When Fairfax County Public Schools resumes classes in January, students and staff may once again be required to wear face masks — but only around students with disabilities who request the accommodation.
Virginia settled a lawsuit last week with parents of 12 immunocompromised students who argued that the end of Covid-related face mask requirements in schools violated their right to a free, appropriate public education.
As part of the settlement, the state agreed that, if requested by a parent, schools must allow “some amount of required masking as a reasonable modification” under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Virginia Department of Education was directed to send guidance on “peer masking” to the schools attended by students in the lawsuit, including Stenwood Elementary School in Dunn Loring.
“The health and well-being of our students and staff remain a top priority. FCPS is aware of this settlement and is currently assessing how it impacts operations,” FCPS said in a statement.
The settlement only directly applies to the specific schools attended by the plaintiffs’ kids, who have asthma, cystic fibrosis and other conditions that put them at high risk of getting severely sick if they contract COVID-19.
However, when announcing the settlement on Dec. 12, the ACLU of Virginia — one of several organizations representing the parents — expressed hope that it will signal to other schools that they should consider requiring masks when needed for students with disabilities as well.
“We’re hopeful that every school in Virginia will view this settlement as a sign that they should make similar accommodations for their students, even if they are not part of the case,” ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Eden Heilman said.
FCPS and six other school districts sued Youngkin in an effort to block the order, arguing that universal masking was still necessary as the country was just starting to exit the biggest surge in COVID-19 cases of the pandemic.
That lawsuit was rendered moot once a bill requiring schools to allow parents to opt their kids out of wearing a mask became law on Feb. 16. FCPS made masks optional on March 1, though the school board filed a brief supporting the families who sued.
Acknowledging an initial court ruling from March, the settlement says the state law and executive order don’t prohibit schools from considering and fulfilling mask requirement requests to accommodate students with disabilities.
Under the agreement, schools are expected to look at alternatives, such as ventilation improvements or social distancing, before requiring masks. They must also “take every reasonable step” to ensure a student whose parents don’t want them to wear a mask doesn’t have to.
The settlement also required the state to pay $295,000 to cover the suing parents’ legal fees.
“This settlement is a step toward righting a wrong,” Tasha Nelson, one of the parents, said. “Children like mine should not be told they cannot participate safely in school or that they have to be segregated. They have a right to the same education as every other child. As adults, it’s our responsibility to make sure that we include everyone in our decisions and come up with solutions that provide equity in school.”
While Covid cases haven’t gotten close to last winter’s levels, they have been climbing over the past few weeks, with the Fairfax Health District averaging 260.3 cases per day for the preceding week, as of yesterday (Monday).
FCPS has reported a total of 5,969 cases among students and staff since this school year began on Aug. 22 — exceeding the 3,669 cases seen over the same time frame in 2021. Students are now on winter break until Jan. 3.
Photo via Mika Baumeister/Unsplash
Fairfax Connector has not formally rescinded its requirement that all passengers wear face masks to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
However, a court ruling that struck down federal mandates last week means that the public bus service can no longer enforce its policy, which relied on a now-halted directive from the Transportation Security Administration.
Fairfax Connector is still encouraging passengers to keep wearing masks, according to the Fairfax County Department of Transportation.
“As we await clear guidance from the federal government, Fairfax Connector encourages our passengers to follow the CDC recommendations and wear masks while riding Fairfax Connector,” Robin Geiger, head of communications for FCDOT, told FFXnow.
After Florida U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle ruled on April 18 that the federal government had overstepped in requiring masks on mass transportation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that it will stop enforcing a mandate that had been in effect since January 2021.
The CDC still recommends that people wear masks while in indoor public transportation settings, and it announced last Wednesday (April 20) that it has asked the Department of Justice to appeal Mizelle’s ruling. The Justice Department filed an appeal that same day.
Geiger confirmed that the future of Fairfax Connector’s mask policy will depend on the outcome of the court appeal.
Greeted by both cheers and trepidation, a range of reactions shared by FFXnow readers, the end of the federal mask mandate for transportation came as COVID-19 cases have once again started to climb locally and nationally.
As of yesterday (Tuesday), the Fairfax Health District, which includes the county and the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, was averaging 279 daily cases for the past seven days. According to the Fairfax County Health Department, the district has seen a 62% increase in cases over the last two weeks, and there have been 15 new outbreaks in the past week, 12 of them in schools and daycares.
