Fairfax County Public Schools is proposing some notable updates to its student policies.
At last week’s school board meeting, school officials laid out a number of proposed revisions to its Student Rights and Responsibilities handbook, including how cases of bullying are handled, what’s interpreted as appropriate clothing, and the potential for increased punishment for substance misuse.
The presentation from FCPS Assistant Auperintendent Michelle Boyd was relatively brief due a planned school board work session next week (May 23), which will likely be spent discussing the proposed dress codes updates, Providence District School Board Representative Karl Frisch noted.
Essentially, FCPS is looking to update verbiage around the dress code, which was last reviewed in 2016. The update will not include a ban on pajamas that was initially proposed earlier this year but has since been reconsidered.
Proposed language includes the dress code supporting “equitable educational access” while not reinforcing stereotypes or increasing marginalization:
FCPS’ student dress code supports equitable educational access and is written in a manner that does not reinforce stereotypes or increase marginalization or oppression of any group based on race, color, national origin, caste, religion, sex, pregnancy, childbirth, medical condition, household income, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, marital status, disability, age, or genetic information.
It also clarifies that the same rules apply “regardless of the student’s age or gender” while providing examples of what isn’t allowed, including clothing that depicts or promotes use of weapons, alcohol, tobacco, or drugs.
Any violation and enforcement of the dress code will continue to be addressed in a “discreet” manner, showing respect to the student, and “minimizes loss of instructional time.”
“Violations of the dress code should generally be treated as minor infractions unless they are repeated or egregious in nature (e.g., streaking, hate speech),” the current code says.
However, this can leave much open to interpretation for school staff and administration. Several school board members noted that some language could be included to ensure a more standardized interpertation across the school system.
“I know we are trying to thread a needle here between what kids recognize as appropriate dress and not,” Springfield District School Board member Laura Jane Cohen said.
Also being proposed is a shift in what happens when there are alleged acts of bullying. The school system is now seeking to require that a principal or staff member notify a parent or guardian of every student involved in an alleged act of bullying within 24 hours of learning about the incident.
The update would also better define that bullying involves a “power imbalance” and what that could look like.
“Examples of a power imbalance include, but are not limited to, greater physical strength or size, access to embarrassing information, or greater popularity or social connectedness,” reads the updated definition.
Also proposed are updated definitions of harassment, hate speech, and hazing, along with potentially more severe punishments. For example, hazing could become a Level 5 infraction, which is the most severe and could result in law enforcement getting involved.
In addition, students with a first-time hate speech infraction would be required to participate in “culturally responsive intervention.”
FCPS is also tweaking its handling of substance misuse in response to recent incidents. While incidents involving alcohol, marijuana, and inhalants customarily result in a two-day suspension, the school principal can decide to levy even more disciplinary action if the conduct has “substantially disrupted the instructional program [or] endangered the well-being of others.”
This could mean a referral to the superintendent and a suspension of up to 10 days. There are number of other changes being asked for, including rewordings and clarity in terms of verbiage, but as Boyd said, those are “relatively minor in nature.”
After next week’s work session, a revised draft is set to be presented to the school board at the end of the month. The school board is expected to vote and adopt the updated students’ rights and responsibilities by the end of June.
An Alexandria man was sentenced to 15 years in prison on Wednesday (May 10) for selling fentanyl to a woman who died from an overdose in Clifton in 2021.
Reza Hashemi, 34, was sentenced for conspiring to distribute over 400 grams of fentanyl in Northern Virginia between July 2020 and June 2021, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a news release announcing the judgment by U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema.
According to court documents, Fairfax County police were called to a home in the Clifton area on May 28, 2021 by a witness who told 911 that a woman had taken an “unknown white substance” and needed naloxone, the drug that can reverse opioid overdoses.
A woman identified as J.F. was found unresponsive in the residence’s basement and pronounced deceased at 11:44 p.m. after failed resusitation efforts, one of the responding police officers said in an affidavit.
The witness told police that they had obtained powder fentanyl from Hashemi at a spot near Reed Avenue in Alexandria City.
Police arrested Hashemi in Tysons on June 2, 2021 after he dropped off fentanyl that the witness had arranged to buy from him, according to the affidavit.
Court records indicate that Hashemi reached a plea agreement with prosecutors in February.
