Arlington, VA

Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

School divisions and local governments in the region and across the country are providing child care while students are learning online.

These programs recognize that many parents cannot work from home and that low-income students in particular benefit from the adult supervision, help with technology, and food provided.

For example, Fairfax County Public Schools provides full-day child care at 37 school sites with fees based on income that are as low as $80 per month. Loudoun County is offering child care at 11 elementary schools and two additional sites for a fee, with a 50% discount for students enrolled in the Free and Reduced Meals program. The City of San Francisco has 50 sites providing free child care to 700 students, with space for up to 2,000 students.

Here in Arlington, no Arlington Public Schools (APS) sites or Arlington County Government sites have opened for child care during the pandemic.

County officials are studying the issue.

“The County has been exploring multiple options for care for school-aged children with APS and non-profit partners, with the initial priority being at-risk children,” according to a statement that Deputy County Manager Michelle Cowan recently provided to ARLnow.

One option is a program to begin in October that would provide child care free of charge for 50 children, ages 4-11, at one APS location.

During the last school year, 4,402 Arlington elementary school students were eligible for free or reduced price meals, according to the Virginia Department of Education. The need for child care is much greater than 50 students.

Arlington officials should quickly assess how many spaces are needed for child care and expand availability for low-income children. Such an assessment is underway in Alexandria, which has created the Alexandria Emergency Child Care Collaborative.

The need for child care is driven not only by increased demand with students learning at home, but also by reduced supply caused by the closure of many private day care facilities due to the pandemic. Arlington County’s interactive map of private child care centers shows those that are closed and how few slots are available in the ones that remain open. Tuition charged at many private facilities are cost-prohibitive for low-income families.

There are many challenges to opening new child care facilities. These include identifying appropriate locations, staffing, and transportation; addressing licensing requirements and the health and safety of the participants; establishing eligibility requirements; and funding.

Other jurisdictions have addressed these challenges and have opened child care facilities for those most in need.

The need will continue, even as APS begins to bring students back to school for some in-person learning. The APS plan provides for some students with disabilities to return to school in October; additional students in November; and all students who chose a hybrid learning model starting in December. But the hybrid model has students learning from home more than they are at school. Child care still will be needed as this phased return to school is implemented.

Arlington County’s Child Care Initiative (CCI) was created in 2017, bringing together those in the public and private sectors with a goal to improve the affordability, availability, and quality of child care, recognizing that child care “is a key component of a thriving, diverse community.”

A fall 2019 CCI report notes that changes have been made to zoning ordinances and that “red tape” has been reduced, to help meet the CCI’s goals.

Addressing the need for child care as a result of the pandemic should be a top priority. CCI, Arlington County government, and APS need to continue to cut through red tape, work together, and provide quality child care for Arlington’s low-income families.

Abby Raphael served on the Arlington School Board from 2008-2015, including two terms as Chair. She also led the Washington Area Boards of Education for two years. Currently she co-chairs the Destination 2027 Steering Committee, is a member of the Board of the Arlington YMCA, and works with Project Peace, the Community Progress Network, and Second Chance.

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Arlington Public Schools says any in-person return to classrooms will be phased, bringing back certain student groups before others.

That was revealed in a School Talk message sent to APS families on Tuesday. Officials also announced plans to help connect working families in need of childcare during remote schooling with local options.

The email, sent by Superintendent Francisco Durán, said students with disabilities would be the first to return once APS determines that it’s safe to resume some in-person instruction. Students in Pre-K through 3rd grade, as well as English Learner students, would phase in next, followed by all other students who opt in to the hybrid model of two in-person instruction days per week.

To decide when a hybrid model can safely begin, APS is looking at metrics like family and employee preferences, global availability of PPE and custodial supplies, and COVID-19 health metrics at local to national levels, according to APS spokesman Frank Bellavia.

“As we prepare for distance learning, I want to reiterate that we remain in close contact with state health officials and the Arlington County Public Health Division to monitor health data and evaluate opportunities to gradually phase in hybrid, in-person instruction,” Durán wrote. “I will notify you well in advance as plans progress and circumstances change.”

