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Morning Notes

Commodes over Courthouse (courtesy Curt Cultice)

Another Arlington Resident on Jeopardy! — Local attorney Luigi de Guzman will be a contestant on Jeopardy! on Friday, with host Ken Jennings. He’s the latest in a line of Arlington residents who have appeared on the long-running TV quiz show. [Instagram]

County May Be Sued By Contractor — “It looks like a raging dispute over payment for a now-completed major upgrade to Arlington’s Benjamin Banneker Park will be headed to court. Arlington County Board members on July 19 rejected a claim from McDonnell Landscape Inc., seeking reimbursement for costs totaling just under $995,000 for work it says was done as part of its contract to upgrade the park but it has not received. County Manager Mark Schwartz earlier had offered to settle the matter for $272,000, an attorney for the firm said, but that was turned down.” [Sun Gazette]

Baseball Tourney Now Underway — “Led by host team Arlington Post 139, the eight-team American Legion Virginia state baseball tournament is scheduled to begin this afternoon, July 26 in Arlington, with games at Barcroft Park’s Tucker field and Wakefield High School… Those eight teams all are scheduled to play again on July 27 at the two fields. The tournament continues through Friday, July 29, with the championship game scheduled for 4 p.m.” [Sun Gazette]

Local Man Charged in Alexandria Abduction — “A 29-year-old Arlington man faces a jury trial next month for allegedly robbing and assaulting his disabled ex-girlfriend in her West End apartment. The suspect has been held without bond in the Alexandria jail since his arrest on February 8. On February 1, a week before his arrest, the suspect allegedly forced his way into the woman’s apartment and removed her from her wheelchair, according to a search warrant affidavit.” [ALXnow]

It’s Wednesday — Rain early in the morning then cloudy throughout the day. High of 85 and low of 72. Sunrise at 6:07 am and sunset at 8:26 pm. [Weather.gov]

Photo courtesy Curt Cultice

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Darryl Becton’s aunt, Ramona Pugh, left, and sister Monique Ford, right (staff photo)

The Arlington County Detention Facility has implemented several measures in response to the death of an inmate in 2020.

The jail has hired a quality assurance manager, planned to buy a new medical tracking device and has updated health check protocols, according to a document that summarizes corrective measures it has taken.

A wrongful death lawsuit filed by Darryl Becton’s family alleges that medical staff at the Arlington lockup did not treat and properly monitor Becton’s drug withdrawal symptoms or high blood pressure, despite being aware of his condition and the risks associated with it.

The Arlington County Sheriff’s Office took a number of preventive measures following the death. One was a special directive to instruct staff to place all inmates self-reporting or expecting to experience withdrawals in the Medical Unit of the jail, according to the summary document obtained by ARLnow.

The office also hired a quality assurance manager in April, whose job is to oversee all contractors providing medical, food, phone and other services to people held in custody. Cristen Bowers is currently the manager, according to a press release.

The jail cut ties with its medical provider Corizon in October 2021 and signed a new contract with Mediko that was finalized in February.

Other actions taken include directing staff to check the vitals of those going through withdrawals every four hours instead of eight. The office is also planning to buy a medical device system that will “track heart rates and alert workstations” if an inmate’s heart rate is abnormal. The office plans to have the purchase funded in during the current fiscal year, which runs through next July.

These actions led Virginia’s Jail Review Committee, part of the Board of Local and Regional Jails, to conclude that “no further measures are necessary” and close its investigation into the Arlington jail last month. Its investigation has found evidence suggesting the Arlington jail had broken state regulations in Becton’s death, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

However, not all of the jail’s remedial actions were made public. Two policies made in the immediate aftermath of Becton’s death are redacted in the summary obtained by ARLnow, with the Sheriff’s Office stating disclosure “would jeopardize the safety or security” of law enforcement officers, the public and buildings.

The Times-Dispatch requested documents from the board related to the investigation and the corrected action plans but release of the action plans were denied, and other documents provided were redacted, according to the Times-Dispatch. The board’s executive director told the paper it wanted to “protect the ‘privacy’ of people who die in jails, and their families.”

In response, Becton’s family, who is suing the sheriff and Corizon, along with individual Sheriff’s Office and Corizon employees, called for the board to release the details of its decisions and the jail’s corrective action plan, according to a statement from NAACP’s Arlington branch.

