Press Club

Several items before the County Board on Saturday would tee up an Arlington Transit bus facility construction in Green Valley — to the chagrin of two communities.

The Board will consider approving the use of the new bus facility for commercial parking, temporarily relocating about 30 ART buses to a Virginia Square site during construction, revising a lease to accommodate the temporary storage, and making contract amendments.

Construction on the project off Shirlington Road, which is budgeted at $97 million, is set to start in late spring, per a board report.

The Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association is concerned with the county’s plans to use the approximately 6-acre “Buck site” along N. Quincy Street for temporary bus storage. The association claims the property isn’t zoned as a bus dispatch and storage site, and it would be disruptive to the neighborhood.

County officials said in December that property is the only available and affordable site zoned for vehicle storage. Ahead of construction, 29 buses will go to the N. Quincy Street site, while 12 will move to a bus site on S. Eads Street, which opened in 2017 near Crystal City.

“Other sites were considered, both County-owned and private facilities, but these did not meet all the suitability criteria needed to maintain service delivery to our transit riders,” county spokeswoman Jessica Baxter said in a statement. “If the Board approves the application for the use permit, the County has committed to being a good neighbor to minimize impacts to the largest extent possible and be responsive to concerns that may arise from this temporary use.”

Layout of the county-owned 1425 N. Quincy Street site with the temporary Arlington Transit (ART) bus storage (via Arlington County)

Currently, the county uses the site across from Washington-Liberty High School to park some fire and police vehicles, as well as a portion of the Arlington Public Schools vehicle fleet. An item before the Board this weekend would amend its lease with the School Board to move those vehicles to another part of the site.

The local civic association, however, is opposed to the plan.

“Our neighborhood — like any other in Arlington — should shoulder its fair share of uses that benefit the broader community, even if that sometimes means greater noise, traffic, and pollution,” BVSCA President James Rosen said in a statement. “But placing buses on the Quincy site fails to meet the standard for a good — let alone lawful — use of land the County paid over $30 million to acquire in 2017, of which the County has since written off $5 million.”

Before the county purchased the property, which is zoned for light industrial uses, it was home to family establishments like Jumping Joeys and Dynamic Gymnastics. The county, facing a shortage of land for school and government operations, saw the purchase as a possible school bus facility, which the surrounding community also opposed at the time.

“The noxious effects of the operation of ART buses… will not only put our health and safety at risk, but will compromise the livability of our neighborhood, and put our students and visitors in dangerous situations,” Rosen said.

Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services previously said the peak times of the high school and bus dispatches aren’t the same so it doesn’t think that student safety will be an issue.

Projected route activity for the temporary bus facility on N. Quincy Street (via Arlington County)

Through 2025, buses will be parked at and dispatched from the N. Quincy Street site on weekdays, with a majority of movement happening between 4 a.m. and 9 p.m., according to the board report. The buses parked on the site would serve six ART bus routes, mostly in north Arlington.

Maintenance and refueling activities would not occur on-site but buses may leave to be maintenanced at other county facilities on weekends.

Green Valley facility

As ART has increased its routes and hours of service over the last decade, and anticipates continuing to increase service over the next 20 years, the operations and maintenance facility in Green Valley is needed, according to a board report.

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The Liberty gas station in Bluemont (photo via Google Maps)

Nearly 200 comments later, a contentious Nextdoor discussion about the propriety of tossing bagged dog poop in business trash cans ended on a hopeful note.

The discussion thread on the social network started when a Bluemont resident posted the following complaint about a “rude confrontation” at the neighborhood’s well-liked Liberty gas station at 5201 Wilson Blvd. It concluded 18 hours later with something rare to behold these days within the online fighting pits: genuine self-reflection and the promise of an apology.

“I want to warn other dog walkers that you might get an earful from the company if you try and dispose of your dog’s waste in their bins,” said the man’s original post. “There’s a public bin within a few meters.”

The comments in response were immediately negative, questioning why he had not just dropped the doggy doo doo in the public waste bin and whether the post was real, which led to the poster doubling down and threatening to boycott the gas station.

Not a hoax. If they don’t want me throwing things away in the trash while I’m not paying for gas. Ok, I got.