The letter also said Arlington County’s Department of Human Services (DHS) has identified 328 available slots in childcare centers and family day care homes located throughout the county.

These facilities are not affiliated with APS and families would have to pay to send their children there. The department is currently looking for additional slots and ways to expand options for low-income families.

“APS is providing childcare for staff only in our buildings. We are not providing childcare for families in our facilities,” Bellavia said. “Instead, APS is working with Arlington County to identify current childcare centers and in-home childcare facilities that can accommodate additional children.”

DHS is working for a way to prioritize children and families with the highest need when filling these slots, according to Bellavia.

More from Durán’s letter:

We know childcare is a major challenge for working families. We are working with the County to make some options available. The Department of Human Services has been working to expand availability among existing childcare providers, encouraging closed centers to reopen, and helping potential providers overcome obstacles such as licensing and land use processes. Through this work, DHS has identified more than 300 available slots through existing providers, based on numbers reported at the end of July:

  • Childcare Centers (63 total): 32 currently open with approximately 145 slots available
  • Family Day Care Homes (120 total): 109 currently open with approximately 183 slots available

More than 20 of these providers have indicated interest in expanding their hours and age ranges to accommodate school-aged children. DHS is supporting those efforts and creating a process to prioritize available slots to support children and families with the highest need. We are also working with the YMCA and other local non-profits and to expand options for low-income families. More details and how families can access these childcare options will be communicated through APS and the County as this work progresses.

The new school year is set to start online only, on Tuesday, Sept. 8. In July, Durán said he hoped to start transitioning students back in-person instruction in October.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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(Updated at 4:10 p.m.) Lauren Harris and Portia Moore were best friends growing up and both ended up launching preschool programs in Arlington. Their experiences highlight some of the differences between North and South Arlington and the county’s deep economic divisions.

Harris is the CEO and Executive Director of Little Ambassadors’ Academy, which has three locations in Arlington along Lee Highway. Moore owns STEM Preschool, which has locations in Fairlington and Capitol Hill in D.C.

“Arlington definitely has a high demand for quality preschools,” Harris said. “I think Portia and I both try to fill that void. The reality of the situation in Arlington is that there are more kids than there are preschool slots… It’s hard to find quality childcare, and harder to find one close to where you live and have that community feel.”

Moore said both of their programs are also very localized to their respective areas.

“It’s about the neighborhoods,” Moore said. “Lauren has the north side locked down. I chose to go to Fairlington because it’s such an amazing family community.”

Moore said it’s also an industry where it’s not unusual for the majority of providers to be people of color. Moore said she likes the diversity of her staff and community, while for Harris that’s a more difficult goal to achieve in North Arlington.

“Arlington is diverse, but on my side of Arlington, it’s significantly less diverse,” Harris said. “My staff are sometimes the only people of color that these children interact with. But I don’t think that we specifically put out that we’re a Black business. We’re preschool owners; we happen to be Black and we happen to be women, but we don’t think of ourselves as Black women-owned. We do great things for the community and we happen to be Black women.”

For Moore, the K-12 schools the children in Fairlington will go into tend to be more diverse.

“For my schools, they all go to other schools where there are all types of diversity and nationalities,” Moore said.

Moore moved to Arlington from Texas when she was ten and said she developed friends here across all sorts of nationality and racial lines. She said there’s a drive towards diversity in the county, but one that sometimes clashes with parents who moved into neighborhoods hoping their students would go to school perceived as being better than others.

“I know Arlington has been trying its best to have different boundaries, so there’s always a fight for integration,” Moore said, “I get the parent’s point too. I paid for a neighborhood I want my children to go there. However, it’s also important for integration, for times like this, for children to have a different mindset and meet someone you may not see in your neighborhood.”

Harris said roughly 97% percent of her school’s population is White. The majority of her students wind up going to Nottingham Elementary School, the student body of which is only 0.4% Black, according to APS data.

