Arlington, VA

The School Board is expected to sign a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice over allegations that Arlington Public Schools has provided inadequate help for students learning English.

“In 2015-2016, a complaint was filed regarding service concerns for our English Learners at Jefferson,” said APS spokesman Frank Bellavia, referring to Thomas Jefferson Middle School (TJMS).

“The settlement provides specifics on actions that APS will continue to take to meet the needs of our English Learners,” he told ARLnow in an email Monday. “This settlement agreement provides a mutually agreed upon resolution in lieu of litigation.”

DOJ’s 19-page settlement gives APS 33 requirements to comply with, including that TJMS teachers and administrative officials be trained in English Learning (EL) program requirements. It also seeks to “ensure that ELs are not over-identified as needing special education services based on their language barriers in elementary schools and are not denied timely evaluations for suspected disabilities at TJMS.”

Bellavia said APS already has procedures in place to prevent English-learning being confused with special needs.

“For example, through the Arlington Tiered System of Support, all students are provided with core instruction and interventions based on their needs,” he said.

The settlement also stipulates that APS begin to translate copies of special education documents like Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and 504 plans for disabilities into the languages spoken by EL students’ families.

“As part of the settlement agreement, we will now translate the framework into the four major languages of our families (Spanish, Amharic, Arabic and Mongolian),” said Bellavia, who added that the IEP framework is now only translated into Spanish. “We will also let parents know that the full IEP or 504 will be available for translation if requested.”

“Except in an emergency, the District will not use students, family or friends of limited English proficient parents, or Google Translate for interpretation of District- or school-generated documents or for any other translation or interpreter services,” the settlement notes.

Nineteen percent of APS students in 2017 were enrolled in EL learning programs, according to the most recent reports shared by the School Board. Among students in Pre-K through high school that year, Spanish was the most common foreign language spoken (22.8 percent of students), followed by Amharic (2.4 percent), Arabic (2.2 percent), Mongolian (1.8 percent), and Bengali (1 percent).

Although the new federal settlement only names TJMS, it notes that the recommendations apply to all of APS’ EL programs.

The document is currently listed on the consent agenda for the School Board’s Thursday meeting, a place usually reserved for items expected to pass without debate.

The settlement will not be finalized until DOJ officials and School Board Chair Reid Goldstein sign it.

If Goldstein signs the document, APS would also agree to do the following:

  • Tracking each student’s progress in EL programs and record the information in their permanent record.
  • Reporting compliance updates to the DOJ for review starting this October and until July 2022.
  • Conducting a three-year “longitudinal analysis” of all its EL programs, due for DOJ review by August 2022.
  • Develop a plan to “actively recruit” English as a Second Language (ESL)-certified teachers within 90 days of signing the settlement.

Failure to comply could mean APS violates the 1974 Equal Educational Opportunities Act, which requires schools provide the same opportunities for all students regardless of race, gender, or language.

DOJ did not respond to a request for comment for more information about the settlement.

The agency has settled with dozens of school districts over similar complaints in recent years, including Prince William County in 2013.

Bellavia told ARLnow that compliance with the settlement would not affect APS’ budget for the next fiscal year.

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A cotton plant growing at Campbell Elementary School drew criticism online today, but Arlington Public Schools said allegations that staff were going to make kids “pick cotton” was a misunderstanding.

“At no time, never, was the school going to have students pick cotton,” said APS spokesman Frank Bellavia.

Catherine Ashby, the Director of Communications for APS, tells ARLnow that a teacher planted cotton seeds in pots as an experiment to see how they would grow. Social media posts about the experiment from the teacher prompted objections from other educators.

“She tweeted about her experiment and what she was growing, and that’s what got other staff members upset about what she was doing,” said Ashby.

Community members started talking online about the incident after an email circulated from Campbell Principal Maureen Nesselrode, who called a staff meeting to discuss what to do with the plant. Bellavia said the plant was destroyed after the meeting.