It was more the way the employee had interacted with me, as if I’m the only one ever throwing away trash (which is always going to be stinky) in their trash bin. As if I, on this one day in particular, was the reason he’s had to empty out trash every day of his life.

Now I won’t be paying for gas there or using their services again; as any consumer has that right.

More than 150 comments followed in the proceeding 18 hours, mostly upbraiding the poster and defending the employee.

“You’re throwing literal feces, not generic gas station waste, into a private trash can and wrote a page trying to besmirch their business for making a reasonable request on how their property is used, as is their right, and expect to not seem entitled?” wrote a Maywood resident in response. “You hit all the marks for it in your diatribe and then instead of just saying okay no problem with respect you deflected to ‘well it’s not just me’ and pushed your point.”

“If you really respected this gentleman just doing his job, you would have immediately apologized and promised to not do it again. Instead, you chose to initiate a confrontation. And he responded, as would anyone!” wrote a Westover resident. “That doesn’t make him rude. Instead, it only proved your inability to accept responsibility. What would you have done if someone walked up to use the trash can on your porch for any trash, poop or not?”

Amid the pile-on — which eventually came to include Alexandria, D.C. and Fairfax County residents, as Nextdoor seems to expand the geographic radius of users who see local posts when one is receiving high engagement — some remarked on the relative frequency of and passionate response to posts involving dog poop in the platform.

A common Nextdoor discussion, they pointed out, involves disputes over neighbors tossing feces-filled bags in each other’s trash cans.

“One thing I have learned on Nextdoor is that some people have no issue at all with throwing dog poop in a bag in any trash can available, and that some people feel extremely strongly that it should never be done,” observed a Rock Spring resident. “And that the two sides don’t remotely understand how the other could feel that way.”

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Washington-Liberty High School students browse copies of “Beloved” and “Maus” (courtesy photo)

(Updated at 4:25 p.m.) This afternoon, a group of Washington-Liberty High School students are giving their peers more than 100 copies of two politically controversial books.

The books are “Beloved,” Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel following a Black family during the Reconstruction era, and “Maus,” Art Spiegelman’s award-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust and his father’s life during World War II. Both have explicit content that has some parents and politicians questioning their place in schools.

Controversy around “Beloved” is part of the origin story for a bill passed by the state Senate earlier this month, which would require teachers to label classroom materials that have sexually explicit content. “Maus,” meanwhile, rocketed into the national spotlight after a Tennessee school board voted last month to remove the book from its curriculum due to “inappropriate language” and an illustration of a nude woman.

In addition to labeling classroom materials that have sexually explicit content, the new law requires teachers to notify parents if they are going to teach the materials. It gives parents the right to opt their children out of these lessons and request alternative materials.

But some high school students in Arlington and Fairfax counties are calling the law “backdoor censorship” and organized the distribution in response. It began at 3:15 p.m. in Quincy Park, near W-L.

“Great thinkers and proud Virginians like Thomas Jefferson, Maggie Walker, James Madison, George Mason and Oliver Hill — men and women who understood the importance of education and the value of studying difficult and divisive ideas — are rolling over in their graves,” W-L freshman and giveaway organizer Aaron Zevin-Lopez said in a statement.

Zevin-Lopez tells ARLnow he teamed up with George Marshall High School student Matt Savage — who has been facilitating distributions in Northern Virginia schools this month — to host a book giveaway in Arlington.

“Kids at my school understood that the Governor was attempting to limit reading rights within schools, so we thought that handing out the books beforehand could be a great way to spread the message of resistance and making sure the youth understands our past, both good and bad,” Zevin-Lopez said.

The two students are leaders of the Virginia chapter of a Gen-Z political advocacy group called Voters of Tomorrow, which is providing financial support for the giveaway.

“When the government establishes laws to label literature in terms of a single factor like ‘sexually explicit’, regardless of that factor’s significance to the larger world of literary merit or meaning, it edges closer to censorship,” said Savage, president of Voters of Tomorrow Virginia. “It means we are labeling content for the sole purpose of suppressing it.”

The students say requiring teachers to define their lessons in terms of how much “sexually explicit” content it contains will dissuade them from using anything that may be considered “objectionable.” They add that the law will force teachers to draft two entire lesson plans for one class on the objection of just one parent.

