Arlington, VA

A parent of an autistic student at Carlin Springs Elementary worries that school officials are pushing her son into general education classes too quickly, and she’s taking the school system to court in response.

Jemie Sanchez says that school officials assured her last year that her son, Christopher, would continue to primarily learn in small classes when he moved up to kindergarten this fall, with attention from a special education teacher. But she says she subsequently discovered her son has been spending his time in larger, general education classrooms instead, and can’t understand why educators would make such a change.

Sanchez is pursuing legal action against Arlington Public Schools to try and force Carlin Springs leaders to adhere to what she felt they’d originally promised for her son, particularly because she’s concerned that the school has repeated this pattern with other students in special education classes.

“When I used to send him to pre-school, I felt comfortable, and now I don’t,” Sanchez told ARLnow. “The worst part is he cant tell me either, because he’s largely nonverbal. He used to be happy to go to school. He’d wake up early on weekends and say he wants to go to school, and he’s not doing that anymore.”

APS spokesman Frank Bellavia says the school system can’t comment “on an individual student’s record,” so it’s impossible for the school system to respond directly to Sanchez’s claims. But he did seek to stress that APS staffers work diligently to develop Individualized Education Programs (commonly known as IEPs) for special needs students in conjunction with parents, in order to allay any potential concerns.

“In general, school staff and families are able to have informal discussions and/or formal IEP meetings to consider a child’s strengths and weaknesses, services, accommodations and placement,” Bellavia said. “Additional specialists from the Central Office are available for consultation and participation. Families and school staff may also access support from our Parent Resource Center.”

Sanchez felt she had worked out an acceptable IEP with the Carlin Springs administration and special education teachers back in March.

She stressed to educators that she felt her son would be best suited for a small classroom with only seven to eight students in total, and two teachers working with them. And she says Carlin Springs staff agreed with her on that point.

Yet when Sanchez arrived for a back-to-school event earlier this fall, she learned that Christopher was spending time in a larger, general education class, working with a special education assistant at the time.

“He has troubles with transitions already, so I just couldn’t imagine him being in a bigger classroom with different teachers,” Sanchez said.

She quickly raised the issue with educators, who then offered to arrange another meeting with her to revise Christopher’s IEP. But she can’t understand why they changed the arrangement they struck back in March without consulting her first.

“They’re not implementing the first one, so how can we decide on something else after such a short period of time?” Sanchez said.

Sanchez decided to hire a lawyer instead, and challenge the school’s actions in court. Nicholas Ostrem signed on as her attorney, and he says he helped her file an administrative complaint, in order to force the school to comply with the original IEP educators sketched out for Christopher.

He says the school system has so far insisted that it is indeed complying with that document, but he worries that Sanchez’s son shouldn’t be working solely with an assistant teacher when he’s in the larger group setting.

“Many [assistants] don’t have specific special education training, and we don’t think that complies with the IEP,” said Ostrem, whose firm focuses on special education cases. “Even giving them the benefit of the doubt, we don’t think they’re doing this in good faith. It can’t just be a warm body, you have to try to educate these kids.”

Ostrem said the case was set to go before a hearing officer today (Thursday), though it could take a while yet before everything the courts can sort all this out. He even wonders why APS has fought back on this in the first place, arguing that it will “cost taxpayers a ton of money” to litigate the case.

For her part, Sanchez says the whole ordeal has been “very emotional,” particularly after she just had another child a few weeks ago. Now, she wonders what the future might hold for her family.

“I’ve lived in Arlington my whole life, I grew up going to APS,” Sanchez said. “I wanted that for him too, but then it’s coming to this. It’s made me think maybe I made a mistake in wanting to keep him in Arlington.”

Photo via Google Maps

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Arlington’s School Board is laying out more details as it prepares to redraw elementary school boundary lines this fall, identifying 11 schools set to see boundary changes ahead of the 2019 school year.

With the new Alice West Fleet Elementary School set to open in Arlington Heights next year, Arlington Public Schools needs to tweak boundaries for a variety of schools as ripple effects of the change spread throughout the county. The Board’s already been busy working with staff to sort out which schools should be “option” programs, accessible to students around the county, and plans to spend the next few months sorting out remaining boundary details leading up to a final vote this December.

