Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.
By Cragg Hines
I’m old and fat. That’s two strikes in the era of novel coronavirus.
But that may be far from the worst problem for many seniors in this plague-like period, especially those who are taking seriously the suggested safety precautions, including social distancing or self-quarantine. The pandemic has only sharpened one of the biggest mental — and, yes, physical — issues that confront older Americans. An ABC report cited “the unspoken COVID-19 toll on the elderly: loneliness.”
The pre-COVID-19 answer for some older Arlingtonians was one of the in-person senior programs at a County-run Community Center. But these are on hold because of the pandemic, and at least one was under the knife before coronavirus hit. Under the current budget, the Lee Community and Senior Center, Lee Highway at N. Lexington Street, is already scheduled to close at the end of the year. Programs are slated to be moved to other centers. Who knows, however, what the stringencies of County budget review will mean to the remaining senior centers?
Well before the novel coronavirus emerged late last year, the National Institute on Aging noted that “research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions: high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and even death.”
It’s been five months since Susan Kalish, who works in Arlington, has seen her 92-year-old father, Jack Kalish, who is in an assisted living center in the area, although they speak by phone almost daily.
“He lived through WWII and the Depression and he says this is difficult in a totally different way,” his daughter said.
As of early August, he was not allowed to leave his floor nor allowed to eat with friends there, but restrictions will be lightening a touch. Visits can now be reserved ahead, so when we spoke, she had just been tested for the virus so she could get on the approved list. She booked one of the 45-minute visits — outside with masks, no touching, no food.
Kalish said her father is longsuffering but once did ask: “Can you remind me what I did to live in solitary confinement.” She told him that he had voted for the wrong presidential candidate.
Even as segments of society have started, often unadvisedly, to “re-open,” most seniors seem to stick pretty close to home. So the pressure on senior services – including opportunities for socialization – remains acute. Locations for congregate meals – with food and interpersonal contact – are still closed, and requests for popular services such as Meals on Wheels remain at high levels, even given the difficulties now with deliveries.
Lucy Theilheimer, an Arlington resident and chief strategy and impact officer for Meals on Wheels America, described the big jump in demand for food assistance and the need for fast adaptation of delivery models. The daily deliveries Monday-Friday and in-person visits have largely disappeared, replaced with fewer deliveries of frozen and shelf-stable food and a safe wave of the hand instead of a chat. And there has been a consequent decline in “eyes-on” checks on seniors. Daily check-in calls by new volunteers and paid staff have helped fill some of the gap.
Rob Swennes, an Arlington civic volunteer, a retired federal employee, and admitted extrovert, said it takes creativity to remain connected. He and his wife began walking regularly and have expanded their range. Activities like that “mentally engage a person and keep you from feeling lonely.” As a sponsor of non-profit farmers markets in Arlington, Swennes has been happy to see an uptick in attendance, with “a lot of people we’ve never seen before,” including more seniors. Yet Swennes knows not everyone can get out and that inability can lead to loneliness.
Arlington County government is battling this loneliness by offering virtual experiences and programs. The Department of Parks and Recreation, which ran a robust group of in-person activities under the 55+ brand, has launched new virtual programs over Zoom. Segments have included how-to tips, such as “Get Organized While You’re at Home,” and entertainment, such as an “Acoustic Hour Online” with rock n’ roll, ballads, folk and blues.
Arlington’s Aging and Disability Services Division is working to make certain that residents who were taking meals at the Social 60+ cafes are getting meals delivered.
Yet protecting vulnerable older adults against social isolation and further health problems doesn’t seem like a job solely for Arlington County.
Many people have a parent, grandparent or older neighbor whose social connections may have frayed during the pandemic. What can you, your company or organization do to knit our community fabric a little stronger?
Investing our time, resources and innovative ideas can protect a vulnerable population. It also helps build a lasting spirit of community in Arlington, and that seems a worthy endeavor.
Cragg Hines is a longtime journalist and former member of the Arlington County Commission on Aging. Photo via Cragg Hines/Facebook.
By Maurine Shields Fanguy
“What if next year school could be like a role-playing game and we could see avatars of our friends online?” my rising fifth-grader asked.
In that moment, I realized I was so mired down in fall logistics, I had not considered new possibilities opened with distance learning (DL). In business, disruption leads to innovation. Perhaps we will find the silver lining of a fundamental transformation in delivering K-12 education in this pandemic, and beyond, if school administrators, teacher, and parents throw out the old rules and ask, “what if?”