“My daughter is the only person of color in her Pre-K classroom,” Harris said. “Absolutely, while we do hope to bring diversity, we bring it to our staff and through our culture that we give and the lessons we teach our children.”

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(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) A residential development in Clarendon originally approved in 2015 may be nearing fruition.

The Arlington County Board previously approved a 580-unit, mixed-use development project in western Clarendon in October 2015. Set to replace the former Red Top Cab headquarters and dispatch center, and a pair of small commercial buildings, the development has shown few signs of progress since then.

That may be about to change. The KinderCare daycare center, located in one of the buildings to be replaced in the first of two planned construction phases, informed parents last week that it would be closing in June.

“Today I have some sad news to share: our center will close on June 5,” the center’s director wrote in a Feb. 20 letter. “As some of you may know, our center has been on short term leases for the last few years due to a new development project awaiting approval with the city. We recently learned that the project is moving forward.”

The letter went on to suggest that no replacement is currently planned for the center.

“I know this news may be unexpected and difficult to hear… Please know that all of us at KinderCare will do everything we can to support you and your child and to make this transition as stress-free as possible,” the letter says. “Since 2017, we’ve been diligently exploring all additional options for centers in the area… we are continuing to seek out additional child care solutions for families in Arlington.”

Facing a relatively tight turnaround for finding new childcare arrangements, some parents are incensed.

“This is incredibly short notice in an area that commands 6 months+ of wait lists for daycare services,” one parent told ARLnow. “Our understanding is that the teachers and director were blindsided as well.”

KinderCare is planning a town hall meeting for parents Tuesday night. The company says it will assist the center’s staff in finding new positions, potentially at other KinderCare centers in the D.C. area.

There’s no word on when developer Shooshan might be kicking off construction on the project, the first phase of which will also replace the Red Top Cab dispatch center. A company representative did not respond to several emails from ARLnow.

Shooshan is currently wrapping up construction of 4040 Wilson Blvd, the tallest building in Ballston and future home of VIDA Fitness, The Salt Line restaurant and the corporate headquarters of AvalonBay.

A host of new development in Clarendon is on the way, prompting county planners to reexamine the circa-2006 plan for the neighborhood.

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Morning Notes

Dorsey Steps Down from Transportation Board — “The Arlington County Board forced member Christian Dorsey to step down from a second transit board Saturday over a campaign donation from Metro’s largest union, and he apologized for misleading statements he made last month suggesting that he had already returned the money. Dorsey (D), who was reelected to the board in November, said he has sent back the $10,000 donation to the Amalgamated Transit Union and agreed to resign from the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission.” [Washington Post]

Thousands Attend Buttigieg Rally — Nearly 10,000 people attended Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg’s campaign rally at Washington-Liberty High School yesterday afternoon. [Twitter, TwitterThe Pete Channel]

Klobuchar Had High Profile Local Landlord — “Chuck Todd — who helped moderate Wednesday night’s Democratic debate — is likely more familiar with one candidate than any other. He was Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s landlord, sources exclusively told Page Six. Klobuchar and her husband, lawyer John Bessler, rented a 3-bedroom home owned by Todd in Arlington, Virginia, sources said.” [Page Six]

Firm Floats Less Parking for HQ2-Adjacent Park — “The green space adjacent to the first pair of Amazon.com Inc. HQ2 towers could be so much grander if it weren’t for some redundant on-street parking. That is what New York-based James Corner Field Operations, the urban design and landscape architecture firm Amazon has enlisted to mold Metropolitan Park’s open space, said Thursday night during the first step of the park master planning process… the site has roughly 50 on-street parking spaces, but there is a significant number, about 350, of underused below-ground spaces.” [Washington Business Journal]

Iwo Jima Restoration Is Complete — “This Sunday, Feb. 23, marks 75 years since brave Marines raised the American flag over Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima. The U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, which depicts the historic moment, has been completely rehabilitated… The rehabilitation of the sculpture and surrounding parkland, the specially designed onsite exhibits and the new videos were made possible through a generous $5.37 million donation.” [Press Release]

