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

The school-to-prison is the most misunderstood phenomenon in Arlington, even amongst the highest levels of leadership. School board and county officials, including law enforcement and the former Commonwealth Attorney, have vehemently denied that the school-to-prison pipeline exists in Arlington.

They acknowledge the phenomenon but contend that it exists elsewhere, but “not here.” Such narrow-mindedness is troubling. Perhaps it is cognitive dissonance that causes them to recoil at the mere suggestion that our affluent county with its highly educated residents and top-ranked schools is complicit in the school-to-prison pipeline. It is.

The naysayers misunderstand the pipeline to prison as a linear path on a monopoly board: Go directly to jail; do not pass go, do not collect $200. In fact, the School-to-Prison Pipeline is a tapestry of school policies and procedures that drive many of our children into a pathway that begins in school, and after many bumps, twists, turns and detours, ends in the criminal justice system. Simply put, the pathway from school to prison is multifaceted and often indirect. While there are many pathways, I discuss the three that most frequently intersect and overlap. Each is broken in APS.

Illiteracy

There is enough research to show a direct correlation between a person’s future success rates and the likelihood of them becoming involved in the criminal justice system, due to their literacy levels. Research shows that children who struggle to read in first grade are 88% more likely to struggle in grade four; and those who struggle in fourth grade are four times more likely to drop out of school. Data reveals that 85% of juveniles who interact with the court system are functionally illiterate, and 60% of the nation’s inmates are illiterate. While it is an urban myth that prisons base some of their future planning on third and fourth-grade literacy rates, the data is compelling that there is a strong connection between early low literacy skills and incarceration rates.

In our own yard, the pandemic has exacerbated the declines in reading proficiency. APS spent decades attempting to teach students to read using balanced literacy instead of structured literacy, which has not worked well. As a result, we have students who are graduating functionally illiterate, if at all. This is known as failing up. The recent planned scale-up to structured literacy is slow and focused primarily on K-3, leaving students in the upper grades and secondary schools without a clear and solid path for evidence-based reading intervention.

Special Education

Students with disabilities who qualify for special education too often receive inferior services, and often in segregated settings, if they receive any services at all. The proverbial wait-to-fail practice of delaying evaluations precludes early identification of learning disabilities and compound intervention.

The APS 2019 Special Education Evaluation indicates that more than one-third of students with Individual Education Plans reported that only some or none of their teachers have high expectations for them, and that they do not feel understood or supported by their teachers. One-third reported not being able to participate in after-school activities, not being treated fairly, and not feeling welcomed in school.

Disparate discipline and disproportionate referrals to law enforcement

The discipline disparities we see in APS are reflective of the national data that Black students are suspended, expelled and reported to law enforcement three times more than White students. Many of them have learning disabilities and/or trauma, and would benefit from additional educational and counseling services. Instead, they are isolated, punished and pushed out. Students who have difficulty learning to read will often act out in school. Additionally, Black students tend to receive harsher punishment for less serious behavior, and are more often punished for subjective offenses, such as “loitering” or “disrespect.”

The U.S. Department of Education, reports that students with disabilities incur repeated disciplinary actions and are more than twice as likely to receive an out-of-school suspension than students without disabilities. Students with disabilities represent 12% of the overall student population, yet make up 25% of all students involved in a school-related arrest. (Similarly, LGBTQ youth are much more likely than their heterosexual peers to be suspended or expelled.) Because disparate discipline impacts students of color with disabilities, dismantling the Pipeline requires an intersectional approach to disability and racial discrimination.

Notwithstanding the School Board’s removal of School Resource Officers (SROs) from APS pursuant to recommendations from the SRO Work Group and Superintendent Francisco Durán, Governor-elect Glenn Younkin has threatened to withhold funding from school districts that don’t have SROs, which he’s said he will require. Regardless of whether SROs actually return to APS, discipline disparities and referrals to law enforcement will continue unabated unless school administrators, who overwhelmingly favor having SROs in their schools, evolve to embrace restorative practices. That would require a seismic shift in mindset and culture.