“Although not as high as the peak in cases seen in January, this change is concerning,” the FCHD said, urging community members to consider risk levels in their day-to-day activities and continue taking precautions — including wearing a mask when indoors or around crowds.
It’s been a turbulent couple of years for air travel.
For more than a year, face masks have been a required accessory for flyers due to COVID-19. That ended Monday (April 18) when a federal court ruled against the Biden administration’s mask mandate for public transportation.
The country’s major airlines all dropped their mask requirements even before the federal government confirmed it would not enforce the mandate or appeal the judge’s ruling — a decision that has inspired cheers, anger, and perhaps some relief for flight crews after months of hostile confrontations with passengers.
Even those comfortable with flying from a health perspective, however, might be taken aback when they see what tickets will cost them, as many airlines pass higher fuel costs on to customers.
While plummeting demand led to some bargains during the initial months of the pandemic, the average ticket price nearly returned to pre-pandemic levels in 2021 in the greater D.C. area, and inflation hit 8.5% this month, reaching a level not seen since the 1980s.
Despite those challenges, though, a recent poll by AAA Travel indicates that many people remain eager to travel, with more than 50% of Virginia and D.C. respondents saying they plan to travel more this summer.
How do you feel about flying right now? Does the end of mask requirements make the idea of getting on a plane more or less appealing? Or are the ticket prices more of a sticking point?
Photo via Dulles International Airport/Instagram
School Board to Appoint New Superintendent Tonight — “The Fairfax County School Board will be announcing the final candidate for the next Superintendent of Schools at tomorrow night’s School Board meeting. The Board will also vote on the candidate’s appointment.” [FCPS]
School Board Defends TJ Admissions Policy to Supreme Court — The Fairfax County School Board said in a filing to the U.S. Supreme Court that an appeals court was “entirely within its authority” to let the admissions policy for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology stay in place while legal proceedings continue. [WTOP]
Seven Corners Senior Housing Project Advances — “The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan April 12 that clears the way for an affordable housing project on the grounds of First Christian Church in Seven Corners. The project calls for a four-story 113-unit apartment building for seniors to be developed by Wesley Housing.” [Annandale Today]
Public Transportation Mask Mandate Extended — “The TSA’s mask mandate has been pushed back another 15 days. The mandate – on airplanes, buses, trains – is now set to expire May 3. The CDC ordered this two-week extension due to the rise in cases from BA.2.” [Fairfax Connector/Twitter]
Reston Association Lake Monitoring Begins — “RA’s Watershed team and Aquatic Environmental Consultants will be kicking off the 2022 lake monitoring season on Thursday, April 14. The lake’s monitoring data is used to track water quality over time, identify potential issues, & provide information for targeted lake treatments.” [RA/Twitter]
McLean’s Oldest Boy Scout Troop Names First Female Eagle Scout — “Rishika Singh, a member of Girls’ Troop 128, was the first girl from her troop to achieve the Eagle Scout rank. The Eagle Scout rank is the highest rank of Boy Scouts of America and requires a service project, merit badges and other requirements.” [Patch]
Capital Bikeshare Coming to Fairfax City — “Capital Bikeshare is coming to Fairfax City! The city has proposed locations for 13 bikeshare stations and is seeking public input through the end of April.” [City of Fairfax/Twitter]
Invasive Species Removal Planned in Vienna — “Volunteers are sought to help restore the natural habitat at Glyndon Park in Vienna at two upcoming invasive-species-removal efforts. Volunteer efforts are slated for Saturdays, April 16 and 30, from 9 to 11 a.m. at the park. Gloves, shovels and small hand tools will be provided.” [Sun Gazette]
It’s Thursday — Possible light rain in the evening. High of 73 and low of 57. Sunrise at 6:35 am and sunset at 7:46 pm. [Weather.gov]
Annandale Chick-fil-A Opens Today — “Chick-fil-A will open Thursday, April 7, at 7130 Little River Turnpike, Annandale…To celebrate the grand opening, the restaurant will surprise ‘100 local heroes making an impact in Annandale with free Chick-fil-A for a year.'” [Annandale Today]
Starkist HQ in Reston Now Open — Relocating from Pittsburgh, the tuna manufacturer opened its new corporate and administrative headquarters at 1875 Explorer Street in Reston Town Center on Tuesday (April 5). The office can accommodate more than 70 employees, and the company is marking its arrival with a community distribution event for the Reston-based nonprofit Feed the Children. [Starkist]
