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The scene of a crash that injured six people in Oakton (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax County is considering the addition of photo speed cameras in school crossing and highway work zones.

The Fairfax County Police Department has been working on the initiative, and a plan will be finalized before it is presented to the Board of Supervisors in a report, Deputy County Executive for Safety and Security Tom Arnold previously told FFXnow.

Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik hopes to get Oakton High School into a pilot for the speed cameras, she told FFXnow. Two Oakton High students recently died after a driver struck them and another student walking on the sidewalk of Blake Lane, a corridor where the community has had growing safety concerns.

Police say the 18-year-old driver of the car was speeding on Blake Lane before crashing into an SUV and then striking the three students.

Nearby cities and counties have added the safety devices in the last few years since a state law passed in 2020 enabling jurisdictions to install speed cameras in school and construction zones. Arlington County passed its own law allowing the devices in January, and the City of Fairfax added cameras around schools last year.

The state law dictates that local governments can impose a civil penalty if a vehicle is traveling 10 mph or more above the posted speed limit. The penalty can’t exceed $100, state law outlines.

County and state officials will hold a community meeting tonight (Thursday) on possible safety improvements in the Blake Lane corridor. The meeting will take place on Zoom with Palchik livestreaming it on her Facebook page.

The county and state have discussed improvements in the past, such as the recent implementation of an additional $200 fine for speed limit violations on Blake Lane between Jermantown Road and Sutton Road.

How do you feel about adding speed cameras in school and construction zones in the county?

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A photo of a previous block party at the PARC at Tysons (via Celebrate Fairfax)

The Celebrate Fairfax! Festival is returning in a new form this year — smaller events throughout the county.

The annual festival was a summer highlight featuring bands, carnival rides, and more at the Fairfax County Government Center, but this year, the nonprofit Celebrate Fairfax Inc. is bringing parts of the festival to each of the county’s districts, organizers announced in April.

The karaoke competition that traditionally was at the festival will take place at block parties at the PARC at Tysons, starting this Friday (June 17).

“We are bringing a Celebrate Fairfax! Festival favorite to the PARC – the Fairfax County Karaoke Competition! During the first Block Party we will have our wildcard competition, so get ready to sing at the top of your lungs!” the event website reads. The karaoke semifinals will be held Friday, July 15, and the finals on Friday, Aug. 19.

The Block Party will also feature outdoor games, a food truck and Beltway Brewing.

The announcement of the event’s new form drew ire from some on social media who referred to the festival as a tradition. In the past, the annual three-day festival has drawn some 70,000 attendees and featured nationally known bands, including All-American Rejects, Everclear, and Third Eye Blind, but it was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During the past year, Celebrate Fairfax, Inc. (CFI) had the opportunity to re-envision how we, as a 501c3 nonprofit organization, fulfill our mission to celebrate Fairfax County and its communities,” the organization said. “CFI has been a staple in the Fairfax County community for nearly 40 years.”

Celebrate Fairfax lists an event planned for Wednesday, July 13, in Springfield — Springfield Nights: Celebrate Fairfax Kids, which includes a balloon artist and magic shows. The nonprofit also hosted its first Braddock Bark dog festival this past weekend.

So, with the old festival taking new shape, will you miss the big event?

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A Gulf gas station in Herndon listed its unleaded gas price as nearly $4.80 per gallon on June 1, 2022 (staff photo by David Taube)

Northern Virginia has continued with record-setting gas prices, reaching $4.61 per gallon as of Wednesday (June 1), per AAA.

That record held true even for gas prices across the country, with California leading the way at over $6 per gallon.

Not even Texas was immune, reaching its highest average price per gallon ever Wednesday at nearly $4.30.

While the nation’s average price saw some relief in March and April, a new peak comes amid Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine and a European Union ban on Russian oil exports, AAA notes. That price is $1.58 more than a year ago, the auto services company says.

With spring and summer weather heating up, airline prices spiking for domestic flights and mask restrictions loosened, FFXnow is asking readers what these fuel prices mean for traveling.

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The Fairfax County Courthouse (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

One of the most prominent court trials in recent Fairfax County history is drawing to a close.

Drawing celebrities, media, and an eclectic assortment of fans, actor Johnny Depp’s defamation lawsuit against fellow actor and ex-wife Amber Heard has unfolded in sobering, sometimes bizarre detail at the Fairfax County Courthouse since April 11.

The trial culminates more than three years of legal proceedings after Depp filed a complaint in March 2019 seeking $50 million from Heard over a Washington Post op-ed where she discussed her experience with sexual violence.

Depp’s lawyers filed the lawsuit in Fairfax County, because the Post’s computer servers are located here, and Virginia’s anti-SLAPP laws — which seek to prevent people from using the courts to intimidate or silence critics — are weaker than those in California, according to Inside NoVA.

Televised live by Court TV, the case has become a filter for issues related to celebrity and fan culture, while also raising fears that domestic violence victims will be further discouraged from speaking up or seeking help, given the mockery directed at Heard in particular everywhere from TikTok to Saturday Night Live.

With closing arguments expected tomorrow (Friday), have you been following developments in the trial closely, or are you eager for an end to the hubbub?

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The Fairfax County Government Center (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is slated to adopt its budget on Tuesday (May 10), triggering a series of raises for workers starting in July.

Nearly a third of public safety workers will see increases of up to 14.01% during the year, following an additional increase approved by the board on April 26.

Other county workers, in addition to getting performance, merit and longevity increases, will also get 4.01% raises through market rate adjustments to make their salaries more competitive.