The bill is similar to one passed in 2016, which became known as the “Beloved” bill because it was inspired by a mother’s attempt to have the novel removed from her son’s English class. It was vetoed, however, by Gov. Terry McAuliffe — and his veto narrowly avoided being overturned by the House of Delegates.

The question of parental involvement in education became a central theme of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s gubernatorial campaign after McAuliffe said during a debate, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

Passing the law was a campaign promise of and priority for Youngkin when he assumed office. The Republican governor unsuccessfully tried to pass other laws, including one rooting out curriculum based on critical race theory, and created a tip line for people to report teaching strategies they object to.

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A group of Arlington County first responders and staff from other departments are petitioning the county to reverse course on its vaccine mandate.

Those who elect not to get the vaccine risk losing their jobs come February, per the county’s updated vaccine policy, shared with ARLnow.

Arlington County mandated vaccines for all government employees back in August, requiring those who were unvaccinated to submit to weekly testing. Since then, the county added a deadline to its policy: unvaccinated employees have until Feb. 1, 2022 to get the vaccine or get a medical or religious exemption. Those without a vaccine or an exemption on Feb. 1 will be placed on leave, and if they obtain neither before Feb. 28, 2022, they lose their jobs.

Some 278 of 3,137 permanent county employees are unvaccinated, including an unknown number of religious or medical exemptions, according to Public Health Division spokesman Ryan Hudson.

Those requesting the county to change its policy are asking for “more reciprocal ideas” for ensuring employee health and safety. The petition, started by firefighter Sterling Montague, has garnered nearly 300 signatures, from employees and their friends and family.

“More people came out in the last week than I ever knew of who are in support of the guys who don’t want to get the vaccine,” Montague tells ARLnow, adding that the coalition represents different demographics and opinions, including those who are vaccinated but oppose mandates.

“We aren’t uniformly anything,” he said. “We are anti-mandate for lots of reasons… [and] we have a diverse group that includes African-Americans and Hispanics.”

The petition says the mandate disproportionately harms people of color and it’s unclear what recourse folks have if those forced to take the vaccine suffer side effects. Objections to the shot, meanwhile, include that it was designed for a previous version of the virus and only protects for a short period of time and wanes, requiring an unknown number of additional boosters.

The county maintains that vaccines are safe and the best protection against COVID-19 — something echoed by the vast majority of doctors and public health professionals.

Arlington Public Health Director Dr. Reuben Varghese said mandates work, linking rising vaccination rates among those older than 18 to various mandates during a County Board recessed meeting on Tuesday.

Rather than terminate up to 10% of employees — while the county faces ongoing and predicted workforce shortages among first responders and in other county departments — the petition suggests affordable, at-work tests for unvaccinated folks and those who report to work with symptoms while counting previous COVID-19 cases towards immunization.

Testing isn’t cheap. For the last three weeks, that testing has cost the county about $7,300 per week, but it’s 100% reimbursed under the White House’s COVID-19 Disaster Declaration, Hudson said.

Those opposed to the mandate say these temporary solutions are important as the pandemic and the vaccines evolve and because they’re worried few who applied will be granted religious and medical exemptions.

“It’s like they’re trying to fire us before things change,” Montague said. “If, in a year, this is the same, you’d have a year more credibility to fire us, but it doesn’t make sense to fire us as soon as possible.” Read More

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(Updated at 2:15 p.m.) Yorktown High School’s homecoming football game Friday night was marred by “unacceptable behavior” by a group of students during halftime.

That’s according to principal, Kevin Clark, who sent a scathing email to Yorktown families on Saturday, ahead of the school’s homecoming dance.

“Students reported that during the halftime performance and thereafter, several students harassed fellow Yorktown students using inappropriate and unacceptable language of a sexual nature and inappropriately touched a student,” Clark wrote. “This created an unsafe environment and does not reflect the values of our students and staff at Yorktown.”

Clark promised to “fully investigate and address reported behavior from the football game.”

Several parents, citing a social post describing what happened, told ARLnow that the harassment was aimed at girls in the band and the color guard. That could not be immediately verified. No classes are being held today due to the federal holiday.