By not publishing its suggestions for improvement with the public or “the larger jailed and incarceration community,” the board is “not allowing transparency in the process,” Becton family’s attorney Mark Krudys told ARLnow.

He says the family did not know about the content of the board’s investigation or the jail’s action plan.

The Becton family’s lawsuit has now moved to U.S. District Court upon a request from Sheriff Elizabeth Arthur and a deputy who was also sued, according to a docket report. In October 2021, a Corizon nurse was charged with falsifying patient records by the Commonwealth’s Attorney Office. The criminal case is still ongoing.

Despite the corrective actions, another Arlington jail inmate died in custody this past February. Of the seven people to have died in custody at the jail over the past seven years, six have been Black, according to the NAACP.

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Morning Notes

Man Convicted of Crystal City Shooting — “A convicted murderer has been found guilty on four charges for shooting and wounding his ex-girlfriend in her Arlington, Virginia, office in 2019. Mumeet Muhammad forced his way into the woman’s office, in the 1500 block of Crystal Drive in Crystal City, and shot the woman on Aug. 28, 2019. Muhammad also was shot by police.” [WTOP]

Body Found Near Roosevelt Island — “A death investigation was underway Wednesday after a body was found in the Potomac River, D.C. police said.  Authorities said the body was found in the water between Teddy Roosevelt Island and the Virginia shoreline under the footbridge pedestrians use to access the island… Officials with knowledge of the investigation said the body was heavily decomposed.” [NBC 4, Twitter]

GW Parkway Chase Leads to Lawsuit — “A D.C. police captain sued the District on Tuesday, alleging he was retaliated against after trying to stop a high-speed pursuit last month that ended with a car overturning on the George Washington Memorial Parkway, causing injuries and bringing rush-hour traffic to a halt.” [Washington Post]

Task Force: Expand County, School Boards — “Increasing the size of the Arlington County Board and School Board by at least two members is among the recommendations of the Arlington County Civic Federation’s task force on local governance, which on April 12 delivered the first of what are expected to be two sets of proposals to be voted on by the organization in June.” [Sun Gazette]

PSA: Steer Clear of River Near Chain Bridge — From D.C. Fire and EMS: “The river knows no boundaries. All this holds true for the District. One slip off the rocks can lead to a fall into a deceptively calm looking river actually laden with treacherous currents and hidden rocks that quickly pull you under. Especially the case around Chain Bridge.” [Twitter]

Lease Change Scores Big Bucks for County — “Arlington County Board members on that date voted 5-0 to support a change in technical aspects of the lease that guides the relationship between the county government, which owns substantial parcels in the Courthouse area, and the developer JBG Smith, which holds ground leases and owns the buildings on some of those very same parcels… By making the changes, which staff say carry little risk to the county government or taxpayers, the Arlington government coffers would receive somewhere in the area of $10 million to $12 million in a one-time payment from JBG Smith.” [Sun Gazette]

ARLnow Article Confuses Chicago Suburbanites — From the Arlington Heights (Ill.) Police Department: “The incident was reported by Virginia news outlets with the headline ‘Barricade situation in Arlington Heights.’ News reports were then shared on social media using the #ArlingtonHeights. We understand this created some confusion and concern for our residents. The Arlington Heights Police Department would like to clarify the above incident occurred in Arlington County, Virginia.” [Facebook]

It’s Thursday — Rain and storms in the afternoon and evening. Southwest wind 11 to 15 mph, with gusts as high as 31 mph. High of 76 and low of 59. Sunrise at 6:34 am and sunset at 7:45 pm. [Weather.gov]

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The family of a man who died in Arlington County jail in 2020 has filed a wrongful death lawsuit blaming his death on willfully negligent care by the county and nurses.

Darryl Becton, 46, died in the Arlington County Detention Facility on Oct. 1, 2020. A state coroner determined he died of hypertensive cardiovascular disease, which is caused by sustained high blood pressure, complicated by opiate withdrawal.

The $10-million lawsuit filed in Arlington County Circuit Court names Arlington County Sheriff Beth Arthur, the elected official who oversees the jail and the Sheriff’s Office, and Corizon Correctional Health, the jail-based medical provider at the time, as defendants. Four medical staff, including one who was arrested in connection to Becton’s death, and a sheriff’s deputy are also named.