“Once they realized staff had concerns about the prospects of this they decided to remove the plants,” Ashby said of yesterday’s meeting with the principal. “End of story.”

One Twitter user, who said her name was R. Jones, shared a screenshot of the email. She told ARLnow that a school staff member had forwarded it to her and they were both “angry and offended” about the racial undertones of a teacher planting cotton.

“What do y’all think? Is this okay or offensive?” asked Jones on Twitter.

In the email, Nesselrode asked that “anyone who would like to discuss the prospect of planting cotton seeds” join the Tuesday afternoon meeting “so we can address various viewpoints and come to a mutual understanding.”

Bellavia and Ashby said that Jones had drawn the wrong assumptions about the planting.

Campbell’s curriculum has a hands-on learning focus that includes a Wetlands Learning Lab as well as a greenhouse, and a garden.

Photo via Kimberly Vardeman/Flickr

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Arlington County Board will take a final vote this Saturday on a plan to add capacity for 600 additional students at Washington-Lee High School by building classrooms in its nearby office building.

Arlington Public Schools requested a permit change in order to convert the former administrative offices at the Education Center (1426 N. Quincy Street) on the W-L campus into educational space. The 24,600-square-foot space is slated to be converted into classrooms, a science lab, gym, and a “commons” area, with a fall 2021 completion date, according to a staff report submitted to the Board.

If approved, the updated use permit would allow APS to make others changes:

In addition to the conversion of use, the request also includes minor exterior alterations to the building, including replacing ground floor windows. Site modifications include a new pedestrian connection between the main W-L building and the Ed Center, provisions for new off-site bus and parent pick-up and drop-off, additional bicycle parking, and improvements to a pedestrian crossing at North Quincy Street to enhance pedestrian safety.

The request comes as the student population in Arlington continues to grow. School Board members already approved an APS budget that factors in an additional 1,000 students next year. W-L’s expansion into the Education Center is one of the solutions officials have picked to house the additional enrollment growth.

The staff report described the expansion as “a sustainable alternative to building a new school facility to address capacity needs.” The report indicated 55 teachers and staff would be needed at the Education Center if it’s converted to classrooms.

The building previously served as APS administrative headquarters but has been empty since staff relocated to an office building in the Penrose neighborhood.

The Arlington School Board approved the expansion project two years ago and funded it last year with $37 million in the budget. Washington-Lee is set to be officially renamed Washington-Liberty High School this summer.

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The Arlington School Board unanimously passed a $669.5 million budget Thursday night.

The budget includes funding for Arlington’s continually expanding school enrollment, with 1,000 more students expected to attend class in the county next year alone. Members also approved a $10.7 million pay increase for Arlington Public Schools staff and funded a study to evaluate salary structure ideas for the future, such as using cost-of-living adjustments instead of discretionary “step” increases.

Arlington Education Association President Ingrid Gant, whose organization represents APS employees, pushed for the increase during a Board hearing on Tuesday, telling members, “it is embarrassing, it is appalling, it is downright disrespectful that members of the School Board want educators to give their all… yet we only give them crumbs come budget time.”

The School Board had previously marked up their own version of a draft APS budget. On April 12, all members, save Barbara Kanninen who abstained, approved a $669.3 million APS budget. Board members hailed the newly-approved final budget and thanked the County Board for a tax hike that will provide additional revenue for the school system.

“It’s clear that this community cares deeply about education and the future of our schools, and we thank the families, students and employees who participated,” Board Chair Reid Goldstein said of the many budget meetings over the last two months.

Goldstein said the County Board, which unanimously passed a budget that includes a two-cent property tax rate hike, helped APS close $6.7 million budget gap that School Board members originally said they couldn’t close without making unpopular cuts. The gap was smaller than the $43 million gap County Manager Mark Schwartz initially feared APS would face come fiscal year 2020.

