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Morning Notes

Sunlight shines through trees in Reston (photo by Terry Baranski)

D.C. Area Sees Rise in Teacher Resignations –“Resignations spiked enormously at the end of the 2021-2022 academic year in D.C. Public Schools and in several Northern Virginia districts, including Fairfax County…Educators say the reasons for resigning vary. But some cite the difficulty teachers faced readjusting students, many of whom had grown accustomed to pandemic-era remote education, to in-classroom learning this past year.” [The Washington Post]

Police Chief Addresses Gun-Pointing Incident — The Fairfax County Police Department released body camera footage on Friday (July 15) of officers pointing their guns at a person who was filming them outside a West Falls Church IHOP. Chief Kevin Davis said he understands “the anxiety that folks in the community have after seeing this video go viral” but defended the officers’ actions. [WTOP]

Fairfax County Among Wealthiest Counties in U.S. — “A five-year survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau looked at median household income to determine the wealthiest counties in the country…With a median household income of $127,866, Fairfax County arrives on the list at number five.” [Northern Virginia Magazine]

Staffing Challenges Affect County Trash Pickups — “Fairfax County residents have been experiencing trash pickup delays for several months, but Dave Lyons, director of the Fairfax Workers Coalition, said he wants them to know that’s not only because of the pandemic or the strained labor market.” [Fairfax County Times]

Vienna Resident Says No to Leaf Blowers — “Vienna could be more pleasant, family friendly and healthier if the town banned the use of cosmetic lawn chemicals and noisy gas-powered leaf blowers, resident Avril Garland told the Town Council July 11. Both of those policies already have been implemented in Montgomery County, Md., said Garland” [Sun Gazette]

Vienna Considers Removing Church Spire — “Church steeples add interest and variety to Vienna’s skyline, but the one at the former Faith Baptist Church likely will be coming down. The Vienna Town Council at its Aug. 29 meeting will consider a proposal to remove the spire at the former church.” [Sun Gazette]

Reston Woman Made Disguises for CIA — “A 27-year veteran of the U.S. intelligence community, [Jonna] Mendez unmasks the secrets of how she helped transform the CIA in her new memoir, titled ‘In True Face,’ available early next year. Mendez, now 77, developed shockingly realistic methods for instantly changing appearances, carrying concealed cameras, and protecting operatives in the field.” [Northern Virginia Magazine]

School Board Selects New Chair — “The Fairfax County School Board has elected Rachna Sizemore Heizer (Member-at-Large) as chair and Tamara Derenak Kaufax (Franconia District Representative) as vice chair for a one-year term. The chair and vice chair assumed office at the July 14 School Board meeting” [FCPS]

Huntington Affordable Housing Apartments Now Leasing — “The Arden — a 126-unit affordable housing community developed, owned, and operated by Wesley Housing — is nearing completion and leasing activities have just begun! Apartment homes at The Arden will be available for applicants earning between 40 and 80 percent of the Area Median Income.” [Housing and Community Development]

See Fairfax County Police Officers Rescue Man From Smoke — “Our officers do amazing work every day. Watch as two officers from our Franconia District Station save a man trapped in a smoked-filled apartment.” [FCPD/Twitter]

It’s Monday — Rain in the evening. High of 85 and low of 74. Sunrise at 5:59 am and sunset at 8:33 pm. [Weather.gov]

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The renovation of Justice High School includes two buildings (via FCPS)

This year, Justice High School in Lake Barcroft has nearly 200 more students than it was designed to handle — an overcrowding issue that has driven plans to expand the school.

The Fairfax County School Board is seeking to add two buildings to the nearly 21-acre site at 3301 Peace Valley Lane. The county’s planning commission will decide whether to recommend approval of the project after a public hearing tonight (Wednesday).

A public hearing before the Board of Supervisors is scheduled for Aug. 2.

Built in 1959, the current school has 2,182 students, exceeding the design capacity of 1,994 students, school officials say. While efforts are underway to utilize other options to find space, the school board is seeking a long-term solution that would accommodate up to 2,500 students.

Overall, a three-story classroom building addition is proposed, along with a one-story expansion of the cafeteria.