The Sheriff’s Office declined to comment. Corizon did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

Becton, a D.C. resident, was booked on Sept. 29, 2020, on an alleged probation violation following his conviction on a felony “unauthorized use of a motor vehicle” charge in 2019.

The lawsuit says his death two days later — after succumbing to symptoms of heroin and fentanyl withdrawal and untreated high blood pressure — “was wholly avoidable.”

The lawsuit claims Becton told staff when he was booked that he had an opiate addiction and high blood pressure. These became obvious, the suit says, in the early hours of Oct. 1, when his blood pressure registered 191/102 — which would require immediate medical attention — and he began experiencing withdrawal symptoms, including vomiting, nausea, body aches, tremors and diarrhea.

The lawsuit alleges that, despite his obvious illness, medical staff did not properly address his withdrawal symptoms nor treat him for high blood pressure, while deputies assigned to periodically check in on him did not take note of his worsening symptoms.

“From 6 a.m. until 4:16 p.m., he was essentially left uncared for, untreated and alone,” said Mark Krudys, the attorney for the family during a noon press conference outside the jail today (Friday). “He was being casually monitored by the nursing and outright ignored by correctional staff. This did not have to occur. People don’t die from these conditions if they’re taken to medical [facilities] and receive the medical care they need.”

This is not the first time Corizon has been sued for inmate deaths allegedly connected to inadequate care. And Becton’s death, combined with the arrest of one nurse possibly connected to Corizon, prompted the county to cut ties with the provider and select a new provider, Mediko.

The lawsuit also alleges Becton was denied his civil rights in not receiving adequate medical care.

Many family members were present gave emotional tributes to Becton at the press conference.

His cousin, Janae Pugh, said it is every family’s “worst nightmare” to hear that a family member has died in the custody of people who are supposed to “protect and serve” the community.

“To stand here before you and expose my family’s suffering and pain is heartbreaking but very necessary,” she said. “The people in charge need to be held accountable for these preventable deaths. We are here today to seek justice and bring awareness to Darryl’s case.”

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A discarded medical mask in the parking lot of the Shirlington Harris Teeter (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(updated at 5:30 p.m.) In a win for a number of local school boards, the Arlington County Circuit Court has issued a temporary injunction preventing Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin from banning mask mandates in schools.

The ruling came late Friday afternoon, after an emergency hearing that was held on Wednesday (Feb. 2).

As was discussed in the courtroom, the final ruling will come down to if Gov. Glenn Youngkin, even with emergency powers, has the ability to override local school boards’ decisions given to them in Senate Bill 1303. The court ruled today that the argument has merit so issued a temporary injunction allowing schools to continue their policies.

In response, Arlington County Public Schools issued a statement on behalf of all the involved school boards. It reads in part:

“The School Boards of Alexandria City, Arlington County, City of Richmond, Fairfax County, Falls Church City, Hampton City and Prince William County are pleased with the temporary injunction granted today by the Arlington Circuit Court. The order allows schools to continue to protect the health and well being of all students and staff. While the legal process on this matter continues, today’s ruling preserves the existing policies and practices in Virginia school divisions, which includes masking requirements.”

On Jan. 15, the day after his inauguration, Youngkin issued an executive order banning mask mandates in Virginia schools. Days later, he was sued by seven state school boards including by those in Arlington, the City of Alexandria and Fairfax County.

The lawsuit claims that the executive order is in violation of the Virginia Constitution that gives individual school boards the authority to supervise public schools. The suit also alleges that the order violates Senate Bill 1303, signed into law last March, that requires schools to offer for in-person learning while following CDC guidance and applying “any currently applicable mitigation strategies” to reduce the transmission of Covid.

“Without today’s action, school boards are placed in a legally untenable position — faced with an executive order that is in conflict with the constitution and state law,” the Arlington Public Schools press release said about bringing the lawsuit. “Today’s action is not politically motivated. These seven school divisions would welcome the opportunity to collaborate with the governor to ensure the safety and welfare of all students.”

Another hearing will be set in regards to a permanent injunction.

 

The full APS statement is below.

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(updated at 3:35 p.m.) The Arlington School Board is suing to stop Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order that doesn’t allow school systems to require students to wear masks.