In a regressive legislative move, a Republican-sponsored bill (SB2) has already been pre-filed for the 2022 General Assembly session to revive a mandate that school administrators report misdemeanors to law enforcement. Less than a year ago, SB 3/HB 256 was enacted as a specific antidote to the school-to-prison pipeline, for which Virginia ranks as one of the worst states.

Given the trauma experienced by children during the pandemic, experts anticipated unprecedented behavioral difficulties and pervasive attendance problems in the reopening of schools. Phyllis Jordan of Georgetown University’s FutureEd opined that:

“[T]here are going to be kids who have behavioral outbursts, and you’re just going to have kids who are out of practice at being in school who are just not behaving properly. And the worst thing a school can do is flush them all out with suspensions or harsh discipline. There is going to have to be some attention and training on issues like restorative practices and ways of coping with these issues that kids are going to have.”

Conclusion

Illiteracy, special education and discipline are major pathways in the school pipeline to prison, but racial bias is the express route. Confronting racial bias is where the hard work is, and where I find that some Arlington leaders are unwilling to toil. If they would stop gaslighting us by denying the school-to-prison pipeline exists here, that would be a start. Stop. Listen. Learn. We can’t change what we won’t acknowledge.

Symone Walker is a federal attorney and an APS parent. She serves as Vice Chair of the Arlington Special Education Advisory Committee (ASEAC), and is an Executive Committee Member of the Arlington NAACP and Co-Chair of the NAACP Education Committee. Symone is a former candidate for the Arlington school board.

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

Arlington Public Schools (APS), like many school divisions, has had a substantial decline in enrollment since the pandemic began. But APS has not yet factored this into its estimates of future enrollment.

Enrollment projections are used for the APS budget, its Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), and boundary decisions. Because overestimating enrollment has significant financial implications, APS should base its next enrollment projections in part on actual enrollment for this year and last year.

The APS FY 2021 budget, adopted in the spring of 2020 after schools were closed due to the pandemic, projected enrollment for the 2020-21 school year at 29,142 students. Actual enrollment was 26,895 students — 2,247 fewer students than estimated.

The FY 2022 budget, adopted in the spring of 2021, projected enrollment for this school year at 29,108 students. Actual enrollment is 26,911 — 2,197 fewer students than estimated and 1,109 fewer students than the 28,020 students who were enrolled in September 2019.

A January 2021 APS report projecting enrollment for the following three years relied on September 2019 enrollment, explaining its methodology as follows:

  • Fall 2020 pupil counts are artificially lower than is reasonable, it is assumed that this is due to families’ decision making around the Covid-19 pandemic
  • This drop in enrollment does not represent a long-term trend.

Estimating enrollment is not easy. But pre-pandemic estimates of enrollment have been much closer to actual enrollment, with overestimates of 490 students in FY 2020, 580 in FY 2019, 335 in FY2018, and 262 in FY 2017.

Budget Implications

The APS budget uses planning factors to determine how many teachers, staff, equipment, and supplies will be needed for the following school year — all based on projected student enrollment.

When the adopted budget is based on a significant overestimate of student enrollment, the budget is larger than needed.

What happens to the money that is not spent? During the annual close-out process, usually in December, the School Board reallocates unspent funds from the prior fiscal year.

For this year’s close-out, the County Manager has reported that APS expenditure savings are $58.7 million. A substantial portion of this likely is due to lower staff costs during the pandemic because actual enrollment was less than projected enrollment.

Capital Planning Implications

At its Oct. 28 meeting, the School Board adopted CIP direction that adds seats to the Career Center at a cost of $153 million to $170 million based on pre-pandemic estimates that APS will have deficit of 603 high school seats by the 2029-30 school year.

But given the significant drop in enrollment since the pandemic began, particularly in the elementary school grades, will that many additional high school seats be needed when the new Career Center is planned to open in 2025?

Boundary Implications

While declining enrollment has not yet been considered in the APS budget and CIP, it is being discussed in the current school boundary process, which aims to reduce current and projected crowding at certain schools. A Nov. 3 staff presentation to the School Board characterized the current enrollment projections — used to determine crowding —  as having “limitations due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

As a result, Superintendent Francisco Durán recommended that the Board not move forward this year with changing any elementary school boundaries.