“Mr. Hashemi became addicted to opioids after suffering trauma early in his life. He accepted responsibility early on in this case and continues to do so,” the Office of the Federal Public Defender in Alexandria, which represented Hashemi, said in a statement. “Although we do not agree that the sentence imposed was necessary, Mr. Hashemi accepts the court’s decision and is determined to address his own addiction through the next 15 years and beyond.”
In announcing the sentencing, the U.S. Attorney’s Office also linked Hashemi to the Oct. 24, 2020, fatal overdose of a 22-year-old man identified as J.V. in Vienna.
Hashemi distributed drugs, including “pressed counterfeit pills containing fentanyl,” to J.V. from Sept. 18, 2020 to “at least” Oct. 14, 2020, according to a statement of facts filed by prosecutors. After police informed him of J.V.’s death, Hashemi said he didn’t want to talk to law enforcement without a lawyer.
Court documents don’t explain how police determined that the drugs involved in J.V.’s overdose were the ones he got from Hashemi. The U.S. Attorney’s Office didn’t respond to FFXnow’s request for comment by press time.
“The government’s repeated insinuations in connection with [Hashemi’s] invocation of his right to counsel misrepresent the facts and betray an ignorance of every individual’s constitutional rights,” the public defender’s office said.
Photo via Google Maps
Fairfax County Public Schools is in the process of instituting new safety and security measures, including vape detection in bathrooms, expanded background checks, and a drone pilot program for the incident response team.
At last week’s school board meeting, FCPS Superintendent Michelle Reid delivered a comprehensive update on several security and safety measures in advance of a “community conversation” on May 8 at South Lakes High School in Reston.
In addition to touching on previously reported steps, like employee background checks and a joint effort with the county to install speed cameras near schools, Reid shared that FCPS is in the midst of a pilot program placing vape detection tools in bathrooms at several schools.
“This will immediately detect use at our schools and we are monitoring its effectiveness right now,” she said. “We think it’s prudent to pilot it to see whether it delivers on its promise before we actually install it in all schools.”
However, Reid later said the installed vape sensors have provided “mixed results so far and I’m not sure that’s the answer.”
The idea for installing sensors of this nature was first broached in 2019, but the program was only first implemented recently.
Vaping is a major concern among parents and schools, not only due to tobacco and marijuana use but because of the potential for overdosing. There have been reported cases where the substances used in vaping cartridges are laced with fentanyl.
The vape detection sensors are currently being used in two high schools and one middle school, an FCPS spokesperson told FFXnow. They declined to specify the exact schools, citing a need to balance information sharing with concerns about compromising security.
Also in the pilot phase is a weapons screening system utilizing “software that would detect weapons coming onto campus” and front office panic alarms, Reid said.
FCPS didn’t share which or how many schools are included in the weapons screening and panic alarm systems pilots.
“It is too early to provide feedback on systems that are already being piloted or explored, such as vape detection…or weapons detection and panic alarm systems,” the spokesperson said.
Reid also mentioned briefly a drone pilot program for the school system’s incident response team.
“[The drones are] able to go to sites that may not be able to be secured right away so that we can get information back and forth to division security staff,” Reid said.
Information about costs or when this drone program could be used was not mentioned at the meeting or in FCPS’ response to FFXnow. Read More
Reston Hospital Center collected the most drugs during the Fairfax County Police Department’s annual national prescription drug take back day on Saturday (April 22).
The hospital’s location, one of eight drop-off sites, collected a whopping 226 pounds — far more than the 127 pounds collected by the second-place sites: West Springfield and Fair Oaks.
The FCPD partners with the Drug Enforcement Administration every year to collect expired and unused over-the-counter and prescription drugs from community members through drop-off sites across the county. This year, a total of 761 pounds were collected.
A breakdown of collections by each drop-off site is available below:
- Sully: 83 pounds
- Mount Vernon: 35 pounds
- McLean: 42 pounds
- Mason: 80 pounds
- Franconia: 41 pounds
- West Springfield: 127 pounds
- Fair Oaks: 127 pounds
“This important initiative addresses vital safety and public health issues,” the FCPD said. “Unused or expired over the counter or prescription medicine left unsecured can be prone to misuse and may contribute to overdoses and accidental poisonings.”
Drug take-back boxes are available around the year at each police station. Accepted items include prescription medication (schedule II-V controlled and non-controlled), prescription ointments, over-the-counter medications, and medications for pets.
