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Morning Notes

Relaxing in Penny Lane Park at the Mosaic District (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

County Police and Fire Training Exercise Today — “#FCFRD is conducting a joint training exercise with Fairfax County Police Department at Fairfax County Government Government Center on Wednesday, June 22, between 9 a.m. -3 p.m. There will be a large fire and police presence in the area during this time. #FCPD Helicopter Fairfax 1 will land/take off during the exercise.” [FCFRD/Facebook]

Rep. Beyer Wins Democratic Primary — Rep. Don Beyer’s bid for reelection remains alive after he won the Democratic nomination for the 8th Congressional District yesterday (Tuesday). Per the Office of Elections, Fairfax County’s turnout reached an estimated 2.5%, as of 3:30 p.m., not including early and absentee voters. [WTOP, Twitter]

Health Aide Under Investigation for Stealing Student Meds — Fairfax County police are investigating a health aide who allegedly took student medications and replaced them with allergy medicine while employed at Greenbriar East Elementary School. The Fairfax County Health Department worker has been placed on administrative leave and could be terminated. [FOX5]

New FCPS Cell Phone Policy Approved — “The policy taking effect in the 2022-2023 school year says students in kindergarten through eighth grade must silence cell phones and put them away for the entire school day. Students in grades nine to 12 must only silence and put away cell phones during classes.” [Patch]

Reduced Charges Possible for Former Freedom Hill ES Workers — “A former teacher and teacher’s aide in Fairfax County, Virginia, accused of abusing non-verbal disabled children entered plea agreements on [June 13] that would result in reduced charges and no jail time.” [NBC4]

Alexandria Man Charged in Springfield Shooting — A 24-year-old Alexandria man got into an argument with the acquaintance in the 2600 block of Redcoat Drive on Sunday (June 19) night around 11 p.m. inside an apartment before police say he shot the person in the upper body and fled. Fairfax County police told FFXnow the victim was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. Officers located the suspect, who they identified of Antwan Pratt, and arrested him nearby, charging him with aggravated malicious wounding and the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

Kingstowne House Fire Started by Rags — Two people were displaced on Friday (June 17) by a house fire in the 7800 block of Kincardine Court that caused approximately $90,000 in damages. Investigators determined the blaze started in a first-floor laundry/utility room due to “the improper disposal of rags used for staining wood.” [FCFRD]

Retired Police Dog Dies — “We’re saddened to announce the passing of retired K9 Comak on Saturday. Comak served the Fairfax County community as a patrol dog from 2010 until he retired in 2019. Upon completion of his service, Comak was a beloved member of his handler’s family.” [FCPD/Facebook]

Shared-Use Path Proposed in Centreville — “The Virginia Department of Transportation will hold a virtual design public hearing Monday, June 27 on plans to build a shared-use path along Compton Road (Route 658) to improve bicyclist and pedestrian safety, accessibility and connectivity to the Cub Run Trail system…The project also includes widening the Compton Road bridge over Cub Run to accommodate the new shared-use path.” [VDOT]

McLean HS Runner Wins State Title — “By finishing first in the girls 1,600-meter race in 4:54.92, McLean High School distance runner Thais Rolly was the lone local winner from schools in the Sun Gazette’s coverage area at the recent Virginia High School League’s Class 6 girls and boys outdoor state championship meets.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]

It’s Wednesday — Rain in the evening and overnight. High of 85 and low of 70. Sunrise at 5:45 am and sunset at 8:39 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Fairfax County Public Schools will end the use of seclusion at Key Center School in Franconia and Kilmer Center in Dunn Loring with the 2022-2023 school year (via Google Maps)

Fairfax County Public Schools will officially end the use of seclusion as a tool for managing student behavior when the next school year begins on Aug. 22.

The practice of confining a student to a room is already prohibited in most schools, but the Fairfax County School Board approved an update on March 10 that expands the ban to include the Key Center School, Kilmer Center, and private day and residential schools, starting with the 2022-2023 school year.

Key Center in Franconia serves students with intellectual disabilities, severe disabilities, and autism, while Kilmer Center, located in Dunn Loring, is for students aged 5 to 21 with severe disabilities and autism. Their enrollment for the current school year is 60 and 62 students, respectively.

Adopted without discussion as part of the board’s consent agenda, the updated policy follows through on the commitment that FCPS made in November to settle a lawsuit filed by the families of six students with disabilities and advocacy organizations.

As part of that settlement, FCPS also agreed to a blanket prohibition on all physical restraints “that create a high risk of injury, including prone, supine, and floor restraints and chokeholds.”

The school system’s existing policy, which took effect on Dec. 17, 2020, banned all mechanical and pharmacological, or medication-based, restraints. The revised version more explicitly states that this includes restraints that put students on the floor or in prone or supine positions.

It also prohibits the “use of restraint or seclusion in any manner that is life-threatening, restricts breathing, or restricts blood flow to the brain.”

FCPS spokesperson Julie Moult says the school system anticipates “the impact of these changes to be minimal,” since the use of seclusion and restraints was mostly phased out during the 2020-2021 school year.

“We do anticipate some adjustments for our current students receiving services through private day and residential schools, but we are in close communication with those sites regarding this policy,” Moult said.

According to Moult, 139 students are currently enrolled in public day programs and 233 in private day or residential schools that have contracts with FCPS, as of December of 2021.

The updated policy states that FCPS will not contract with private schools that permit restraint and seclusion once the 2022-2023 school year starts, but students currently placed at schools that use those practices can choose to stay there at a student, parent, or guardian’s request.

FCPS started overhauling its restraint and seclusion policy after the radio station WAMU reported in March 2019 that the school system was significantly underreporting how often the practices were being used on children with disabilities. Some incidents resulted in injuries, hospitalization and students leaving their schools.

