(Updated on 02/03/23 at 11:55 a.m.) Many parents of children at Key Elementary School are outraged at the way a possible threat of gun violence by a student was handled by administrators.
The mother of the child who was targeted told ARLnow what happened the day the threat occurred, on Jan. 19, and the fallout. Parents say school leaders took too long to involve the police and are now providing piecemeal updates that raise more questions than answer them.
“They just really didn’t know what to do in this situation,” the mother, Katherine, said. “No one can tell me their threat response… It’s a lot of blanks.”
Arlington Public Schools says it has identified those involved and “taken steps to provide appropriate consequences and to protect the safety of all students,” spokesman Frank Bellavia said in a statement.
Meanwhile, it is reviewing the decisions that administrators made to determine if protocols need to be re-evaluated, per emails shared with ARLnow. On Tuesday, Acting Principal Iliana Gonzales took over for Principal Marleny Perdomo, a personnel matter on which APS said it cannot comment.
Katherine and other parents say they do not know why the the police were not immediately called and whether gaps in local and state statutes contributed to the delayed involvement of law enforcement.
APS says school leaders are instructed to “immediately call 911 or law enforcement when there is an imminent threat to student or staff safety.” State law and School Board policy, however, only require principals to call the police if a student is found with a gun, and APS maintains it did not have sufficient evidence to search students for one after the Jan. 19 threat.
The seemingly cautious approach at Key Elementary contrats with lockdowns and large police responses over reports of a potentially armed trespasser today (Thursday) at Wakefield High School as well as prior school shooter threats that later turn out to be false reports.
“A lockdown is determined based on established procedures and training that every staff receive at least annually. Lockdowns can be initiated by any staff member or law enforcement based on conditions at the school,” Bellavia said. “Searches are conducted when there is reasonable grounds and reasonable suspicion of a student or group of students. In this case, there was no search conducted.”
Principals are required to immediately notify parents of minor students who are the target of written threats, but Katherine alleges that many hours passed between when the note was found and she was called.
Parents say the decisions not to search for a weapon and not to immediately call the police are concerning following the Jan. 6 shooting in Newport News, Virginia. A 6-year-old boy was able to shoot and seriously injure a teacher because school administrators never called the police, removed the boy from class or initiated a lock down, despite multiple warnings from staff, a lawyer for the wounded teacher alleges.
“I’m so thankful it didn’t end in gunshots like it did in Newport News, but the school didn’t know it wouldn’t and the school didn’t do anything to make sure it didn’t,” a Key School mother told ARLnow, requesting anonymity for fear of retribution.
Administrators have admitted to parents that there were missteps.
“There were some misactions that happened in terms of the response to the threat and subsequently what took place in terms of communication. We acknowledge that,” said Chief of School Support Kimberley Graves during a meeting with Key parents last week, per a recording provided to ARLnow.
“We can’t go back and change what happened,” Graves continued. “There are going to be things that we do to help support this community and things we’re going to do to make certain every effort in place to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.” Read More
Sometimes, there is a theme — like wearing costumes on Halloween — as well as the occasional sweet treat or freebie, like bicycle lights from the county program Bike Arlington.
“I am not above bribing children,” says Gillian Burgess, who leads a group of children to the dual-language elementary school Escuela Key. “Donuts are definitely a big help.”
Burgess is a volunteer conductor of a bicibús (Spanish for “bike bus”) — a weekly bicycling group with a set route that makes two stops to pick up kids on the way to Escuela Key. It has a Spanish name because the concept started in Vic, Spain, to provide safety in numbers to kids intimidated by traffic, per a Duolingo podcast with the woman who started the bicibús.
It has since spread to larger Spanish cities, such as Barcelona, and throughout Europe. And it has gone stateside to Portland, Seattle and now Arlington.
