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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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Workers for the federal contractor that runs call centers for Medicaid, Medicare, and other services took their fight for better wages, benefits and work conditions to the streets of Tysons last week, garnering some honks of support from passing drivers.

Over two dozen Maximus employees marched from Tysons Galleria to the company’s new corporate headquarters at 1600 Tysons Blvd on Friday (June 17) to deliver a petition calling for livable wages and affordable health care.

Garnering 11,853 signatures, the petition also expresses support for workers at call centers in Mississippi and Louisiana who organized strikes this spring as part of an ongoing campaign to unionize with the Communications Workers of America.

“A lot of these folks are just asking for living wages,” said Christian Ohuabunwa, who helps process disability benefits for veterans at a call center in Houston, Texas. “We’re asking for affordable health care benefits, that you don’t have to decide between eating and sending your kid to the hospital. We’re asking that they truly listen to us and try and make some changes.”

Previously based at Reston Station, Maximus employs 37,000 people and commands $4.25 billion in revenue, according to its website. In early May, the contractor reported $1.18 billion in revenue for the second quarter of fiscal year 2022, a 22.7% increase over the previous year.

Maximus told investors that growth in its federal services segment was driven by “expected contributions” from recent acquisitions, including a $1.4 billion deal for Veteran Evaluation Services Inc. (VES) that closed in June 2021.

Ohuabunwa started working for VES in 2018 and says he “felt a sense of camaraderie” in the company, which he notes was veteran-owned.

That changed when Maximus took over. On top of paying a $6,000 deductible under the company’s health care plan, Ohuabunwa says his frustrations include a lack of communication between leaders and employees and the elimination of incentives to process questionnaires that determine whether a veteran qualifies for benefits faster.

“Now that Maximus has taken over, there’s now a backlog of cases,” he told FFXnow. “Prior to this, we did not have that, because people were enthusiastic about what they did, so work got done. Now, there’s no encouragement for you to go that extra step.”

Maximus says it continues “to look for ways to improve health benefit coverage and affordability,” noting that the deductible for its free individual coverage plan dropped from $4,500 to $2,500 in April. Read More

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(Updated at 5:40 p.m.) Leon Jia should’ve been working on his neuroscience homework Wednesday night (May 25).

Instead, just 10 days before his graduation, the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ) senior was busy reaching out to classmates and various student leaders, and in less than 48 hours, they had potentially half the student body ready to walk out in protest of gun violence.

More than 100 students filed out of the magnet school on Braddock Road at 9 a.m. today (Friday), spurred by the same frustration, grief, and desire for action in the wake of the recent Uvalde, Texas, school shooting that has inspired walkouts across Northern Virginia, including at McLean High School.

“I think this is a voice of anger and of mourning for the lives that were lost and for the events that led to this,” Jia said.

The 18-year-old gunman who stormed Robb Elementary School in Uvalde on Tuesday (May 24) killed 19 kids and two teachers, making it the deadliest school shooting in the U.S. since 26 people died at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in December 2012.

As TJ’s student body president, Jia says multiple people approached him on Wednesday, asking if there were plans for a walkout in response to the shooting. He soon learned that a couple of groups were planning protests and started working with them to coordinate their actions, including communicating their plans to the school administration.

While this was Jia’s first time helping organize a school walkout, many of the students involved had prior experience. More than 800 TJ students participated in the widespread protests after the Parkland school shooting in 2018, and this past March, students walked out to call for action on climate change.

Talking to FFXnow yesterday (Thursday), Jia said he feels walkouts have become almost “mundane somehow,” so he wanted the upcoming protest to be one that “has impact.”

“The issue of school shootings has gone on for so long and there have been so many,” Jia said. “It’s like clockwork. They just rhythmically puncture the fabric of America, but at the same time, there’s a certain responsibility that we can’t stay silent and do nothing.” Read More

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Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Fox News discusses protests at Supreme Court justices’ homes (via Gov. Glenn Youngkin/Twitter)

(Updated at 3:45 p.m.) Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has some thoughts on how Fairfax County should handle abortion-related protests outside Supreme Court justices’ homes.

In a letter sent to the Board of Supervisors and County Executive Bryan Hill yesterday (Wednesday), the governor suggested that the Fairfax County Police Department “establish an expanded security perimeter” and limit “unauthorized vehicle and pedestrian access” around the homes of Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Amy Coney Barrett, who all live in the county.