The Arlington County Police Department reported today that a girl was touched inappropriately during the game.

SEXUAL BATTERY (late), 2021-10090195, 5200 block of Yorktown Boulevard. At approximately 4:57 p.m. on October 9, officers were dispatched to the police station for the late report of an assault. Upon arrival, it was determined that at approximately 9:00 p.m. on October 8, the juvenile victim was walking in the area during the Homecoming Football Game when the unknown suspect inappropriately touched her. There is no suspect(s) description. The investigation is ongoing.

Last year Clark addressed another controversy with families, after a banner created for graduation was seen by some as racist.

The full letter about the behavior at the homecoming game is below.

Dear Yorktown Community,

I’m writing to follow up on last night’s Homecoming Football Game and provide an update about tonight’s Homecoming Dance. While the vast majority of our students enjoyed an exciting and positive experience, we are extremely disappointed and concerned about the unacceptable behavior of several students during the halftime performance and second half of the game.

Students reported that during the halftime performance and thereafter, several students harassed fellow Yorktown students using inappropriate and unacceptable language of a sexual nature and inappropriately touched a student. This created an unsafe environment and does not reflect the values of our students and staff at Yorktown, where we teach Respect for Others, Community and Self (ROCS) at all times.

We harshly condemn the actions of these students and will not tolerate such behavior at any Yorktown or APS activity. We are taking these reports seriously and are investigating them thoroughly. Students found to be responsible for this behavior will be held accountable. Additionally, we will take immediate measures (listed below) so that all students have a safe environment to learn and participate in school activities. This type of behavior impacts our entire school community. We need your support to address this moving forward and encourage you to speak to your child about the importance of positive and safe interactions.

If you have any information about what occurred last night or if you have any questions, please reach out to me directly […]

Next Steps Identified

  • Limiting student ticket sales to future athletic events to reflect facility limitations and capacities
  • On-field viewing of half-time performances for Seniors suspended
  • Designating specific areas for each grade level of students
  • Coaches of all sports will meet with their team to discuss appropriate behavior at events and to have players encourage peers to represent themselves appropriately at games
  • Continued supervision of students by administrators and security staff
  • Fully investigate and address reported behavior from the football game.

Homecoming Dance 

We also want to ensure that tonight’s Homecoming Dance is safe and enjoyable for all of our students who will be attending. We emphasize that inappropriate language and behavior will not be tolerated, and any student suspected of being under the influence will be denied entry and asked to leave. Tickets will not be for sale at the door, and there will be no re-entry if students leave the dance.

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Serrano Apartments (photo via Google Maps)

Work continues at the Serrano Apartments to improve living conditions for residents of the affordable housing complex.

Repair and maintenance work started in earnest after advocates brought to light the deteriorating conditions of the Columbia Pike complex in May. Since then, the County Board has kept tabs on housing nonprofit AHC Inc., which owns the building, and its commitment to make things right.

During the County Board meeting on Tuesday, members said they were pleased to see progress on the physical conditions in the complex. They were dissatisfied, however, with AHC’s communication efforts, after hearing reports from residents and advocates that communication gaps and “disrespectful” treatment persist.

“We’re in the middle, not at the end,” Board Chair Matt de Ferranti said. “I’m pleased with the micromanagement, candidly, but I think communication is absolutely critical.”

In a letter to the board, Housing Commission Chair Eric Berkey said the biggest strides have been removing the rodents and getting a handle on air quality issues.

“It is revealing that little of our September 9, 2021 meeting was dedicated to current physical conditions challenges,” he said.

Susan Cunningham, the interim CEO of AHC appointed after the previous head resigned, said rodent infestation is now down to just three apartments.

Meanwhile, about two dozen units will be abated for asbestos and condensation on cooling pipes. Testing by Arlington County confirmed there were no “systemic air quality issues in the building, no airborne asbestos or lead paint,” she said.

Of the 280 units in the building, the county has inspected all 221 that opted into its inspection program. Arlington County Housing Director Anne Venezia said staff will begin inspecting other aging affordable housing properties for deferred maintenance.

Communication remains a primary concern for the Housing Commission and the County Board. Berkey said to its credit, AHC has made some improvements on that front. Cunningham says AHC now communicates with 85% of residents via text, sends out anonymous third-party surveys, and holds monthly meetings with professional translation services.