While school leaders have discussed a variety of programs over the course of the year, today (Friday) Arlington Public Schools released the final list of elementary schools set to have their boundaries changed as part of this process. Those schools are:

  • Abingdon
  • Arlington Science Focus (ASFS)
  • Ashlawn
  • Barcroft
  • Drew
  • Henry (Fleet)
  • Hoffman-Boston
  • Long Branch
  • Oakridge
  • Randolph
  • Taylor

Notably, that list does not include Carlin Springs or Nottingham Elementary Schools, even though APS staff previously suggested that the schools would be good candidates to be converted to option schools. However, APS says the schools’ boundaries will be reviewed as part of a fall 2020 boundary process, which will involve 14 schools in all.

Barcroft, however, is on the list after being recommended for a conversion to an option school.

The question of which schools will become, or remain, countywide option programs is sure to be one of the most contentious issues the Board wrestles with during the boundary process.

APS currently has five option schools at the elementary level: Arlington Traditional School and Campbell, Claremont, Drew and Key Elementary Schools. The rest are all “neighborhood schools,” which only accept nearby students who live within set boundaries.

The School Board has already agreed to move the county’s “Montessori” program from Drew Model School to Patrick Henry Elementary School for the 2019-2020 school year, with Drew changing to a neighborhood school, so at least one option site is guaranteed to change.

County staff have yet to offer any final recommendations on option schools, but in a preliminary analysis in May, they told the Board that Campbell, Carlin Springs and Henry Elementary Schools were all likely to earn their recommendation to either become or remain option sites.

Barcroft, Claremont and Nottingham Elementary Schools and the Arlington Traditional School were also cited as possibilities to fill the final two available slots for option schools, leaving Barcroft as the only school recommended for conversion on the list for the 2018 process.

But staff don’t plan to offer any final recommendations until sometime this fall, and will only do so after holding a series of public meetings on the process.

Staff will hold an open office hours session on the issue from 7-8:30 p.m. on Aug. 7 and the first community meeting on the topic on Sept. 26, both at Kenmore Middle School (200 S. Carlin Springs Rd.).

The Board plans to take a final vote on boundaries Dec. 6.

Officials also released the full list of schools set to be impacted by the 2020 boundary process, precipitated in part by the opening of the new building on the Reed school site in 2021:

  • Abingdon
  • Ashlawn
  • Barcroft
  • Barrett
  • Carlin Springs
  • Discovery
  • Glebe
  • Jamestown
  • McKinley
  • Long Branch
  • Nottingham
  • Reed
  • Taylor
  • Tuckahoe

“A school may be involved in both boundary processes, but a specific planning unit will only be impacted once to minimize the number of times that individual students who have continued to reside in a particular attendance area are impacted by the boundary change,” APS wrote in a release.

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Arlington County Police are investigating an incident, initially reported as a stabbing, at Carlin Springs Elementary School.

Initial reports suggested that a student brought a small, sharp object to school and tried to stab a teacher with it, but the teacher was not injured and did not require medical treatment.

The student was then detained by administrators and police were called.

“Just after 9:00 a.m. Arlington County Police responded to Carlin Springs Elementary School for the report of an assault on teacher,” police said in a subsequent statement. “The investigation determined that the student produced a small sewing tool and struck the teacher in the leg. No injuries were reported and there is no threat to students. Police remain on scene investigating and coordinating with the administration of Arlington Public Schools.”

Update at 11:55 a.m. — More from an email sent to parents by Arlington Public Schools this morning:

Dear Carlin Springs Families:

I wanted to update you about an incident that occurred at our school this morning. At approximately 9:15 a.m., a Carlin Springs student was removed from a classroom after attempting to injure a teacher with a small sewing tool the student brought to school. Only one other student was in the immediate vicinity and other staff immediately intervened to calm the situation. The teacher was not harmed and no other students were involved.

As a precaution for everyone, this student was removed from the classroom and away from other students. School Resource Officers from the Arlington Police were contacted and immediately responded to the scene. The investigation is ongoing at this time, and no further information can be shared.

While we understand that many people would like to have additional details of this incident, it is considered a confidential student matter at this time and we cannot share more information.  But I want to assure everyone that students are safe and were not affected by the occurrence. All further action as a result of this incident will be taken in accordance with our policies.

Please be assured that all of us at Carlin Springs and Arlington Public Schools take these matters very seriously, and appropriate action will be taken to address the issue and ensure our students’ continued safety at all times.

