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Students wear and wave Pride flags at Fairfax High School’s walkout (photo by Carys Owens)

(Updated, 3:20 p.m.) Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay believes the county will be on “safe legal ground” if it chooses to not follow Virginia’s recently-proposed model policies that would limit the rights of transgender and other gender-nonconforming students.

Based on conversations with the school board, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), and legal experts since the draft policies were unveiled earlier this month, McKay senses the school system will ultimately stick with its current policies, he told FFXnow yesterday (Wednesday).

The proposed policies would reverse regulations that FCPS adopted in 2020 affirming students’ right to access restrooms according to their gender identity and be called by their chosen names and pronouns. The regulation was updated last year based on state recommendations.

“If we do it and ignore [what] the governor is dictating here…my prediction based on everything I’m hearing is that the legal folks will say you’re on safe legal ground to continue the good practices that you have in place and not adhere to these new ones. That’s certainly what I’m being told preliminarily,” McKay told FFXnow.

McKay noted that, as has been reported elsewhere, legal experts have identified a myriad of legal problems” with the new proposed policies, including protections from discrimination based on gender identity in the Virginia Human Rights Act.

The cities of Falls Church and Alexandria have already indicated that they won’t adhere to the state policies. State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30), who represents parts of Fairfax County, Alexandria, and Arlington County, told FFXnow on Tuesday (Sept. 27) that there could be basis for a lawsuit.

“I think there’s existing law problems. I think there’s case law problems. I think there’s political problems,” McKay said. “And so, my suspicion is that we will likely be able to continue doing what we’re doing.”

The governor may be relying on the Dillon Rule as the rationale for arguing counties must adhere to the guidelines, if they’re adopted, McKay says.

Under that rule, localities only have legal authorities expressly granted to them by the state, but that doesn’t absolve the governor from the “obligation of being consistent with case law that’s already been established,” he said.

When asked whether the school system plans on taking legal action if the policies are adopted by the state, an FCPS spokesperson said they have no comment for now beyond a message that Superintendent Michelle Reid sent to families earlier this month, stating that FCPS was reviewing the draft policies.

“We will share more information when it is available,” the spokesperson said. Read More

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Fairfax County Public Schools (file photo)

Fairfax County Public Schools will require all workers to undergo “regular” background checks after a now-terminated counselor remained employed at Lincolnia’s Glasgow Middle School despite being convicted of a sex crime.

The new policy is one of several changes announced yesterday (Tuesday) by FCPS Superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid in response to an independent investigation into why the school system continued to employ Darren Thornton after he was convicted on March 11 of soliciting prostitution from a minor in Chesterfield County.

Conducted by outside legal counsel, the investigation found that Chesterfield officials didn’t notify FCPS of Thornton’s arrest on Nov. 19 or about his subsequent conviction, according to a summary of the report.

The Chesterfield Police Department has said that its emails to FCPS bounced back as undeliverable after ending up in a spam folder.

Once informed about the conviction, the Fairfax County School Board “acted without delay,” FCPS says. Reid told the community on Aug. 18 that she and the board had ordered an outside, independent investigation into what happened.

The investigation found systematic human resources issues related to hiring, licensure, leave, dismissal, and resignations, according to FCPS. Among the issues are a pattern of suspending employees without pay after felony convictions, rather than “consistently and promptly dismissing” them.

“These have been exacerbated by factors such as significant leadership churn,” FCPS wrote in the summary. “As we plan to work with identifying and implementing strong systems of accountability, it will be important that we implement these actions with fidelity and have frequent accountability checks.”

Reid said in her message to families that she has “begun to take appropriate disciplinary actions” but didn’t detail which personnel are being disciplined or how.

Reid shared results of the investigation with Glasgow parents at a community meeting yesterday, but said that the full report won’t be made public “because parts of it are protected by attorney-client privilege,” WTOP reported.

In addition to requiring regular background checks of current employees, Reid said FCPS will add more steps to the hiring process, including reference checks with former employers and more timely verifications of their licensure status. It will also seek to dismiss and get licenses revoked for any employees convicted of “barrier crimes.”