School administrators and parents reimagine the school calendar?
With a fundamental change in learning delivery, we have a unique chance to shift from an agrarian-based calendar to a modified year-round calendar. Two-week Fall, Winter, and Spring breaks would allow for intercession learning for students who need strengthening or optional enrichment. Breaks offer a respite for families who must be hands-on with DL. Quarterly breaks also allow time for deep cleaning schools or to re-quarantine.
School administrators also open enrollment countywide in some online elective and enrichment courses?
Could some unique offerings be opened to any Arlington Public School (APS) student, similar to Outschool? Imagine elementary art with recycled materials, middle school yoga, or high school history through a musical theater class open to any APS student regardless of zoning? We might approach discussions on boundaries and equity differently if geographic barriers are sometimes taken out of the equation to allow students from across the county to come together to explore their passions and maximize the impact of teachers with unique expertise.
Teachers transform the school day with bite-sized microlearning and the use of “Agile” principles?
“Agile” is commonly used in software development to improve quality, transparency and flexibility in achieving transformational outcomes. In a school, Agile could encourage regular student-led, teacher-coached reflection on work completed, identifying lessons learned and determining improvement areas for the next sprint. Agile could help bridge the achievement gap with teachers able to customize learning, offer more frequent feedback, and provide interventions earlier.
Studies show bite-sized learning can be more effective than traditional lectures and better matches the human attention span. Khan Academy uses this approach to enable learners to go at their own pace and move on when they are ready.
Could APS use this microlearning model to present shorter, engaging learning blocks with teacher interaction to answer questions or explore content in more depth through the day? This flexibility is critical for families who struggle with providing supervision for learning during the workday, households with multiple children and limited bandwidth connectivity, or for students needing to revisit concepts for mastery. Microlearning could also be a foundation to better outcomes for special education students and English learners.
Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.
By Yassmina Hassoun
The good reputation of Arlington Public Schools was mainly why I moved to Arlington about five years ago.
But if we want to maintain that reputation, we have to be more inclusive. We have to do our best to include parents who don’t have the courage to speak up. It might look easy to attend a meeting or speak up for something that negatively affects you and your children, but it is not. Many of us feel helpless to make a change because we don’t have the right tools.
One of the most important tools is to understand “the system” — where to go, who to communicate with, say what we want exactly and how to find what we need. Many newcomers, limited-English speakers, and low-income families don’t have these tools. That makes it harder for them to advocate for their kids. This is where the community should play a bigger role to secure an equal education for all students.
I have not always been brave myself. Several years ago in another city, I went to a meeting at my daughter’s school. My English was not so good then. My daughter was having trouble because she didn’t understand the directions they gave her in class. For instance, if she was supposed to draw so many birthday candles to say how old she was, she would draw flowers on the page or something else, because no one explained.
So that night, I started talking. My voice was, you know, sort of shivering at first. But they listened and they started getting my daughter some help. I realized I could help my daughter and other people, too.
Since I moved to Arlington, I felt kind of lost until I was invited to an event called Roundtable, organized by Arlington County and the Community Progress Network. The purpose was to hear from people who usually are underrepresented. This event was unique because they made everyone feel welcomed and that their voice matters. They had translators for the most often-spoken languages to make sure that everyone could fully participate. They also documented participants’ concerns. For the first time since I moved to Arlington, I finally felt that I belonged and that I was included.
Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.
By Cheryl Moore
In times of tragedy and uncertainty, those of us who are part of faith community often turn to that community for comfort and support. But since mid-March, turning to your faith community often meant turning on your computer and logging into Zoom.
The staff at Mount Olivet United Methodist in Arlington began preparing for disruption in early February upon hearing news about the strange new virus. The initial plans to figure out contact-less communion went out the window on March 12 when large gatherings were banned for health safety reasons.
Moving quickly is not the norm for many religious institutions, but when Covid-19 hit, things had to change immediately. And that has had implications for faith communities.
Times of crisis can also be times of opportunity and growth. Faith communities that are willing to provide new points of connection, experiment with new initiatives, and build community partnerships will likely prove resilient and more relevant.