Prohibited items include needles (sharps), liquids of any kind, illegal drugs, non-prescription ointments and lotions, aerosol cans, and inhalers, according to the police department.
A 25-year-old man whose extensive stash of fentanyl was discovered after a police pursuit in Lorton last summer now faces over 11 years in prison.
A federal judge sentenced Alpha Amin Kamara to 135 months in prison on Friday (March 10) for engaging in a conspiracy to distribute thousands of counterfeit pills containing fentanyl around Northern Virginia, federal prosecutors announced.
Identified as an Alexandria resident, Kamara was arrested on June 26, just days after being released from custody in connection to an earlier drug trafficking case.
More from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia:
According to court documents, Alpha Amin Kamara, 25, engaged in a conspiracy to distribute thousands of fentanyl pills from May 2022 until his arrest on June 26, 2022. Kamara was serving a term of home confinement when he entered the conspiracy, following his release from the custody of the Bureau of Prisons just days earlier. He immediately began distributing fentanyl pills to customers in northern Virginia, which he obtained through the U.S. Postal Service from sources in Arizona and Washington state.
On June 26, 2022, while driving a stolen vehicle, Kamara led police on a chase at speeds in excess of 140 miles per hour on Interstate 95. The resulting crash led to the discovery of over 18,000 fentanyl pills in the back of the stolen vehicle.
A day after his arrest, Kamara was released on his own recognizance, a decision attributed to a Fairfax County General District Court judge, according to FOX5.
His release came even though he had recently exited house arrest and was still under supervised custody for a 2017 case, where he was found guilty of possessing a firearm in furtherance a drug trafficking crime.
According to news reports from that time, Kamara was arrested by U.S. Marshals in December 2017 after a 12-hour standoff with police in Norfolk. In 2018, he was sentenced to five years in prison as part of a larger case known as “Operation Tin Panda.”
A day after he was released from Fairfax County jail last June, Kamara was arrested again by federal agents and held on federal charges, FOX5 reported. He was sentenced Friday at the U.S. District Court in Alexandria by Senior Judge T. S. Ellis, III.
Photo via Google Maps
Fairfax County could be getting more money from opioid settlements, funding that local leaders said is desperately needed to stem a growing crisis.
Opioid Task Force Coordinator Ellen Volo spoke to the Board of Supervisors’ Health and Human Services Committee at a meeting last Tuesday (Feb. 28).
“Across the state, there’s been a shocking increase in overdoses in the last couple of years,” Volo said. “We’ve seen an increase across all ages locally as well.”
Volo said Fairfax County has seen a concerning increase in youth overdoses. Nearly all of them involved fentanyl.
The report to the Board of Supervisors said fatal and non-fatal overdoses for youth trended higher in 2022 compared to previous years.
The report also indicated that 6 out of every 10 counterfeit prescription pills in a Drug Enforcement Agency test contained a lethal dose.
Volo said Fairfax County’s focus is on expanding substance abuse treatment facilities.
“The big bucket of work has been enhancing and expanding substance abuse treatment for youth,” Volo said. “When you look at the nation, certainly the region as well, there is a scarcity of appropriate treatment options.”
Volo said a regional, multi-pronged approach is needed to build capacity for substance abuse treatment, but Fairfax County has hit some stumbling blocks along the way.
“It’s been difficult to find providers of detox and residential service,” she said. “We’re working to establish partnerships. It’s ideal to have this capacity in the region and in-house.”
For the opioid settlements, Volo said the situation is “very fluid” in terms of how much money is available, but it’s clear that the funds must be used for abatement purposes.
In the near-term, Fairfax County should apply this spring to the Virginia Opioid Abatement Authority to fund detox and treatment services at a regional level, Volo said. The county should also launch a survey to gather local and regional input on substance abuse treatment services and other opioid resource needs.
In the October 2023 to April 2024 time frame, Volo said the county should undergo an internal process to organize requests for funding to opioid-related projects and an Opioid Settlement Executive Committee will vet the proposed projects.
County leaders said the help can’t come soon enough.
“We lost a 17-year-old student in my community last summer,” Franconia District Supervisor Rodney Lusk said. “We’ve heard consistently [there’s a] need for additional treatment service, for inpatient and outpatient services, but the outpatient ones are critical.”