Located in the northern part of the property, the roughly 45,000-square-foot classroom building will have new classrooms, science labs and special education spaces. The first and second stories will connect to the existing school building.

The latest parking plan departs significantly from initial plans to use part of a public park across the street for parking, which were not received well by community members who sought to protect green space. 

FCPS has explored other alternatives for parking on the site, including a waiver from the county’s planning commission to reduce the number of parking spaces.

Construction of the addition will require the removal of 81 parking spaces from the school’s rear parking lot, but 20 parking spaces will be added back. As a result, the number of parking spaces will decrease from 329 spaces to 323 spaces in the immediate area. Bicycle racks will be added near the new building as well.

FCPS also plans to provide 37 on-street parking spaces on one side of Peace Valley Lane, bringing the overall number of parking spaces to 355. Those spots would be limited to one side of the road.

Currently, the school system is determining options for temporary parking if the construction project is approved.

The project is currently in the permitting phase, according to FCPS. It will be funded by a 2019 school bond referendum.

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Louise Archer Elementary School (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

(Updated on 7/11/2022) Fairfax County Public Schools has officially committed $36 million to renovating Louise Archer Elementary School in Vienna.

The Fairfax County School Board awarded a contract to Henley Construction Company, Inc. during its June 16 meeting. The contractor beat out two other bidders for the project, which will roughly double the size of the school building.

The contract set a construction start date of Aug. 1, with Henley beginning its initial setup and erecting fencing by Aug. 15, according to the FCPS facilities staff.

“FCPS has already installed temporary classroom cottages behind the school,” FCPS told FFXnow by email. “The main work is expected to start with the new 2-story classroom addition in early September 2022.”

Originally erected at 324 Nutley Street in 1939, Louise Archer last underwent a renovation in 1991 and serves 510 students, as of the 2021-2022 school year, which concluded on June 10.

According to the current Capital Improvement Program (CIP), FCPS added the school to its renovation queue in 2009, but enrollment has declined over the past decade. There were 824 students during the 2012-2013 school year, pushing the facility’s program capacity utilization to 114% — well above the current utilization rate of 77%.

The school currently has a design capacity of 784 students, thanks to two temporary trailers and a 10-classroom modular introduced in 2005.

A rendering of the planned Louise Archer Elementary School renovation from Nutley Street (via Town of Vienna)

The planned renovation will eliminate the temporary classrooms, reducing the school’s design capacity to 700 students, but it will expand the 51,235-square-foot building to 103,224 square feet with a second-story addition. New amenities will include additional classrooms, offices, an updated library, and a larger parking lot.

The expanded parking lot will replace the existing modular with a new kiss-and-ride lot, separating parent drop-offs of students from the school bus area and staff parking. It will have 105 parking spots and two loading spaces, according to a Town of Vienna staff report.

Expressing optimism that the new drop-off area will alleviate overflow traffic on Nutley Street, the town’s Board of Zoning Appeals granted FCPS a conditional use permit for the project on April 20.

Construction is being funded by the 2021 school bond approved by voters last November. FCPS’ CIP status page estimates work will be completed in late 2024 to early 2025.

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Morning Notes

The sun pokes through the leaves as it readies to set in Fairfax County (staff photo by Brandi Bottalico)

Man Fatally Shot in Hybla Valley — “Officers were called at 8:12 p.m. to the 8000 block of Seaton Street for a man who had been shot while sitting inside a vehicle. Officers found Darren Davis, 19, of Alexandria, inside a white Dodge Challenger suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. Davis was transported to a local hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.” [FCPD]

Bomb Threats Made Against Schools — “Police are investigating multiple bomb threats against Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) over a span of six days.On Saturday, June 11, the Fairfax County Police department was notified by an FCPS IT employee that they had found multiple email threats sent to schools throughout Fairfax County. According to FCPD, even some faculty members were named in the email threats.” [WUSA9]

Unit Dedicated to Encouraging Fathers — “Using curriculum from the National Fatherhood Initiative and with help form Engagement Specialist Mercedes Alonso and Parent Support Specialist Michael Schut, Herron works with the unit to redirect fathers towards a healthy and engaged relationship with their children.” [Fairfax County Times]