The report prompted an investigation by FCPS and the lawsuit filed in October 2019 by families of students with disabilities, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, and CommunicationFIRST.

Since then, FCPS says it has been regularly updating school staff on “proactive practices to reduce behavior concerns” using MANDT, Professional Crisis Management, and Ukeru — professional development programs that provide crisis management training focused on de-escalation and trauma-informed techniques.

With the updated policy, the school system also says staff will be trained to not seek assistance from a school resource officer in a situation requiring a student to be restrained unless no other certified personnel are available and a police officer’s involvement is necessary “to prevent imminent serious injury.”

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Entrance of Fairfax County Public Schools' administrative headquarters
Fairfax County Public Schools’ administrative headquarters in Merrifield (file photo)

Fairfax County Public Schools has found savings to provide a second year of expanded summer learning programming.

The $12.5 million needed for the enhanced summer school will come from reserve staffing funds that went unused due to FCPS’ decreased student enrollment, according to the district.

“We realize that…access to summer programming is important for all of our students,” Mount Vernon District Representative Karen Corbett-Sanders said at a school board meeting on Thursday (March 10). “It is a game-changer.”

The funds will be officially approved at a future meeting as part of a third-quarter review of the fiscal year 2022 budget, which spans from July 1, 2021 to June 30 of this year.

Intended to offset learning losses attributed to the shift to virtual classes during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, FCPS expanded its summer school offerings last year to accommodate more than 35,000 students — 10 times the number served in a typical year.

However, staffing shortages for the Extended School Year program, which serves students with disabilities, forced FCPS to delay classes and left many families frustrated.

Corbett-Sanders suggested summer enrollment was adversely affected because of how FCPS handled the situation. She said FCPS expects there will be increased interest in this year’s offerings, which includes a return of the Extended School Year program for an anticipated 3,308 students in special education.

FCPS says special education teachers who participate in the ESY program will receive a flat rate of $68 per hour, with consulting and homebound teachers getting a compensation rate of $50 per hour.

The largest program will be Summer Olympians Aspire and Reach (SOAR), which is expected to have an estimated 13,400 students. The program teaches kindergarten through sixth-grade students math and literacy skills to prepare them for the upcoming school year.

Other planned programs include a credit recovery academy for high school students, an online campus with virtual classes, enrichment programs, Young Scholars, Bridge to Kindergarten for children who did not attend preschool, and a summer recovery academy for students with disabilities.

Overall, FCPS anticipates that more than 33,000 students will enroll in a summer learning program this year.

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The Fairfax County School Board discusses a first-year interim report of a two-year review of the district’s special education program (via FCPS)

Fairfax County Public Schools is conducting the first public review of its special education services since 2013 after the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted traditional learning with remote classes that disproportionately affected students with disabilities.

Presented to the school board at a work session yesterday (Tuesday), findings from the first year of the review highlight families’ frustrations with the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process and suggest the school system disproportionately disciplines special education students, especially Black and Hispanic children.

Requested by the school board in December 2019 and officially launched on Nov. 10, 2020, the interim report states explicitly that the review “does not address special education programming during COVID-19.”

The contracted firm — the Arlington-headquartered nonprofit American Institutes for Research — said FCPS decided to focus on collecting data for normal school operations.

On the positive side, surveys of both staff and parents found that 87% of the over 18,500 parents who responded “agreed or strongly agreed that they were satisfied with the quality of teaching staff in their child’s school,” frequently noting the caring nature of instructional staff and expressing appreciation for employees.

The review showed that, from 2016-2021, FCPS had about nine or 10 students per special education teacher, a lower ratio than the state average of 15-to-1. The district has also taken steps to improve communication with school staff, including by appointing an assistant ombudsman for special education in 2019, the report said.

While researchers stressed that this is an initial update and the conclusions aren’t final, the report found several areas of concern:

  • Families voiced a lack of transparency and accountability about Individualized Education Program goals and progress
  • Suspension and expulsion rates were higher for certain races than others
  • Parents suggested that the IEP process for getting student input on post-high school transition plans “may be driven by compliance rather than student needs”
  • Novice teachers lack preparation to work with students with disabilities, an area that researchers are investigating further
  • Staff reported feeling overwhelmed by case management, paperwork, and meeting duties, affecting FCPS’ ability to effectively recruit and retain teachers
  • The amount and quality of communication between parents and staff varies by school
  • A sampling showed more than a third of IEPs had no written evidence of parent input

“‘It’s so sad.’ That’s what I wrote all over this document,” Mason District Representative Ricardy Anderson said.

An interim report for a special education review compared suspension rates for students with disabilities and other students (via American Institutes of Research/FCPS)

In addition to discussing how to address the issues raised by the report, school board member after school board member raised concerns about the review process, urging researchers to be specific in their recommendations by looking at subgroups and other factors. Officials suggested broad takeaways could dilute matters and not help families.

“My fear overall about this is that this is a one-sized-fits-all special ed audit,” Laura Jane Cohen, the board’s Springfield District representative, said.

Researchers responded that they used a random sampling to collect their preliminary findings. They also noted constraints with interviewing kids, while expressing a willingness to consider changes.

The firm said it will go more in-depth during the second year of a $375,000-plus contract issued in October 2020.

FCPS Auditor General Esther Ko reminded the board that it has a fixed contract and the firm will work at no cost for three more months after its second year. If the board wants more changes, though, it could amend the contract or open another bidding process to look at other topics.

The board requested that Ko to evaluate possible changes to the review with American Institutes for Research for its audit committee to go over later.

Currently set to be completed next summer, the review will make recommendations to FCPS for how to improve services for students with disabilities and their families.

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