Photo via DEA/Flickr
Opioid overdoses have been on the rise in Fairfax County since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
After declining between 2017 and 2019, overdoses increased in the Fairfax Health District from 285 in 2019 — 83 of them fatal — to at least 366 in 2022, including 63 fatalities, as of Sept. 30, according to the data dashboard that the Fairfax County Health Department launched last fall.
The department updated the dashboard last week to better illustrate two trends: the presence of fentanyl in nearly all overdose deaths and an increase in overdoses among youths, including kids and teens.
The dashboard now lists people 17 and under as a distinct age group and provides data specifically on fatal overdoses involving fentanyl “to help Fairfax County residents better understand the threat that opioids, including fentanyl, pose in the community,” Director of Epidemiology and Population Health Dr. Benjamin Schwartz said.
The platform previously only highlighted fatalities based on whether they involved prescription opioids or heroin, though the health department notes that overdoses may stem from multiple drugs.
Of the 63 deaths reported in 2022 through September, 61 or 97% involved fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that can be used for pain management like morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. In 2021, fentanyl was used in 103 fatal overdoses, compared to 23 for other prescription drugs and 12 for heroin.
“There is an urgent need to bring information to light to make sure teens and families know that the risk is real and that fentanyl poisonings are happening here in our communities,” Schwartz said, stating that the epidemic continues to affect people of all genders and all racial and ethnic groups.
Fairfax County has recently focused its efforts to combat opioids on teens after seeing “a concerning number” of nonfatal overdoses in early 2022, specifically in the Richmond Highway corridor.
The Fairfax Health District, which includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, saw five nonfatal overdoses among kids 17 and under just this past January, according to the opioid dashboard. There were 27 nonfatal overdoses in that age group in 2022.
Drug use in schools has emerged as a concern in light of overdoses in Alexandria City and especially Arlington County, where a 14-year-old student died earlier this month.
As of Feb. 4, the Fairfax County Police Department had responded to 26 overdoses among youths 17 and under since Aug. 1, 2022, including one death. Police responded to 30 youth overdoses — five of them fatal — between Aug. 1, 2021 and July 31, 2022.
FCPD spokesperson Tara Gerhard says none of the fatalities occurred on school grounds, noting that the provided statistics “are subject to revision based on lab results and or additional investigation.” Read More
With opioids topping the list of causes of non-natural death in Fairfax County, local health officials have launched a new resource to give residents a better understanding of the situation.
A public-facing dashboard went live Monday (Oct. 3) with data about opioid overdoses and overdose deaths in the Fairfax Health District, which includes Fairfax County and the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church.
The Fairfax County Health Department worked with the county’s Opioid and Substance Use Task Force to put the dashboard together, according to the announcement.
“The goal of the dashboard is to ensure that Fairfax County residents understand the threat that opioid drugs pose in our community and recognize that overdoses and overdose deaths affect a wide range of ages, people of both sexes, and all racial and ethnic groups,” Dr. Benjamin Schwartz, the county’s director of epidemiology and population health, said in the release.
The dashboard provides information about overdoses broken down by age, race and ethnicity. It will be updated in the first week of every month, according to the announcement.
As of press time, the dashboard counted 205 non-fatal opioid overdoses from Jan. 1 through Sept. 30 in the Fairfax Health District. There were 237 non-fatal overdoses at this point in 2021.
The dashboard also noted that the first quarter of 2022 saw 20 fatal opioid overdoses, compared to 31 during the first quarter of 2021.
“We want the public to be aware of overdose trends, which reflect the impacts of social factors, the types and availability of drugs, and the effect of mitigation measures including law enforcement, treatment and harm reduction measures,” Schwartz said.
The data comes from two main places: A system managed by the state health department that keeps track of emergency room and urgent care visits for overdoses, and the Virginia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
Earlier this year, county medical officials worked to step up their response to the opioid epidemic after emergency care statistics showed an increase in overdoses, particularly cases involving teenagers.
The county provides services to assist people struggling with opioid use, including the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board Peer Outreach Response Team and the Fairfax Detoxification Center.
Another medical cannabis dispensary is opening this week in Fairfax.
Beyond/Hello will open its second local dispensary at 10521 Fairfax Blvd in the City of Fairfax. The new location will begin serving patients on Wednesday (Aug. 29) at 10 a.m.