Prioritize communication and connection
Mount Olivet associate pastor Teer Hardy related that he and other staff were first inundated with questions about the virus. He said that seminary didn’t train him about what to do in a pandemic, but it did train him in “connectedness.” Keeping its members feeling connected became goal one.
Mount Olivet expanded its Sunday worship online, and added online Sunday School, youth activities, and email devotionals. Volunteers made weekly check-in calls to older members. Callers found many seniors felt isolated even before the pandemic, so this initiative will likely continue.
Worship attendance has been surprisingly high. Said senior pastor Ed Walker, “Even members who haven’t been very active have been attending.” And one Sunday School class reported that a class member who is temporarily working in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, gets up at 2:00 a.m. their time to join the class via Zoom.
For some in the Jewish community, however, technology has its limits. Rabbi Lia Bass, of Congregation Etz Hayim, explained that Shabbat services in her Conservative congregation cannot be live-streamed, because it would entail use of electronics, which is not allowed on Shabbat. Services on Thursday mornings and classes on Sundays are now live online, offering new opportunities for the community.
Our Muslim neighbors had the additional challenge of celebrating Ramadan, the holiest Muslim holiday, from April 23-May 23. The observant fast all day, and a nightly gathering with food and prayers at the mosque is an integral part. Those communal activities had to be canceled.
Hurunnessa Fariad, the outreach/interfaith/media coordinator at ADAMS (All Dulles Area Muslim Society) Center, said that she and her colleagues realized that social media was the most effective way to connect with its members. They quickly ramped up daily communication, reminding people to stay at home. “In the Muslim faith, saving a life is even more important than communal prayer,” Fariad said.
By Del. Richard C. (Rip) Sullivan, Jr.
While Arlington continued to confront the coronavirus epidemic, County residents also were preparing for several elections: the Democrats’ May 30 School Board caucus, the Republicans’ June 23 Senate primary, the July 7 County Board special election, and the November 3 general election. Arlingtonians take their civic duty seriously and vote at above-average rates, yet no one can predict exactly when the virus will stop being an immediate threat to our health, when life will go back to “normal,” or whether there will be a second wave of the virus.
To continue our strong record of voter participation and to stay safe, Arlingtonians should prepare to use absentee voting by mail until the General Assembly passes legislation to create a comprehensive no-excuses, vote-by-mail system. Democracy thrives when more voters participate. Voting-by-mail presents that opportunity and also can save money in the long run.
Voting by mail is not only useful during an outbreak – it strengthens our democracy. First, the system increases turnout and does not favor any one partisan bloc. A new Stanford University study finds that universal vote-by-mail programs do not advantage one party over another, but instead increase overall voter turnout. The more people who vote, the better for our democracy.
Second, access to the ballot box on Election Day is often difficult for individuals who, for example, are caretakers, do not have available transportation or depend on low-wage hourly jobs. Lines at the polls can be devastating to their schedules and livelihoods. Receiving a ballot at home to vote by mail would give these Virginians much-needed flexibility. By expanding the number of registered voters who can practically vote, we would again increase turnout and make sure that their voices are heard in the democratic process.
Third, voting by mail is less expensive for voters and states alike. Voters who work hourly wages do not have to lose any earnings by taking time off to cast a ballot. There is no cost of gas or a Metro card to the voter in order to get to one’s polling place. There is no cost of childcare when a parent or caretaker goes to vote. Voters mail in their ballot when it is convenient, leveling the playing field in terms of the cost of participation for voters of all socio-economic backgrounds.
States ultimately save money because they no longer need to staff as many traditional polling places and invest in expensive voting machines at each location. Oregon, for example, reports savings of 30 percent since its transition from traditional in-person voting to exclusively by-mail voting. The price of mailing pre-stamped ballots to voters may seem high at first, but it is outweighed by savings for states and jurisdictions that have tried it.
The local elections held in towns and cities across the Commonwealth on May 19 marked the first time that Virginians faced a choice between voting in-person, voting absentee by mail, or not voting at all in the midst of a pandemic. The results are clear – when given the opportunity, voters want to cast their ballot by mail. In Fairfax City, for example, 74 percent of voters cast an absentee ballot by mail. Turnout also increased slightly across Virginia due to the increase in the number of absentee ballots cast.