The school system is also looking at joining the FBI’s Rap Back program, which notifies employers if a worker’s fingerprints are entered into its database in connection with criminal activity. However, FCPS says it won’t be able to enroll in the program until it’s made available in Virginia.

Reid says FCPS is working with state lawmakers and federal, state and local law enforcement “to ensure timely and robust information sharing and notice regarding employee arrests and convictions.” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay and School Board Chair Rachna Sizemore-Heizer sent a letter to the county’s General Assembly delegation in August proposing a centralized, statewide notification system. Read More

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Across Fairfax County and Virginia, thousands of students walked out today (Tuesday) in protest of proposed state policies that would limit schools’ ability to support transgender and other gender-nonconforming students.

Students from more than 90 schools, including nearly 30 in Fairfax County, took a stand against policies introduced earlier this month by Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin regulating everything from which bathroom a student can use to the definition of “the phrase ‘transgender student.'”

The walkout protests were organized by the Pride Liberation Project, a student-led organization that advocates for the LQBTQ+ community in schools. The group aims to persuade the governor to revoke the draft policies, which are now open for public comment through Oct. 26.

Since the policies were announced more than a week ago, local school districts, board members, and elected officials have questioned and overwhelmingly come out against policies that would severely curtail the rights of and support that school districts can give transgender students.

Fairfax County Public Schools said last week that it was “reviewing” the proposed policies and reiterated a commitment to supporting LGBTQ students.

Today, though, it was students’ turn to make their voices heard.

At West Potomac High School in Belle Haven, an estimated 1,000 students walked out at 10 a.m. in protest. They filed into bleachers on the football field, while speakers shared their experiences and why they personally would be affected by the new policies.

“As a trans [person], I have been discriminated against for my gender identity and was told it was wrong. That I was wrong,” said a West Potomac High School senior. “These policies are just a new case of this happening.”

“I can’t be a student if I don’t know what name my teacher is going to call me,” said another student.

Mara Surovell, one of the lead organizers for the West Potomac High School walkout, hopes it will encourage Youngkin to not implement the policies or, at the very least, allow school districts the authority to continue to implement their own guidance.

“Most of my friends are transgender and my sister is also transgender. So it affects all people I love. And I don’t want any of my friends to feel like school is an unsafe place,” Surovell told FFXnow. “I don’t want to see…their mental health plummet because of these policies, and I really just want them to feel safe and loved, and I don’t think that’ll happen if these policies get approved.”

Students involved in walkouts at South Lakes High School in Reston and Marshall High School in Idylwood shared similar thoughts.

Rishi Chandra, a South Lakes junior, said that he has personally seen how well trans and nonbinary students can do in school when they feel safe, but if the new policies get approved, they will “harm queer students.” Read More

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Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 9:30 a.m. on 9/23/2022) With a new school year underway, students will soon jockey for seats in Fairfax County’s prestigious Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ), even as a federal court considers whether its current admission system discriminates against Asians.

For now, thanks to an earlier ruling upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, the upcoming class of 2027 will be determined by the same, much-debated process that has helped diversify the magnet school’s student body over the past two years, FCPS confirmed to FFXnow.

Launching at 4 p.m. on Oct. 24, freshman student applications will consist of a student portrait sheet and a math or science-focused problem-solving essay. Other criteria include a grade point average of 3.5 or higher and consideration of a student’s English language learner, special education, or free/reduced-price lunch status — known as “experience factors.”

Those experience factors and a guarantee that all participating schools get seats equal to 1.5% of their student population are central to a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of policy, which was adopted by the Fairfax County School Board in December 2020.

The revised process — which eliminated a standardized test and application fee — doesn’t explicitly consider race when evaluating students, but a lawyer for the Coalition for TJ argued to the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on Friday (Sept. 16) that it was designed to boost Black and Latino representation at the expense of Asian applicants.

(Correction: This article previously said oral arguments had taken place on Saturday, Sept. 17)

“That’s clear in the record from the statements that the board members and other senior staff in Fairfax County Public Schools made, that Asian American students were in the way,” Erin Wilcox said to the three-judge panel. “They needed to clear out room to increase the numbers of Black and Hispanic students.”