Commonwealth’s Attorney Expands Diversion for Non-Violent Crimes — “Under the program, called Taking Root, Fairfax prosecutors and defense attorneys can jointly recommend to judges that certain people accused of crimes be assigned to intensive programming instead of being prosecuted…The new program expands on existing diversion programs in Fairfax that have narrower eligibility requirements.” [DCist]
Masks No Longer Required at GMU — “In a message to the school community posted Tuesday, university president Gregory Washington announced GMU had switched to a mask-optional policy on all its campuses. He said the decision reflected low transmission and positivity rates in Fairfax County and nearby communities.” [WTOP]
Great Falls Group Has Ideas for Beltway Bridge Design — “When the construction dust settles, the orange cones are gone and work crews have relocated to snarl traffic elsewhere after completion of the 495 NEXT Project, the Great Falls Citizens Association (GFCA) hopes an extra-nice-looking bridge will take Georgetown Pike over the Capital Beltway.” [Sun Gazette]
Vienna Could Get Specialized License Plate — The Town of Vienna plans to introduce a town-themed license plate after the Virginia General Assembly unanimously approved a bill from Del. Mark Keam letting localities cover the fees for the first 350 prepaid orders required by state law. The law takes effect on July 1, and the town council will then move to decide on a design. [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]
Squirrels Trigger Car’s “Check Engine” Light in Franconia — “Craftsman Auto Care — Alexandria, an auto repair shop at the Festival at Manchester Lakes shopping center, found three baby squirrels sleeping under the hood of a customer’s vehicle…As for the check engine light, it turned out that the babies’ mother squirrel had chewed through wiring in the vehicle.” [Patch]
It’s Thursday — Rain until evening. High of 55 and low of 46. Sunrise at 6:45 am and sunset at 7:39 pm. [Weather.gov]
Franconia Townhouse Fire Under Investigation — Fairfax County fire investigators are still working to determine the cause of a townhouse fire that occurred in the 6500 block of Gildar Street on Saturday (April 2). The blaze didn’t cause any injuries, but four people have been displaced, and there was an estimated $93,750 in damages. [FCFRD]
Fairfax City Police Search for Missing Woman — “Fairfax City Police are still searching for information Tuesday on the disappearance of Amanda Childress, 43, who may have also been the victim of an assault…Investigators said the assault may have happened in the 10400 block of Eaton Place on March 6.” [ABC7]
GMU Dedicates Memorial to People Enslaved by Namesake — “The Enslaved People of George Mason Memorial is located on the campus’s recently renovated Wilkins Plaza, named for the late civil rights leader and George Mason University professor journalist Roger Wilkins. On Monday, several hundred people assembled in Wilkins Plaza for the monument’s dedication.” [Patch]
ACLU Lawsuit Over Mask-Optional Law Continues — A federal judge denied a motion to dismiss a challenge of Virginia’s law making masks optional in schools. The Fairfax County School Board filed a brief supporting the 12 families with immunocompromised children, while the Fairfax County Parents Association, a community group that grew out of the Open FCPS campaign, has backed the state. [WTOP]
Reston Woman Wins Cherry Blossom Race — “Sunday marked the first Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run since 2019, and with it, a local became champion for the first time since 1983, according to race officials. Susanna Sullivan of Reston, Virginia, won the elite women’s race.” [WTOP]
County Police Recognize Child Abuse Prevention Month — “Pinwheels will be displayed outside Public Safety Headquarters and at our district stations throughout April in honor of Child Abuse Prevention Month. Pinwheels are a reminder of the carefree spirit of children and symbolize the happy childhood every child should have.” [FCPD/Facebook]
It’s Also National Poetry Month — Fairfax County is celebrating National Poetry Month by having community members read poems “that showcase the diverse and compelling work of contemporary American poets” throughout April. The series kicked off with County Executive Bryan Hill reading “Crossing” by Jericho Brown. [Fairfax County Government/Twitter]
It’s Wednesday — Light rain in the morning and overnight. High of 65 and low of 51. Sunrise at 6:46 a.m. and sunset at 7:38 p.m. [Weather.gov]
Masks Still Required on County Buses — “The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), upon the recommendation from the CDC, is extending the security directive for mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs for one month, through April 18, 2022.” [Fairfax Connector]
