County

County offices and the County Circuit Court will be closed Monday.

Fairfax Connector buses will operate on holiday weekday service. A full list of routes affected is available online.

Fairfax County Public Library will be closed for the holiday, but this weekend also marks the start of a new, temporary schedule, where all branches will be closed on Sundays and Mondays through April 1.

Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon will have special programming as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service.

Falls Church

Mary Riley Styles Public Library will be closed Monday. Most government offices and services will be closed. The community center will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation will have a program in honor of King at 11 a.m. Monday at the Tinner Hill Civil Rights Monument (South Washington Street at Tinner Hill Road in Falls Church) and a march at noon.

Herndon

The town offices and Herndon Community Center will be closed Monday. Recycling normally collected on Monday will be collected on Tuesday (Jan. 18).

McLean

The McLean Community Center will be closed on Monday, but it will mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day with a concert tonight (Friday) and a talk on Sunday (Jan. 16), both led by musician Daryl Davis.

Metro

Metrobus will operate on a Saturday supplemental schedule and Metrorail will run regular scheduled weekday service.

Reston

The Reston Community Center Hunters Woods will host its 36th Annual Reston Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration with events on Sunday and Monday.

Both the Hunters Woods and Lake Anne locations will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday.

Vienna

The town typically lists MLK Day as a holiday. Expect town offices to be closed.

Photo via National Archives

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The U.S. Supreme Court (via Geoff Livingston/Flickr)

(Updated on 1/14/2022 at 4:30 p.m.) The Fairfax County School Board has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up a former student’s sexual assault lawsuit, a move that could reshape how the federal law against sexual violence in schools is interpreted.

A petition filed by the school board on Dec. 30 argues that public school systems can’t be held liable for sexual harassment and assault unless officials knew an assault took place and could have prevented it.

The lawsuit was initiated in May 2018 by a former Oakton High School student, identified as Jane Doe, who says Fairfax County Public Schools mishandled her report of being sexually assaulted by another student on a school band trip in 2017.

The school board is now seeking to reverse an appeals court’s order of a new trial in the case.

“Funding recipients are rightly held liable when their own conduct intentionally causes harassment,” the petition says. “But Title IX liability rightfully does not, under this Court’s precedents, extend to situations where a recipient does not actually know of harassment or when its actions cause no harassment.”

Title IX prohibits sex-based discrimination in public education programs and activities. Doe’s lawsuit argues that FCPS violated the law by ignoring reports of her assault, discouraging her from taking legal action, and failing to ensure her safety.

A U.S. District Court jury found in August 2019 that a sexual assault took place and harmed Doe’s educational experience, but the school board couldn’t be held liable under Title IX, because officials didn’t have “actual knowledge” that the assault had occurred.

Jury members’ reported confusion over the term “actual knowledge” — whether school officials need direct evidence of an assault or just a report of one — led Public Justice, the nonprofit representing Jane Doe, to appeal the case to the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

A three-judge panel ruled in June that a sexual assault report meets the legal standard and ordered a retrial.

However, FCPS asked the appeals court to stay its order for a new trial in September, signaling that it planned to petition the Supreme Court.

In a statement to FFXnow, FCPS maintained that the school board “could not have foreseen the assault, did not cause it, and could not have prevented it”:

Fairfax County Public Schools is committed to upholding Title IX and firmly believes that every student deserves an education free from harassment or discrimination. The decision to pursue this legal avenue has nothing to do with challenging this critical civil rights law.

The question in this case is only about whether Congress intended America’s public schools, and the teachers that work in them, to be held financially responsible for student-on-student misconduct that they had no way to foresee and did not cause.  We believe the law should be applied the same way nationwide, and only the Supreme Court has the power to restore that uniformity.

To fail to challenge the Fourth Circuit’s ruling would be to let down public school educators the length and breadth of the U.S., and especially in Virginia, during a time when they need support more than ever. In addition, to roll over in the face of costly and unfair lawsuits would be an irresponsible use of taxpayer dollars and would set a worrying precedent for school divisions facing similar lawsuits now and in the future.

However, Public Justice says the school board’s position is at odds with its claims to support students’ safety and civil rights, essentially suggesting that schools can only be held liable for sexual violence if it reoccurs.

“[FCPS] has now asked the Supreme Court to gut crucial protections for Jane Doe, for Fairfax students, and for young survivors across the country, pushing a misinterpretation of Title IX that the U.S. Department of Justice has called ‘absurd,'” Public Justice staff attorney Alexandra Brodsky said by email. “We are confident, though, that the Court will deny the cert petition and Jane will have the chance to be heard by a jury.”