But poor treatment of residents continues, longtime advocate Janeth Valenzuela said.

“No one should be asked to put up with dismissive, rude and disrespectful treatment that makes them feel like a problem to be fixed rather than a human being,” she said. “There are fundamental and systemic changes that need to be made at AHC.”

The advocate suggested cultural competency and trauma-informed training for all AHC board members, employees and contractors, as well as customer service training.

Cunningham said a cultural competency curriculum could be in place next year, with trauma-informed training done in-house.

Finally, the County Board urged AHC to prioritize compensating residents whose belongings have been damaged. Residents had reported damage to their possessions when maintenance requests were ignored or mismanaged and during the relocation process some opted into.

AHC has launched a claims process that replicates renters’ insurance, which Cunningham said few residents have.

Although compensation for such losses was a chief priority for the County Board, Valenzuela says a claims system was not set up until ARLnow reported on an online fundraiser for Serrano residents.

AHC “did not offer compensation to residents for property losses until advocates started a public fundraiser that received press attention,” Valenzuela told the Housing Commission, according to Berkey’s letter.

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The four final logo design recommendations are in, meaning the process of picking a new logo to adorn county flags, vehicles and stationery is nearly over.

This Saturday, the County Board is slated to choose a logo that will replace the current logo and seal, depicting Arlington House, the plantation house of Confederate General Robert E. Lee at what is now Arlington National Cemetery.

In the summer of 2020, the Arlington branch of the NAACP called on the county to ditch the “divisive and racist” logo, given its connection to slavery, and in December 2020 the County Board voted to kick off a process for choosing a new one.

This spring, the panel winnowed more than 250 submissions down to five that elicited some strong, negative feedback. Hearing the dissatisfaction, the County Board asked the panel to try again while allowing more time for people to submit potential logos for consideration.

The four going before the County Board this weekend include the top two from the second round of submissions as well as two from the first batch. In the second voting round, folks consistently voted for blue logos depicting the county’s geography and bridges, a departure from the colorful logos centering the county name (and possibly featuring abstract bridges).

But the logo that got the most community votes is not the Logo Review Panel’s first choice. Here’s how 16,082 survey respondents ranked their top three choices from the second round of voting:

The top five vote-getting logo designs (via Arlington County)

It turns out that bridges, although a common motif, caused some controversy.

The third logo, which depicts the Key Bridge, was nixed because “it came to the attention of the logo panel late in the process that Francis Scott Key was a slaveowner,” a county report said.

The county report did not say why the Logo Review Panel switched the first- and second-ranked logos — favoring a two-color design that abstractly depicts the geography of Arlington, D.C. and the Potomac River — but it did explain why the panel decided to keep the more generic bridge.

The panel determined the other bridge “was not based on a specific bridge, and was meant to signify ‘connection, and the open arch welcomes the future and encourages diversity and opportunity,'” the county report said.

References to the Key Bridge came to the fore during the second round of voting in part because local designers were asked to avoid federal monuments and state symbols, as the panel decided they did not represent what makes Arlington distinct.

Those who wish to speak at Saturday’s meeting about the logo choices can register to do so. Once the County Board chooses a design, it will consider a timeline for phasing out the current logo and seal. That will happen in stages as time and maintenance schedules allow.

“The new County logo will be introduced in all electronic media as quickly as time permits,” the report said. “Replacement of the logo on all vehicles, signs, and other materials will take place as materials are replaced over the coming years… Replacements of logos that appear on free standing signs and entrances to our buildings will be done within current building maintenance budgets over the course of time.”

So far, the costs for consultants, trademark-related fees and outreach during this process total $50,000, the county staff report said.

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Update on 9/30/21: Charges against Briscoe were dropped earlier this week.

Earlier: Celtic House Irish Pub on Columbia Pike says it “does not wish to embroil itself” in the ongoing saga involving a local TikTok personality.

The bar released a statement on its social media channels yesterday, in response to allegations traded between TikToker Coco Briscoe, who attracted a sizable following with her videos about dating in the D.C. area, and a bartender the business now calls “a former employee.”