Leaders Pledge to Curb Carbon Emissions — “Leaders from around the D.C. area voted Wednesday to adopt aggressive greenhouse gas reduction goals for the transportation sector, pledging to cut carbon emissions by 50% by 2030. Reaching that goal would require building more housing in walkable, transit-friendly areas, disincentivizing driving in favor of walking, biking and public transportation, and the rapid adoption of electric vehicles.” [DCist]

School Board Bans Guns in Non-Instructional Facilities — “Last night, the Fairfax County School Board unanimously approved a new policy affirming that all FCPS school zones are gun-free and deeming as gun-free any non-school zone building or property that the School Board owns or leases, which includes facilities like the Gatehouse Administration Center.” [Fairfax County School Board member Karl Frisch]

It’s Monday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 75 and low of 57. Sunrise at 5:45 am and sunset at 8:39 pm. [Weather.gov]

FFXnow Observes Juneteenth Today— FFXnow will not be publishing today except for breaking news.

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Morning Notes

A busy bee in Vienna (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

A Few Sidelined Metro Trains Return Today — “Metro has previously said riders will first see the trains on the Green and Yellow lines. The transit agency says once they’ve established a ‘steady rhythm of inspections and consistently delivered eight trains for daily service,’ they will increase service on the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines to every 15 minutes” [DCist]

D.C. Woman Believed to Be New Victim of Alleged Serial Killer — “A spokesperson with the Metropolitan Police Department told WTOP that ‘shopping cart killer‘ suspect Anthony Eugene Robinson is a person of interest in the death of Sonya Champ…found by police around 11:30 a.m. Sept. 7, 2021.” [Patch]

Dulles Toll Road May Phase Out Coins — “MWAA officials say the shift to an all-electronic system will reduce emissions from vehicles idling at the toll plaza. The shift to all-electronic tolling, expected to take place in January, comes as MWAA is considering the first toll increase for Dulles Toll Road users since 2019.” [The Washington Post]

School Board Vote on Student Phone Use Tonight — “Under a proposed revision to the ‘Student Rights and Responsibilities’ handbook, cellphone use for most students would be prohibited during all classes as well as visits to the bathrooms and locker rooms…A  vote on the handbook for next year is scheduled for Thursday night.” [WTOP]

West Springfield Baseball Player Goes Viral — Eric Fila, a catcher for West Springfield High School, shook hands with the home plate umpire after his team lost to Herndon High School in the 10th inning of a June 7 game in the Virginia state tournament quarterfinals. Video of the gesture was posted on Twitter and went viral, even airing during a Phillies-Brewers broadcast. [The Washington Post]

Virtual Mental Health Services Available for Students — “Through August 5, the FCPS Office of Intervention and Prevention Services will offer virtual mental wellness consultations. Parents and students can schedule a 45-minute consultation with a school psychologist or school social worker by phone or videoconference.” [FCPS]

McLean Community Center Reschedules Fourth of July — The center’s annual Independence Day celebration will now take place at Langley High School from 6:30-10:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 2. Vienna and Fairfax City have also moved events off of July 4 due to staffing shortages at the company that conducts their fireworks shows. [MCC/Twitter]

Inside Tysons Corner Center’s Princess Diana Exhibit — “Princess Diana: Accredited Access Exhibit takes a look at Diana’s life as a royal, seen through the eyes of [royal photographer Anwar] Hussein. His work — including never-before-seen photographs of the princess — is presented next to photos taken by his sons Samir and Zak, who both work as royal photographers today.” [Washington City Paper]

It’s Thursday — Possible light rain in the morning and overnight. High of 86 and low of 71. Sunrise at 5:44 am and sunset at 8:38 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Fairfax County Public Schools currently separates middle school students into “boy” and “girl” groups for sex-education classes (via Samuel Regan-Asante/Unsplash)

Middle school sex education classes in Fairfax County will remain separated by gender going into the next school year.

A majority of the Fairfax County School Board agreed on Tuesday (May 24) to postpone a vote on whether to introduce gender-combined Family Life Education (FLE) classes for students in grades 4-8 and 10th grade, along with other proposed changes intended to make the curriculum more inclusive.