The budget process also covers the Fairfax County Public Schools, which will pass its own budget, covering nearly 25,000 positions. County funding is slated to cover 4% raises and step increases of eligible employees for the district.

The county’s push to improve compensation for its workers comes amid a 15% vacancy rate, as of mid-March, representing 2,125 openings, and concerns about employee recruitment and retention.

What do you think of the proposed compensation increases for county workers? Is it critical to ensure the people who keep schools, the police, and other services running can live where they work, or is it too much at this time, given the area’s rising property taxes?

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A closeup of an iPhone screen (via Adrien/Unsplash)

After roughly a decade of relative freedom, Fairfax County Public Schools is sending cellphones back into students’ backpacks.

The Fairfax County School Board is considering restricting the use of personal phones during class for all students as part of several proposed revisions to its Students Rights & Responsibilities handbook, which sets standards for student behavior and discipline.

As proposed during a work session on April 26, the extent of the ban would vary depending on the grade level. Elementary and middle school students would only be allowed to use cellphones before and after the school day, while high schoolers can take them out during lunch and periods between classes.

The revised regulation says teachers could still let students use phones for instructional activities “where they are the most appropriate tool,” but in most cases, the school-issued laptops that most students receive should be adequate.

FCPS has already started to limit phone use in Herndon schools, and Dranesville District School Board Representative Elaine Tholen said at the work session that the changes have had positive results, WTOP reported last week.

The proposed changes mark a shift away from FCPS’ current policy, which embraces technology as a way of “creating a 21st century learning environment” and permits students to use their personal devices to access the internet and work with classmates.

FCPS introduced its Bring Your Own Device policy about a decade ago, as the system started to phase in the school-issued laptops. The initiative, which notes that the use of phones for “personal or recreational purposes” should be minimized, won FCPS a Governor’s Technology Award in 2013.

Since then, some schools across the country have moved to ban phones in classrooms in response to concerns about distractions and excessive screentime, but with 95% of teenagers having access to a smartphone, others have argued that a more effective approach is to set clear guidelines and teach students how to use technology responsibly. Safety and health concerns are also sometimes cited as reasons to allow phones.

What do you think of the proposed changes to FCPS’ phone policy? Should schools accept cellphones as an integral part of many kids’ lives and even a potential teaching tool, or are they just a distraction?

Photo via Adrien/Unsplash

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Farmers market (via Fairfax County)

Spring is here, and that means Fairfax County’s farmers markets are starting back up.

Several of the seasonal markets now accept food scraps for compost, including a new site coming to Kingstowne next week.

The market, which runs from 3-7 p.m. Fridays at Kingstowne Center, starting May 6, is one of five farmers markets in the county’s pilot program. The other four markets introduced the option last year, extending composting options at the I-95 Landfill Complex and I-66 Transfer Station.

With Earth Day in the rearview mirror and community advocates stressing the need for the county to step up its environmental initiatives, FFXnow is curious if you have or plan on utilizing the farmers market composting pilot program, even if it plays a small part in addressing the overall issues facing the planet.

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Vehicles lights shine by the airport’s entrance (via Dulles airport)

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

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Fairfax County flag (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Fairfax County’s budget season is in full swing.

The Board of Supervisors will hold public hearings at 3 p.m. today through Thursday (April 12-14), giving residents, community groups, and other stakeholders an opportunity to highlight their concerns and priorities for the spending plan that will take effect on July 1.

About half of the county’s general fund spending goes to Fairfax County Public Schools, which allocates the money based on its own adopted budget. The rest goes to county services, such as the fire and police departments, parks and libraries, public transportation, and more.

Today’s board meeting will also feature public hearings on the property tax rate and proposed water and sewer rate increases.

The budget was advertised with the same property tax rate as this year — $1.14 per $100 of assessed property value.

If the board chooses to keep that in place when the budget is adopted on May 10, property bills will increase by about $666 on average because of rising property values, but officials have the option to lower it.

A new tax rate under $1.06 per $100 of assessed value would bring in the same amount of revenue that the county saw last year.

The county plans to increase sewer service bills by about 6% to $38 on average. The changes, including usage and quarterly base charges, are intended to address increased costs associated with the system.

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Fairfax County Public Schools plans to start requiring recess for middle school students (courtesy FCPS Office of Communication and Community Relations)

The Fairfax County School Board is set to require recess at the middle school level for the first time starting next school year.

Under a health and wellness policy revision to be voted on this month, middle schools would be required to have a 15-minute supervised recess break, and elementary school students will get two recess breaks per day, totaling at least 30 minutes.

While the recess requirement is not new for elementary school students, the mandate for middle schools would be a first for the county, although some have implemented one without being required to, according to Fairfax County Public Schools.

The health and wellness policy defines recess as “student-selected structured and unstructured play.” Teachers and staff can’t withhold recess from students “to manage behavior” or use it for instructional activities, including classwork and homework.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recess helps students by providing an outlet for physical activity, reducing disruptive behaviors, and improving memory, attention and social skills.

After FFXnow published an article about the proposed mandate, hundreds of people shared or commented on it on Facebook.

Many supported recess for middle school or wondered why it wasn’t already required. Others were confused why it was needed or what students in middle school would do with that time without jungle gyms like elementary-aged students. Would they just play on their cell phones?

What do you think? Is recess unnecessary at the middle school level? Or do you think middle schoolers — heck, everyone — could benefit from a little fresh air for mental clarity?

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