While the statement suggests that the bartender who Briscoe accuses of harassing her is no longer employed by Celtic House, it does not specify the circumstances around her departure. The bartender previously testified in court, during a hearing about an emergency protective order she obtained against Briscoe, about being “terrified” of the social media personality and her devoted followers.

“I’m afraid to be in my house. I’m afraid to be in this courtroom with her,” the bartender testified. “I just want to be left alone and don’t want attention.”

The judge allowed the protective order to expire, suggesting that it should not have been issued by a county magistrate in the first place due to a lack of evidence of legitimate physical threats, but Briscoe is still facing a misdemeanor charge for allegedly violating it by continuing to post about the situation on TikTok. She is next due in Arlington General District Court in two weeks, on Sept. 23.

Briscoe says the bartender is among a group of people, including employees of two Columbia Pike bars, who “bully, stalk and harass” her, making her feel unsafe in her neighborhood.

The Celtic House statement references at least some of Briscoe’s specific claims, which she has repeated in many of her dozens of TikTok posts over the past month — namely that video taken of Briscoe riding her bike near one of the bars, along with derogatory comments about her, were shared in a group chat.

“It would be improper to further comment… or to engage persons who have attacked the Celtic House, or the reputation of its owners and staff,” the statement says, before adding: “To be clear, the Celtic House does not condone the filming of any patron by employees, nor the public dissemination of pictures or comments on the actions of its patrons, except where such matters are required by, or, in furtherance of some interest of law enforcement or required as part of a civil or investigative action.”

The bartender in turn testified in court that it is Briscoe who has been the aggressor, weaponizing her following to harass her and others via hundreds of phone calls, social media messages and online reviews. The video sent to the group chat, which Briscoe subsequently obtained, was intended as a warning to local restaurant employees about an erratic customer, the bartender said.

Briscoe, meanwhile, has continued to rail against the two bars — Celtic House and Rebellion on the Pike — and their employees in videos posted since her last court appearance. She has also levied various accusations against the Arlington County Police Department, ARLnow, the Washington Post, and online review site Yelp.

Celtic House, in its statement, asserted that its business has been unfairly targeted. The bar “does not tolerate, nor wish to participate in on-line posturing or bullying,” it said.

Celtic House’s owner has not responded to emailed requests for further comment.

A statement issued by Rebellion on the Pike last month insisted that the accusations against it were an “attempt to smear our business [that] has zero evidence and truth to it.”

The full statement from Celtic House is below.

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(Updated 9:25 a.m. on 9/8/21) The new virtual learning program in Arlington Public Schools, available to anyone uncomfortable with going to school in-person, has gotten off to a rocky start due to severe teacher shortages.

During the first week of school, 340 of the more than 700 students enrolled in the program were assigned subs rather than permanent teachers, and many did not receive class schedules. Instead, many virtual students saw their classes canceled or they were shuffled into multi-grade classes and “virtual waiting rooms” without teachers or monitors.

And today (Tuesday), APS announced another upheaval: the administrator assigned to the new program, Verlese Gaither, has been replaced. Amy Jackson, Supervisor of Educational Technology & Programs, will lead the Virtual Learning Program until a new administrator is appointed.

Complaints started shortly after the first day of school. A discussion thread on a local parenting message board titled “APS VPL is a dumpster fire” has garnered more than 200 comments since it was first posted last Tuesday.

Parents of virtual students are also raising their concerns with the School Board and administrators, asking for appropriate staffing and improved communication. One of their requests — a meeting with APS — will be met with a town hall set for tomorrow (Wednesday) night at 7 p.m.

“The VLP is a critical program for vulnerable students and their families during this unprecedented pandemic,” Laura Haltzel, whose son is learning at home for health reasons, tells ARLnow. “Families want the virtual program to succeed and would like to work with APS to try to resolve some of the challenges we experienced in the last week. We believe that many problems can be solved with the appropriate allocation of teaching staff and administrative support.”

APS apologized in a School Talk email sent to families this afternoon.

“As we prepare to start the second week of school, we want to apologize for the challenges students encountered accessing their classes in the Virtual Learning Program last week,” the school system said. “We understand that this was a frustrating and unacceptable start to the school year for our VLP families and are working to ensure that these issues, related to staffing, scheduling, technical support and communication, are addressed as quickly as possible. We are also committed to ensuring that VLP students will have permanent teachers assigned to their classes as soon as possible.”