Before Covid-19, we already had made great progress in the General Assembly regarding access to the ballot box. We passed a bill making Election Day a state holiday (and doing away with Lee-Jackson Day), changing Virginia’s voter ID law to allow people without IDs to sign an affidavit, and allowing for no-excuse early voting 45 days prior to an election. We also implemented automatic voter registration at the DMV.
While we are not likely to see a fully implemented vote-by-mail system in Virginia by November, we can get close by ensuring that every voter who wishes to vote does so by requesting an absentee ballot. The Covid-19 outbreak may be a threat to our personal and community health, but we can take steps to ensure that it does not interfere with the health of our democracy.
Richard C. “Rip” Sullivan, Jr. is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Virginia’s 48th District, which encompasses parts of Arlington and McLean. He practices law in Arlington with Bean Kinney & Korman, P.C.
By Betsy Withycombe
Once upon a time, after trauma had stolen my health, I began to walk. But no matter how far I roamed the streets of Arlington, no matter how completely I exhausted my body, my mind continued to churn. It felt pointless. My tank of resiliency, normally full, was empty.
Among our family’s collection of books are several editions of dictionaries. I looked in each for the definition of “resilience.” Every edition included a primary definition which defined resilience as the ability to return quickly from hardship or adversity. Secondary definitions offered that resilience was a type of flexibility or elasticity. I prefer the latter definition. One’s ability to be resilient is not measured by the speed at which one addresses adversity; sometimes you have to be gentle with yourself as you adapt to the challenge in front of you and continue moving forward.
In the last ten years I have experienced a clinically significant amount of change, loss, and heartache. The details aren’t important, but I’m sure those of you who saw me in the grocery store never suspected the depth of chaos framing the rest of my life. I practiced good self-care and did all of the things that promised my resilience would return. I sought calm in books. My family and friends did everything they could to remind me that I had grit and that my hardest days were behind me. I tried very hard to listen. I was as gentle with myself as I could be. I walked.
Renewed resilience finally came in the form of a flower (which was probably a weed). As I was dragging myself down the sidewalk thinking many unhelpful thoughts, I noticed a small flower. I took out my cell phone to photograph it. I suddenly noticed many unseen flowers and plants on the very street I had been plodding down every day. I was almost home when I realized something very important: Focusing on something outside myself, I had stopped the continuous loop of despair running on repeat in my mind.
By Maurine Shields Fanguy
For many Arlingtonians, a School Board election may be far from top of mind. So many in our community are struggling to hold down jobs or to keep businesses afloat. Others are facing unemployment–many for the first time ever. Families in dire financial circumstances are cobbling together a patchwork of meals for their children from Arlington Public Schools (APS) and groceries from generous community organizations.
Even before COVID-19, this was set to be a critical year for the Arlington School Board. Two Board members announced they would not seek re-election. Five contenders are vying for two seats in the Democratic endorsement process. The two candidates selected in November have an opportunity to fundamentally reshape our schools and drive innovative strategies to address a broad range of issues.
Now, more than ever, it is important for us to thoroughly question the School Board candidates and carefully decide who are the best leaders for a yet unwritten chapter for Arlington schools. Although COVID-19 may have curtailed in-person campaigning, here are the questions I would ask each candidate in a virtual meet-and-greet:
- What is the most pressing policy issue the School Board needs to resolve in the coming year? What legal or policy impediments or community reactions do you foresee? Does this issue impact most or all students, and why?
- What do you see as increased needs in the school system because of COVID-19, and how would you appropriately budget for those, as well as your top three budget priorities in what will be tight budget cycles during your term in office?
- Share your advocacy and leadership experience with an issue that affected more than one school, and how you interacted with people countywide who did not share your view. Did you change your mind or change anyone else’s, and if so, how did you accomplish it?
- How can we build on the current remote learning to drive a more robust school resilience plan? What instructional and testing practices should we preserve, in whole or in part, when it is safe to reopen schools? How would these practices support achievement for all students?
I hope the candidates will answer these questions and share their responses with voters.
Experienced, countywide experience in Arlington school issues is particularly crucial because of multiple tough situations that already were challenging School Board members.
Difficult decisions earlier this year to move three schools laid the groundwork for even more challenging community discussions on elementary school boundaries that will move thousands of students to new schools in 2021. When Arlington landed Amazon HQ2 in 2019, many Arlingtonians voiced concern about the strain on a school system that already had more students than seats and was expected to grow by 7,000 more in the coming decade.