Enrollment Projections Must Reflect Declining Enrollment

After two years of enrollment estimates missing the mark by about 2,200 students — the size of Wakefield High School — APS must recognize that many students who have left APS are not returning and adjust its enrollment projections accordingly.

The next APS budget and CIP should align with these new enrollment projections.

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

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month. Dyslexia impacts 1 in 5 people, or 20% of the population. In APS, that would equate to over 5,000 students.

According to the International Dyslexia Association (IDA), “Dyslexia is a “specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”

Students with dyslexia need to learn to read with Structured Literacy, which involves phonology (the study of sounds in spoken words); sound-symbol/orthography (how to map sounds/phonemes to letters/graphemes); syllables (knowing the types of syllables and how to divide words into syllables; morphology (the study of base words and affixes –prefixes and suffixes); syntax (understanding the grammatical order of words, like sentence structure); and semantics (understanding the meaning of words and sentences). One notable structured literacy approach is Orton-Gillingham (O-G). Structured Literacy is critical for students with dyslexia, and is advantageous for all other readers.

Dyslexic students have tremendous difficulty learning to read using Balanced Literacy, where students are encouraged to use word analogies and pictures or context to identify words. Balanced Literacy instruction is focused on shared reading (e.g., the teacher reads aloud to students and asks questions about the text), guided reading (e.g., students read texts at their current ability level and discuss them with the teacher in homogeneous groups), and independent reading (e.g., students self-select books to read on their own). However, consecutive years of overall declining reading declines in APS indicates that Balanced Literacy isn’t working all that well for students who aren’t dyslexic. We should be teaching the students in the margins because a rising tide lifts all boats.

After years of parent advocacy, a 2016 Dyslexia Consultant Report, and a 2020 NAACP Education Committee letter, APS has finally agreed to transition to Structured Literacy for K-5. However, the rollout is slow and still entangled with the Balance Literacy until APS goes through a resource adoption process. It is noteworthy that the widely used Balanced Literacy curriculum, Lucy Calkins Units of Study, received an Ed Reports failing review, for not meeting expectations for text quality and complexity in grades K-8. So why is APS clinging to this garbage while students continue to languish?

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

“A backward situation.” That’s how Arlington School Board Chair Barbara Kanninen described the planning process for the expansion of the Career Center during the Board’s Sept. 21 work session on the upcoming Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).

What’s backward is staff’s proposed timeline that has the School Board voting in October to set a budget and the number of seats for the Career Center project. Instead, these decisions should not be made until the School Board votes on its next CIP in June.

The Board’s detailed CIP procedures provide for the Board to have critical information needed to make capital improvement decisions — information that it will not have until the winter and spring, including updated:

  • Enrollment projections
  • County revenue estimates
  • Assessments of capital and non-capital options to meet student needs
  • Priorities for capital options

The history of addressing the need for additional high school seats and the option of locating them at the Career Center has been fraught.

More than three years ago, the School Board set a budget ($184.7 million) and the number of seats (800) for the Career Center expansion as part of its FY2019-28 CIP, adopted in June 2018.

But the School Board dropped the project from its FY2021 CIP two years later in June 2020. This was after an extensive design and planning process that resulted in a concept design that could not be built due to an estimated cost of $237-272.5 million — far above the budget.

This past June, the Career Center project was put back in the Board’s FY2022-24 CIP, but without the number of seats to be added and with funding listed as “TBD.”

How many additional high school seats are needed is a fundamental question and a moving target.

The CIP adopted this past June was based on enrollment this fall of 29,633 students, growing to more than 30,000 students by next fall, and peaking at more than 31,000 in the fall of 2024. But actual enrollment as of the first day of school this year was 26,932 students — 2,701 fewer students than projected.

How much money the School Board can spend on additional high school seats is another fundamental question.

This depends on how much revenue the county has because debt service — the amount of money the School Board spends to repay interest and principal on the bonds issued to pay for capital projects — is capped at not more than 10% of general expenditures.

Because of the limits on capital expenditures, the CIP involves making hard choices among competing needs to renovate existing buildings and add new seats in elementary, middle and high schools. Deciding how much to spend on the Career Center this fall, outside of the normal CIP process, risks not having sufficient funds for other projects when those are considered in the spring.