School Board Chair Barbara Kanninen likewise apologized and affirmed the board’s commitment to making the program work.

“I want to personally apologize to our VLP students and families,” she tells ARLnow. “Our goal is for the Virtual Learning Program to be an innovative, engaging, and rewarding academic experience for our students. The School Board is 100% committed to the program and we support the immediate steps APS is taking to ensure its success.”

Haltzel is part of a group of parents who wrote to administrators and School Board members on Monday outlining their concerns, which include a lack of staffing and a lack of communication.

“The combination of these above concerns, coupled with the silence from the APS School Board and Dr. Duran, has left VLP Parents concerned, frustrated and unsatisfied,” the group’s letter said. “Most critically, VLP students are demoralized and distraught.”

There are about 740 students enrolled in the VLP, including 63 students added since Aug. 16 via medical exemption appeals, a fluidity that APS says impacts staffing and class sizes.

With the changing class sizes and staffing shortages, some students were placed in courses through Virtual Virginia and other similar programs, while others were placed in a temporary classes to work on asynchronous assignments developed by APS teachers assigned to brick and mortar schools. These classes were monitored by an adult and students will receive feedback on their work from their teachers in September.

Families report incidents of online bullying between the younger and older unsupervised students in these mixed-grade “waiting rooms.” They say their younger students are upset and no longer enthusiastic about school.

Meanwhile, APS said in its email to parents today that it is committed to solving the teacher shortage quickly. As of Thursday, APS had 92 virtual teachers, but it still needed 106 teachers to fill out the program, a spokesman said. According to parents, some teachers initially assigned to the virtual program were later reassigned to teach in-person.

Parents say it wasn’t until they started asking questions that APS acknowledged that staffing was the problem.

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Washington Gas’s customer service, or reported lack thereof, has prompted a flood of calls to Virginia’s utilities regulator.

The State Corporation Commission tells ARLnow that its utilities regulation division is receiving upwards of 30 calls a day from Virginians who say they can’t reach the Washington Gas customer service call center or are experiencing long wait times.

“This is unusual,” said Ken Schrad, the director of the SCC’s Division of Information Resources. “Typically, the division averages only about 40 a month, two-three per day, involving Washington Gas… And, that would include all matters brought to the division’s attention, including bill disputes, not just the current problem regarding the inability to get through to the company.”

Virginia’s largest natural gas local distribution company, in terms of customers served, has been the subject of a flood of complaints on social media, in internet forums, tips to ARLnow, and a letter sent to PoPville. Those affected include people moving, who who need services started or stopped and and worry about having the ability to cook and take hot showers in their new homes or getting charged for gas at their old residence.

The delays appear to be tied to staffing shortages in Washington Gas’s call center. In response to ARLnow’s request for comment, Washington Gas, which also serves D.C. and Maryland, said it is addressing these shortages while rolling out new ways to connect with customer service workers.

“Washington Gas apologizes to our customers who continue to have difficulty reaching our call center over the last few months. We know that we have not met our customers’ expectations or our own high standards of service,” Washington Gas spokesman Bernie Tylor said.

These shortages made moving more stressful for Jesse Croft, who relocated from Ballston to the Tara-Leeway Heights neighborhood while pregnant and caring for two young children. She said she called Washington Gas about a dozen times trying to set up service, and at one point, she spent three hours on hold, having to hang up because she had to take a work call.

“It is truly shocking that they operating like this,” she said. “Not to mention, it appears to have been going on since at least last December. How have they not hired more customer service reps or an outside company to help?”

Another ARLnow tipster expressed similar frustrations with the two- to five-hour call center wait times required to set up gas.

“People are resorting to tweeting them or sending them messages on Facebook,” the individual said. “If this was a random business, that is one thing, but this is the area’s only provider of gas service! They really need some press shined on this!”

Hundreds of customers are able to use the website to start and stop service, Tylor said. But, certain circumstances require additional review of an address and customer service intervention.

“In these instances, customers have experienced excessive hold times,” he said, adding that the volume of requests via Facebook and Twitter has “strained our resources as well.”