The recommendations came from the FLE Curriculum Advisory Committee (FLECAC), which advises Fairfax County Public Schools staff on instructional materials and goals. FCPS Chief Academic Officer Sloan Presidio said this year’s report contained the most recommended changes he has seen in 10 years with the school system.

At the work session, several board members said they feel more time is needed to study the recommendations and conduct community outreach. FLECAC’s reports are typically open for a 30-day review period around the end of each school year.

“This is for many people an uncomfortable conversation, an uncomfortable topic, and just out of sheer respect for that, I understand the need to have further conversation and engage our families and speak to them as to why this recommendation was made,” Board Chair and Sully District Representative Stella Pekarsky said.

According to the FLECAC report, FCPS currently separates boys and girls in fourth through eighth grade for lessons on puberty, reproductive systems and processes, sexually transmitted infections, and abstinence. 10th grade students are separated for a lesson on self-examinations for breast and testicular cancer.

The committee proposes making those classes co-ed to better include LGBTQ, intersex, and other gender-diverse students, while giving all students the “opportunity to learn about individuals who are different from themselves” and normalizing conversations “that will be important to healthy relationships.”

“Dividing students into boys and girls classes sends a message that bodies different than their own should not be talked about and are mysterious,” the report says. “When students are separated by boys and girls, it affirms a rigid binary based on anatomy.”

Many school divisions across Virginia already combine genders for all or most sex-education classes, including Arlington, Alexandria City, and Virginia Beach City, according to FLECAC, which says in its report that there’s no “available research to support the practice of gender-segregated instruction.”

Karl Frisch and Laura Jane Cohen, who represent the Providence and Springfield districts, respectively, voted against extending the community review period, which FCPS staff said would delay implementation of any changes until the 2023-2024 school year.

“This change would align our program with best practices,” Frisch said.

However, other board members said more time for community feedback is needed to hear from a variety of perspectives, including from students, on FLECAC’s proposals, which also include adding gender to a 10th grade lesson about human sexuality.

FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand told the board that “very few” students opt out of the FLE program, and it’s important that the community understands the rationale for the proposed changes.

“What we want is for families to continue to access this curriculum and not opt out of information that I think is critical for young people,” Brabrand said.

FCPS Pride, an advocacy group for LGBTQ staff and families, said in a statement that it was surprised by the school board’s decision to postpone a vote on the FLE changes. The group says it supports gender-combined classes so students don’t have to “out” themselves or choose a gender, and research suggests more inclusive classes lead to healthier behaviors.

“We are confident that the school board will adopt gender-inclusive FLE classes,” FCPS Pride said. “They are best practices, common around the state and nation, and backed up by a substantial amount of academic and practical research. FCPS is a world-class school system precisely because we learn about and follow research-backed best practices.”

Photo via Samuel Regan-Asante/Unsplash

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Members of the advocacy group Moms Demand Action join the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to designate June 3 as Gun Violence Awareness Day (via Fairfax County/Flickr)

(Updated at 3:15 p.m.) A Fairfax County School Board member plans to advocate for adding security vestibules at schools in the wake of the deadliest school shooting in the U.S. in nearly a decade.

Melanie Meren, who represents Hunter Mill District on the board, will introduce a motion at a meeting tomorrow (Thursday) requesting that Fairfax County Public Schools develop a plan to fund and install vestibules at all facilities, she said in social media posts last night (Tuesday).

Meren says she previously worked on the proposal when she joined the school board in 2020 to provide an additional layer of security on top of the intercom that most FCPS facilities use to grant entry.

“Security vestibules are a strategy for preventing intruders from gaining access to schools,” Meren told FFXnow by email. “A security vestibule requires visitors to be verified by staff in a secured sign-in area, before doors are electronically opened that grant the visitor access to the building.”

According to Meren, FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand has estimated it would take $15 million to install the enclosures and related electronic systems in facilities that don’t already have them.

Meren intends to put forward the motion as part of the school board’s scheduled vote to approve the fiscal year 2023 budget. She suggests the money could come from county funds left over from this current fiscal year, which ends on June 30, as well as state and federal funds that FCPS gets for security upgrades.

