(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) Arlington has long prided itself on the pathways available to residents to have a say in local policy-making, also known as the “Arlington Way.”
But a growing number of county officials, local leaders and civic groups think the tradition, while noble in aim, doesn’t work for everyone. They say it leans too much on affluent retirees and sabotages the county’s equity efforts.
For years, Arlington County has acknowledged that its traditional engagement processes privilege those with the time, resources and connections to invest in discussions about projects, studies and policies. That leaves out a growing segment of the population outside that mold: renters, parents of young kids, people who work non-traditional hours, people without access to reliable and affordable transportation, and those who are not fluent English speakers.
References to the “Arlington Way” arose in a County Board public comment period this summer that ran long due to controversy over the start time of a north Arlington farmers market, which shut out participation from low-income residents there to speak about filthy conditions at the Serrano Apartments. More recently, diversity concerns prompted the Arlington County Civic Federation — which provides a forum for civic groups to discuss local topics — to pass a resolution prioritizing improved community outreach and representation.
Amid this renewed focus, some novel approaches and long-term reforms have been proposed that county and civic leaders and community engagement staff tell ARLnow could widen the Arlington Way.
“Generally speaking, Arlington residents care about the issues that impact them, but do they know about it? How do they get the information?” asks Samia Byrd, Arlington’s Chief Race and Equity Officer. “We take for granted that residents know how to participate in the process.”
Board Vice-Chair Katie Cristol reprised the dilemma last week during a conversation about the community oversight board, which is currently seeking members to review cases of alleged police misconduct.
“We’ve been wrestling with… how we properly compensate people for that time and expertise,” Cristol said, as quoted by County Board watcher Stephen Repetski. “Because, frankly, that is… one of the biggest reasons you see our most heavy-hitting community engagement activities tend to rely disproportionately on well-off retirees.”
In a follow-up conversation, she told ARLnow that she’s been thinking about diversity in County Board-appointed commissions.
Six years ago, she believed that the solution would be finding and recruiting new faces at all levels of leadership. Over time, she’s realized the homogeneity of civic leadership is a consequence of how engagement is structured. Night meetings — or even day meetings — at county headquarters disadvantage students, parents and anyone who doesn’t work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., including overworked young professionals.
“It actually was not just about inviting more diverse people to the table, as defined, but maybe the table was defined in a way that made it hard for certain people to sit there,” she said. “There have to be many ways to engage.”
Those involved in county communications tell ARLnow they likewise think about diversity, not in terms of commission composition and structure, but in terms of regular outreach.
Who’s left out?
Assistant County Manager and Director of Communications and Public Engagement Bryna Helfer has been tackling community engagement homogeneity since she was hired in 2016. She and Byrd both say “it’s been a challenge” to reach people who aren’t white, affluent or a retiree, as well as people who don’t already know how to get involved or navigate the county website.
Arlington County’s transportation division is kicking off its ambitious plan to eliminate traffic deaths with a series of relatively quick safety projects.
For now, most of those projects appear to be in North Arlington.
Four months ago, the Arlington County Board adopted a five-year action plan that aims to eliminate traffic fatalities and severe injuries, known as “Vision Zero.” The plan lays out a systematic approach to safety improvements, addressing the most urgent needs through data analysis, equity and community engagement.
These improvements vary in scope: “quick-build projects” address immediate needs quickly using low-cost materials, while larger-scale projects require funding from the county’s Capital Improvement Program or grants. Others include pilot projects and regular maintenance work.
“We’re focusing initially on small-scale operational improvements… a small but important part of program,” said Dennis Leach, the director of transportation for the Department of Environmental Services.
Residents will see upgrades such as curb and median extensions, improved bus stops, curb-and-gutter repairs, new ramps and new high visibility crosswalks. DES has already completed eight “quick-build” projects and 11 are underway, according to its website.
Staff identify projects by analyzing crash data and considering reports by police, Arlington Public Schools and community members. They are constructed on a rolling basis.
For example, this month, staff completed a new mid-block crosswalk across N. Ohio Street that will improve access to Cardinal Elementary School and Swanson Middle School School. Staff are now installing a crosswalk with accessible curb ramps over Sycamore Street for better access to Tuckahoe Park and Tuckahoe Elementary School.
Of the 19 completed and under-construction projects, only three appear to be in South Arlington. One Twitter user mapped out the geographic spread of these projects, raising questions about how these projects are chosen and when DES will make its way south, given that equity is a core tenant of Vision Zero.