That happened to one person whose address wasn’t being recognized in the company’s new system. In a thread on the online forum D.C. Urban Moms and Dads, the poster described trying Twitter and Facebook, and being ready to show up at the gas company’s D.C. office: “I’m desperate… I’m ready to throw my phone out of the window.”

Another poster said that during a call with Washington Gas, the company “blamed [the delays] on COVID and said lots of people were out sick, or no longer working for them, or something dumb like that.”

The SCC said a contributing factor could be a recent change to a third-party customer service provider.

“Staff is aware that the company recently changed its third-party provider to perform both the non-emergency and emergency call center functions and the transition may be contributing to the delays customers are experiencing,” he said.

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Local TikTok personality Coco Briscoe, in a video she posted which shows her being served with a protective order (via TikTok)

Update on 9/30/21: Charges against Briscoe were dropped earlier this week.

Earlier: Coco Briscoe, the local TikTok personality arrested for violating a protective order amid a spat with local restaurants, has had that protective order lifted.

Briscoe was in Arlington General District Court Wednesday afternoon for her arraignment. A judge also heard arguments about whether the 72-hour Emergency Protective Order issued early Monday morning by an Arlington magistrate should be extended.

During the hearing, the woman who asked for the protective order — Charlotte, an employee of  Celtic House Irish Pub on Columbia Pike — testified that she was “terrified” of Briscoe and her army of devoted social media followers.

Charlotte said Briscoe was a regular customer at Celtic House but things between her and the bartenders deteriorated over time. At one point, Charlotte testified, she and Briscoe encountered each other in Georgetown and Briscoe followed her, yelling “crazy bitch.”

In another incident, Charlotte testified that Briscoe had been drinking for ten hours straight when she took a brief video of her riding her bike near the bar and sent it in a group chat to other Columbia Pike restaurant employees — including employees of Rebellion on the Pike, another target of Briscoe’s ire — to warn them, given what she described as Briscoe’s erratic behavior.

Briscoe somehow obtained the message sent by Charlotte and has since been posting TikTok videos about it and her spat with the restaurant employees. The videos accuse Charlotte of “stalking” Briscoe and of revealing her location in the group chat, as well as using Briscoe’s credit card and ID in order to obtain her name and date of birth for the protective order.

In addition to allegations against Charlotte, Briscoe accuses a larger group of Celtic House and Rebellion employees of creating social media accounts and fake online dating profiles to “bully, stalk and harass” her. In her videos, she expresses concern about her safety and that of other women who patronize the bars.

The videos also infer that police are protecting the bars and Charlotte, who is reportedly dating an Arlington officer, given that a police report filed by Briscoe did not result in action against any of them.

The videos have prompted many of Briscoe’s nearly 25,000 TikTok followers to come to her defense in social media comments, in negative online reviews of the restaurants, and via emails and phone calls.

“Unfortunately this bar is unsafe for single women,” a woman named Elizabeth from South Carolina posted on Rebellion’s Yelp page, echoing Briscoe’s accusations. “Several bartenders… have stalked, harassed and created an unsafe environment.”

“Be careful here, the bartenders like to share your location with a group of stalkers, get personal information off your credit card and share it with them. This happened to my friend,” wrote a woman named Nora from Utah. “When confronted the manager/owners did not investigate or fire the employee who was doing this.”

“Absolutely disgusting @ArlingtonVaPD for not protecting Coco after she filed a report with you,” an Arlington woman named Julie posted on Twitter. “And abusing your power to rush ridiculous restraining orders against her. Scary to thing as a woman in Arlington you are sh-t out of luck if your stalker has a friend that’s a cop.”

Charlotte testified that Celtic House has been getting “hundreds” of phone calls from angry followers of Briscoe, accusing Charlotte of things and calling her names.

A single mom, Charlotte said she has had to take unpaid leave from work, move away from her apartment, and bring her son to live with his father for fear of his safety.

“I’m afraid to be in my house. I’m afraid to be in this courtroom with her,” she testified. “I just want to be left alone and don’t want attention.”

An attorney for Briscoe briefly questioned Charlotte, who said she could have been more “tactful” with her message to the group.

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