In its year-end report to the School Board in June, the Advisory Council on School Facilities and Capital Programs (FAC) cautioned the Board not to rush the Career Center project and to include it in the next CIP, after considering a range of options. The FAC report notes the uncertainties in critical variables needed to make decisions, including enrollment and revenue projections as well as increasing construction costs during the pandemic.

The FAC is correct. The Board will not have the best available information on which to base decisions about the Career Center until this winter and spring, when it has updated enrollment projections, updated revenue projections and the list of other needed capital improvement projects. Doing so before then will add to the fraught history of Career Center planning.

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

Arlington is the home of the Pentagon, headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense, and of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, which comprises three main installations that were combined during the last round of Base Realignment and Closure: Fort Myer (Army), Henderson Hall (Marines), and Fort McNair (Army). Many of the students living on and off JBMHH attend Arlington Public Schools.

The Virginia Purple Star Designation is awarded to military-friendly schools that have demonstrated a major commitment to students and families connected to our nation’s military. Disappointingly, despite its proximity to the heart of the military, only one APS school (Discovery Elementary) earned the Purple Star designation in 2019-2020. None has earned it for 2020-2021. By contrast, 34 Fairfax County public schools and 21 Prince William County public schools earned the Purple Star designation between 2018-2021. In the other military mecca, 59 Virginia Beach City public schools and 11 Norfolk public schools earned the Purple Star designation between 2018-2021.

To qualify for the Purple Star designation, a school must have a staff point of contact for military students and families who, (i) serves as the liaison between the military family and the school; (ii) completes two online Virginia Department of Education training modules titled “Supporting Our Military-Connected Children in School Settings: Moving them from Risk to Resilience;” and (iii) conducts school-wide professional development that informs staff of the unique needs of and supports available to military-connected students.

In addition, the school must maintain a student-led transition program to include a student transition team coordinator. This program should provide peer support for newly enrolled and withdrawing students to include those that are military-connected. Finally, the school must maintain links to an APS division-wide page dedicated to military student and family supports that includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Clear and concise information on the enrollment and remote registration process for persons to whom public schools shall be free, including enrollment of military children living in temporary housing
  • Information on educational records requests and transfers
  • Information on gifted services, advanced academic programs and application deadlines, graduation requirements, diploma options, and home instruction
  • Information on the Compact Rules and their application under the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunities for Military Children
  • Information on Special Education services and parental rights, including parental consent
  • Other important information such as Impact Aid Student-Parent Survey (Impact Aid programs and grants are designed to assist local school districts that enroll federally connected students), PTA membership, school advisory committees, participation in extracurricular activities and local community support

In addition to the aforementioned site-based requirements, APS would need to assign a central office staff member to be the contact for the school-based liaison and military families and complete at least one of the following:

  • Division-wide professional development regarding special considerations for military students and families or
  • The School Board passes a resolution publicizing the school division’s support for military students and families or
  • The school division hosts a military recognition event designed to demonstrate a military-friendly culture across the school division community

The average child in a military family will move six to nine times during a school career. That’s an average of three times more frequently than non-military families. The majority of moves occur over the summer months, even as late as August. A number of military families shared the following challenges with me:

  • Missed deadlines for Extended Day, resulting in a childcare crisis
  • Missed opportunities for desired electives. APS doesn’t allow students to select their electives or classes until fully registered, so electives may be unavailable
  • Missed deadlines for high school sports tryouts and/or missed leadership opportunities on sports teams and clubs. No reciprocity for prior experience
  • Although SB 775 allows incoming military students to fully register for school based on the zone the family intends to reside in (with documentation provided within 120 days), some APS families have been asked to meet onerous requests for documentation before registering their children
  • Lack of social-emotional supports: (i) No dedicated counselors equipped to support students with issues of deployment, combat, PTSD, etc.; (ii) no cohorting of military peers to support each other; and (iii) no special recognition or celebration of military students for Month of the Military Child
  • Having to start over with a new Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 plan. No reciprocity given for an IEP or 504 from the last school district
  • Difficulty keeping track of (or meeting) the additional classes/credits needed for an advanced diploma
  • Enduring additional disruptive school changes with boundary changes or program moves while on temporary orders

Many of these challenges could be resolved if APS was a Purple Star school district to better support the children whose parents are laying their lives on the line for us. Let’s do better by our military families.