“This request is based on credible and specific information received about upcoming activities planned at or involving the homes of the Justices in Fairfax County,” Youngkin wrote in the letter, which was posted online by Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity. “…Establishing a perimeter will ensure both the safety of the Justices, their neighbors and the demonstrators.”

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay resoundly rejected Youngkin’s proposal, arguing that it would amount to “a checkpoint that federal courts have held violates the Fourth Amendment.”

He said it would also raise concerns related to the First Amendment’s protections for freedom of speech and assembly, stating that the county’s “well-trained, sophisticated” police department “stands ready as always to take necessary action, if needed, to protect public safety.”

“My focus is on public safety and protecting constitutional rights of our citizens,” McKay said in a tweet sharing his letter to Youngkin. “I know the well-trained FCPD professionals can ensure both.”

The exchange came two days after abortion-rights advocates organized by the group ShutDown DC marched to Alito’s house in Fort Hunt in protest of his leaked draft opinion indicating that the Supreme Court intends to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that has been used to protect access to abortion for nearly 50 years. Read More

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Abortion rights protestors gather at Hollin Hall Shopping Center in Fort Hunt before marching to Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s home (via @ShutDownDC/Twitter)

(Updated at 2:25 p.m. on 5/12/2022) The high-stakes battle over abortion access reached a residential neighborhood in Fort Hunt last night (Monday) when protestors marched on U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s house.

Drawing about 100 participants, the demonstration was organized by the grassroots protest group ShutDown DC in response to Alito’s draft opinion indicating that the court will overturn its pivotal 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

Live video of the protest shows marchers convening at the Hollin Hall Shopping Center on Fort Hunt Road before working their way through neighborhood streets to Alito’s residence. There, they lit candles in the street and delivered speeches for about 15 minutes before returning to the shopping center.

“My body, my choice!” protestors chanted, among other slogans. At one point, they invited residents who came outside to film the passing march to join them, though the onlookers didn’t appear to take them up on the offer.

The Fairfax County Police Department confirmed that its officers responded to the gathering but described the demonstrations as peaceful.

“Officers remained on scene to ensure the safety of the participants, our community members and the roadways until the crowd dispersed on their own,” the FCPD said. “No arrests were made.”

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin said last night that his office coordinated with Fairfax County and Virginia State police, as well as federal authorities, to monitor the protest.

“Virginia State Police will assist federal and local law enforcement as needed to ensure the safety of our citizens, including Supreme Court Justices, who call Virginia home,” Youngkin said on Twitter.

The protest at Alito’s house was one of several abortion-rights demonstrations that have popped up across the D.C. area since Politico published the leaked draft opinion on May 2. A ruling in the case, which involves a challenge to a ban on abortions after 15 weeks in Mississippi, is expected to be finalized this summer.

Students at 11 high schools in Fairfax County rallied yesterday to express their support for abortion as a right and urge state and federal legislators to protect access to the medical procedure.

Protestors have also shown up at the residences of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who both live in Montgomery County, as well as Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who lives in Pimmit Hills. The protests don’t appear to have reached Justice Clarence Thomas in Fairfax Station.

The protests led the Senate to pass legislation yesterday enhancing security at Supreme Court justices’ homes, though the bill still needs to be considered by the House.

The Virginia Republican Party condemned the protests as “an abhorrent and vile affront to the processes of the highest court.”

“Intimidation of the Justices and the threat of violence against them and their families has no place in our Commonwealth or our country,” Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Rich Anderson said in a statement. “Targeting the home of a Justice is wrong, and these protestors should be ashamed of their actions.”

The Democratic Party of Virginia expressed support for yesterday’s student protests but did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Alito demonstration.

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Students swarmed to the front of Herndon High School yesterday (Monday) to protest a pending Supreme Court decision that could overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

The group gathered for about a half hour after lunch, filling up a road, wearing the color green to show support and displaying signs that advocated for abortion rights. Slogans included “Keep your laws off my body,” which was coupled with a picture of a uterus, and “My body is not a political playground.”

Students chanted phrases such as “My body, my choice” and used a megaphone that the school provided. Herndon High School Principal Liz Noto gave permission for students to hold the rally, and school staff stood by in case they needed to intervene.