Sincerely,

Corina Coronel, Principal
Carlin Springs Elementary School

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Morning Notes

Person walking near puddle in Clarendon on rainy day, Sept. 30 2016

Food Star Not Responding to Pleas to Stay — The Food Star grocery store apparently doesn’t have much interest in staying in Arlington after the store, at the corner of Columbia Pike and George Mason Drive, closes to make way for a redevelopment. Despite resident interest in keeping the Food Star, county officials say their efforts to reach out to the company and help them relocate to another location in Arlington have not yet yielded a “substantive” response. [InsideNova]

LEGO Store Grand Opening — The new LEGO Store in the Pentagon City mall is holding its grand opening celebration starting today. The store will be hosting a LEGO Master Builder who will construct a huge LEGO model for display. The first 400 customers Friday, Saturday and Sunday will receive free gifts with qualifying purchases. [LEGO]

Olympic Athletes at Elementary School — A group of Olympic athletes will talk with students at Carlin Springs Elementary this morning. Among the group are shot put gold medalist Michelle Carter, gold medal-winning sprinter Natasha Hastings and long jump gold medalist Jeff Henderson. The athletes will be at the school as part of the Let’s Move! Healthy Schools campaign.

Notable Tree Nominations — It’s that time of the year — if you think you have a truly exceptional tree in your yard that deserves recognition, you can now nominate it for Arlington County’s annual Notable Tree awards. The deadline for nominations is Nov. 15. [Arlington County]

October Is Affordable Housing Month — Tomorrow is Oct. 1 and October is Affordable Housing Month in Arlington, “a month-long celebration of the County’s long-term commitment to preserving and creating housing opportunities that benefit the whole community.” [Arlington County]

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(Updated at 10:50 a.m.) With the notable exception of Barcroft Elementary, which opened on Aug. 1, today was the first day of school for Arlington Public Schools students.

Kids and parents flocked back to local elementary, middle and high schools this morning, as the APS bus fleet traversed local roads. There were no major hiccups reported, save perhaps a fire alarm that was set off in the teacher’s lounge of Taylor Elementary around 10 a.m. (No smoke or fire was found.)

This morning at Abingdon Elementary, which is being renovated and expanded, students were greeted by a number of newly-installed relocatable classroom trailers on the field next to the school. Several Arlington County police officers were stationed at the intersection of 29th Street S. and S. Abingdon Street, to help keep cars moving amid a new traffic pattern for dropping off students.

At Carlin Springs Elementary, meanwhile, administrators literally rolled out a red carpet for new and returning students. At the new Arlington Tech, the program’s first 40 students arrived and began classes. At the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program, upperclassmen formed tunnels for freshman students on their first day.

Arlington County Police and APS are urging drivers to be extra cautious on the roads as school gets back underway.

ACPD and APS officials, School Board members and school administrators were busy ringing in the first day of school on Twitter this morning. More back-to-school tweets, after the jump.

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A Cat Named Denali cover (Courtesy of Gretch Brenckle)

Two Carlin Springs Elementary School staff members have created a new book series to help kids learn U.S. geography.

Gretchen Schuyler Brenckle and Kathryn Belcher Frazier recently released “A Cat Named Denali: An Outer Banks Adventure,” the first book in the series. In the children’s book, Denali goes on adventures while traveling with her family and learns fun facts about the United States, according to the book’s summary.

Brenckle, a counselor at Carlin Springs, wrote the story, and Frazier, a third grade teacher at Carlin Springs, illustrated the book. Brenckle said that she was inspired to write the book to give kids a fun way to learn geography.

“I am so excited to help children of all ages learn more about our country with Denali the Cat, who is on the adventure of a lifetime as she travels with her family, meeting new friends and learning fun facts about the United States,” she said in a press releases.

Frazier added: “Though I always remind my students not to judge a book by its cover, I hope these illustrations will entice and encourage young readers everywhere.”

Both Brenckle and Frazier live in Arlington and are Yorktown High School graduates.

“A Cat Named Denali: An Outer Banks Adventure” is available for purchase on Amazon or at Barnes and Nobles and Books A Million. The book costs $14.95.