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The Sun Gazette ran a mysterious ad in this week’s paper, offering W-L students who write an essay about “why my school should be named Washington-Lee” the chance to “win $1,000 cash.”

The ad did not specify who was running the contest, and only said submissions to be sent to [email protected] When contacted, a man identifying himself as Tom Hafer of McLean responded and said he was organizing the contest.

Hafer told ARLnow he’s a W-L graduate from the class of ’66 who has lived in Arlington for most of his life before moving across county lines.

“The money is from my own pocket unless some of my like-minded colleagues decide to help defray,” Hafer said when asked about the contest’s funding. “At this point, I am doing this on my own but I will likely enlist some other readers if there is significant competition among essays.”

Currently he says he’s received no essay submissions, but he doesn’t “expect too many until closer to the [May 12] deadline.”

The School Board voted unanimously to rename the high school “Washington-Liberty” in January. When asked what he thought the essay contest could accomplish after this fact, Hafer said it was a symbolic act.

“This essay will give the students of W-L a voice on this issue that was denied them by the School Board, and will give members of the public an opportunity to hear that voice,” he wrote in an email. “I believe that if the students had been allowed to vote on the name of THEIR OWN SCHOOL that it would be Washington-Lee — forever.”

Earlier this month, Hafer called the renaming a “diversity sideshow” in a Letter to the Editor published by the Sun Gazette.

Last June, Hafer accused the School Board of “hypocrisy, deceit, ignorance and malfeasance” during a public meeting on the renaming, reported the Falls Church News-Press.

Hafer’s ad this week said that the “winning essay may be published in Sun Gazette” but that the contest was “only open to verifiable Washington-Lee students.”

He clarified that he does not have an agreement with the paper to publish any essays.

“When I see whether any of the essays are worthy of publication I will see whether the Sun Gazette wants to print it,” he said. “If not I may simply put it in as an ad.”

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(Updated at 7:30 p.m.) An “error” in the data inputted to the college readiness system used by Arlington Public Schools may have exposed the name, address, grade point average and college entrance exam scores of nearly two dozen students to an unrelated parent.

Superintendent Patrick Murphy was sending a message, below, to all secondary (grades 6-12) families Friday morning informing them of the breach, an APS spokesman told ARLnow.

“For each of these students, one APS parent, who is not the student’s parent, may have been able to view” the information, Murphy wrote.

A spokeswoman for Naviance, the company that makes the system involved, said the error was on the part of APS.

“This was an error in the data and not an error in Naviance functionality,” said Monica Morrell, a general manager for the company. “The data has since been corrected, and we understand that Arlington Public Schools has notified the impacted and potentially impacted individuals.”

The full letter from APS:

Dear APS Students and Families:

On April 11, 2019, APS was made aware of an error in the Naviance college readiness system that may have temporarily allowed access to some personal information of former students. Upon further investigation with Naviance, we confirmed that the error affected 21 former students who departed APS prior to 2017. For each of these students, one APS parent, who is not the student’s parent, may have been able to view some personal information. Viewable information was limited to the student’s name, address, grade, Grade-Point Average, PSAT/SAT and ACT scores.

Personal information such as date of birth, individual course grades, transcript, social security number or any financial information, was not able to be viewed. The information was not more broadly available to others using the system, nor to other individuals online. We cannot confirm that the information was viewed, only that it could have been viewed.

The Department of Information Services notified middle and high school families of a technical issue and disabled access to the system on April 12 as a security measure while the error was thoroughly investigated. The cause of the error, a data integration issue related to parent identification numbers in a legacy system, has been corrected and secure access has been restored to both students and parents.

Earlier this week, we mailed letters to inform the affected former students and their parents of the error and assure them their data has been secured. APS and our vendors take our responsibility to safeguard student information seriously, and we have taken the necessary steps to ensure the error will not recur.