I mapped all of the @arlingtondes Quick-Build Vision Zero program projects in progress or completed. This is the primary program getting some extra paltry funding for safety.— Car-Free HQ2 (@CarFreeHQ2) September 28, 2021
Um, notice any patterns?https://t.co/nYVzFq1Nw1 pic.twitter.com/zcznoZJ8Ru
Leach said that could be because there are a number of older community and school requests being worked through.
“I think there’s an issue of a pipeline of small projects that may have gotten their start in early years,” Leach said. “What you see in the pipeline of quick-build projects has been built up over years… These projects may have gotten their start before Vision Zero was adopted.”
Transportation and Operations Bureau Chief Hui Wang said these projects are “a very small, skewed piece of the transportation program” because they don’t show large-scale investments, such as those on Columbia Pike.
“When we’re talking about balance, equity, we have to make sure that we’re not looking at it through a shaded lens,” she said.
“[Columbia Pike] is our single largest focus areas, as it has some of our oldest infrastructure,” he said. “In other parts of the county, like the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, private development builds a lot of the infrastructure. In Columbia Pike, until recently, there’s been little private development — there’s more now — but it’s been left to county to actually make those investments in advance of redevelopment.”
When asked if certain communities generate more traffic reports than others, Wang said DES doesn’t map out community reports because it’s hard to categorize them and her team doesn’t have the resources for that.
“My team is focused on the engineering part — our goal is trying to get things done,” she said.
The data-based approach helps weed out what is a perceived safety risk versus actual safety risks, Wang noted.
“We use crash data to identify real problems,” she said. “We’re using data as a guiding force, focusing on high-injury networks.”
Chris Slatt, who is president of transportation advocacy group Sustainable Mobility for Arlington County, said it’s not surprising that initial projects will skew toward North Arlington.
“Complaint-driven processes are well-known to reflect the biases of whom within the community is best equipped to spend precious time and energy complaining, so we would fully expect that method of identifying projects to skew toward the more affluent areas of Arlington unless staff works intentionally to correct that bias,” he said.
Leaders of a local civic organization admit their membership does not reflect the diversity of Arlington County, but they’re looking to change that.
One of Arlington’s largest community organizations, the Arlington County Civic Federation (CivFed) gives representatives from 85 local groups — including neighborhood civic associations and local advocacy organizations — a non-partisan forum to discuss community topics and provide input on county government and Arlington Public Schools activity.
Generally speaking, however, many delegates are older residents who own homes in North Arlington, and historically, the group has had lower participation from minority groups, younger residents and renters, says CivFed President Allan Gajadhar.
This month the group signaled its commitment to better represent the county by adopting a Diversity, Equity Belonging, and Inclusion resolution. It comes amid ongoing efforts at APS and the county to center racial equity and advance the interests of underserved communities.
In implementing the resolution, Gajadhar says CivFed will focus internally on membership and externally on outreach.
“The representation in the CivFed isn’t fully representative of racial and ethnic and socioeconomic diversity of Arlington,” he said. “There’s definitely a lot more work to be done in the delegate base. That’s not just something that’s going to happen over night. The first thing was to declare our intention to do so — now we are slowly taking steps to evaluate [diversity].”
CivFed, which is nearly 100 years old, aims to bring together and amplify the voices of neighborhood civic associations and organizations such as the local branch of the League of Women Voters. More than 300 delegates vote on resolutions for things on which they want to see the County Board and School Board take action.
CivFed has never formally tallied the demographic diversity of its membership, but it’s not a stretch to say a fair number of delegates are older, wealthier retirees, Gajadhar said.
“It’s been mentioned more than once that the delegate population could be more diverse,” Gajadhar said. “We do have a fair amount of representation from the communities you’d expect.”
CivFed is examining how it can include more young people, people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, women and renters in its ranks. It is also looking to diversify who holds leadership positions and how information gets communicated. In addition, the resolution made commitments to giving members multicultural competency training, collecting data on community participation, and holding events that engage diverse communities.
Gajadhar, now in his second term, says diversity and equity have been themes during his presidency. He oversaw the launch of a diversity committee, which put forward the resolution.
After the resolution passed with a 94.4% approval rate earlier this month, CivFed surveyed its members to see how they evaluate the diversity of their groups.