In February, a U.S. District Court judge ruled in favor of the Coalition for TJ, agreeing that the changes amounted to “racial balancing” in violation of the Constitution’s equal protection clause, which prohibits laws from discriminating based on race.

FCPS promptly appealed the decision, maintaining that the policy is race-neutral, as stated in the school board’s adopted resolution, and backed by legal precedent. Donald Verrilli, the school board’s legal representative, cited a 2016 Supreme Court ruling that supported universities taking steps to diversify, ideally without directly looking at race.

“There are no quotas, no targets, no racial preferences of any kind, no racial classifications of any kind, and it is 100% race-blind in its administration,” he said. “No application contains any racially identifying information, so all applicants are judged on a race-blind basis.” Read More

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Transgender pride flag (via Alexander Grey/Unsplash)

(Updated at 2:45 p.m.) New draft policies that would limit schools’ ability to support transgender students are currently under review by Fairfax County Public Schools.

Unveiled Friday afternoon (Sept. 16), the Virginia Department of Education’s proposed 2022 model policies directs schools to defer to parents in determining accommodations for LGBTQ students, including the names and pronouns staff can use for them.

“The 2022 model policy posted delivers on the governor’s commitment to preserving parental rights and upholding the dignity and respect of all public school students,” Macaulay Porter, a spokesperson for Gov. Glenn Youngkin, said in a statement. “It is not under a school’s or the government’s purview to impose a set of particular ideological beliefs on all students.”

If the policies take effect, staff must refer to students by the name and sex on their official school records or a “commonly associated” nickname. To change their official records, a student or parent must provide legal documentation, such as a birth certificate, passport, a state or federal identification or court order, supporting the change.

Even with a records change, though, schools can’t require staff and other students “to address or refer to students in any manner that would violate their constitutionally protected rights,” suggesting misgendering and deadnaming will be permissible despite state prohibitions against discrimination and harassment, including based on gender identity.

Under the draft policies, bathroom usage and participation in athletics and other activities must be based on students’ sex as assigned at birth, though “single-user” facilities are supposed to be “made available in accessible areas and provided with appropriate signage” indicating universal accessibility.

The guidelines reverse model policies that the state education department released last year and contradict FCPS’ regulation supporting equity for transgender and gender-expansive students — a policy that Youngkin specifically criticized late last month.

“I understand the concerns that our LGBTQIA+ staff, student, and family community have about what this change of direction by the state may mean for our school division,” Superintendent Michelle Reid said in a message sent to families yesterday (Sunday). “Please be assured that FCPS remains committed to an inclusive learning environment for each and every student and staff member and that our schools will continue to be safe and respectful learning spaces.”

FCPS is in the process of “thoroughly reviewing” the draft guidelines and will release “a more detailed response” soon, Reid said.

The draft policies “betray” a state law adopted in 2020 to protect transgender and queer students, who have become a frequent target of anti-LGBTQ legislation nationwide, says the Pride Liberation Project, an advocacy group of over 200 students.

Calling on the state to withdraw its proposed revisions, the LGBTQ student advocacy group argued that the model policies would require schools to out students, prevent students from expressing their gender identity, and enable parents to block their kids from accessing critical counseling services at a time of increased concern about students’ mental health.

“As a closeted student, I wouldn’t be able to come home if my parents found out that I was Queer. I am terrified that these draft regulations will take away one of the few places I can just be myself,” an anonymous Fairfax County student said in a press release.

The student-run group indicated that it will be active at school board meetings in the coming weeks.

“We are committed to making sure FCPS maintains a caring climate and culture where each and every student, staff member, and family is welcomed, respected, valued, and supported,” Fairfax County School Board Chair Rachna Sizemore-Heizer said by email to FFXnow. “This includes our LGBTQIA+ students, staff, and families. FCPS is reviewing the model policy that was released late Friday and will provide additional comments soon.”

Multiple school board members promised on social media that FCPS will continue to support LGBTQ students. Read More

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Closed sign (via Tim Mossholder/Unsplash)

Labor Day weekend is upon us, heralding the imminent return of pumpkin spice lattes and everything fall.

Fairfax County government offices will be closed in honor of the holiday, but some facilities will remain open. 