Symone Walker is a federal attorney and an APS parent. She is Vice President of the Arlington Special Education Advisory Committee (ASEAC), serves on the Commonwealth Attorney’s Community Advisory Board, and is an Executive Committee Member of the Arlington NAACP and Co-Chair of the NAACP Education Committee. Symone is a former candidate for the Arlington school board.

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

The Virginia Department of Education has released the results of the 2020-21 Standards of Learning (SOL) tests. It is no surprise that pass rates for Arlington Public Schools (APS) students have declined significantly and gaps in student achievement between different groups have increased. These test results are consistent with trends in Virginia and nationwide.

In a recent APS press release, Superintendent Francisco Duran stated that the results show “where we need to focus our attention.”

In Arlington, English learners had the lowest pass rates on the recent subject area tests in English, math and science and some of the largest declines in scores compared with the last SOL test administration in 2018-19. White students had the highest pass rate of all student groups on these tests and had the smallest decline in scores.

Test results for other groups of students are cause for concern as well. 2020-21 math pass rates are: 35 percent for students with disabilities, 36 percent for economically disadvantaged students, 38 percent for Hispanic students and 46 percent for Black students, compared with 82 percent for white students.

For English, the pass rates were a bit better, but large gaps persist: students with disabilities — 47 percent, economically disadvantaged students — 51 percent, Hispanic students — 53 percent and Black students — 61 percent, compared with 91 percent for white students.

The fact that APS returned to in-person learning this week will be a significant factor in improving student achievement for all students.

Addressing the learning loss that has occurred during the pandemic is a daunting task. Dr. Duran has stated that accelerated learning and support will be a focus this year, which he has described as teaching current grade level material while reinforcing skills and concepts from the previous level.

As APS works to improve student achievement and close gaps, it should be transparent and focus its attention on:

Data

The APS press release about the SOL results cited one increase in a test result and did not include any data about gaps in student achievement or significant declines in scores. And in last week’s School Board meeting, SOL results presented did not compare data of different student groups with white students, the group with the highest pass rates on the 2020-21 SOL subject area tests.

American Rescue Plan Act Funds

APS expects to receive nearly $19 million from the Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief III Fund, part of the American Rescue Plan Act. These funds are intended to help school divisions address learning loss that occurred during the pandemic.

A summary of how these funds will be spent is posted on the APS website. It is expected that the initial estimate of more than $10 million and 111.50 full-time employees for the Virtual Learning Program, which as of July 12 had 891 students enrolled, will be reduced. APS should make clear how funding will be reallocated to support in-person learning.

Enrollment

The School Board’s approved budget for this school year is based on an enrollment of 29,108 students. This is significantly higher than the pre-pandemic September 2019 enrollment of 28,020 students and the September 2020 enrollment of 26,895 students. If the fall 2021 enrollment does not meet projections, APS will need to lay out its plan to reallocate teachers to improve student learning and reduce gaps.

The Superintendent is right to conclude that the 2020-21 SOL test results show where we need to focus our attention. In the coming months, APS should make clear how it is allocating resources to improve student learning and reduce gaps.

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

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that requires that a free appropriate public education (FAPE) be provided to eligible children with disabilities and ensures special education and related services to those children. Despite those requirements and assurances, special education (SpEd) students in Arlington Public Schools are in crisis. The system that should be supporting and reinforcing them is broken.

Often, a parent must wait for their child to fail in order to get school administrators, referred to as the Local Education Agency (“LEA”), to refer their child for an evaluation. Preventive measures are virtually nonexistent. This “wait-to-fail” model results in extensive collateral damage to students academically, psychologically, emotionally and physically. The fallout is not only borne by these students and their families, but also by their teachers and classmates. Everyone is impacted — directly or indirectly.