Brodsky added that Doe isn’t seeking to hold FCPS responsible for the assault itself, but rather, for how it responded to her report.

Public Justice has not filed a response to the school board’s petition yet. The Supreme Court docket shows that a motion to extend the deadline for a response to April 8 was granted on Tuesday (Jan. 11).

Shatter the Silence Fairfax County Public Schools, a nonprofit that says it was founded by survivors, parents, and FCPS students, has launched a petition demanding that the school board drop its appeal.

“We the citizens demand that FCPS withdraw the baseless appeal in Doe v. Fairfax County School Board and appropriately respond to sexual assault in school,” the petition says. “Since FCPS continues its culture of cover-up and indifference, we ask the Virginia Attorney General and the Department of Justice to open a civil rights investigation into FCPS and bring accountability once and for all.”

Photo via Geoff Livingston/Flickr

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Person counts dollar bills (via Sharon McCutcheon/Unsplash)

A pilot program that will give monthly cash assistance to select low-income residents is in development in Fairfax County.

While eligibility criteria, payment amounts, and other details are still being determined, the county has allocated $1.5 million to the effort from its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, as noted in a stimulus update to the Board of Supervisors’ budget policy committee yesterday (Tuesday).

First proposed at a health and human services committee meeting on June 29, the pilot will help people improve their financial situation by providing an additional, flexible source of income, county staff say.

“At its core, it’s an economic mobility initiative, but it’s also an anti-poverty initiative, and it’s certainly innovative,” Deputy County Executive Chris Leonard told the board last summer.

If it implements the pilot, Fairfax County will join a nationwide experiment with basic income programs that has also drawn in Arlington County and Alexandria. Research from around the world suggests the initiatives boost people’s happiness, health, and economic stability without limiting employment.

Fairfax County plans to model its pilot on the nonprofit UpTogether, which gives underserved individuals and families access to cash investments through an online platform that doubles as a social network.

UpTogether’s emphasis on trusting recipients to make their own decisions and building community deviates from traditional social services, which deliver vital resources like food or housing but often come with conditions, such as work requirements.

Fairfax County is looking at the nonprofit UpTogether as a model for its proposed basic income pilot program (via Fairfax County)

It’s the difference between helping people survive poverty and giving them the tools to escape it, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay explained, suggesting families, particularly those with young children, as a possible target population for the pilot.

“Part of what I think our obligation to do is to stop this generational poverty that seems to happen everywhere in the country,” McKay said. “If you’re going to break the trends of generational poverty, you somehow have to get to the youth.” Read More

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Fairfax County could designate different times and days for when tennis and pickleball players can use its shared courts.

That is one of the changes under consideration by the Fairfax County Park Authority after its board approved a pickleball study report in December that highlighted concerns about the two sports competing for limited court space.

“This information would be posted onsite and is aimed at reduced conflicts between players of both popular sports,” Park Authority spokesperson Judy Pedersen said by email.

Intended to gauge demand for new facilities and illuminate existing issues in the county, the pickleball study kicked off with an online survey in December 2020.

The survey ultimately drew over 1,800 responses, around 600 of which mentioned locations where people experienced conflict between pickleball use and another recreational activities, particularly tennis.

Respondents reported encountering often crowded courts, and one person recalled being told by a tennis player at Kemper Park in Oakton that the courts were for “tennis only,” even though the pickleball group had eight players.

In response to the sport’s growing popularity, Fairfax County has added 19 pickleball courts to existing tennis courts over the last 18 months. In November, two pickleball-only courts opened at Wakefield Park in Annandale.

With those additions, the FCPA now has 52 outdoor courts outfitted for pickleball, on top of six indoor courts in its recreation centers — a total similar to other similarly sized jurisdictions, according to the report.

However, the report also noted that the park authority has fewer facilities with six or more dedicated pickleball courts compared to other providers.

It recommended that the county create at least two pickleball-only facilities with at least six courts for large group drop-in play and tournaments, either by repurposing underutilized facilities or building new ones.

The FCPA is already looking at Lewinsville Park in McLean as a possible site for adding pickleball courts or converting the existing tennis courts into shared-use facilities.

Site constraints, the proximity of other facilities, and accessibility for populous areas in the county are among the factors that the county is taking into account when deciding potential court locations, according to Pedersen.