“This work is long over due,” Meren wrote. “Though yet again, public schools are responsible for addressing and funding responses to a public health crisis — gun violence is a public health crisis — while our mission is to educate children for a successful future.”

Meren was one of several Fairfax County elected officials to make public statements in response to yesterday’s mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where an 18-year-old killed 19 children and two teachers.

The flags outside the Fairfax County Government Center have been lowered to half-staff and will remain there until sunset on Saturday (May 28).

The shooting reportedly started around 11:32 a.m. CDT — just two hours after the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted to designate June 3 as Gun Violence Awareness Day. The school board is set to take the same action when it meets tomorrow.

“As a parent, I am heartbroken for the families in grief tonight and angry that, as a nation, we have not made much progress protecting innocent people, most especially children,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said in a statement. “Our children deserve a world that puts their health and wellbeing at the forefront.” Read More

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Morning Notes

Reston Town Center set up for last weekend’s Tephra ICA Arts Festival (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

What to Know About Monkeypox — “More monkeypox cases have been reported in the United States since the first illness was reported in Massachusetts last week. But there’s no need for Virginia residents to panic, health officials say as they learn more about how the viral disease is spread.” [Patch]

County to Talk About Youth Mental Health Issues and Drug Use — “As a parent, our kids’ wellbeing is my top priority. Today, the Board supported my motion to convene a roundtable with reps from [Department of Family Services], our Opioid Task Force, clinical pros, the BOS and school board to directly tackle youth mental health & substance use.” [Jeff McKay/Twitter]

McLean Woman Settles Fraud Case — A McLean resident has agreed to pay $107,347 to settle allegations that she falsified information to obtain two Paycheck Protection Program loans, totaling $42,601, federal prosecutors said yesterday (Tuesday). The Justice Department prosecuted the woman as part of its efforts to crack down on fraud related to COVID-19 relief funds. [DOJ]

Arlington Doughnut Shop Plans Tysons Kitchen — “Good Company Doughnuts & Café has inked a lease for roughly 5,000 square feet at 8524-G Tyco Road…for a kitchen commissary, where it will produce and assemble its products for off-site retail sale…Good Company hopes to have the commissary operating by the end of 2022, [co-owner Charles] Kachadoorian said.” [Washington Business Journal]

Metro Introduces Navigation App to Help Blind Riders — “Metro has partnered with Waymap, a new UK-based start-up, to bring the technology to the Brookland, Silver Spring, and Braddock Road Metro stations…The app will be available in at least 30 Metro train and nearly 1,000 bus stops by September; the entire system is scheduled to be brought online by early 2023.” [DCist]

Cybersecurity Company Moves Within Tysons — “Codehunter…relocated from 1660 International Drive to 1775 Greensboro Station Pl. and expanded their corporate headquarters. Codehunter, represented by Timothy Jacobs and Edward Saa, needed to expand their office footprint due to business growth while also needed to re-strategize their office footprint to support their hybrid work model.” [CityBiz]

New School Board Student Representative Chosen — “Michele Togbe, a junior at South County High School, has been elected by the countywide Student Advisory Council (SAC) to serve a one-year term as student representative to the Fairfax County School Board, beginning July 1…Togbe has three main focuses as student representative: transparency within students’ voices, furthering civic education, and maintaining an equitable lens.” [FCPS]

Local Students Relax with Yarn — “About a dozen third, fourth, fifth and sixth graders gather at lunch several times a week at Little Run ES to knit and loom together. The program was initially launched as an after-school effort paid for with Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief aid, or ESSER III funding.” [FCPS]

It’s Wednesday — Overcast throughout the day. High of 64 and low of 56. Sunrise at 5:50 am and sunset at 8:25 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Fairfax County Public Schools is considering additional funding for electric school buses, among other priorities (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Fairfax County Public Schools didn’t get all the money it wanted, but its next budget still has room to address some key priorities, including staff compensation and efforts to reduce the system’s carbon footprint.

Adopted by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday (May 10), the county’s new budget for fiscal year 2023, which starts on July 1, trimmed $10 million from the $112.6 million increase in transfer funds sought by FCPS, officials reported to the school board earlier this week.