Some assessments APS conducts to identify whether a student has a learning disability are incomplete, outdated, not comprehensive or not aligned with best practices and as such, are inferior to private evaluations. Resulting determinations about eligibility are therefore inaccurate or flawed. This presents an enormous equity issue. Parents who can afford a private evaluation (3K-5K avg.) will have a deeper, more comprehensive lens into what is going on with their child and what academic support and accommodations are recommended. Parents who cannot afford this get whatever APS presents them with, unless they know to request an Independent Education Evaluation (IEE) at public expense. Even then, APS significantly limits which assessments and costs they will approve, often leaving parents to pay the difference if they want more.

How hard a parent must fight to get an evaluation and how much pushback a parent receives from LEAs are grossly inconsistent from school-to-school, down to the quality of assessments and expertise of the school’s psychologist. It is quite literally, “the luck of the draw.” None of this is standardized or consistent. What is consistent is the utter anguish and stress many APS parents endure trying to hold APS accountable to its legal obligation to provide FAPE.

Once a student is found eligible for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), the “wait-to-fail” model then shifts to one of “continue-to-fail” in order to retain SpEd services. In many cases, when the student stabilizes or improves given the appropriate supports, or is seemingly doing well, APS will try to remove those supports on the premise that they are no longer needed. At triennial reevaluation meetings, some parents are misled to terminate their child’s IEP altogether or transition to a 504 plan instead, based on the narrative that “special education isn’t designed to be permanent,” or being congratulated that their child is doing so well, they no longer needs special education.

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

In recent months, parents across the country have disrupted school board meetings and threatened school board members.

The issues drawing the ire of parents include wearing masks, school reopening, transgender student policies, and critical race theory.

There is no doubt that these are hot button issues. Parents have been under great stress during the pandemic and they are passionate about what is right for their children. But this is no excuse for these behaviors.

For example, in Utah 11 people have been criminally charged with disrupting a public meeting after they chanted about masks and approached school board members at the dais, causing the meeting to be adjourned.

Private security officers have been hired in Columbia, Missouri due to safety concerns as some parents have come to school board members’ homes to object to their positions on issues.

The Board of Education for the Blue Valley schools in Kansas recently cancelled an in-person meeting and met virtually following reports of threats by parents.

Similar incidents are happening in our area as well.

The Loudoun County School Board recessed a meeting in June to restore order after parents booed, jeered, and chanted. One person was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.

Police in Fairfax launched an investigation of complaints that flyers were delivered to homes with antisemitic, homophobic, and threatening language towards school board members.

ARLnow reported on an Arlington School Board meeting in April that required the Chair to make repeated calls for order during public comments about the return to in-person learning and that another Board member characterized as having an unprecedented level of vitriol.

Parents have many appropriate ways to express their strongly held opinions. These include lawful protests outside of school board meetings and speaking at school board meetings, following board guidelines for public comment. They can write letters to the editor and meet with school board members.

Another avenue is working through parent-teacher associations (PTAs). While PTAs cannot engage in partisan, political activities, they can advocate about a wide variety of issues.

In Arlington, the County Council of PTAs has done just that, sharing concerns and making recommendations to school officials about issues such as virtual and hybrid learning, school resource officers, and the school boundary process.

PTAs have elected leaders and have by-laws consistent with the National PTA. Their mission is “to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children.” Their values include collaboration, respect, and accountability. All of this helps PTAs promote civil discourse as they address contentious issues.

Many parents are working outside of PTAs to advance their causes. For example, Parents Defending Education encourages parents to create organizations to push back against “destructive and radical ‘woke’ curricula.” Its website details how to create an anonymous Instagram account to document instances of “woke indoctrination” at schools.

The website of the Arlington Parent Coalition suggests that parents check the social media of their children’s teachers and “like” and “follow” them, as well as to do internet searches of the teachers to see what their views are on social and political issues.

The Open Fairfax County Public Schools Coalition is seeking signatures on petitions to remove duly elected Fairfax County School Board members from office related to their views on school reopening.

Parent voices are an important part of school board decision-making. As parents advocate for their children, they also should model for their children — and for all children — how to engage in civil discourse about high-stakes matters. This means at a minimum focusing on the issues, not engaging in personal attacks, and not disrupting school board meetings.

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

Schools should be teaching the truth. Truth, as fact and reality, is not theory. The attack on truth is percolating in Arlington.

