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Independent candidate declares second bid for School Board seat

Independent School Board candidate James ‘Vell’ Rives (courtesy photo)

James “Vell” Rives is entering the race to fill the Arlington School Board seat being vacated by Reid Goldstein.

He will be running in the general election in November against the candidate who wins the Arlington County Democratic Committee endorsement caucus, either be Miranda Turner or political newcomer Angelo Cocchiaro, who both nabbed high-profile endorsements recently.

Voting in the caucus will take place in early May.

Rives, an Arlington resident of 24 years with two children in Arlington Public Schools, ran as an independent last year, nabbing the endorsement of the then-Sun Gazette (now the Gazette Leader). He lost to Bethany Sutton, who had the support of Arlington Democrats and captured 68% of votes on Election Day, compared to the 30% Rives garnered.

“His campaign priorities include school safety, academic rigor, and teacher retention,” Rives’ announcement says.

Some of his previous campaign issues included reinstating School Resource Officers and doing away with standards-based grading, per a video on his website.

Rives is a psychiatrist and past co-chair of the Arlington Public Schools School Health Advisory Board (SHAB). He currently represents SHAB for the Arlington Addiction Recovery Initiative and his website details his policy positions on the twin epidemics of student drug use and mental health issues.

“Substance Abuse has increased since the pandemic among students nationally, and anecdotal reports suggest the same for Arlington,” Rives’ website says. “While continuing preventive education in school, I support aggressive early intervention to change the trajectory for students using drugs.”

Earlier this year, a 14-year-old student died of a drug overdose at Wakefield High School, which one of his children attends. APS has since stepped up education and increased the availability of the overdose reversal drug Narcan but some teachers say they do not feel heard when they report concerns to administrators.

Rives says APS should redirect resources to address rising mental health concerns.

“We must also rebuild connectedness among the school community by promoting athletics, performing and visual arts, and physical education that involves exercise and play,” he said.

The budget that the Arlington School Board is teed up to adopt later this year includes a handful of additional substance abuse counselors and a psychologist and social worker to maintain current staffing levels.

Rives says he also supports the position of SHAB that APS should adopt a policy requiring students to keep personal devices off and stored during school hours. A handful of schools have independently adopted this but SHAB says it needs to be systemwide to be enforceable. Some current School Board members support such a policy, while others oppose it.

As for the Democratic candidates, Turner has also staked out positions on mental health, such as more teen programming and tighter controls on APS-issued devices, as well as greater academic rigor, especially calling for more math interventionists.

On substance use, Cocchiaro says he would like to add more counselors.

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