According to Superintendent Scott Brabrand, the reduction was part of an agreement with the county government to cut their respective budgets “just a bit…in a collective effort to support affordable housing in the county.”

“[That] is a major priority for the county and for the school system too, as many of our employees face rising housing costs to be able to live and work here,” Brabrand told the school board at the work session on Tuesday. “We are still in very, very good shape.”

FCPS officials said they will address the $10 million deficit by eliminating one of 17 planned professional development days.

The roughly $3.3 billion budget contains $12.7 million in placeholder funds to address any state-required expenditures and a market study requested by the school board last year that examined salaries for family liaisons and transportation workers.

With the study completed and no new requirements expected from the state, which is still negotiating its budget, those funds have been freed up to boost recruitment and retention, environmental initiatives, and other needs, as recommended by Brabrand.

Staff development and compensation

Brabrand’s recommendations devote about half of the available funds — $7 million — to employee recruitment and retention, including $4.3 million to extend all salary scales by a step.

The budget already covers a 4% market rate adjustment and step increases for eligible staff, but many veteran employees have reached the top of their scales. According to staff, FCPS offers fewer salary steps than other divisions, putting it at a disadvantage at a time when schools are struggling to find teachers, bus drivers, and more.

“Employees at the top of their respective scales may have enough to retire, but they’re still relatively young, productive, and provide value to FCPS and its students,” Assistant Superintendent of Financial Services Leigh Burden said. “We want to keep those staff members, and extending the salary scale one additional step is a way to do that.” Read More

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A member of the immigrant advocacy organization CASA urges the Fairfax County School Board to adopt its proposed Trust Policy (via FCPS/YouTube)

Fairfax County Public Schools now has a new layer of protection for undocumented students and their families.

The Fairfax County School Board voted unanimously last night (Thursday) to prohibit employees from requesting, accessing, or disclosing information about a person’s citizenship or immigration status unless required by law or court order, or they get permission from the individual or a guardian.

The Trust Policy, as it has been named, also bars discrimination based on citizenship or immigration status by staff and students.

“For too many immigrant families, the trust has been broken,” Dr. Ricardy Anderson, the school board’s Mason District representative, said in a statement. “To regain their confidence, we must demonstrate in all that we do that we are in the business of education and nothing more. That is exactly what this policy does.”

Anderson joined with Providence District Representative Karl Frisch to propose the policy in May 2021 after the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a similar measure that January for county government workers, including the police department.

When sharing the proposed policy earlier this month, FCPS officials told the school board that it largely codifies existing practices around restricting interactions with federal immigration authorities.

Turning those practices into policy, though, will help ensure consistency across the county, and FCPS can now put more detailed regulations in place for training and enforcement.

The school board directed Superintendent Scott Brabrand to implement as much of the Trust Policy possible in time for this year’s summer school programs, which are expected to draw 40,000 students, according to Mount Vernon Representative Karen Corbett-Sanders.

“This policy is one that we want to ensure everyone feels welcome and safe in the school environment, and waiting until the fall, it will become a disincentive for some families to send their children to summer school,” she said during the board meeting. “We want them to come to summer school, take advantage of all of the learning activities and the enrichment activities available to each of our students.”

Led by at-large member Abrar Omeish, the school board told FCPS to create guidelines for its human resources department by August on investigating and disciplining employees who violate the information-sharing ban.

While FCPS doesn’t have data on how many of its students are undocumented, the student body is about 20% English learners and has 199 birth countries represented, according to the school system.

According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse Immigration Project, Fairfax County has 17,477 residents with pending immigration court cases — roughly twice as many as any other county in Virginia.

Members of CASA Virginia, one of several immigrant and civil rights organizations that advocated for the Trust Policy, told the school board before last night’s vote that they frequently worry about their kids’ safety and well-being at school.

Jose Rivera, who identified himself as the father of a 19-year-old high school student, said through a translator that immigrants like him came to the U.S. seeking a better future after experiencing violence or struggling to find economic opportunities in their home countries.

“We want safety in schools for our children,” Rivera said. “…[With] this policy, students will be able to focus on their studies and attend school without any stress and worry thinking their information may be shared with federal immigration officers. We do not want them to be at risk of deportation and separated from their families.”

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