Government

Government offices for Fairfax County, Fairfax City, and the towns of Herndon and Vienna will be closed on Monday, although some facilities may remain open.

Fairfax County Public Schools will also observe the holiday. All libraries will also be closed.

Trash and recycling 

Fairfax County advises residents to contact their trash and recycling collector directly for any service schedule changes due to the holiday.

Transportation 

Metrorail, Metrobus, and MetroAccess will operate on a Sunday schedule. Because of the holiday, customers will benefit from off-peak fares, and parking will be free all day. 

There’s also another reason to celebrate: Labor Day is the last day of closures at five Orange Line stations.

Fairfax Connector will operate on a Sunday schedule.

Courts

The county’s circuit and general district courts will be closed due to the holiday. Juvenile and domestic relations courts will also be closed.

Recreation

All recreational centers will be open for regular hours with the exception of the George Washington Rec Center, which is closed for the day.

All historic sites will be closed, alongside county-run nature centers. Frying Pan Farm Park is open, but its visitors center is closed. Green Spring Gardens will be closed to the public.

Photo via Tim Mossholder/Unsplash

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Kevin Iglesias didn’t have much time to make an impact at Glasgow Middle School, but he managed to leave a deeply felt impression nonetheless.

Known for his friendliness and dedication to students, the special education instructional assistant died unexpectedly from a head injury on Aug. 21, leaving his family, friends and the Bailey’s Crossroads-area middle school reeling. He was 28 years old.

“The sudden loss has hit our whole community like a punch to the gut because of who Kevin was, the community he was striving to foster around him, and the very young age he was taken from us,” said Abby Ponce, who had been a close friend of Iglesias since they grew up in West Falls Church together.

Ponce says she and Iglesias had especially fond memories of their experience attending Westlawn Elementary School, and he sought to recreate that environment of “care, love and acceptance” for Glasgow students as a staff member.

Iglesias’s commitment to supporting students and attention to their wellbeing was instantly evident to parent Jenna White when she first met him in 2018.

At the time, Iglesias was working on Glasgow’s security team, and White’s younger son, David, a special education student, was new to the school as an incoming sixth grader.

On that particular day, White stopped by the school to take care of some work she had as an officer in the Glasgow Parent Teacher Association. When Iglesias introduced himself and started talking to David, she asked if he could help show her son around the school so he could get more comfortable with the new setting.

“My son spent the next two hours just kind of hanging out with [Iglesias] and helping him, and that turned out to be a really great experience, getting to know Kevin and learning his way around the building,” White recalled.

Once school started, White says Iglesias continued to check up on David to make sure he was settling in, and she would catch up with him whenever they ran into each other.

Iglesias’s ability to connect with students inspired White to nominate him for the “Outstanding Support Staff” award that the Fairfax County Public Schools Special Education PTA (SEPTA) gave out at the end of that school year.

“It was clear that he was really, really a special person who had great interest in making sure all the students felt safe and felt welcome and were doing well in school,” she told FFXnow. “…I was happy to nominate him for that award to recognize all the effort and skill that he put in as an educator.” Read More

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Cedar Lane School’s current basketball and futsal court (via Town of Vienna)

(Updated at 11:50 a.m.) The blacktop that passes for a basketball court behind Cedar Lane School in Vienna is up for some refurbishments.

Fairfax County Public Schools went before Vienna’s Board of Architectural Review last Thursday (Aug. 18) to obtain approval for proposed exterior modifications that would improve the 9,842-square-foot facility at 101 Cedar Lane with new basketball hoops, a resurfacing, and added playing lines.

Other planned changes include the addition of a 6-foot-tall, 488-foot-long black vinyl fence with four 6-foot-tall pedestrian gates, which would be located at the corners of the futsal court adjoined to the basketball court, according to a provided layout.

FCPS also intends to paint logos on the courts for itself, Vienna Youth Soccer, and Cedar Lane’s panther mascot.

The proposed layout for renovated basketball and fustal courts at Cedar Lane School (via Town of Vienna)

The application was approved 5-0, according to the BAR clerk.

Though it has a small population of just 60 students, as of June 2021, Cedar Lane serves as one of FCPS’ two high schools for students with emotional, social and behavioral challenges.