Traffic Disruption Scheduled in Herndon — “Crews will be working at the intersection of Elden Street and Monroe Street to replace the current traffic signal pole and mast arm. On Friday, March 11th, a brief traffic disruption of approximately 15 minutes will be required as the mast arm is installed. We recommend using Herndon Parkway and the routes shown as an alternative to using Elden Street.” [Town of Herndon]
Inova Hospital Starts Expanded Hours Today — “Effective March 11, we will have expanded hours for visitors. Visitors must be 16 years or older. Everyone must wear a surgical/medical-grade face mask at all times. Mask will be provided if needed.” [Inova/Twitter]
Work on Broad & Washington Project Could Begin Soon — “The Insight Group is getting its massive project at that corner of downtown Falls Church’s central intersection underway at last, with the anchor of the project to be a mega-Whole Foods supermarket, a new home for the Creative Cauldron theater and 339 rental apartments.” [Falls Church News-Press]
Vienna Looks to Cut Real Estate Taxes — “Town Manager Mercury Payton presented the budget proposal Monday. The budget proposes reducing the real estate tax rate by 1 cent from $0.2225 to $0.2125 per $100 of assessed value. Town of Vienna property owners pay this real estate tax on top of Fairfax County’s real estate tax.” [Patch]
Grand Opening Coming for New Reston Fire Station — The Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department will hold a grand opening for its new Fire Station 25 at 1820 Wiehle Avenue in Reston at 10 a.m. tomorrow (Saturday). [Hunter Mill District News]
“Saturday School” Planned in Lincolnia — “Glasgow Middle School Principal Victor Powell is tapping some of his school’s share of federal pandemic relief funding to host an estimated 260 students and their parents in sessions designed to boost reading, math and social-emotional skills, as well as get students and parents alike inspired to think about college and goal-setting for the future.” [FCPS]
McLean Chocolate Festival Returns — “The 10th Annual McLean Chocolate Festival, sponsored by the Rotary Club of McLean, will be held April 24 at the McLean Community Center…Due to the pandemic, the club did not hold a festival last year. However, in 2020, almost 3,000 people attended, and organizers expect a similar number at this year’s event.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]
Daylight Saving Time Starts This Weekend — Get ready to move your clocks ahead one hour. Daylight saving time begins at 2 a.m. Sunday (March 13), running through Nov. 6. We’ll lose an hour of sleep but hopefully be spending more time in the sun. If you hate these changes, you’re with most Americans, and a congressional panel this week looked at why we might want to end this annual custom. [The Washington Post]
It’s Friday — Rain overnight. High of 58 and low of 37. Sunrise at 6:27 am and sunset at 6:13 pm. [Weather.gov]
Expanded DMV Service Starts Today — “The Virginia DMV will offer both appointments and walk-in service Monday through Friday at all 75 locations starting Wednesday, March 2, Secretary of Transportation Shep Miller said in a news release. Walk-in service will still be an option at some offices on Saturdays.” [WTOP]
Local Students Learn About Russia-Ukraine Conflict — A political science and current affairs class at Langley High School has turned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine into a central topic of discussion. Teacher David Kuhn says his students, some of whom have lived in Russia, have shared “perspectives…beyond what their [years] would indicate.” [WUSA9]
Worker Rescued from Tree in Chantilly — For the second time in as many weeks, Fairfax County Fire and Rescue units helped free a person caught in a tree. A worker stuck 20-30 feet up a tree in the 4300 block of Warner Lane was transported to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries yesterday afternoon (Tuesday). [FCFRD/Twitter]
McLean Community Center Encourages Masks — “Per current metrics, Fairfax County’s COVID-19 Community Level is low, and masks are now optional in county facilities. While masks are no longer required, MCC highly recommends that patrons continue to use masks while in its facilities to protect those too young or unable to be vaccinated in our communities.” [MCC]
Reston Condo Fire Displaces One — The condominium fire in the 1400 block of Northgate Square that ended in a cat’s death displaced one resident and caused an estimated $93,750 in property damages. Investigators say the fire started accidentally in a bedroom when “unattended incenses” burned “too close to ordinary combustibles.” [FCFRD]
Reston Tech Company Lands Millions in Funding — “GridPoint, a building energy management and optimization technology that decarbonizes commercial buildings, announced Tuesday that it has closed a $75 million investment round. Goldman Sachs Asset Management led the round, with Shell Ventures, another veteran investor in GridPoint, also participating.” [Commercial Observer]