The survey is important, Gajadhar says, because CivFed is only as representative as its constituent organizations and realizing the aims of the resolution depends on whether the member groups are equally committed to the stated goals.
“A lot of people don’t necessarily think of the issues that are identified in the resolution as issues,” he said. “We have to be sensitive to who our membership is. We can’t come in with a very strong, forceful mandate or anything like that… We have to go about it carefully — otherwise it’ll be counterproductive.”
Parent-Teacher Associations are how students get new spirit wear or go ice skating with their class. They host staff luncheons during Teacher Appreciation Week and help to pay for classroom supplies.
These independent organizations play a pivotal role in the kinds of enrichment opportunities to which students, primarily elementary schoolers, and teachers in Arlington Public Schools have access.
And a PTA’s ability — or lack thereof — to pay for these activities varies dramatically by zip code. Some PTA leaders tell ARLnow that they know the money their organizations raise can exacerbate existing inequities among Arlington’s schools, and are trying to raise awareness and effect change.
“We already have schools that are unequal and on top of that — like really thick icing on a cake — it’s making disparities bigger,” said Emily Vincent, a member of the Arlington County Council of PTAs.
ARLnow requested and obtained copies of the 2018-19 budgets from a sampling of elementary school PTAs in northern, central and southern portions of Arlington. Individual PTA revenues ranged from $30,000 in South Arlington to more than $125,000 in North Arlington. PTA expenditures ranged from $18,000 to $139,000, a nearly eight-fold differential
While t-shirts and luncheons form the bread-and-butter of PTA expenses, other common expenditures improve the school through new furniture and books, or add to the curriculum with outdoor education and field trips.
Many PTAs did not respond to our requests for comment or for a copy of the budget.
Vincent said she saw similar discrepancies in the 2017-18 school year budgets she collected. PTA revenue at individual schools ranged from $20,000 to $200,000, and as a whole, Arlington PTAs spent $2 million. About 75% of that spending happened north of Route 50, she said.
The Arlington County Council of PTAs is trying to tackle these entrenched discrepancies among its chapters. For about six years, the council has operated a grant fund: PTAs donate to the program and those who need extra funding apply for a grant. A 2019 report on the fund said most recipient schools use the money to pay for books, furniture and field trips.
But the grant fund can only go so far, especially because the requests are outpacing donations, Vincent said. Establishing a new policy could help address systemic inequities, particularly around PTA purchases that — if they were borne by APS — would result in a fairer distribution of resources, she said.
“We’re hoping for a culture shift,” Vincent said. “I do think a lot more of our PTA leaders understand that their decisions are not limited to their school.”
No school is an island
Over the last decade, outgoing Tuckahoe Elementary School PTA president Allison Glatfelter said APS has transitioned from a federation of schools that operated quasi-independently to a united school system. That transition, she said, revealed the extent to which some PTA budgets support school operations.
It was common for schools to improve their grounds through PTA funding without going through APS, she said. Budgets indicate that some associations have laid down track, installed sun shades or repaved their courtyards. Tuckahoe’s PTA once paid for a pond that the parent organization continues to maintain, she said.
Nowadays, she said wealthier PTAs spend money “on things that are hard to see.”
The budgets ARLnow reviewed indicated large expenses such as teacher training or, in the case of Jamestown Elementary in the 2015-16 school year, a dedicated horticulturalist.
PTAs get funding from donations and membership dues, but the bulk comes from fundraisers: from “no frills” fundraisers to auctions to restaurant nights in which a local eatery donates a percentage of sales.
According to the budgets that ARLnow obtained, the wealthier PTAs in north and central Arlington set aside tens of thousands of dollars for educational opportunities and capital improvements. Not all of that money gets spent, meaning the same schools have reserves exceeding $100,000.
Tuckahoe, for its part, is trying to change its relationship to fundraising and maintaining reserves, Glatfelter said.
“We definitely pared down fundraising. We don’t need the extra things that we were spending money on. Our kids don’t need extra field trips to places to which we can take them on weekends,” she said. “None of our schools should have giant budgets because we are an excellent school system with a lot of money.”
Vincent said she is not sure APS understands how much PTAs can contribute to school budgets. A policy that caps fundraising or redistributes donated furniture could equalize student experiences and ensure administrators keep tabs on school budgets that rely heavily on their PTA, she said.