Board Approves Child Care Funding, Park Contract — “The Arlington County Board today approved a contract with Crown Construction Service, Inc. to upgrade heavily-used Edison Park with new playgrounds and other amenities… [and] accepted a $200,000 donation to fund high-quality child care for low-income Arlington families, the first such donation to the Arlington Community Foundation’s  (ACF) Shared Prosperity initiative from a private corporation.” [Arlington County, Arlington County]

‘Ball Cap Bandit’ Sentenced — “An Arlington man was sentenced today to five years in prison for robbing two Falls Church pawn shops of nearly $800,000 in jewelry and watches. According to court documents, in July 2014, Budder Khan, 30, entered Route 50 Gold and Jewelry Exchange, forced the store’s employees to the ground using what appeared to be a real firearm, smashed the business’s glass display cases, and took jewelry and watches worth over $650,000.” [Press Release]

Flickr pool photo by Phil

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As The Children’s School gets closer to building a three-story daycare facility at 4700 Lee Highway, the Arlington County Board has approved a request to eliminate off-site parking and modify initial architectural plans.

During its meeting last night the Board approved a request to alter the site’s requirements for an off-site parking lot, and instead have a total of 36 on-site parking spaces, 12 more than required under updated zoning code. Thirty of the spaces will be in an underground garage, while 6 will be surface parking.

“At the time of use permit approval [in 2018, the Zoning Ordinance required one (1) parking space per employee for a child care use,” a county staff report explains. “Since that approval, Section 14.3 of the Arlington County Zoning Ordinance has been updated to require one (1) parking space per ten children.”

The new facility is being built where the shuttered Alpine Restaurant now stands.

Architectural changes include extension of the third-story rear play deck, expansion of the front landscape, and the addition of windows to the rear of the building.

The Board also moved to expand the site’s rear wall so car headlights will not shine into neighboring houses, which was subject of concern from residents at the meeting.

Eight spaces in the site’s parking garage will used for child pick-up and drop-off. Parents will also be able to use a teacher-assisted curb loop right off Lee Highway for similar purposes.

When complete, the child care center will oversee up to 235 children between the ages of two months to five years old. The final number of children permitted will “be subject to approval” by the county Child Care Office and the county’s Inspection Services Division, per a staff report.

The co-op program for the children of Arlington Public Schools employees has long operated out of the Reed School building in Westover, but with APS planning to open a new elementary school at that site in 2021, the Children’s School has been forced to relocate elsewhere. The new facility will also be home to Integration Station, a program for kids with developmental or other disabilities that intermingles with The Children’s School.

Until its permanent location is complete, the facility is temporarily located in the second and third floors of a Ballston office building located at 4420 N. Fairfax Drive.

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A new donation from Nestlé will help some low-income households in Arlington afford child care.

The food and beverage company, which recently announced an expansion of its U.S. headquarters in Rosslyn, is donating $200,000 to the Arlington Community Foundation’s child care scholarship program.

The foundation is hoping to raise $2.7 million to provide financial assistance for 200 kids over the next 5 years.

“Arlington has the highest child care costs in the region,” the foundation noted in a press release, below. “A family of four with one infant and one four-year old can spend more than $42,000 per year on child care. Yet, nearly 2,600 Arlington children under age 6 live in families whose household income is $36,000 or below.”

The average annual scholarship per child will be $13,700, ACF said.

Arlington County has launched its own initiative to support more child care options locally, including by making key zoning and regulatory changes. County Board member Katie Cristol wrote last month that there’s a shortage of childcare options in Arlington, driving up costs.

“Supply shortages were worse than we thought: Known capacity is sufficient to serve only 54% of Arlington’s children under five, despite data indicating that most Arlington children live in families where all parents work,” Cristol wrote.

More on the donation, from the Arlington Community Foundation, is below after the jump.

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Across Arlington, numerous families live with au pairs. What many don’t know is how au pairs have built a community of their own in Arlington.

An au pair is an young adult between the ages of 18-26 who moves to America from another country as part of a cultural exchange. They are matched with a host family, and the au pair lives with them and provides up to 45 hours a week of childcare.