The lawsuit filed this morning (Monday) challenges the order issued by Youngkin on Jan. 15, his first day in office. Arlington joined school boards from Fairfax County, Alexandria City, Falls Church City, Hampton City, Prince William County and the City of Richmond in the suit.

The order states parents should be able to “elect for their children not to be subject to any mask mandate in effect at the child’s school or educational program.”

The order was supposed to take effect today but school districts across the state, including Arlington, already made decisions at the local level to go against the order and keep a mask requirement in place as part of a strategy to reduce the spread of Covid and maintain in-person instruction.

The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the executive order, and defends the right of school boards to enact policy at the local level. The lawsuit also claims the executive order goes against Senate Bill 1303, which was adopted in the General Assembly’s 2021 special session. The law states school boards should follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s health and safety requirements.

“Everyone in our community plays a role in keeping schools open and safe for students through consistent mask wearing and other mitigation measures,” APS Superintendent Fransisco Durán wrote in an email to families. “Our shared goal remains to make sure every student continues to access in-person learning five days per week. We look forward to the opportunity to ease these requirements in APS once public health guidance indicates it is safe to do so.”

APS spokesman Frank Bellavia said the schools continue to follow the same guidelines in place since the beginning of the school year.

“If a student is not wearing a mask, our schools are advised to speak to the student and provide them a mask to wear,” he said.

He said the vast majority of APS families support and adhere to the health and safety guidelines and when students arrived at school Monday, there were “very few incidents.”

The Arlington School Board put out a statement as well, stating it “stands together with participating school boards across the Commonwealth to defend our constitutional right to set policies and supervise our local schools. We continue to make decisions that allow us to keep schools open and safe for in-person learning, in accordance with Virginia law SB 1303 and the CDC’s guidance regarding the use of universal masks and other layered prevention strategies.”

Over the last seven days, 467 students and 98 staff members were positive for Covid, according to the school system’s COVID-19 dashboard.

The full press release from Arlington Public Schools is below.

Today, the Schools Boards of Alexandria City, Arlington County, City of Richmond, Fairfax County, Falls Church City, Hampton City and Prince William County, filed a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of Executive Order 2 issued by the governor on January 15, 2022. The legal action, representing over 350,000 students across the state, defends the right of school boards to enact policy at the local level, including policies that protect the health and well-being of all students and staff.

This legal action centers on fundamental questions about the framework of public education in Virginia, as set out in the Virginia Constitution and by the General Assembly. At issue is whether locally elected school boards have the exclusive authority and responsibility conferred upon them by Article VIII, § 7 of the Constitution of Virginia over supervision of the public schools in their respective communities, or whether an executive order can unilaterally override that constitutional authority.

Also at issue is whether a governor can, through executive order, without legislative action by the Virginia General Assembly, reverse a lawfully-adopted statute. In this case, Senate Bill 1303, adopted with the goal of returning students to safe in-person instruction five days a week in March 2021 and still legally in effect, provides that local school boards should follow The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) health and safety requirements.

Without today’s action, school boards are placed in a legally untenable position — faced with an executive order that is in conflict with the constitution and state law. Today’s action is not politically motivated. These seven school divisions would welcome the opportunity to collaborate with the governor to ensure the safety and welfare of all students.

This lawsuit is not brought out of choice, but out of necessity.

With COVID-19 transmission rates high, our hospitals at crisis level, and the continued recommendation of health experts to retain universal mask-wearing for the time being, this is simply not the time to remove this critical component of layered health and safety mitigation strategies. School divisions need to continue to preserve their authority to protect and serve all our students, including our most vulnerable, who need these mitigation measures perhaps more than anyone to be able to continue to access in-person instruction.

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Advanced Towing’s legal troubles are not over yet, but owner John O’Neill is feeling good.

Even with the Virginia Attorney General’s office now seeking attorney fees from Advanced, in addition to the mere $750 fine imposed by an Arlington judge, O’Neill feels “vindicated” and calls the AG’s case against him “blackmail.”

On Friday morning, both sides appeared at Arlington Circuit Court in front of Judge William Newman to enter a final order in the AG’s suit. However, since the court didn’t initially rule on the payment of attorney’s fees, a final order couldn’t be agreed on due to the AG’s office insistence that it’s still owed additional money.