In Portland, Oregon, a group of parents and one teacher came together to create an alternative way of getting kids to school while clearing road congestion.@byjacobward shares more details about the “bike bus” where hundreds of students ride together through the neighborhood. pic.twitter.com/LPdFK2gHyJ
— NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt (@NBCNightlyNews) October 12, 2022
Burgess started the Escuela Key route when APS provided hybrid education in spring 2021, and some parents worried about Covid transmission on buses. Now, families stick with it because they have noticed improvements to their child’s mood and focus in school, she said.
“It’s fun,” says fourth-grader Billy Schnell. “I like biking to school with my friends in the morning. It makes me happy. The regular bus is hot and stuffy, but I feel cool on the Bicibús.”
Burgess said there are two great things about the program: “Kids can go even if caretakers can’t go with them and there is safety in numbers.”
In greater numbers, Escuela Key riders feel safer navigating unlit crossings and getting from the intersection of the Bluemont Trail with N. George Mason Drive to Escuela Key a block away, she said. It also helps families break from their driving routines and gives kids independence.
“We take our kids to all these places. We sit and wait for them to finish their activities. We drive them there and home,” Burgess said. “It sucks for us as parents because we’re spending all this time chauffeuring, and kids are not learning how to be independent and confident.”
Meanwhile, the Campbell bike train, which started this year, provides a bi-monthly alternate route home now that parents cannot drive to pick up their kids directly from school, a decision Burgess said was made to improve student safety.
Burgess has taken other steps to help kids feel comfortable on bikes, such as helping install traffic gardens where kids could learn the rules of the road in miniature two years ago.
At the time, that had support from APS, but she is hoping for more coordination with the schools system now. That’s especially so in the wake of a number of high-profile crashes that involved students or happened near schools and have prompted the community and the Arlington County Board to call for swifter action on traffic safety and drunk driving.
“We don’t have a partner in APS right now,” she said, adding that she has reached out for help but hasn’t gotten much of a response. “We need someone who can come at it as a professional in the school system in terms of what is appropriate for adolescents, children and teenagers. What is the right messaging? What works?”
The Arlington School Board will vote on boundary changes tomorrow (Thursday) targeting two overcapacity schools in South Arlington.
The newest version of the plan postpones changes to Abingdon, where enrollment is currently manageable for next year, according to Durán. Students would have been moved from the school in Fairlington to Charles R. Drew Elementary School in nearby Green Valley, echoing a similar proposal in 2018 that became controversial.
Gunston and Wakefield are still over-capacity, so some planning units will be moved to Thomas Jefferson Middle School and Washington-Liberty High School.
“The proposed changes are manageable among the identified schools that we’ve talked about and we’ve engaged with. The planning units included in this process should not need to be moved again in the next few years, and this limited process provides some additional to understand enrollment fluctuations we’re seeing caused by the pandemic, and any shifts in projects we may see,” he said during the Nov. 16 School Board meeting.
APS also proposes to change which neighborhood schools feed into Arlington’s Spanish-immersion schools, following previous boundary changes and the relocation of one immersion program, Key School.
“We want to make sure access to immersion schools is convenient to families and students nearest the location,” Durán said.
Relief for Gunston and Wakefield
The changes will impact the Penrose, Foxcroft Heights, Arlington View and Columbia Heights neighborhoods.
The proposal to move Wakefield students to W-L comes as the latter is about to unveil a new wing of the school — the former Education Center administrative offices — with room for up to 600 students.
APS says the extra space at the Education Center will provide enrollment relief for Wakefield and cut down on W-L’s waitlist for the International Baccalaureate (IB) program.
“The number of applicants to the IB Lottery and number on the waitlist has increased each year over the last four years,” according to the 2021 boundary process website.
APS may consider targeted transfers from Wakefield to Yorktown if forthcoming enrollment projections for 2022-23 suggest unmanageable levels at Wakefield — even with the boundary adjustment.
The new high school boundaries would reverse moves made in 2016 to address overcrowding at W-L, but those who were moved away from W-L in 2017 will not be moved back.