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Morning Notes

A beetle spotted in Rosslyn

More Metro Delays — Delays were reported on Metro’s Orange, Blue and Silver lines during this morning’s rush hour due to several train malfunctions. [Twitter, Twitter, Twitter]

Memorial Bridge Repairs Starting Soon — Temporary repairs to the Arlington Memorial Bridge are expected to begin later this month. The repairs are expected to take six months and will allow the closed lanes on the bridge to reopen. [Washington Post]

Stratford School Historic Designation Meetings — The Arlington School Board held a work session last night and is scheduled to hold a public hearing on Thursday regarding a possible historic designation for the Stratford Junior High School building. The building currently houses the H-B Woodlawn secondary program, but is slated to be renovated back into a community middle school. Superintendent Patrick Murphy is recommending the School Board defer action on a historic designation until later. [Preservation Arlington, InsideNova]

Big Test Score Jump at Elementary School — Good news about Carlin Springs Elementary, which has a largely Hispanic and low-income student body and has struggled with standardized tests in the past: “Some grades… had double-digit increases in their state test passage rates after a concerted effort to prepare disadvantaged students for the exams and closely track student performance on practice tests.” [Washington Post]

Marine Corps Marathon Security — The 40th Marine Corps Marathon is two and a half months away, but local police departments are already gearing up for it. The event requires tight coordination among law enforcement agencies, including the Arlington County Police Department. [ESPN]

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Morning Notes

Wild flowers (Flickr pool photo by Alan Kotok)

Dems Debate in Ballston — The six Democratic candidates for County Board faced off in their first debate last night, before a standing-room only crowd at the NRECA conference center in Ballston. The debate was held by Arlington Young Democrats. Though knowledgable about current issues facing Arlington, candidates were light on specifics about what should be done to address those issues. [InsideNova]

Disruption Corp. Sold to 1776 — Disruption Corp., the Crystal City-based tech investment fund and office space, has been acquired by D.C.-based tech incubator 1776. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. [Washington Post]

Caps Pep Rally at Elementary School — Third grade students at Carlin Springs Elementary School have won a contest to bring a Washington Capitals playoff pep rally to their school today. The rally will start at 12:30 p.m. “There won’t likely be any players, but it will be a great time for all,” a teacher tells ARLnow.com. “The kids will be getting prizes, pictures with Slapshot (the Caps’ mascot) and learning some hockey skills. The Caps are also donating equipment to the school.” [Washington Capitals]

Artisphere ‘Doomed from the Start’ — Artisphere, which is on the budgetary chopping block next week, was “doomed from the start,” according to the artistic director of a theatre company that was booted out of its space at the cultural center two years after it opened. An anonymous Artisphere employee said of the early, over-optimistic attendance and revenue projections: “All of those numbers were so completely false.” [Washington Post]

McAuliffe Signs Special Needs Bill in Arlington — On Tuesday, Gov. Terry McAuliffe came to Arlington to sign the ABLE Act, which will allow individuals with special needs, and their families, to set up tax-exempt accounts that will allow them to save for future living expenses. Virginia is the first state to enact such legislation, which received the blessing of the U.S. Congress in December. [WJLA]

Security of Va. Voting Machines Blasted — The touch screen voting machines now being replaced in Arlington and elsewhere in Virginia were “so easy to hack, it will take your breath away,” according to reports. [Ars Technica, The Guardian]

Flickr pool photo by Alan Kotok

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New elementary school proposed for the Carlin Springs/Kenmore campus(Updated at 1:15 p.m.) The Arlington School Board is reconsidering the plan to build a 600-seat elementary school at the Kenmore Middle School site in Glencarlyn.

Despite voters approving $4.5 million in design costs for the school in a 2012 referendum, the Board is looking at diverting that investment to prepare for middle school overcrowding in the coming years, which is projected to be more serious than the capacity issues in elementary schools.

School Board Chair Abby Raphael, in a letter sent to parents and community members who have inquired about the issue, says its updated projections call for elementary schools in Arlington to be 3 percent over capacity in FY 2019, while middle schools are projected to be 16 percent over capacity in the same time period.

Raphael also referenced the objections from Glencarlyn residents from 2012 as a reason to re-evaluate building the school in the neighborhood, saying “the community raised significant concerns about the traffic and transportation issues” surrounding a new, 600-seat school in the area.

APS is revisiting the plan in advance of their next Capital Improvements Program for FY 2015-2024, which will be adopted in June. Raphael wrote that no decisions have been reached on what schools to build, if any, or if the School Board elects to construct additions onto existing schools.

Civic activist Monique O’Grady is trying to organize a campaign against the apparent backpedal. O’Grady said she’s disappointed that APS is considering abandoning its plans.