As expected, the defense didn’t agree, so the case will continue with another hearing. That’s likely to come in April, when Republican Jason Miyares succeeds Democrat Mark Herring as the state attorney general.

While it’s unclear at this time how much those attorney’s fees may be, O’Neill tells ARLnow he isn’t worried about it.

“Come January, there’ll be a new AG in charge who believes this case is overbearing. I’ve talked to him,” O’Neill says. “I’m very comfortable that this will not be [sought].”

It was a month ago that the court ruled for the towing company to pay a civil fine of $750 for five separate violations of trespass towing rules. Herring’s office brought the case alleging the Advanced often improperly and unsafely tows vehicles, calling the company’s practices “frequently predatory, aggressive, overreaching and illegal.”

The three-digit fine is not the outcome the now-outgoing Attorney General was seeking.

“I am disappointed that the Court only awarded $750 in civil penalties and did not award restitution to consumers, especially the victims of Advanced’s dangerous towing practices who voluntarily testified in court to tell their story,” the outgoing Herring wrote in a statement to ARLnow last month. “Advanced Towing has employed predatory and illegal towing practices for years, costing Virginia consumers hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, and it deserves to be held accountable for its actions.”

But to O’Neill, the court’s decision was proof that his company operates legally, despite public perception to the contrary.

“I was right along. I was vindicated,” he says. “I always had authority to tow and we never made a mistake. People who got their tow parked illegally and we worked in accordance with the law.”

He calls the $650,000 sought by the AG’s Office “blackmail money” and says the whole case was a “witch hunt.”

In a conversation with ARLnow, O’Neill also took shots at the Assistant Attorney General who prosecuted the case.

“She wanted to make my life hell,” he said. “We spent the next year and a half with paperwork up our ass.”

When asked if there were lessons learned from the experience, O’Neill says that just because the government says you are guilty of something, doesn’t mean that you are.

“I didn’t accept the blackmail attempts. This was David vs. Goliath,” said O’Neill, adding that he’s still working to pay the bill for his legal defense, helmed by attorney and sitting state Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax).

“We didn’t have the means to fight this case, but I protected my business and the rights of private property owners across the Commonwealth,” he said.

In terms of the violations for which the court found Advanced Towing liable — including drivers not securing safety straps on vehicles — O’Neill was dismissive and noted that this was primarily the driver’s responsibility.

Saying he “went through hell” with the trial, O’Neill believes Advanced Towing’s victory is a triumph for the entire towing industry.

“Private property owner rights were at stake,” he said. “If [the AG’s office] had won, towing companies would have been hesitant to tow cars… The entire industry is rejoicing. Now, they feel protected.”

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Advanced Towing truck in Clarendon

(Updated, 10:35 p.m.) The Arlington Circuit Court finally came to a decision in Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s lawsuit against Advanced Towing after last month’s multi-day trial.

The court has ordered the towing company, whose tactics have angered many in Arlington, to pay a civil penalty of just $750 for five separate violations. That’s a far cry from the $650,900 that the Attorney General’s office was seeking at trial.

“Although the Defendant’s conduct is sanctionable, the Court is constrained by the remedies available in both the Virginia and Arlington County Code,” wrote Judge William Newman in an opinion letter sent to both sides late Wednesday afternoon.

Additionally, the court did not issue an injunction against the towing company, writing that while there were “deficiencies” in Advanced Towing’s business practices and record keeping, the court “does not find evidence to issue a permanent injunction against Defendant.”

Chap Petersen, Advanced Towing’s attorney — as well as a Virginia state Senator — said at trial that he believed “the office of the Attorney General wants to put my client out of business.” He said the ruling largely vindicates the company and owner John O’Neill.

“While disappointed that the Court made any findings against our client, we feel vindicated in that the Court only assessed a $750 fine for the [five] found violations,” writes Petersen in a statement to ARLnow.

The court assessed one $150 civil penalty for not safely securing consumer vehicles with straps, one $150 civil penalty for not updating contract changes for a commercial parking lot in Ballston, and three $150 civil penalties for employing three drivers that were not registered with the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS).

During the trial, the AG’s office, represented by Assistant Attorney General Erin Witte, called Advanced Towing’s practices “predatory, illegal, and dangerous.” To prove this, they called up a parade of witnesses, including Arlington County police officers and drivers who had their cars towed.