In 2017, APS redirected Boulevard Manor kids from W-L to Yorktown High School. Students say when they graduate from Kenmore Middle School and head to Yorktown, they lose many of their middle school friends. To avoid that, they apply for W-L’s IB program or for a neighborhood transfer.
“I can make new friends, but the point is that it’s completely reasonable that I want to go to high school with my friends — just like all the middle schoolers in Arlington,” said Kenmore eighth-grader Xavier Anderson, during the Nov. 16 meeting.
(Updated at 11:30 a.m.) Two workers were hurt after a construction accident at an Arlington elementary school.
It happened around 10:30 a.m. at Key Elementary School, in the former Arlington Traditional School building at 855 N. Edison Street. Firefighters and police are on scene.
Initial reports suggest part of a wall collapsed and the workers were struck by falling cinder blocks. Both are being rushed to the hospital with serious injuries.
“It is related to the construction of the new kitchen,” APS spokesman Frank Bellavia said of the accident. “Two workers were injured… No students were near the site as it is only accessible by construction workers.”
Workplace safety officials are being requested to the scene to investigate the incident.
A portion of N. George Mason Drive in front of the school may be at least partially blocked by the emergency activity.
ACPD and @ArlingtonVaFD are on scene of construction accident in the 800 block of N. Edison St. Two patients have been transported to an area hospital with injuries that are considered serious but non-life threatning. Expect continued public safety activity in the area.
— ArlingtonCountyPD (@ArlingtonVaPD) October 21, 2021
The principal of the school sent the following message to families this morning.
Dear Escuela Key Staff and Families,
I am writing to notify you about a construction accident which occurred in the area under renovation in the kitchen at Escuela Key this morning. No students were involved or near the site. The area where the construction is occurring is in the kitchen, which is sealed off and separate from students at all times. Two workers were injured and have been taken to the hospital for evaluation and treatment. I wanted you to be aware due to the increased police and fire department activity at the school this morning.
The school at the Key site, which opens to students this August, has a new name: Innovation Elementary School.
The name received unanimous support from Arlington School Board members during a meeting last night (Thursday), passing 4-0 with member Reid Goldstein not present.
“We’re very excited for students and staff to enjoy and attend the Innovation Elementary School in Arlington,” said Board Chair Monique O’Grady.
The School Board voted last February to convert the Key site, which currently houses a Spanish immersion choice program, into a neighborhood school. It will serve children in the fast-growing Rosslyn area, including some who were previously zoned for Arlington Science Focus School.
A naming committee proposed Innovation as its first choice for the school building at 2300 Key Blvd.
“We really feel like ‘Innovation’ represents a skill and an ideal that we want our children to get from their elementary school experience,” said the new school’s principal, Claire Peters, during an informational meeting last month.
As an alternate, it proposed Gateway Elementary School, which committee members said references the school’s location as a gateway to Arlington from Washington, D.C. and symbolizes the purpose of education as a gateway to a child’s future.
Board Vice Chair Barbara Kanninen, who moved last night to name the school Innovation, said in February she initially preferred Gateway.
“As you sit with names, they hit you differently,” she said at the time. “I came to appreciate Innovation.”
Next month, the School Board will vote on a new name for the school at the Reed site, which is also involved in the school shuffle. A committee is currently weighing the top contenders: Cardinal, Compass, Exploration, Kaleidoscope and Passport.
The elementary school at the Key site is close to getting a new name, and it will not be after a person.
A naming committee is proposing Innovation Elementary School, or Gateway Elementary School as an alternate, for the school building 2300 Key Blvd. The Arlington School Board will choose a name on Thursday, March 11 ahead of the school opening to students this fall.
“We really feel like Innovation represents a skill and an ideal that we want our children to get from their elementary school experience,” the new school’s principal Claire Peters said.
The new school at the Key site, which is currently used by a Spanish immersion choice program, will be a neighborhood school, and it was created by a controversial swap involving multiple schools.