“Having an au pair is definitely a kind of a lifestyle choice, and it’s not for everyone,” said Jennifer Bhartiya, who works part-time as the area’s Local Childcare Consultant (LCC) for Cultural Care Au Pair, where she pairs interested families with matching au pairs.

Currently, Bhartiya represents around 15 families with au pairs, and is constantly fielding requests from new families.

“I work with several [women] from Colombia, some from Germany, two from Argentina and one from Thailand,” said Bhartiya. “And we have some guys as well, who we like to call ‘bropairs.'”

The dynamic between an au pair and the host family is more intimate than a nanny or a babysitter, because it relies on a deeper level of trust, Bhartiya said. In addition to living with the family, au pairs are often authorized to pick children up from school, take them to the doctor, and have access to family credit cards.

It can be hard to adjust to America after growing up abroad, Bhartiya says, which is why she makes an effort to organize events that bring au pairs together and give back to the community.

Recently, a group of Arlington au pairs spent the day across the Potomac at DC Central Kitchen, where they prepared meals given to homeless shelters.

“We had such a good experience, and there’s such an interest from au pairs in Arlington for volunteer opportunities,” said Bhartiya.

A group of au pairs plan on volunteering during the upcoming Marine Corps Marathon on Sunday, October 27, and another local LCC is working to organize a book drive for charity.

“Through events such as community picnics, baseball games, and even fire safety meetings at the Cherrydale fire station, we’re hoping to provide these au pairs with cultural experiences,” said Bhartiya. 

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Following years of zoning tweaks, the Arlington County Board says childcare centers may finally be reaping some benefit from local policy changes.

The Arlington County Board approved requests from eight childcare providers this past weekend to expand the number of children they can care for — requests Board members took as a sign of success for their many programs intended to ease the regulatory burden on such businesses and expand childcare options in Arlington.

“The use permits that the Board approved for a number of family daycare homes are evidence that the child care initiative is producing real results for families and small businesses,” said County Board Chair Christian Dorsey during the meeting.

“These established home and child care providers chose to increase their capacity because of changes that we recently enacted to our Zoning Ordinance and County Code, recommended by the child care initiative ably spearheaded by Ms. Cristol,” he added of fellow Board member Katie Cristol.

On Saturday, eight existing daycare operations requested increases in the number of children they are allowed to care for — from nine to 12. The Board unanimously approved all requests through its consent agenda. The facilities include:

  • EliBunny Family Child Care at 5916 5th Road S
  • Singh Family Day Care Home at 5738 N. Carlin Springs Road
  • Yolita’s Daycare at 1509 S. Quincy Street
  • Kumar Family Day Care Home at 6610 19th Road N.
  • Small Angels Child Daycare at 1523 N. Randolph Street
  • Fablis Daycare at 923 N. Edgewood Street
  • Modern Tots at 3110 19th Street S.
  • Andy’s Room Childcare at 2015 S. Monroe St

The requests come after the Board previously changed several zoning ordinances to allow daycares to care for up to nine children by right, and up to 12 children if they obtain a use permit through the county. The changes also reduced parking requirements and standardized child caps across different zoning districts.

The changes were part of the county’s long-discussed overhaul on childcare regulations.

The overhaul required a dedicated staff member and aimed to loosen what some worried were overly restrictive regulations, contributing to Arlington’s sky-high costs of childcare by limiting the number of slots for children in daycares and making it harder to open up new childcare centers.

Parents in Arlington pay the highest average costs in the region — $42,705 per year — for an infant and a 4-year old to attend daycare, leading Board members to consider a subsidy last year to help families afford it. The average cost per child ($21,000) is also among the highest in the region, per the Economic Policy Institute.

Last January, the county reported that there were only 6,984 licensed daycare spaces available for more than double that number of children under the age of five in Arlington.

On Saturday the Board also renewed permits for several larger childcare facilities, including the STEM Preschool on S. Abingdon Street  in Fairlington (which cares for 106 children), and the Feya Preschool (40 children) on S. Walter Reed Drive, south of Columbia Pike.