“The numbers still show that south Arlington will face more than an elementary school’s worth of overcrowding, so I believe the plan should move forward,” she wrote in an email. “I believe middle school should be addressed, but it shouldn’t come at a cost of 770 South Arlington elementary students being in trailers and with yet-to-be-mentioned programs being moved.”

O’Grady said the school should still be built while APS comes up with creative, cost-effective solutions to address anticipated middle school overcrowding.

“I worry that increased development in South Arlington, especially of apartment buildings and condos, will result in more students than currently projected and that South Arlington schools will become even more crowded than anticipated,” she said. “This is not a time to pull back from researched, planned and approved permanent elementary capacity in South Arlington. I think it is important for the South Arlington community to stand up and ask the school board not to turn South Arlington into a trailer park.”

APS acknowledges it does not have the finances to build capacity to accommodate 100 percent of the projected growth. No matter what comes out of the CIP, trailers will still be used as classrooms. The elementary school in Glencarlyn was originally slated to open in 2017.

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Morning Notes

Blue jay in North Arlington

VA Senate Panel Advances “Love Shack” Bill — A state Senate panel unanimously advanced a bill proposed by Sen. Adam Ebbin (D) that would repeal the Virginia law making it illegal for unmarried couples to live together. Currently, cohabitation by unmarried couples is a misdemeanor under the law, which went into effect in 1877. [Washington Post]

Board Accepts Grant to Fight Childhood Obesity — The County Board has accepted a state grant worth $25,000 to fund a Healthy Meals for Healthy Families program at Carlin Springs Elementary School, intended to fight childhood obesity. The program will include weekly hands-on classes in healthy food preparation and healthy eating for at-risk third, fourth and fifth graders and their families. “[The grant] will fund a program at Carlin Springs Elementary that will not only educate our children and families – but ultimately change behaviors to promote life-long healthy eating and healthy living,” said Board Chairman Walter Tejada. [Arlington County]

APS Makes EPA’s Green Power Purchasers List — Arlington Public Schools has come in at number five on the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of the Top 20 K-12 green power purchasers. APS meets six percent of its electricity use by purchasing more than 3,000,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of green power each year. “Utilizing green power helps us become more sustainable, while also sending a message to others across the U.S. that supporting clean sources of electricity is a sound business decision and an important choice in reducing climate risk,” said APS Superintendent Dr. Pat Murphy. “Most importantly, this conveys to our students the important role and responsibility that all of us have in safeguarding our environment today and in the future.” [Arlington Public Schools]

Board Promises to Hear PenPlace Concerns — At its meeting on Saturday (January 26), the County Board assured concerned residents that their voices will be heard in regards to the proposed PenPlace development. Board member Chris Zimmerman refuted claims by opponents that there wouldn’t be a serious review of the Pentagon City project. The plan involves developing 10 acres of mostly vacant land into a complex of 12 to 22 story buildings. [Sun Gazette]

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The Glencarlyn Citizens’ Association is asking the Arlington County Board for help in its fight against a new proposed school in the neighborhood.

To address school capacity issues, Arlington Public Schools is planning to build a number of new schools, including a new 600-seat “choice” elementary school on the site of the existing Kenmore Middle School/Carlin Springs Elementary School campus.

The Citizens’ Association says the new school, slated to be built by 2017, would bring the total number of students attending schools in the Glencarlyn neighborhood to 2,600, including at Kenmore, Carlin Springs and nearby Campbell Elementary School. That, the association says, presents major traffic, parking and open space issues that will degrade the quality of life for residents.

The association is asking for the County Board’s help after not getting a satisfactory response from the School Board.

“We have tried to raise our concerns with the School Board, but our community was not consulted during the planning process, despite our requests that it do so, nor has it been responsive to our questions and concerns,” Glencarlyn Citizens’ Association President Peter Olivere wrote in a letter to the County Board (after the jump). “We need your help.”

Olivere told reporters that Glencarlyn residents do not want to be portrayed as having a “Not-In-My-Backyard” attitude.

“Please, we very much do not want to be categorized as NIMBY; we only want a process which fully addresses the community concerns before a final decision is made, which is the ‘Arlington Way,'” he wrote.

As previously reported, Arlington Public Schools is facing a significant capacity crunch. The school system is expected to reach capacity at the elementary school level by next fall. The new choice school in Glencarlyn is one of five proposed new capacity-generating construction projects throughout the county.

The full letter from the Glencarlyn Citizens’ Association, after the jump.

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