The 2019 U.S. Department of Justice settlement over services for English language learners underscored the need for tangible action on inequities between schools, long-standing achievement gaps and closer supervision by the School Board to enforce accountability.
Former Superintendent Patrick Murphy announced his retirement in June. Interim Superintendent Cintia Johnson graciously stepped into the role, facing the challenge of leading through the most trying time for APS in decades. Every school is shut down until at least June and nearly 29,000 Arlington students and their families are struggling to adapt to learning from home because of Covid-19.
A schools’ budget that was already stretched has now been slashed by $54M in response to the economic uncertainties resulting from COVID-19. The cuts include hard-to-swallow teacher pay raises, class size increases, and dipping into reserve funds.
The challenging scenario was set in motion even before COVID-19 became our harsh reality and not a news story from another continent. So, who do I think should write the next chapter in Arlington schools? I believe that when voting for new School Board members this month, it is time we choose sound, experienced and clear-thinking leaders who have a countywide perspective and vision, and who can resolutely approach decision-making.
Maurine Shields Fanguy, a parent of 4th and 7th grade APS students, has served as a PTA President, on APS advisory committees, and in other volunteer roles. An Army brat who attended 11 schools, she is proud to have adopted Arlington as her hometown.
On April 24, School Board member Barbara Kanninen announced her candidacy for a seat on the Arlington County Board left open by the death of the Erik Gutshall. If she wins, a third seat will be open on the School Board.
This column has also been submitted in Spanish: Read More
Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.
By Scott Matties
In the face of COVID-19’s massive effect on the health, safety and economic welfare of Arlingtonians, our county decision-makers face hard choices as they re-consider the 2021 budget and five-year CIP. Many economic impacts are not yet certain — accurate revenue forecasts, the toll on health and human service needs, and what the future holds when schools and businesses are able to reopen. Emerging needs have been factored into the revised budget proposal, but updates later in the year will likely be necessary.
With these serious and immediate challenges, it is easy to lose focus on long-term community priorities and their need for funding. Both the public and private sectors should do more to improve sustainability as aging buildings and infrastructure are upgraded or replaced. How we bring about this change can be a model for protecting our environment–or not. We have an opportunity now, with the redevelopment of Lee Highway, to put big ideas into action.
One example is stormwater management. The Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act regulations, first implemented in Virginia in 1989, have improved the health of the Bay by focusing on water quality through the collection and treatment of stormwater run-off to reduce pollutants. Arlington’s stormwater management regulations are written, in part, to ensure compliance with this law. These regulations will continue to improve the health of the Bay and our local waterways that feed it.
A more tangible impact on Arlington discussed much of late is flooding. The frequency of very intense storms will continue to impact Arlington due in large part to our inadequate stormwater drainage systems. To address this, we need a new focus on better management of stormwater quantity. It is worth noting that the Virginia regulations related to flood protection identify minimum requirements but do not prohibit local jurisdictions from requiring more.
There are a variety of criteria in the Virginia flood protection regulations, but they generally involve mitigating 2-year and 10-year storm events. The storm that hit our region in July 2019 was a 100-year+ event. The language we use to describe these events should change as it can be misleading. We should shift from colloquial terms like a 100-year storm to what it really means – a 1-in-100 (or 1%) chance of such a storm. Another storm like July 2019 could happen tomorrow. It may be statistically unlikely but it’s time for the public to discuss storms in these terms.
As we plan for the redevelopment of the Lee Highway corridor, how do we address this? Restricting redevelopment is not a realistic approach. Community needs and market pressures are already leading to redevelopment, mostly through by-right proposals meeting only the minimum stormwater requirements. The commercial core areas of Lee Highway are about 67% impervious, meaning covered by buildings, streets, and parking lots, making effective management of stormwater run-off in these areas very challenging. There is currently no requirement and little incentive for that existing condition to change.
So controlled redevelopment will be an important component of a broad-based plan to better manage stormwater along Lee Highway. Individual redevelopment projects can be required to do more, such as increased on-site stormwater retention and re-use allowing controlled release into the County system. But this must be balanced with the financial burden. This is a complicated and interconnected problem that cannot be solved site-by-site.
Arlington’s government should lead the way to upgrading the antiquated stormwater infrastructure county-wide. The County’s 2019-28 Capital Improvement Plan suggests about $19 million to address stormwater quality but less than $1 million to address stormwater quantity through system upgrades. The County’s current FY 2021 budget proposal appears to improve on that with about $2 million proposed in capital outlay. However, this does not reflect the sense of urgency felt in the community to get ahead of this issue.