Reston Association Election Begins — “Voting is now open for members of Reston Association to cast their ballots for the 2022 Board of Directors’ election. Ballots are due by April 1 at 5 PM. Members of RA, both property owners & renters can cast their vote in the election.” [RA/Twitter]
Public Meeting on McLean Central Park Tonight — The Fairfax County Park Authority will present a revised development concept for the park by Dolley Madison Library with a virtual meeting at 7 p.m. An initial concept included an amphitheater and dog park but drew some skepticism from community groups. [Patch]
It’s Wednesday — Today will be mostly sunny, with a high near 61 and a low around 44. Sunrise will be at 6:38 a.m. and sunset at 6:03 p.m. [Weather.gov]
Reminder: Old Metro Cards Stop Working Today — “SmarTrip cards purchased before 2012 are no longer compatible with new, faster, modern faregates already installed in many stations. In an announcement more than 10 months ago, Metro advised customers that the old cards would need to be replaced as stations are equipped with new faregates.” [WMATA]
County Circuit Court Ends Mask Requirement — Fairfax County Circuit Court Chief Judge Penny Azcarate announced yesterday (Monday) that masks will be optional to enter the Courthouse effective immediately in accordance with the county’s new policy. Rules in courtrooms “are at the discretion of the presiding judge.” [Circuit Court]
Masks Now Optional on School Buses — Fairfax County Public Schools confirmed that its shift to a mask-optional policy starting today (Tuesday) includes school buses and vans. FCPS will also stop contact tracing for individual COVID-19 cases, but a livestreaming option is still available to students who have to isolate. [FCPS]
No Injuries Reported in Wolf Trap House Fire — Firefighters responded to a house fire in the 1500 block of Snughill Court around 8:45 p.m. on Saturday (Feb. 26). Investigators determined that the fire was started by improperly discarded ashes from a fire pit. It displaced five people and caused approximately $187,500 in damages. [FCFRD]
Fear of Reston Golf Course Development Persists — “A recent proposal to establish a pilot program to remove invasive plant species around Reston National Golf Course is seen by some as a first step to garner support for redeveloping the land.” [Patch]
Historic McLean Estate to Be Conserved — “An 8-acre Civil War-era McLean property known as Elmwood recently became the 129th conservation easement for the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust (NVCT)…Elmwood most recently was the home of the late television journalist Roger Mudd, whose family lived in the house for nearly half a century.” [Sun Gazette]
Reston Blogger Digs into History of Maryland Pizza Hut — Addison Del Mastro, who writes a Substack newsletter about urbanism and land use, noticed some unusual architectural features on a Pizza Hut in Landover. His investigation found that it started life in the 1970s as a franchise in a now-defunct chain called English’s Chick’n Steak House. [The Washington Post]
It’s Tuesday — Today will be mostly cloudy, then gradually become sunny, with a high near 58 and a low around 40. Sunrise will be at 6:39 a.m. and sunset at 6:01 p.m. [weather.gov]
For the first time since early August, face masks are no longer required for staff or visitors inside most Fairfax County facilities.
County Executive Bryan Hill shared the news in an email to all local government workers yesterday (Sunday) after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention introduced new metrics for measuring community COVID-19 transmission levels on Friday (Feb. 25).
Transmission in Fairfax County was considered substantial under the previous metrics, which focused on the number of new cases per 100,000 people and the testing positivity rate over the past seven days.
The CDC is now measuring the disease’s spread based on:
- The total number of new patients per 100,000 people admitted into hospitals for COVID-19 over the past seven days
- The seven-day average percentage of staffed inpatient beds filled by Covid patients
If a community sees more than 200 cases per 100,000 people in a week, its transmission level can’t be considered low.
Over the past seven days, Fairfax County has recorded a 79.8 case rate, 3.4 patients per 100,000 people have been admitted with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis, and 4.1% of inpatient beds are occupied by people with Covid, according to CDC data. All three data points now put the county within the threshold for “low” community transmission.
“Per the new metrics, masks will now be optional for employees and visitors in county facilities, except for those where health or medical services are provided,” Hill said in his message to county workers.
Masks will also become optional in schools tomorrow (Tuesday), Fairfax County Public Schools announced yesterday. The school system planned to make masks optional for students only to comply with state law, but the CDC’s revised metrics allowed it to ease its requirement for adults as well.