At the June 24 School Board Meeting (at the 19:56 mark), a former APS parent implored the board to reject not only Critical Race Theory (CRT) — which APS doesn’t even teach — but specifically to reject anything rooted in equity, social justice, anti-racism and culturally responsive teaching.

You read that right. I was alarmed, but since there was only one such speaker and our Board meeting didn’t devolve into the melee that occurred just two days earlier at the Loudoun County School Board meeting, I convinced myself that this was an isolated effort in Arlington by a lone wolf, and I thought to myself, “thank God I don’t live in Loudoun.” I couldn’t have been more misguided.

Parents Defending Education (PDE), a seemingly innocuous group by its name and mission statement, deceptively masquerades itself as a “grassroots” nonprofit organization. Their website — plastered with stock photos of Black and Brown students in staged “diverse” school settings, fooling no one — misleadingly purports that: “Parents Defending Education is a national grassroots organization working to reclaim our schools from activists promoting harmful agendas. Through network and coalition building, investigative reporting, litigation, and engagement on local, state, and national policies, we are fighting indoctrination in the classroom — and for the restoration of a healthy, non-political education for our kids.”

In fact, PDE is a national movement funded largely by political right wing moguls like the Koch brothers and the Walton family. By their own standards, PDE is a case study in hypocrisy. They exist to accomplish the very ends they are purporting to subvert.

PDE is engaging in political activism. PDE is promoting the harmful agenda of whitewashed history. PDE is indoctrinating its members to believe that CRT is being taught in APS and is about teaching students to hate. This is hypocritical race theory. It’s an attack on the truth.

On June 9, PDE’s Director of Advocacy filed a FOIA request with APS seeking documentation about the procurement and distribution of the book Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning and speaker fees paid to co-author Jason Reynolds.

Armed with that data, PDE lambasted APS and Amazon for the $16,000 it spent on the books and speaker engagement fees “instead of donating hot spots for remote learning.” Now, there are a plethora of legitimate reasons to be critical of Amazon and APS, but this one isn’t credible. It’s laughable. Perhaps if the PDE leadership lived here and paid taxes to Arlington, they would have known about the $500,000 grant APS received to provide MiFis to low-income families. They will not stop at this though. We need to be paying attention.

Quite frankly, I am growing tired of the political bastardization of CRT, how it is being efficiently misused as both boogeyman and straw man to distract and disarm us in a disguised quest to destroy truth and score political points. This kind of gaslighting is the mortar that has cemented white supremacy for over 400 years. We cannot afford to ignore this fake controversy or take it lightly. We must fight back. We must defend and protect our teachers and administrators who are teaching the truth.

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

Tonight, the Arlington School Board is likely to vote to remove School Resource Officers (SROs) as a daily presence in schools.

SROs are Arlington County Police Department (ACPD) officers whose primary role is to promote safety and security in schools, including acting as a deterrent to crime by their presence, according to the 2018 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between ACPD and Arlington Public Schools (APS).

A decision to remove SROs from schools would be consistent with the recommendations of Superintendent Dr. Francisco Duran and the SRO Work Group, which was created in December 2020 to address community concerns about the relationship between ACPD and APS.

The Work Group report states that law enforcement functions can be provided to APS without SROs stationed at schools, with ACPD to be available when called upon to respond to situations such as active shooters and serious crimes. For the non-law enforcement functions that SROs provide — such as counseling, coaching, teaching and mentoring — the Work Group recommends that APS invest in additional staff and training to meet these needs.

Like localities across the country, Arlington is considering best practices for policing in our community. In making decisions from these important discussions, the School Board should focus on the facts and circumstances in Arlington — not what is happening in other school divisions.

One concern raised by community members about SROs is that a school to prison pipeline exists in Arlington. Data does not support this.

In Virginia, school administrators are required to report to law enforcement a limited number of criminal offenses alleged to have been committed by students on school property. In the 2018-19 school year, APS reported 106 cases to law enforcement, which was nine percent of all crimes documented to have been committed in Arlington schools that year, according to a January 23, 2020 presentation to the School Board.

Of those 106 cases, 16 were referred to the juvenile court with 8 cases resulting in diversion instead of prosecution and 8 cases prosecuted. Police took no action for 50% of the 106 cases. Thirty-five percent of the cases reported were documented, and no charges were brought.