Man Sentenced for Drunken Gunfire — “The Weedsport [New York] man arrested for publicly firing a gun in the Washington area days before the Jan. 6 Capitol attack was sentenced April 28 in Arlington County Circuit Court. Moses Geri, 39, was sentenced to two years in prison, with one year and eight months suspended… His sentence was issued days after the court rejected a previous plea agreement that would have made all 12 months of Geri’s probation unsupervised.” [The Citizen]
VHC Now a Level II Trauma Center — “Virginia Hospital Center (VHC), a community-based hospital providing medical services to the Washington, DC metropolitan area for 75 years, is proud to announce that it has received a Level II Trauma Center designation from the Commonwealth of Virginia, filling a critical community need.” [Press Release]
County Hosting Virtual ‘Healing’ Conference — “The Child and Family Services Division (CFSD) announces Building Healing Communities: Conversations on Mental Health, Resilience, and Equity… The free, four-day virtual community conference — offered with simultaneous Spanish translation throughout — kicks off on Thursday, May 20 at 6 p.m.” [Arlington County]
New Apartment Tower Now Leasing — “Leasing has begun at Aubrey, the first of three high-rise residential buildings at the Highlands, a mixed-use development in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor in Arlington, Va. Under development by Penzance, the 23-story-tall Aubrey building at 1788 N. Pierce St. includes 331 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. Evo, the second apartment tower, is anticipated to begin leasing this summer. The third tower is the Pierce condominium, which is selling now.” [Washington Post]
Big Motorcycle Rally Back On — “Things are coming together for a major Memorial Day weekend motorcycle rally. It now has an official starting area and it looks like more bikers could be coming. ‘At the very last minute, the mayor came through for us,’ said Joe Chenelly, executive director of AMVETS. The veterans service organization is arranging the ‘Rolling to Remember’ event, which is the successor to ‘Rolling Thunder.'” [WTOP]
Free Vax Shots for Kids Ages 12-15 — “Arlington County will begin to administer free COVID-19 vaccines to children ages 12-15 years of age who live or are schooled in Arlington beginning Saturday, May 15. This follows the expansion of Pfizer’s Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to children 12 and over… Approximately 8,000 children aged 12-15 live in Arlington. Arlington will offer Saturday through Monday clinics over the next two weekends for children 12-17 years of age to help meet anticipated demand for the vaccine.” [Arlington County]
Blowback Over Summer School Limits — “Arlington school leaders are getting abuse from both ends when it comes to criticism of newly announced summer-school restrictions. A group that has pressed Arlington schools leaders for a faster reopening of classes says new limitations show a continued lack of leadership, while at the same time the Arlington Education Association is blasting school leaders for throwing teachers under the bus on the issue.” [Sun Gazette, NBC 4]
Neighborhood ‘Toolkits’ on Race — “Arlington County today released a set of new tools to help advance racial equity efforts in Arlington. The collection of neighborhood toolkits and data dashboards are products of the County’s Realizing Arlington’s Commitment to Equity (RACE) program… The Toolkits for Conversations on Race & Equity are self-guided programs that can be used to spark conversations with family, friends, and neighbors.” [Arlington County]
Lubber Run Performances Return — “After being closed for the entirety of the summer 2020 season due to the pandemic, the Arlington County government’s Lubber Run Amphitheatre will host free programming in July and August. Performances will be Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 11 a.m. The season opens with blues singer-songwriter Chris Pierce performing on Friday, July 9.” [Sun Gazette]
Beyer Suicide Bill Passes — “You’ve heard of 911 for emergencies and 411 for information. Now the House of Representatives is debating a bill that could educate people about a new number for the National Suicide Hotline, 988. Colleen Creighton at the American Association of Suicidology says a bill introduced by Congressman Don Beyer will help spread the word about the new hotline.” [WVTF, Twitter]
Nearby: New Owner for McLean Shopping Center — “McLean’s Chesterbrook Shopping Center has changed hands for the first time since the early 1980s… ‘Chesterbrook Center is well positioned for significant growth and perfectly aligns with our Northern Virginia strategy,’ Barry Carty, Federal Realty’s senior vice president of East Coast acquisitions, said.” [Tysons Reporter]
(Updated at 10:30 a.m. on 12/02/20) Arlington is seeking diverse voices in its Dialogues on Race and Equity, but so far the biggest group of respondents have been middle-aged white women who are relatively affluent.
Arlington County Chief Race and Equity Officer Samia Byrd and Challenging Racism Director Alicia Jones McLeod, who are promoting a new questionnaire on the topic of race, see this as a sign to keep pushing for broader participation.