“I’m honestly really surprised,” co-organizer Grace Dowell said. “I didn’t think that this many people were going to come out here and support us today.”

Since Politico published a draft opinion by the Supreme Court on May 2, pro and anti-abortion advocates, elected officials, and the public have been grappling with the potential implications of an end to the court ruling that has upheld abortion access as a right for almost 50 years.

While recent polls suggest a majority of Americans support Roe v. Wade, 23 states have laws restricting or banning abortion that are currently in effect or that would take effect if the leaked opinion is finalized.

The tension surrounding the issue played out at Herndon High School when a counter-protest emerged in the middle of the group. Students leading the rally urged those advocates to leave.

Dowell said she hopes legislators and the government in general will pay attention to young voices. She and co-organizer Alissa Huq, also a 10th grader, worked with the student-led organization Generation Ratify Virginia, which is seeking ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, to lead their first rally.

The organization said it helped coordinate demonstrations at 45 schools across the state to demand federal and state measures that will codify Roe v. Wade, including the certification of the Equal Rights Amendment in the Constitution.

“I have engaged in countless conversations with students locally and throughout our state, and they long to have their voices respected and acknowledged in the fight for reproductive rights,” Generation Ratify Virginia Policy Director Felix Hedberg said in a statement. “It’s time to listen to youth…Generation Z is ready to capitalize on that attention to ensure Youngkin and Virginia Republicans won’t succeed in rewriting Virginia as a commonwealth against abortion access.”

According to Generation Ratify Virginia, other Fairfax County high schools that planned demonstrations yesterday included Centreville, Chantilly, James Madison, John R. Lewis, Langley, Marshall, McLean, Oakton, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, and W.T. Woodson.

Students at South Lakes High School in Reston were planning to participate as well, but their protest has been rescheduled for Thursday (May 12) “due to admin concerns,” Generation Ratify Virginia State Director Abby Garber told FFXnow.

Christa Anderson, a ninth grader at Herndon High, noted that corpses have rights and questioned how pregnant people’s liberties would compare if Roe v. Wade is rescinded. Her classmate Nora Blythe said the potential Supreme Court decision is upsetting but was glad to see the support of students there.

“It’s our future, and it’s going to affect us,” Dowell said. “I want to get that message out there.”

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Fairfax County Public Schools has found its next superintendent, but in the process, it managed the impressive feat of uniting normally opposing factions of the community in protest.

The Fairfax County School Board voted 9-3 last night (Thursday) to appoint Dr. Michelle Reid as the successor to Superintendent Scott Brabrand, who will step down from the position effective June 30.

Reid will be the second woman to lead FCPS, following Dr. Karen Garza’s tenure from 2013-2016. Her newly authorized contract will start July 1, 2022, through June 30, 2026.

“We are fortunate to have a large group of excellent candidates participate in our process. Among this large, strong group, Dr. Reid was consistently at the top,” School Board Vice Chair and Member-at-Large Rachna Sizemore-Heizer said, praising Reid for “her work around STEM and strong academics” and as someone who can bring a “22nd century education philosophy.”

Multiple board members said Reid stood out from a pool of 72 applicants, per Springfield District Representative, for her “holistic” approach to equity and inclusion. Sizemore-Heizer said she was the only candidate to mention issues of ableism and neurodiversity.

Reid’s confirmation came after more than two hours of discussion, including a failed motion to postpone a vote by Member-at-Large Karen Keys-Gamarra and Mason District Representative Ricardy Anderson, citing a desire to take more time to consider issues raised by the community concerns.

“I strongly believe we should afford ourselves the gift of time to reach out to those who have expressed their concern,” Anderson said. “We have discounted the people who we are elected to represent, the people who are telling us they have questions, they have concerns, and we have fed into the narrative of not being inclusive or transparent.”

Mount Vernon Representative Karen Corbett-Sanders joined Anderson and Keys-Gamarra in voting against Reid’s appointment, citing reservations about her lack of experience in a district with the size and diversity of FCPS.

A German immigrant who grew up in a military family, Reid was appointed unanimously in June 2016 as superintendent of the Northshore School District in Bothell, Washington. Her experience prior to that included leading the South Kitsap School District and various administrative roles in the Port Angeles School District.

She was named National Superintendent of the Year in 2021 by the National Conference of Education.

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