One silver lining in the COVID-19 crisis has been improved air quality worldwide. It is encouraging to see clear evidence that a change in behavior, whether chosen or imposed, can improve our environment. This is likely temporary so let’s not to get complacent. Let’s use this time to get ahead of the problem and make changes, both in policy and implementation, that can improve our environment for the long term.
Scott Matties AIA LEED-AP is an architect who has lived in Arlington 25 years. He is the current president of the Lee Highway Alliance, a group of citizens, property and business owners that has been working on Lee Highway redevelopment for nine years.
Progressive Voice is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the authors’.
By Katie Cristol and Matt de Ferranti
In a conference call, Progressive Voice editors asked Arlington County Board members Katie Cristol and Matt de Ferranti about their insights on the challenges of being a leader in local government during the trying time of the COVID-19 epidemic.
PV: Tell us about the challenge of making pressing leadership decisions, such as on the County budget, when there are fewer known facts, data and projections about 2021 and beyond.
MD: This isn’t an easy budget. In normal years, we have about 10-12 budget work sessions. You have time to learn, synthesize. This year, the fiscal reality has changed during the middle of the process, so it’s challenging to accept the new reality and adjust quickly.
Ultimately, we have to focus on values and what we must do: keeping people safe, making sure people are not evicted, and meeting our commitments and basic human needs. So we will do a pretty basic budget, and in the coming year, may come back and make adjustments. It’s a dynamic environment.
KC: It helps that Arlington’s fiscal fundamentals are still strong. Arlington is in very good fiscal health–such as our bond rating, our fully funded pension plan. What we are really talking about is lost opportunities–the investments we hoped to have made in this budget to attract good people to work here, expand human services, expand our capacity to fix street lights more quickly.
There may be harder times ahead. But what enables me to tell residents we can weather the pandemic as well as the economic challenges is that the fundamentals are still there. We have excellent public health and emergency response teams. We have staff who were with us during 9/11, during the recession starting in 2008. Our public health director got us through H1N1. I hope people feel confident by the amount of expertise brought to bear. We [County Board] are the faces on policy, but a lot of the pandemic response is at the professional expert level.
KC: I was reading through comments, a chat that the county manager did with staff, and it was a reminder of how dedicated the people who work for government are…. EMS, Fire are top of mind but also people who administer food stamps…they are risking their own safety to do that.
PV: What ways have you found to balance necessary health and safety (such as physical distancing) with the desire to shore up the economy, small business and workers? Any new insights about the role of government?
MD: Local governments and state governments have had to step forward, particularly because of an absence of leadership from the federal government, so the breadth of what local government can do is more clear to me than ever. There is an opportunity for innovation as we seek to serve all of our residents well.
KC: At the policy level, we’ve been providing small business technical assistance through BizLaunch, trying to help owners navigate SBA loans.
KC: We’ve been wrestling with how to support our restaurants, which are hurting so deeply. Very quickly, DES [Department of Environmental Services] traffic management set up free parking zones marked with signs outside the restaurants. Those are safer and easier for people [to pick up takeaway orders].
Doing things so quickly now will carry over to expecting it to always be so quick. When people discover how quickly we can do these changes…[laughs] without so much public engagement. People are used to [a long time of] hashing out pros and cons for something like curb space management.
PV: Will there be lingering after-effects on public engagement, move more quickly after the emergency passes?
MD: I think there will be some changes in public engagement. People will still want input and we will engage fully, but I think we will evolve a bit, so our input is both thorough and effective in making sure we hear from our whole community.
By Chris DeRosa
Note: The person-to-person activities described in this article have been suspended to ensure health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. The volunteers’ research, paperwork and electronic organization continue.
Kent* was in a local homeless shelter, discouraged and confused. He had completed his felony sentence years ago, but he had a disability, no job, and an uncertain future. A visitor wearing a t-shirt that said “Spread the Vote” asked if he wanted to request to have his civil rights restored. He was a bit leery, but he sat with her for a few minutes as they completed the online form.