“It has been interesting… we are seeing predominantly white women, middle aged, homeowners completing the assessment,” Byrd told the County Board last week. “So we really, really want to encourage everyone — so we can hear all of the voices that we typically do not hear — to complete the assessment.”
So far, 69% of respondents were white, but not of Hispanic origin. Hispanic people accounted for 7%, and Black or African American people accounted for 9%. Asian or Pacific Islander representation rests at 4.5% and American Indian or Alaska Native rests at 2.2%. Another 4.5% marked “other.”
Women represent 60% of respondents, and men 31%, with 8% preferring not to answer, and less than 1% marking gender non-conforming or not listed.
“We want to understand the full Arlington experience, or Arlington as experienced by everyone, so that we can continue to move forward,” Byrd added, in a conversation with ARLnow yesterday.
On Monday, the assessment was released in Mongolian and Arabic. It is being pushed via social media, email and the distribution of hard copies. The assessment closes on Dec. 31 and results will be presented to the County Board in the new year.
About 1,200 assessments have been completed since the survey went online on Oct. 12, as part of a broader initiative from Arlington County and Challenging Racism to engage community members in dialogues on race and equity, in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd and the protests that followed.
More than 200 people have participated in a second component of this initiative — a series of six conversations — the last of which is set for Dec. 9.
The preliminary under-representation of people of color, immigrants and non-English speakers mirrors the feelings that participants have expressed about the Arlington Way, housing and Arlington Public Schools. Participants have frequently mentioned barriers that lead to under-representation in government processes, home-owning and APS gifted programs.
Byrd said the assessments and discussions will lay the foundation for her work with county officials and the community to dismantle systemic racism, where it exists, in Arlington County.
That work involves undoing the lasting effects from when unequal treatment was codified in law, Byrd said. While those historic policies no longer exist, they erected barriers that keep Arlingtonians from accessing housing, education, health and wealth to this day, she said.
“None of us here created the system, but we’re all a part of it, regardless,” she said. “Race is the center of it.”
In the assessments and conversations, many Arlingtonians identified the Arlington Way — a catch-all phrase for citizen engagement in local government — as an area where the means of participation disadvantage people of color, those who rent and those who do not have the luxury of time to participate in lengthy, iterative decision processes.
“The Arlington Way means different things to different people, but generally it is about engagement: how people interact with, and who has access to, decision-making, decision-makers and resources; who is at the table when those policy decisions are being made; who can weigh in when policy decisions are being made that affect everyone,” Byrd said.
The pandemic has, at least temporarily, resulted in one notable change to the Arlington Way: more public meetings are being conducted online, rather than in person, thus making it more feasible for some to watch or participate. Before, participation in in-person meetings might have required some combination of booking a babysitter, requesting to work a different shift, waiting for public transit, and sitting in a crowded room for hours on end.
If you live in the right type of home in the right place, Arlington County will reserve street parking for you and your neighbors for much of the day.
But the Residential Permit Parking program is under review and a county staff recommendation on whether it should continue as currently conceived is expected soon.
The review has dragged on since it was launched in 2017, when the county put a moratorium on approving new permit parking zones, and was further delayed by the pandemic. County officials, however, now say they’re going to skip holding more public engagement meetings on the topic, either virtual or in-person, and move forward with the aim of County Board action in January.
Meetings had been planned for the spring, but were cancelled due to health concerns. A county spokeswoman says county staff decided against additional meetings due to equity concerns.
“Staff looked into holding the dialogues online but decided that holding online dialogues would not be an adequate replacement,” Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Kathryn O’Brien told ARLnow. “There are tools for holding the dialogues online, but there are challenges to bringing together a diverse group of Arlingtonians for a meeting of three hours or more online.”
“An inclusive group of participants at the dialogues would be especially necessary because residents are divided on the RPP program,” she continued. “The County could have waited until in-person public meetings resume but continuing to delay the RPP Review increases the chance that decision-makers will see the feedback currently captured as out-of-date. Delaying the review also continues the moratorium on petitions for new or modified restrictions.”
There are few issues that raise local passions like parking, and the RPP program has sharply divided residents.
The program started in the early 1970s, when Aurora Highlands residents successfully petitioned the Arlington County Board to approve restrictions that would keep Crystal City commuters from parking in the neighborhood. The county won a Supreme Court challenge to the restrictions and gradually expanded the program to other neighborhoods.