The court found merit in only some of the Attorney General’s claims.

The AG’s office argued that Advanced Towing didn’t clearly mark parking spaces at the Ballston lot, near Gold’s Gym on Wilson Blvd, leaving consumers confused. However, the court ruled the spots were properly labeled and signs properly posted and, therefore, didn’t assess a civil penalty.

Additionally, the AG’s office claimed that Advanced Towing didn’t have copies of towing contracts available for public inspection. But the court ruled that the relevant contracts were available to the public and, also, didn’t assess a civil penalty for that.

“Advanced Towing has been found to have violated the law and it’s time for the company to clean up its act. I am disappointed that the Court only awarded $750 in civil penalties and did not award restitution to consumers, especially the victims of Advanced’s dangerous towing practices who voluntarily testified in court to tell their story,” Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring wrote in a statement to ARLnow. “Advanced Towing has employed predatory and illegal towing practices for years, costing Virginia consumers hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, and it deserves to be held accountable for its actions. I am proud of the hard work my Consumer Protection Section has done on this case, and we will not stop going after bad actors who prey on Virginians just trying to go about their daily lives.”

Petersen noted that, before the trial, the Attorney General’s office offered to settle the case over the summer for $780,000 and an injunction against certain practices by the company.

“I think the difference between the AG’s offer and the Court’s decision speaks for itself,” he said.

While it remains possible that the Attorney General could appeal the ruling, Herring lost his bid for a third term last week, putting further action in the case into question.

A final decree is scheduled to be presented to both sides in court on December 10.

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The former Uber driver who allegedly struck Advanced Towing owner John O’Neill last year entered a plea agreement on July 23.

Gigssa Bekele Bengessa pleaded guilty to reckless driving in a parking lot and to a felony hit and run. He will face some jail time and three years of probation.

In January 2020, Bengessa attempted to drive out of the towing lot in Ballston as O’Neill was closing the gate, according to a police report from the time. Bengessa struck him, a dumpster and light pole.

Per the plea agreement, provided to ARLnow, he will be sentenced to jail for a net of 10 days — 90 days, with 80 days suspended. During the time of his suspended sentence, he will be supervised. His driver’s license will be suspended for six months.

Provided that Bengessa meets all the court’s prescriptions over the next three years, he will be able to have the felony charge knocked down to a misdemeanor, the agreement said.

Bengessa has three years to pay court costs as well as $5,516.35, plus interest, to O’Neill for restitution.

He is being required to “follow all treatment recommendations made” after a psychologist’s evaluation from March 2020, according to the plea deal, and will “undergo any further mental health evaluations deemed appropriate” by his probation officer.

Further, Bengessa will be “prohibited from driving or operating any and all rideshare vehicles, including but not limited to: Uber, Lyft, taxi service, or any vehicle for hire,” the plea deal said.

The agreement comes as the Virginia Attorney General, Mark Herring, is preparing to go to trial in a lawsuit against Advanced Towing. The suit was filed in June 2020 and a trial date is scheduled for Oct. 6 of this year.

Herring’s complaint alleges that Advanced Towing has violated state and county towing code provisions, resulting in towing conduct that is “frequently predatory, aggressive, overreaching and illegal.”

“Virginia consumers should not have to worry about towing companies acting illegally or employing predatory, unsafe business practices,” Herring said in a statement last year. “My team and I will continue to hold towing companies and bad actors accountable when they break the law and take advantage of consumers.”

This is not the first time such an accusation has been leveled against the company. Advanced, which tows cars that are considered to be trespassing on private lots and then charges the vehicle’s owner a fee, faces frequent accusations of “predatory” towing.

The company gained national notoriety in 2015 after video emerged of an ESPN reporter, whose car was towed, berating an Advanced employee.

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(Updated at 2:50 p.m.) A multi-year legal battle between a family and Arlington Public Schools over the appropriateness of their child’s special education support ended this summer with a decision in APS’s favor, handed down by federal court.

While the avenues for dispute resolution dead-end there for the family, the decision provides an insight into how fraught the special education system can be. What is supposed to be a collaborative effort among schools and parents can turn into a grueling legal process if the parents and the school system disagree over aspects of the child’s disability or which setting best meets their needs.