Earlier this year, the Vienna Board of Architectural Review approved similar upgrades for the basketball court at nearby Cunningham Park Elementary School.

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Fairfax County school bus (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Fairfax County Public Schools has made several bus stop changes in the Oakton area after conducting a safety review of the Blake Lane corridor.

Announced today (Friday), the school system has moved 22 stops away from Blake Lane in response to safety concerns after a driver hit three Oakton High School students at the Five Oaks Road intersection on June 7 — one of the last days of the 2021-2022 school year.

Two of the students died, while the third was hospitalized with significant injuries.

The changes will be in effect when the 2022-2023 school year launches on Monday (Aug. 22).

“Our community cares deeply about student safety, and we are grateful for their continued advocacy for increased precautions along the Blake Lane corridor,” said Karl Frisch, who represents Providence District on the Fairfax County School Board. “Moving these bus stops will enhance student safety while local and state partners continue working together to mitigate speeding and other traffic concerns in the area.”

Frisch says the stops have been relocated so that no students will have to wait on Blake Lane, but six stops will still be on the roadway, where side streets lack the capacity for the bus to turn around:

In the past, these students have waited on Blake Lane until the bus stops 50 feet from the intersection. Beginning the first day of school, August 22, students will assemble and wait for the bus on the side street and at least 50 feet away from Blake Lane, not on Blake Lane itself. When the bus arrives, the driver will ensure all traffic is stopped and motion the students to approach the stopped bus to board. In addition, the Office of Safety and Security (OSS) will recommend the installation of marked crosswalks on the intersecting side streets of Blake Lane as part of a VDOT safety review.

Fairfax resident Usman Shahid, the alleged driver in the June crash, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter. A new graduate of Oakton High School, he was driving 81 mph in the 35 mph zone when he hit the students, who were on a sidewalk, police said.

With residents pointing out longstanding safety issues on Blake Lane, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted earlier this month to expand the area where drivers face an additional $200 fine for speeding. The county is also looking at acquiring more “Know Your Speed” devices and introducing speed cameras near schools.

Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik plans to assemble a Blake Lane Safety Community Advisory Group, Frisch says.

A list of the bus stop changes for this year can be found below. Read More

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Fairfax County Public Schools (file photo)

A counselor at Glasgow Middle School in Lincolnia has been fired after Fairfax County Public Schools officials learned he was convicted of soliciting prostitution from a minor, Superintendent Michelle Reid said in a letter to families.

While not named in the letter, which went out on Aug. 18, FCPS identified the counselor in a statement to media as Darren Thornton, as previously reported by FOX5, NBC4, and WTOP.

“Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) has been informed that while Darren Thornton was working at one of our schools he was convicted of solicitation of prostitution from a minor outside of Fairfax County,” the school system wrote. “He was already an FCPS employee at the time of his arrest and subsequent conviction. He has been relieved of all duties, dismissed, and will not be returning.”

A spokesperson told FFXnow that the statement had been shared “with media” who requested one on July 28. FCPS didn’t immediately respond to follow up questions about when exactly Thorton was fired.

It’s also unclear how long he was employed by FCPS, but he was mentioned by Glasgow’s student newspaper in a February 2021 post expressing appreciation for the school’s counselors.

FCPS didn’t confirm where the crime and conviction occurred beyond that it was not in Fairfax County.

There’s no indication at this time that any Fairfax County children or students were involved, according to Reid.

In her letter, Reid says she and the Fairfax County School Board took action to dismiss Thornton as soon as they learned about the situation. FCPS is now petitioning the state to revoke his license, and Reid has commissioned an outside legal counsel to conduct an independent investigation.

The school board has directed Reid to deliver an “accountability report with a timely corrective action plan so that this never again occurs within FCPS,” she said.

“There is no higher priority than the safety of our students and, on behalf of the School Board and myself, I want to make this very clear: this entire situation is unacceptable from any perspective,” Reid said. “We are deeply concerned about how this happened in one of our schools.”

Reid said anyone with concerns or information can contact the FCPS Office of Safety and Security’s safety tip line or the Fairfax County Police Department at 703-691-2131.

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