Eventually, residents of new apartment buildings and condos were excluded from the program, as access to street parking became a sticking point with neighbors of proposed new developments. And neighborhoods well away from Metro stations and office districts started getting approved for restrictions.
The tide started to turn against the program a few years ago, as more neighborhoods sought to add parking restrictions, raising questions about the fairness of reserving increasingly large portions of the public road network for the vehicles of certain residents.
Last year, the County Board repealed some RPP restrictions in the Forest Glen and Arlington Mill neighborhoods, which apartment residents said made it difficult to park in the neighborhood for those who do not work a traditional 9-5 job. The decision was contentious, however.
A recently-released report on the RPP review process includes comments from surveys that further reflect the divide.
“It doesn’t seem fair to me who is eligible now. Higher density homes with less curb space should be eligible as single family homes,” said one resident quoted in the report.
“The County should NOT make apartment, condo, and townhouse residents eligible for parking permits because it will encourage more cars and further overcrowd parking resources,” said another.
The report notes that the population eligible for RPP skews whiter and more affluent than those who are not eligible. White residents are 84% of the population in RPP zones, compared to 76% of the population outside of RPP zones. Households making $200,000 or more are 32% of the population in RPP zones, compared to 19% in non-RPP zones.
Furthermore, only 25% of those enrolled in RPP live in multifamily buildings like apartments and condos; by comparison, 71% of Arlington’s overall population lives in multifamily housing.
The company’s million-dollar donation to schools in HQ2’s backyard follows a more than $2.5 million donation to schools near “HQ1” in the Seattle area.
The donations will go towards a “‘Right Now Needs Fund’ — a flexible fund designed to meet the basic needs of schoolchildren and help eliminate barriers to learning” during the pandemic, the company said.
“The Right Now Needs Fund in Northern Virginia will provide students with immediate access to urgently needed items including food, clothing, and school supplies across all 41 Arlington Public Schools and programs and all 18 Alexandria City Public Schools,” Amazon said on its Day One blog.
The fund is in addition to Amazon’s recent donation hundreds of wireless internet access devices and $75,000 towards headphones for Arlington students attending classes from home.
Arlington Public Schools’ Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer said the school system is “elated” by the gift and the impact it will have on students in need.
We are elated about this partnership and equity initiative that will provide another pathway to fill gaps to meet our students' physiological needs. Additionally, the MiFis will assist with closing the digital divide.
— Arron Gregory (@APSEquity) October 7, 2020
More on the fund, from the Amazon blog:
Site Coordinators and school social workers within each of the school districts and schools will work with families to identify individual student needs and request assistance from the Fund. Communities In Schools NOVA, leveraging existing relationships with both school districts, will distribute Amazon Education Assistance Product Vouchers – a prepaid payment designed specifically for education-related needs. Students and their families can redeem the vouchers for a wide variety of carefully curated items that students need to be successful at school, including food, school supplies for at-home learning, warm clothing, hygiene items, and more. By using the prepaid vouchers, students and families can redeem much-needed items in a dignified and convenient way.
“The start of this school year has been difficult for many families across our new home of Northern Virginia, and we are determined to provide support to the students who need it most,” said Jay Carney, Amazon Senior Vice President, Global Corporate Affairs. “At Amazon, we are always looking for innovative solutions to tough challenges, and we are confident that the flexibility and speed built into our new Right Now Needs Fund will help ensure that more students from underserved communities can focus on their studies, and not fall behind as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.”
Amazon recently donated nearly 800 Mi-Fi devices and $75,000 to secure thousands of headsets for students across Northern Virginia starting the school year from home. In addition, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in Amazon’s HQ2 region, Amazon donated $1 million to kick-start emergency response efforts, provided thousands of devices to groups supporting students in need, donated cash and in-kind products to local nonprofits and food banks, paid local restaurants to prepare and deliver 10,000 lunches and dinners for first responders, frontline healthcare workers, and vulnerable neighbors, and funded delivery services to provide more than 50,000 meals–60,000 pounds of food–directly to the doorsteps of local seniors and those disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Amazon also donated $3.9 million to nonprofit CodeVA to help make virtual computer science curriculum and training available Virginia teachers and students so that they don’t fall behind in learning this increasingly important skillset. There are currently more than 50 schools and counting in the state of Virginia part of the Amazon Future Engineer program.