In this case, the parents sued APS, requesting it pay for tuition at a private day school that — according to them — would be better for their child than Williamsburg Middle School. The federal court decision said APS did not have to pay the cost of tuition.

The court also overturned a lower ruling by a state officer who said the school system should reimburse the parents for a private evaluation they obtained. A psychologist found their child exhibited disabilities that APS did not find in their evaluation.

This case reveals how some decisions favor schools partially because parents make procedural missteps before they realize that every step of the process could become evidence in a hearing later on, special education lawyer Juliet Hiznay tells ARLnow.

She said both the hearing officer and the federal decision were well-reasoned, and that the parents made a couple of common errors.

“A lot of parents get caught up in sort of what I call traps for the unwary: not preserving their claims, not communicating them during meetings, not getting them on the record,” she said.

That the case reached federal court is also exceedingly rare, because the special education legal system is set up to have these issues resolved in meetings and mediation sessions, she said. The parents sued after an administrative process with an independent hearing officer did not go in their favor.

“There is a risk associated with doing this. There’s an emotional toll, and practical price to pay: School districts don’t like being sued, so the relationship gets destroyed when you sue a school division,” she said. “And many parents are afraid, and some of them have more than one child, and they don’t want to risk any kind of retaliation by the school district.”

One family’s experience

The boy at the center of the lawsuit is currently attending a private school in Sterling, Virginia, according to federal court documents. The home school is Nottingham Elementary School, which he attended from kindergarten through fourth grade.

While at Nottingham, his parents and school officials noticed he struggled academically and socially. During an assessment in the first grade, he “presented with difficulty in a number of different areas” including reading, writing and math, attention and organization and making friends, according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of the parents.

He was given an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), a document outlining the services the school will provide, under the category of “specific learning disability.” But by fourth grade, he “still continued to struggle greatly,” per the lawsuit.

According to Virginia Department of Education data, APS has been providing services to steadily more children with presumed or diagnosed specific learning disabilities in the last four years.

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Morning Notes

Prelude to Speed Cameras in Arlington — “This week the D.C. region’s Transportation Planning Board announced it is awarding a $60,000 grant to help Arlington with its plans to install the first-ever speed cameras in the county. The TPB says the money will go towards consulting services to help Arlington County install speed cameras in a fair, data-driven manner.” [WJLA]

NAACP Wanted Stronger Police Oversight — “Despite the County Board’s recent adoption of a Community Oversight Board (COB) ordinance, we are disappointed that the County Board refused to adopt the General Assembly-approved authority for the COB to be truly independent and to make binding disciplinary determinations. Nevertheless, we will work with all parties to ensure that the process is equitable and transparent.” [Press Release]

Judge’s Ruling on Rouse Estate Suit — “On May 14, Reeder filed a challenge to the county board’s rejection of local historic district status that some hoped would have protected the now-demolished 160-year-old Febrey-Lothrop house… Judge DiMatteo said Reeder faced ‘an uphill battle.’ The community ‘is not voiceless,’ she said. A community member can speak to board members and, if one doesn’t like their decision, ‘vote them out.’ But without standing, that party can’t appeal in court. Virginia law, she said, requires an ‘aggrieved party.’ She rejected Reeder’s claim.” [Falls Church News-Press]

Friday Carbeque on Route 29 — “Video from van fire and fuel leak impacting traffic on eastbound Lee Highway at Kirkwood.” [Twitter, Twitter]

GOP Blasts County for Biden Event — “Arlington County is misusing taxpayer resources and county bandwidth to actively promote a partisan campaign rally. One-party rule in Arlington continues to produce a lack of accountability for our elected leaders and county officials. Not only are they actively promoting a political event, they also went a step further to link to the event RSVP page.” [Press Release]

Guess the Price of This House — “The beauty of this 5,227 square-foot lot in Arlington, VA, is in its simplicity. Along with being a short Uber ride to Washington, DC, amenities include: Attached garage with one parking space, Big trees, Water heater (not new, just one in general), Great location to build on if you’re cool with bulldozing the home. How much for the world’s most average house?” [Morning Brew, Zillow]

Reminder: Vote in This Week’s Arlies — Do you have a favorite preschool or daycare you take your children to? Cast your vote in this week’s Arlies category by midday tomorrow. [ARLnow]

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