If you have any concerns or questions about the incident, please do not hesitate to contact Rajesh Adusumilli, Assistant Superintendent, Information Services at 703-228-2016 or by email [email protected]

Sincerely,

Dr. Patrick Murphy
Superintendent
Arlington Public Schools

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The Arlington School Board has advanced a $669,314,705 million proposed budget — a budget that features a gap of over $6 million.

The Board voted 4-0 to approve its proposal for the school system’s next fiscal year budget. One member, Barbara Kanninen, abstained. Final budget approval is set for May.

Voting stretched late into Thursday night as members weighed five amendments detailing how funds could be cut to reduce the $6.7 million budget shortfall.

Members approved four amendments that together shaved $1,163,330 off the budget by proposing to:

  • Eliminate an anonymous reporting hotline
  • Eliminate APS HR’s budget for computer replacements
  • Eliminate two Technology Support Positions, one Foreign Language in elementary schools position, one full time HR position, and two assistant director positions in assessment and transportation
  • Reduce funding for postage, evaluations, and clerical substitutes
  • Reduce printed report cards
  • Reduce Foreign Languages at Key School
  • Reduce travel reimbursements, and increase student parking fees

Another approved reduction was for the fund that provides employee service awards and special events — hours after the School Board celebrated 168 teachers in front of the dais for their decades of work in APS.

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Amazon is planning to award four Arlington schools with a $10,000 grant for robotics programs.

Abingdon, Hoffman-Boston and Drew elementary schools, along with Kenmore Middle School, have been selected for the grant along with 96 other schools nationwide, according to the statement released this morning.

Amazon is also awarding grants to 13 schools in D.C., six in Alexandria, and two in Prince George’s County.

The “Amazon Future Engineer Robotics Grant” funds the costs of starting up a robotics club and registering it with FIRST, a non-profit that hosts robotics competitions. The awarded schools will decide how exactly to spend the funds, reported the Washington Post.

The round of grants comes a month after the Arlington County Board approved an incentive package to welcome the Amazon’splanned second headquarters in Crystal City.

The deal has drawn repeated controversy from local activists who criticized the $23 million in incentives and $28 million in transportation upgrades offered by the county if Amazon meets certain job creation benchmarks. Critics have also expressed concern over a part of the deal where the county agreed to forward public records to Amazon without redacting filers’ personal information.

Schools were eligible for the grant based on their proximity to Amazon’s sites and their participation in the federal Title I program that awards additional funding for schools serving many low-income families, per the Post.

Amazon is doling out the robotics grants via its “Future Engineer” charity which is funded by a $50 million the tech and retail giant pledged to invest in STEM education by providing students with computer science courses, scholarships, and internships.

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Next week, Kenmore Middle School will be recognized as one of the country’s top five schools for including special needs students in its community.

The Special Olympics selected Kenmore last fall and will present the Unified Champion Schools National Recognition Program award next Friday, April 12, from 1-2 p.m. at the middle school.

Winning schools were chosen based on demonstrating “excellence” for including special needs students in sports and youth leadership, among other benchmarks.

The award is being presented alongside ESPN.

Yorktown and Washington-Lee high schools are also Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools, according to a map of participants.

The program reported that nationwide 6,500 schools participate in the program, which allows 272,000 students to participate in sports inclusive of special needs.

The Unified Schools Program is managed by the Special Olympics and funded via a grant from the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs, per its website.

Separately, President Trump recently backtracked on his administration’s plan to cut funding for the Special Olympics after public outcry mounted in support of the program, reported Politico.

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A new study indicates most Arlington Public Schools staff and students find personal electronic devices helpful in the classroom, but School Board members say questions remain about an initiative to give iPads and laptops to students.

Dr. Shaun B. Kellogg of the Friday Institute of NC State University, which conducted the “1:1 Digital Device Initiative Study,” said teachers and students surveyed were “generally pretty positive” about devices, but that “parents who completed the survey were clearly more skeptical of the benefits.”

“In fact the results from parents were kind of polarizing,” Kellogg said.