The school will be populated with students who live in the fast-growing Rosslyn area, including some who were previously zoned for Arlington Science Focus School.
Absent from the top two was the preferred choice among a group of survey respondents — Grace Hopper Elementary School — named for computer engineer and university teacher Naval Rear Admiral Grace Hopper.
Fresh from renaming what is now Washington-Liberty High School, and in the thick of efforts to remove names of Confederate generals and soldiers and slave-owners from Arlington’s roads and parks, committee members and at least one School Board member said they want to avoid people entirely.
“We had a very significant discussion around naming a school after a person, and it was clear from both the comments we received in the survey and comments that our committee brought back from their community that naming a school after a person is a divisive choice,” the new school’s principal Claire Peters recently told the School Board.
School Board member Reid Goldstein concurred.
“I was cringing a little bit when I saw the name because lately, I’ve been shying away from naming schools after individuals,” he said.
School staff said Gateway would reference the school’s location as the gateway to Arlington from Washington and communicate the idea that an education is a gateway to a bright future.
The other suggested names were Polaris Elementary School and Summa Elementary School of Arlington.
The survey generated nearly 400 responses, as well as 74 comments, including a few in Spanish or Mongolian.
More than half of respondents said they were community members, while the rest said they were parents of students going to the new school, parents of students at other schools, APS staff or business owners.
“This was a very small representation of the community that will be served by this elementary school,” Wilson said.
Arlington Science Focus School students also picked their favorite names: Gateway came in first and Innovation in fourth.
Photos via Arlington Public Schools
(Updated at 11:50 a.m.) About 1,400 elementary students would be reassigned to new school buildings next fall, according to a proposed change in boundaries that Arlington Public Schools released Monday evening.
The boundary proposal follows an elementary school building swap approved by the School Board in February, to account for the new Reed School building in Westover coming online and the former home of the Key Spanish immersion program near Courthouse being converted to a neighborhood school.
The boundary changes are part of the school system’s effort to prepare for an estimated 30,000 students in 2021, including a surge in new students near the Courthouse neighborhood.
APS is looking to redraw the boundaries of most, if not all, of its 24 elementary schools in the near future to address a growing imbalance between where enrollment is increasing and where there is spare school capacity, while taking equity and walkability into consideration.
The School Board is scheduled to vote on the latest boundary proposal on Dec. 3.
The 1,400 students — 13% of K-5 neighborhood school students — would be reassigned from Ashlawn, ASFS, Glebe, Long Branch, McKinley, Taylor and Tuckahoe schools, APS said.
“Our long-term priority is to address capacity needs informed by a plan that puts equity and instruction front and center, and that ensures we consider the overall needs of our students and school division rather than focus on an individual school, department or topic,” Superintendent Francisco Durán said in a statement.
He added that the district must make this change “as we move from being a system of schools to a school system.”
APS had planned to address boundaries for most elementary schools in 2020, but the pandemic disrupted education and strained families to the point that Durán decided to keep students together as much as possible.
The new boundary change approach keeps more students at their current schools and adds 800 students to school walk zones, reducing the need for busing at a time when only 11 students can ride each bus at a time. One downside: there will be an increased need for portable classroom trailers.
APS says it will continue to plan for increased school capacity where enrollment is spiking, particularly at the western end of Columbia Pike, with the upcoming Fiscal Year 2022 Capital Improvement Plan.
Virtual community meetings on the boundary proposal will be held from 7-8:30 p.m. tomorrow (Wednesday) and next Wednesday, Oct. 14. Community members can provide input this fall through a community questionnaire, available through Oct. 20.
APS staff will present the superintendent’s final proposal to the School Board on Nov. 5, and will hold a public hearing on Dec. 1, before adoption on Dec. 3.
More from an APS press release, below.
The group opposes an Arlington Public Schools plan, endorsed by the interim superintendent, to move Key elementary students and staff to the Arlington Traditional School building, while moving Arlington Traditional students and staff to McKinley and McKinley students and staff to a new elementary school building in Westover. That would free up the Key school building near Courthouse, currently used by a Spanish immersion choice program, to become a neighborhood school as the elementary-aged population in that area continues to grow.