“Although we may potentially use park bond dollars in the future for the design and construction of pickleball-only facilities that could be used by larger groups, these projects would compete with the many other Park Authority projects, initiatives and capital needs of the entire park system,” Pedersen said.

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Fairfax County Public Library has received a new shipment of rapid COVID-19 testing kits, but supplies are extremely limited, even compared to previous rounds of distribution.

Exactly 300 kits each will be available tomorrow (Wednesday) at the county’s Reston, George Mason, Chantilly, and Sherwood regional branches, FCPL announced this morning (Tuesday).

Because of the limited availability, each household will only be allowed to take up to four kits.

This is the first testing kit shipment of the year for Fairfax County as part of the Virginia Department of Health’s ongoing Supporting Testing Access through Community Collaboration pilot program.

FCPL has now gotten 35,862 kits since it joined the program on Dec. 1.

Shipments had stalled over the winter holidays due to government closures and supply-chain issues that have made rapid tests hard to obtain nationwide.

FCPL doesn’t have a timeline right now for its next shipment, advising community members to check its website and call their local branch for up-to-date information on testing availability.

“All we can do is make requests, and VDH fulfills them as they are able,” spokesperson Erin Julius said. “At this time we don’t know when the next will arrive or how many test kits it will contain.”

Demand for Covid testing remains high in Fairfax County, which is currently averaging 2,275 new cases a day. Details about a state-run community testing center coming to the county are expected to be announced this week.

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FFXnow will officially launch next month as a new Fairfax County-wide news source and home to hyperlocal coverage of the Tysons and Reston areas.

Our Reston Now and Tysons Reporter sites will be folded into FFXnow, though each will maintain its brand identity as separate social media accounts and daily email newsletters focused on their respective coverage areas. The archives of those sites will also remain, for now, on their current domains.

Three full-time journalists will helm FFXnow’s coverage, which we eventually plan to expand to additional hyperlocal reporting areas within the county. Reston Now and Tysons Reporter readers can expect the same local coverage on which they’ve come to depend over the years, but with more coverage of county government and other countywide issues.

FFXnow will provide local government, development, business and breaking news, like our sister sites ARLnow and ALXnow do in Arlington and Alexandria, respectively. All three sites are publications of Northern Virginia-based Local News Now, which also today announced additional business partnerships and a key editorial leadership hire.

Readers can sign up for the FFXnow daily newsletter ahead of the official launch.

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Fairfax County’s General Assembly delegation could get a serious shake-up in upcoming elections.

Virginia’s new redistricting maps, which were unanimously approved by the state Supreme Court late last month, created four open General Assembly seats, while pairing some long-time incumbents.

The maps also altered U.S. House of Representatives electoral boundaries. They are in effect for the 2022 general election, which will have members of Congress and the state Senate on the ballot.

Intended to reflect population changes shown by 2020 Census data, the maps were drawn by two court-appointed “special masters” — one Democrat and one Republican — after a nonpartisan commission failed to complete the task. It was a contentious process in comparison to Fairfax County’s redistricting efforts last year.

Under the new maps, there are three open seats representing Fairfax County in the House of Delegates and one open seat in the state Senate, according to analysis by the nonprofit Virginia Public Access Project:

House of Delegates

  • District 11, which is bounded by Hunter Mill and Lawyers roads in Oakton to the north and Braddock Road past Fairfax City to the south
  • District 15, which encompasses Burke up north to Little River Turnpike and reaches the Loudoun County border to the south
  • District 19, which follows Telegraph Road starting in Hayfield and includes Lorton, Mason Neck, and parts of Prince William County

Senate

  • District 33, which covers Burke into Prince William County

The county’s Congressional districts for Reps. Don Beyer, Jennifer Wexton, and Gerry Connolly remain intact, though with District 10 shifting further south, Wexton now represents a smaller portion of county residents than before.

However, at the state level, four House and two Senate districts now have incumbents living within the same district lines, requiring them to make a choice: run in a primary against a colleague, move to another district, or retire.

Throughout the redistricting process, the special masters said aligning with incumbents’ residences was not a priority compared to other considerations, like compactness and preserving communities of interest.

“It’s a challenge for any incumbent when paired with a colleague after redistricting, especially within the same political party, to decide whether he or she should continue on or call it a day for the public service,” said George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government professor David Ramadan, a former delegate himself. “Bottom line, this is politics, and each member is going to do what that member thinks is best for them.” Read More

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