Three days after members of the Arlington County Board expressed support for changing the county’s logo, officials outlined a process for changing it, the county seal and, potentially, names of some local roads and places.
The logo change comes after a push from the Arlington branch of the NAACP, which earlier this summer called the illustration of Arlington House a “racist plantation symbol” that “divides, rather than unites us.”
At the Board’s Tuesday evening meeting, County Manager Mark Schwartz presented a plan to review county symbols and names over the next few months.
The review will include “gathering perspectives on race and equity in Arlington,” and examining county symbols, street names and facility names that may be associated with systemic racism or oppression. The review will “build on this fall’s community process to update the County’s Historic Preservation Master Plan,” according to a county press release.
Schwartz said he will present in December a summary of community feedback, as well as recommendations to the Board for next steps.
In introducing the topic, County Board Chair Libby Garvey said that equity and the county budget are “the two most important things we’re tackling as a Board.” She, along with the four other members of the Board, reiterated their support for changing the county logo.
While newly-elected Board member Takis Karantonis said he agreed with local NAACP leader Julius Spain, Sr.’s call to retire Arlington House as the county’s logo as soon as possible, he acknowledged that the overall process of choosing a new logo and replacing the old logo on most county equipment and properties would “probably take several years.”
Board member Katie Cristol said the logo and some names currently in use locally “have come to feel so out of step with our current values in Arlington County,” while Board member Matt de Ferranti said he wanted to ensure the process of evaluating and changing them was thoughtful and inclusive.
Christian Dorsey, the lone Black member of the Board, said his support for changing the logo came down to the 1972 renaming of Arlington House by Congress as “Arlington House: the Robert E. Lee Memorial,” in honor of the Confederate general and one-time occupant of the historic home on the grounds of what became Arlington National Cemetery.
While some may believe Arlington House to be a symbol of slavery, Dorsey said, others see it as a symbol of the repudiation of the Confederacy, given that it was seized during the Civil War in order to serve as a final resting place for Union war dead. The 1972 renaming, however, “takes all nuance out of the equation.”
“Should a national memorial to Robert E. Lee be the official symbol of Arlington County?” Dorsey asked. “For me it’s a clear no. Period, full stop.”
Dorsey said that the logo change and renaming process will need to find a way to try to unite people who are “in different places along the journey,” but names that honor people who “actively promoted systemic oppression” have to go.
The county should also consider naming some things that are currently unnamed in order “to elevate the contributions of women, people of color, indigenous peoples, that have been suppressed in the telling of our country’s and our community’s history,” according to Dorsey. At the same time, he said, the county should “make sure that fiscal and human resources are not diverted from doing the work to address systemic racism” by the logo change and renaming processes.
(The county, through a local nonprofit, is currently in the process of renaming Lee Highway.)
More on the logo change and renaming process, from a county press release, below.
The policy, passed in a 5-0 vote, includes an overall equity belief statement and identifies governance, education, the workforce, and operations as key areas for APS to practice equity in.
“Equity is tied to everything that we do, and we are committed to eliminating inequitable practices in cultivating the unique gifts, talents and interests of every student so that success and failure are no longer predictable by student identity such as race, culture, socioeconomics, gender, or any other social factor,” Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer Arron Gregory said at the August 20 meeting, quoting the belief statement.
The School Board first directed APS to create an equity policy in August 2018. After two years of drafting and revisions based on APS and community feedback, the policy will now help guide APS action relating to inclusion, equity and diversity.
“Having this as an official policy is just part of the work that we need to do,” Superintendent Francisco Durán said in the meeting. “Moving forward to having an equity mindset, where we’re actually changing our practices and our actions and our thinking is really what we need to be moving forward with, and we are.”
The policy follows reported racial disparities in standardized testing results and student suspension rates within APS. The U.S. Department of Justice has previously alleged that APS provided inadequate help for students learning English.
Gregory said APS, when developing the policy, accounted for such disparities.
“APS acknowledged the historical and current impact of bias, prejudice and discrimination, and is implementing this equity policy, and subsequent implementation procedures, to address the impact discrimination has had on students and staff,” he said.
Monique O’Grady, Chair of the School Board, said the equity policy can help solve such issues if it is followed.
“[The policy] will help us make decisions that can help all students reach their highest potential without placing opportunity gaps in their way,” O’Grady said. “This is necessary to continue addressing disparities that exist in our country, in our state, and, yes, even in our own system.”
Photo via Arlington Public Schools