People who signed the petition, however, are not buying the APS rationale for the moves, which would reportedly result in more than 2,400 students moving to a new building.
“Moving schools is not creating more seats,” said one. “It’s a temporary bandaid and there is no data to support these moves.”
“These changes can have profound effects on students who get moved to new schools, and the current process is so flawed,” said another. “It could easily lead to even more rounds of redistricting in the near future.”
In addition to objections to the process, an alleged lack of supporting data, and inadequate communication from school staff, opponents say the moves would make diversity in the schools “more difficult to maintain.”
Per the petition:
The school move proposal exacerbates the county’s broader struggle with diversity. As in other communities, Arlington’s historic housing patterns have effectively segregated low-income and minority families, and its schools reflect those same patterns of segregation. Yet despite repeated requests from PTAs and parents across the county — and in the immediate aftermath of a recent settlement between Arlington Public Schools (APS) and the Justice Department over English language learners — APS staff has not performed any detailed analysis of how proposed school moves would affect the demographics of those school populations.
In a recent survey, more than 60% of Spanish-speaking families currently part of the Key Immersion school community have said they won’t be able to move with the program to its proposed new location. APS argues that Key Immersion would draw more native Spanish speakers if it were in a more central location — but their evidence for this is entirely anecdotal.
What’s more, moving the Arlington Traditional School and its VPI preschool program to the McKinley building would adversely affect low-income families who rely on public transit. Families trying to reach the school on a Metrobus could double their commute time. This would discourage enrollment for families without cars, negatively impacting the diversity of a school that has demonstrated results in closing the achievement gap for high-needs students.
Arlington Public Schools is planning to hold a public hearing on the plan on Thursday, Jan. 30, at the Syphax Education Center (2110 Washington Blvd) at 7 p.m., ahead of the scheduled Feb. 6 School Board vote.
Both proposals have received considerable pushback from parents, but in a presentation to the Arlington School Board last night administrators said it’s the best option for dealing with projected increased in enrollment in certain parts of the county.
“As we look at our projections and we look at the growth that’s coming along,” a school staffer said, “the area where we see the biggest growth is on the eastern side of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor.”
The recommended proposal would make the following changes, starting with the 2021-22 school year:
- Move most McKinley Elementary students, plus most faculty and the principal, to the new school under construction at the Reed site in Westover.
- Move students, faculty and the principal of Arlington Traditional School (ATS) — a “choice” school — to the larger McKinley building.
- Move students, faculty and the principal of Key Elementary, a bilingual English/Spanish immersion program, to the current ATS building.
- Make the current Key building a new neighborhood elementary school, to support growth in the area.
Administrators say moving Key to the ATS building would put it closer to more Spanish speakers and “allow for long-term growth in the program.”
A number of parents from each of the potentially affected school spoke out against the swap at the School Board meeting, for a variety of reasons, following the presentation.
The presentation also included discussion of an “alternate scenario,” that would change elementary school boundaries rather than swap schools. The decidedly unpalatable alternative called for about 4,000 students — 38% of the elementary population — to be assigned to a new school. On top of that, it would require more busing.
“To fill schools to manageable capacity, boundaries would require more students to be assigned to schools farther away instead schools closer to where they live,” the superintendent’s presentation said.
Next up in the process, the School Board is expected to hold a public hearing before taking action on the proposal in February.
During a press briefing Wednesday afternoon, school officials proposed moving the majority of McKinley Elementary School students to the new Reed Elementary School, among other switches.
The Arlington School Board is expected to take action on one of two final proposals during its meeting on February 6, 2020. If approved, it would take effect for the 2021-22 school year, per APS spokesman Frank Bellavia.