“This is truly a success story, and we look forward to more of these coming forward,” said Dorsey.

Kalina Newman contributed to this report.

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As Amazon continues to hire for its HQ2, the company is also working through plans to include a new daycare facility inside its planned permanent office campus in Pentagon City.

The 12,000 square-foot child care center would be located on the ground floor and face the interior public plaza. A spokesperson for Amazon told ARLnow that the proposed daycare would be operated by a third party company.

Lack of accessible daycare is the center of a fight in Seattle, where a group called “Momazonians” are arguing the company needs to do more to provide accessible child care, though a spokesperson the Amazon noted that the company does have a daycare facility for both Amazon employees and the nearby community in one of their headquarters buildings.

In Arlington, the company is in a tug-of-war with planners over whether the daycare should count towards the headquarters’ total density. The daycare is one of several types of space that the company is requesting not be included in calculations of gross floor area. Because the proposed complex exceeds the allowable density under zoning for the site, excluding certain types of space from the floor area calculation would cut down on the community benefits Amazon would need to provide in exchange for the added density.

Many of these areas, like mechanical shafts and below-grade storage, are excluded by default as they do not contribute to the bulk and height of the building and are not rentable floor space. But child care facilities typically are not considered one of those excluded types of density.

“Staff has not supported exclusions from density for uses such as child care,” the staff report said. “Staff is currently analyzing the applicant’s requests.”

At a meeting last week, the proposed exclusion of the child care facility from the building’s bonus density drew some criticism from Site Plan Review Committee members, who pointed to the example of the formerly Ballston-based National Science Foundation, which they said was granted a density exclusion for a child development center only to later convert the space to another use.

But Arlington has been in the middle of a push to create more daycare options, including consideration of zoning changes aimed at eliminating barriers to child care.

The spokesperson for Amazon said the company is planning to include the daycare at HQ2 regardless of whether the county approves the density exemption.

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Morning Notes

Listing Prices Around HQ2 Skyrocket — “From June 2018 to June 2019, the median asking price for a single-family home in Zip code 22202, home to Amazon’s planned Northern Virginia headquarters, skyrocketed a whopping 99.9 percent–essentially doubling over that period–according to a new report from listings service Bright MLS.” [Curbed, Bloomberg]

Board OKs Child Care Parking Changes — “The Arlington County Board today voted to reduce the parking requirements for child care centers, in keeping with the County’s Child Care Initiative to promote the expansion of accessible, available, high-quality child care throughout the County.” [Arlington County]

New Pizzeria Open on Lee HighwayChicago’s Pizza With A Twist opened a couple of weeks ago on Lee Highway, next to Maya Bistro. The Indian-Italian fusion restaurant serves unique dishes like a chicken tikka masala pizza. [Instagram]

New Pike Bus Stops Approved — “The Arlington County Board today approved a $1.6 million contract with Sagres Construction Corporation to build the first four of 23 transit stations planned for Columbia Pike. Construction is expected to begin this fall and be completed by fall 2020.” [Arlington County]

Arlington GOP Sitting Out County Races — “For the most part, Arlington Republicans will be sitting out the November general election – the party did not field candidates for the County Board, School Board and most legislative races on the ballot, although there are several non-Democrats who are running that might attract GOP support.” [InsideNova]

Swanson Middle School Teacher Honored — “Congratulations to @SwansonAdmirals teacher Mary Beth Donnelly who was named the 2019 Virginia History Teacher of the Year.” [Twitter]

Injured D.C. Fire K-9 Stops GW Parkway Traffic Updated at 9 a.m. — “Traffic stopped on the George Washington Parkway near Reagan National Airport Tuesday afternoon so a medevac helicopter could land, but the patient wasn’t human — it was a very special dog. The 6-year-old German shepherd named Kylie works for D.C. Fire and EMS as a cadaver dog… [she] seriously hurt one of her hind legs while helping another law enforcement agency conduct a search.” [WTOP]

Flickr pool photo by Brian Allen

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