Data presented at the January 2020 School Board meeting also show that arrests of Arlington youth are happening mostly outside of schools, with a total of 227 arrests in 2018, down 32% from 2017.

The Work Group acknowledges administrator support for SROs in schools and the “good work” that they do. But it recommends that this good work can and should be done by those who don’t carry “a badge and a gun.”

ACPD Deputy Chief Wayne Vincent, head of the new Community Engagement Division, told me that SROs want to be in the schools. He said:

The primary mission of the SRO Unit has always been to ensure the safety and security of students and staff. However, over our 40-plus year relationship with APS, the program has evolved as SROs have fostered lasting relationships with students and parents through youth programs/camps, teaching, mentoring and coaching.

He added that if the School Board adopts the Superintendent’s recommendation, ACPD “will continue to work with APS to support students, parents and administrators while reimagining our role in supporting our youth throughout the County.”

If the School Board votes to remove SROs from schools, the MOU between ACPD and APS will be revised. It will need to address how ACPD will respond to APS requests to maintain the safety and security of students, staff, and visitors at schools. In addition, APS should have its staff take on the non-law enforcement roles of SROs, as the Work Group recommends. But without funding for additional staff or training in its FY 2022 budget, this will be a challenge.

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

May 17 marks the 67th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the landmark Supreme Court case that overturned the doctrine “separate but equal,” which became law in 1896 when Plessy v. Ferguson upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation laws for public facilities, as long as the segregated facilities were “equal” in quality.

In Brown, the Court unanimously held that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” and violated the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment. However, the Court declined to specify remedies for school segregation, asking instead for further argument.

The following year, in Brown v. Board of Education II, the Court remanded future desegregation cases to lower federal courts and directed district courts and school boards to desegregate schools “with all deliberate speed.” Although Brown has been the law of the land for much longer than Plessy was, little has changed in our schools vis-à-vis segregation and inequality.

To commemorate the 67th anniversary of Brown, the Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights and the Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division considered it paramount to host a joint symposium, Brown 67 Years Later: Examining Disparities in School Discipline and the Pursuit of Safe and Inclusive Schools, to highlight strategies for addressing racial and other disparities in the administration of school discipline.

Three panels composed of legal and education experts discussed the impact of exclusionary school discipline policies and practices such as suspensions and school-based arrests on students of color, students with disabilities, and LGBTQI+ students. They shared strategies for addressing harmful and discriminatory school discipline practices and creating more positive school climates.

Two main strategies emerged for achieving this; removing School Resource Officers (SROs), and implementing restorative practices, neither of which APS has managed to accomplish yet as neighboring districts have. As a result, Black students are suffering irreparable harm. The school board has convened a community-based SRO Work Group to consider and recommend in June whether to keep SROs.

APS’s 2019-2020 suspension data in a partial pandemic year shows that Black students accounted for 27% of all out-of-school suspensions despite comprising 11% of APS’s population. By contrast, white students accounted for 16% of suspensions despite comprising 41% of APS’s population.

The 2018-2019 suspension data, more consistent with the 10-year average, shows that Black students accounted for 34% of all out-of-school suspensions despite comprising 10% of APS’s population. By contrast, white students accounted for 18% of suspensions despite comprising 44% of APS’s population. The disparities by school are even more stark.

Not surprisingly, the word “restorative” does not appear anywhere in APS’s discipline policy (J-7.4) or its accompanying policy implementation plan (PIP) (J-7.4 PIP-1), nor does it appear in the Draft Student Rights & Responsibilities: Code of Conduct Handbook. When these documents were circulated for revision and amendment, stakeholder groups deemed them retributive in tone and advised that restorative practices be added. The discipline policy is scheduled for “action” by the school board in August. Whether the school board will adopt the recommendations remains to be determined.

Notwithstanding Restorative Arlington’s Strategic Plan, there is no-one in the county with expertise in school-based implementation. While APS blithely promised a one-year pilot, that promise remains unfulfilled as APS disregards the only operational restorative practices program for school-aged youth in Arlington — Promoting Empathy through Equitable Resolution (PEER) — operated by a community-based organization.

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