Eighty-five percent of teachers and 75 percent of students reported that the MacBook Air laptops and iPads used in APS classrooms can make learning more interesting — but only 55 percent of parents surveyed agreed.

Last year, the Friday Institute began studying the impact the devices had on students and teachers and presented these initial results based on analysis of the quantitative data gathered over the last year. Data was collected via interviews, 410 classroom observations, survey responses from 882 teachers, 8,519 students, and 1,693 parents, per Kellogg’s presentation last week.

Kellogg told the School Board that students are using devices roughly 40 percent of the time during classes in elementary schools, about 53 percent of the time in middle school classrooms, and 58 percent of the time in high school.

“I think in simple kind of parent speak we really want to know if what we’ve invested in is of benefit to their children,” said School Board member Nancy van Doren, who acknowledged that Kellogg was likely unable to answer that question during this first phase of his research.

Board Chair Reid Goldstein said the Board will revisit the issue in May.

Officials acknowledged during the meeting that the second phase of the study is not expected to be completed by May.

Goldstein said the study to examine the “the cost benefit analysis” of the program, but noted he had hoped the presentation included information on the “health effects” more screen time could have for youth.

Board member Barbara Kanninen also asked if there exists a consensus in the educational community about one-to-one device programs.

Kellogg held his own iPad aloft at the podium and replied, “They have ether potential to really amplify really good instruction, really good curriculum, but they also have the amplify really poor classroom management, really poor instruction.”

When pressed by Kanninen on whether APS has good quality instruction and curriculum Kellogg said, “I’d be very comfortable making that conclusion after phase two. That is one of my goals, figuring that out.”

Proponents of the program have said providing an iPad or laptop for every student from second grade on offers a chance to personalize their learning and address the achievement gap. But the program remains controversial with parents, some of whom were recently billed the costs for repairing devices after a policy change last year.

Board member Monique O’Grady also asked last week if it is common for school districts to have a device for every student.

Kellogg referenced his work in North Carolina where he answered that about 40 percent of their schools have “officially” adopted a similar policy but “realistically” only about 20 percent of them have achieved a one-to-one ratio.

In 2015, Kanninen attempted to pause and study the program, which had deployed 3,000 devices at the time. Her questions four years ago echoed last week’s: “Is it helping students learn? Is it helping teachers teach?”

The initiative began toting iPads and MacBook Air laptops into classrooms in the 2014-2015 school year with the goal of outfitting every student with a device by 2017.

The program initially drew criticism from parents who said APS introduced it in the budget with little public input and without sharing details about the plan with parents.

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Construction is proceeding as planned on The Heights Building, the name of the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program’s new home at the former Wilson School site in Rosslyn.

Located at 1601 Wilson Blvd, The Heights Building will include an estimated 775 seats for students, at a cost of around $100 million. The Leo A. Daly– and BIG-designed building, with its unique stacked-rectangle design, will house both H-B Woodlawn and the Stratford Program.

H-B Woodlawn, an arts-oriented high school program with a focus on self-discipline, was once known as “hippie high.” Stratford is a secondary school for students with special needs.

Demolition for the project started in 2017.

Arlington Public Schools spokesman Frank Bellavia told ARLnow that the project remains “on schedule to open in September,” though he offered no other details on the construction progress so far.

Meanwhile, next to The Heights Building, another large construction project is underway. Excavation for the massive project — which will feature three towers, a park and a new road as part of a mixed-use development called The Highlands — appears to be mostly complete.

More from our prior coverage in October:

Work is kicking off on a massive new development in West Rosslyn, and its developer is offering a first look at its plans to build three new residential towers, a new fire station and an improved Rosslyn Highlands Park.

The D.C. developer Penzance announced today (Monday) that it would be dubbing the project “The Highlands,” which will be located at 1555 Wilson Blvd.

In all, the development will include 104 condos, 780 apartments and 40,000 square feet of retail space, including a new CVS pharmacy replacing the old shop at the location that closed earlier this year.

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