“Some of our schools can’t manage the student’s lunch time, we have students who eat lunch as early as 10 a.m. and as late as 2 p.m.,” said Lisa Stengle, executive director for the APS Department of Planning and Evaluation.
“We like to keep kids together. The more we can keep groups of kids together, the better,” she said.
The first proposal idea APS shared with parents would mean:
- The majority of current McKinley students would move to Reed.
- The Arlington Traditional School (ATS) program would move to the McKinley building.
- Key Immersion School would move to the Arlington Traditional School building.
- The Key building would become a neighborhood school.
According to officials, 40% of McKinley students live in the Reed School walk zone, meaning more students who are currently riding the bus would have the option to walk to school. In addition, it would provide 100 additional seats for new ATS students.
The second proposal calls for the same McKinley, Reed, and ATS switches, plus:
- Campbell Elementary School moving to the ATS building
- Key, along with its immersion program, would move to the Carlin Springs Elementary School building
- The majority of students at Carlin Springs would move to the Campbell Elementary School building
- Campbell building becomes a neighborhood school
- The Key building becomes a neighborhood school
Both plans are expected to affect some 20-30% of Arlington elementary school students.
“[Moving schools allows] APS to use all schools to maximum capacity, keep together as many students in each school community as possible, and keep as many students as possible walking to their neighborhood schools,” officials said in a press release.
The proposals are a larger part of the APS Elementary School Planning Project, which calls for the planning of capacity solutions as Arlington’s elementary student population is expected to exceed 30,000 by 2023 — with significant growth in the Rosslyn, Ballston, and Columbia Pike areas.
The fiscal impact of either proposal remains to be determined, according to APS Transportation Planning Director Kristen Haldeman.
Alternatively, per the planning website, if APS chooses to only redraw elementary school zoning districts without moving schools, it would affect up to 41 percent of Arlington’s elementary school population and incur additional transportation costs.
In addition, Spengle noted the county will need to build up to three new elementary schools by 2029 in order to accommodate growth, including in and around Pentagon City.
The school system will spend the next several months collecting community feedback before the School Board makes a final decision, with public meetings on:
- November 5: An online information session on APS Engage in English and Spanish
- November 5-24: An online community questionnaire at APS Engage
- November 15 and 22: “Friday Facebook Live” sessions with new FAQs answered.
Several community forums are also scheduled for December, plus a School Board public hearing on January 30 at 7 p.m. in the Syphax Education Center.
New Hotel for DCA? — “A hotel might be in the works for Reagan National Airport, according to Jack Potter, CEO of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority… A spokeswoman for MWAA said they are still in the ideas phase and nothing is concrete.” [Washington Business Journal]
Parents Fight Proposed Key Changes — “Parents are battling for the school’s future after Arlington Public Schools surprised them with a plan to relocate Key [Elementary], an announcement that animated larger questions about race, class and the purpose of bilingual education.” [Washington Post]
APS Friday Closure Questioned — “Most schools in the DC region decided to stay open despite the wintry mix Friday morning, but Arlington County Public Schools decided to close leaving parents in disbelief.” [WJLA]
Kindergarteners Learn About Transgender — “Dozens of kindergarten students sat cross-legged in his classroom at Ashlawn Elementary School in Arlington, listening as an advocate for transgender rights paged through a children’s picture book about a transgender girl,” as part of an event with the National Education Association and the Human Rights Campaign. [Washington Post]
Chamber Partners with APS — “The Arlington Chamber of Commerce is pleased to announce a partnership with Arlington Public Schools Career Center for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) program. The Chamber is in its fifth year of offering the YEA! Program, but this is its first class of students for the program as part of their Arlington Public Schools learning.” [Arlington Chamber of Commerce]
Dog With Dementia Falls into Storm Drain — “A small dog with dementia is missing after falling into a storm drain in Arlington, Virginia. The Animal Welfare League of Arlington tweeted out an alert Thursday and said the cute pup disappeared after falling into the sewer about 8 p.m.” [NBC Washington, Twitter]