Beyond/Hello, owned by Flordia-based Jushi, is one of the only four companies currently allowed to sell cannabis in Virginia. FFXnow first reported the news of the company’s plans in April.
Fairfax County got its first medical cannabis dispensary in late July, with Beyond/Hello opening a site just off of Richmond Highway in Huntington.
The new 10,500-square-foot Fairfax dispensary is located in a former RiteAid. It will feature a licensed pharmacist, 26 patient checkouts, and 45 parking spots with “easy in-and-out access.”
In July, Chief Commercial Director Trent Wolveck told FFXnow that the attraction of this particular spot was its parking and proximity to the highway. Jushi CEO and founder Jim Cacioppo noted in a press release that the closeness to George Mason University was a selling point as well:
Known for its hallmark landscaped and leafy street medians, Fairfax is recognized by Forbes as one of the top places to live in the nation. Beyond Hello™ Fairfax is in a prime location, located in close proximity to George Mason University, a host of shopping centers and independently owned retail shops in the heart of Northern Virginia, and nestled in the suburban expanse of the Washington, D.C. metro region. We are very excited to serve patients in this region and deliver a retail experience that exceeds expectations.
A new state law that took effect July 1 makes it easier for Virginia residents to purchase medical cannabis, removing a requirement that patients register with the state. Now, patients just need written certification from a licensed practitioner. The law passed this year with bipartisan support.
Passed earlier this year with bipartisan support, the law is expected to encourage more residents to obtain their medical cannabis certification and greatly expand the industry.
However, retail sales of cannabis remain illegal after another bill failed in the General Assembly. As of now, cannabis retail sales won’t be allowed in Virginia until Jan. 1, 2024.
Meanwhile, Beyond/Hello is continuing its expansion in Northern Virginia. A location in Clarendon is expected to open by the end of the year, with a Woodbridge dispensary starting to serve patients in early 2023.
The Fairfax location will be Beyond/Hello’s fourth dispensary in Northern Virginia, joining ones in Huntington, Manassas and Sterling. The company also has dispensaries in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Pennsylvania.
A Fairfax County detective shot a man last night (Tuesday) during what police say was a narcotics investigation in the Seven Corners area.
The shooting occurred near the intersection of Arlington Blvd and Patrick Henry Drive, the Fairfax County Police Department tweeted at 11:27 p.m.
As part of a drug investigation, undercover narcotics detectives in the area that evening identified people “who were allegedly involved in the illegal distribution of narcotics,” Police Chief Kevin Davis said at a media briefing.
“When they went to make the arrest, the persons were inside a motor vehicle. They took off at a high rate of speed,” Davis said. “They drove very recklessly, as you can see from the scene behind me, and when we attempted to take them into custody, a Fairfax County detective discharged his firearm.”
Officer-involved shooting: Detectives were conducting an investigation near Arlington Blvd/Patrick Henry Dr. Prelim, suspect was shot as officers attempted to arrest him in a vehicle. The man was taken to hospital for injuries not considered life-threatening. No officers injured. pic.twitter.com/viAZ3BoIOQ
— Fairfax County Police (@FairfaxCountyPD) August 3, 2022
A preliminary investigation of the incident indicated that the car had “jumped a couple of curbs” before police blocked the vehicle in, Davis said.
According to Davis, the man who got shot was transported to a local hospital with an injury to an “upper extremity,” possibly his arm, but he’s expected to make a full recovery.
No other injuries were reported, including to a person in the vehicle’s front passenger seat or the police officers.
Criminal and administrative investigations into the shooting are underway. The detective who fired his gun is now on “a routine administrative status,” Davis said.
“It’s a very thorough criminal investigation. It’s a very thorough administrative investigation,” Davis said. “We work hand-in-glove with the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, and we conduct a best-in-practice officer-involved shooting investigation.”
The shooting occurred just over a mile away from where police were engaged in an hours-long standoff with a man at the Barcroft Hills condominiums who had been spotted carrying a rifle and making threats.
Fairfax County police officers have now shot five people this year, two of them fatally at Springfield Town Center in late June and at a McLean home in early July. Police also shot a man in Lorton who was reportedly armed with a rifle in February and a man wielding a bow and arrow in Chantilly on Jan. 6.