Then it was a matter of waiting. It took nearly 8 months and many emails and phone calls to the Eastern District Federal Court and Federal Bureau of Prisons, plus calls to Richmond. In October 2018, his request was finally granted. Kent registered to vote, and has voted in every election since then. He also is in his own apartment now and his outlook on life is much brighter.
Many such citizens have been disenfranchised in Virginia because of a felony conviction. After completing their sentence and probation, they have a legal right to vote, but must apply to have their voting rights restored. Many don’t realize they can do this; many don’t have access to a computer to submit an application.
Carolina* was in her building’s computer room, fretting and near tears. Her ID had expired; without a current ID, she could not start her new job. A friend told her to contact Spread the Vote. A volunteer met with Carolina a couple of days later and ordered a birth certificate for her; after it arrived, she drove Carolina to the DMV. Carolina got her legal photo ID (paid for by STV), started her new job, and continues happily raising her two adorable little boys.
Kent and Carolina are but two of Arlington and Falls Church citizens who, for various reasons, don’t have government-issued photo IDs. Many cannot vote because of a prior felony conviction (voting rights can be restored but must be applied for); others just don’t have a photo ID due to circumstances like a lost birth certificate.
Without a government-issued ID, many also face barriers to housing, employment, and healthcare; they can’t cash a check or open a bank account. They need an ID for life. That’s where the trained volunteers from Spread the Vote can provide encouragement and experience to frustrated clients.
Spread the Vote/Project ID is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that aims to remedy these situations. It is staffed largely by volunteers who are working in communities throughout Virginia and in many other states. What do these states have in common? They all require voters to have photo IDs in order to vote. It’s estimated that 21 million Americans do not have government-issued photo IDs, though they are legally entitled to them.
Isn’t it easy to get an ID? That’s what I thought. How wrong I was! Many don’t have the money to pay for their IDs or the required documents such as birth certificates. Some have lost their documents when they slept under a bridge on a rainy night; others had their backpacks stolen as they napped on the Metro. Many have gone to the DMV to try and get an ID, but were turned away and gave up. Frustrating. Not easy at all.
Spread the Vote/Project ID volunteers have donated hundreds of hours to help our Virginia neighbors. This involves spending up to 6 hours meeting with each client, driving them to the DMV and SSA, and following up with agencies. Nationwide, Spread the Vote has obtained nearly 5,000 legal photo IDs. That includes IDs for over 1,000 Virginians, plus around 250 birth certificates. Spread the Vote/Project ID pays the cost of obtaining IDs and necessary supporting documents. The average cost of getting a valid photo ID is $40. (Non-citizens with visas and green cards can also get IDs.)
*Names have been changed to protect individuals’ identity.
Chris DeRosa is a longtime Arlingtonian and is the leader of the Arlington/Falls Church chapter of Spread the Vote/Project ID, a nonprofit, non-partisan organization.
By Wesley Joe and Carly Lenhoff
Public conversations about juvenile justice can quickly escalate into pitched battles. They involve some of the highest stakes: fateful decisions about the future of children. Unfortunately, these conversations often devolve into unproductive conflict. While some disagreements are inevitable and healthy, many become needlessly mired in unproductive disputes over basic facts. Arlington Public Schools (APS) can reduce some of this deliberative drag by collecting and sharing more data, and by making its existing data more accessible.
Reaching a community consensus about how to address a problem begins with agreement about key facts. Unfortunately, public stakeholders currently lack the information necessary to resolve controversies of fact regarding many serious student discipline issues.
For example, there is much discussion of the role of school resource officers (SROs) on school campuses. In May 2018, APS and the Arlington County Police Department signed an updated Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that more clearly defines the respective roles and responsibilities of SROs and APS personnel. Yet public stakeholders currently have no way to assess the impact of these measures on student life and achievement. The MOU does not specify criteria for “success.” Nor does it require the collection and disclosure of data needed to monitor compliance with and the effects of its provisions.
One potential solution is the adoption of a policy for routine, publicly reported assessment of the impacts of the MOU and other major discipline-related policies. The assessment process would generate and report useful data. For example, one MOU goal is to minimize the incidence of informal requests for law enforcement assistance with discipline that does not involve violations of law. APS’s presentation to the School Board in January reported no data about this issue. A thorough assessment would include, for example, demographic information about students whose conduct is informally referred to SROs, student perceptions of SROs, and the like. Within the limits required to respect student privacy, stakeholders need this kind of information to contribute more productively to policy conversations.