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A recall effort targeting Arlington’s top prosecutor is reportedly gaining some traction.

In August, a political group named Virginians for Safe Communities (VSC) launched a recall effort against Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church, as well as her counterparts Buta Biberaj and Steve Descano in Loudoun and Fairfax counties, respectively.

Dehghani-Tafti was elected in 2019 on a pledge to reform the criminal justice system. Her tenure has included efforts to reduce racial disparities in prosecution, investigate wrongful convictions and decriminalize marijuana possession. But VSC says her approach has made Arlington less safe.

And now, the group is expanding its outreach with mailers — sent to homes in Arlington this week — as well as a new website dedicated to Dehghani-Tafti and an electronic recall petition. The website is reportedly attracting visitors and signatories, recall organizers say.

“VSC has begun to send out mailers to voters educating them on Parisa’s radical and dangerous agenda and dereliction of her duty to uphold justice, protect victims, and enforce the laws of the Commonwealth,” VSC leader Sean Kennedy says.

“Our effort in Arlington County and the City of Falls Church is ramping up substantially in the near future and will include direct communication with voters on various platforms as well as public forums,” Kennedy continued. “FireParisa.com is generating a great deal of traffic already in [this] first week and we are well on our way to collecting the requisite 5,500 signatures to protect Arlington by removing her at trial.”

The mailer accuses Dehghani-Tafti of lenient treatment of criminals, referencing plea deals with a man allegedly caught with 50 lbs of marijuana at National Airport and a man charged with throwing two dogs off a balcony to their deaths.

In a response, Dehghani-Tafti denied VSC’s claims that she is neglecting her prosecutorial duties and linked the group to other recall efforts in the region.

“These are lies being pushed by the same Trump, dark-money supported political operatives and right-wing groups that have sought to intimidate elected school boards all over Northern Virginia for simply doing their jobs. It’s part of a broader scheme nationwide where they abuse outdated recall laws because they can’t win at the ballot box,” she said.

VSC’s activity has been covered by the New York Times, which described Kennedy as a Republican political operative and noted that another backer, former Trump administration appointee Ian Prior, is “leading a petition drive to recall school board members in Loudoun County over critical race theory.”

The recall effort comes for Descano as he’s facing blowback from judges for what they characterize as overly lenient plea deals in child sex abuse cases.

What’s happening between Descano and the judge’s bench is another example of the judicial tug-of-war between progressive, reform-minded prosecutors and judges.

VSC has to gather enough signatures to have a court review its case against the three prosecutors. A special election would be held if the group both gets those signatures and a judge rules in its favor.

In addition to paid and volunteer canvassers, the group has launched electronic petitions. Kennedy said it’s a common misconception that signatures for Virginia candidates or official recalls must be pen-and-paper. During the pandemic, six candidates for elected office successfully sued the Virginia Department of Elections and State Board of Elections allowing for the electronic collection of signatures.

“Recent Virginia Supreme Court rulings, statutory changes in Richmond, and Virginia Board of Election settlements and rule changes have substantially altered those requirements,” he said. “Our very experienced counsel have concluded confidently that digital signatures (which are signed until penalty of perjury and using a signature tool, not text alone) are valid.”

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Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti at an NAACP and Black Lives Matter rally and march in Arlington last year (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

A new political group has announced plans to force a recall of Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church.

Virginians for Safe Communities (VSC) is aiming to remove her and her counterparts in Fairfax County and Loudoun County — Steve Descano and Buta Biberaj, respectively — by gathering enough signatures to have a court review its case against the three prosecutors. Should the group get those signatures and should a judge rule in its favor, a special election would be held.

The trio were elected in 2019 on their pledges to reform the criminal justice system, and Arlington’s top prosecutor has emphasized initiatives such as decriminalizing marijuana possession, ending cash bail and increasing data transparency. But not everyone sees her changes, or those of her counterparts in neighboring counties, as reforms.

“Their radical policies have proven not only unlawful but dangerous, including eliminating cash bail by fiat, unilaterally nullifying narcotics laws, and failing to prosecute serious crimes. The people of our community would be shocked that these prosecutors aren’t pursuing crimes like animal cruelty, domestic assault, reckless driving, and indecent exposure,” VSC President Sean Kennedy tells ARLnow.

Dehghani-Tafti rejected his claims and said she is fulfilling her campaign promises well.

“I’m doing exactly what I promised my community I would do — what I was elected to do — and doing it well: making the system more fair, more responsive, and more rehabilitative, while keeping us safe,” she said. “This is a far-right attempt to overturn a valid election through a non-democratic recall.”

The effort has already received coverage by national outlets such as the New York Times, which described Kennedy as a Republican political operative and noted that another backer, former Trump administration appointee Ian Prior, is “leading a petition drive to recall school board members in Loudoun County over critical race theory.

The group has not disclosed who its donors are.

Kennedy cited Arlington County Police Department’s annual report, which notes an increase in felony aggravated assaults and carjackings, as evidence against Dehghani-Tafti — though the report also shows a decrease in violent sex offenses and a relatively low homicide rate. He also cited rising homicide rates in Fairfax County in 2021 and an alleged failure to prosecute domestic abusers in Loudoun.

Meanwhile, Dehghani-Tafti’s tenure has seen some conflicts with judges over plea deals and dropping charges without stating a reason why for the record.

Public Defender Brad Haywood defended Dehghani-Tafti and said the group does not have a pulse on Arlington’s community or courthouse.

“I don’t know all of the problems they’re having in other jurisdictions, but the consensus among defense attorneys and her prosecutor colleagues from places like Alexandria and Portsmouth is that Ms. Dehghani-Tafti has done the best job of any of the reform-oriented prosecutors elected in Virginia over the past few years,” he tells ARLnow. “She’s been thoughtful about staff retention and recruitment, she’s moved at a measured pace with her policy changes, and she’s been deliberate about engaging and showing respect to stakeholder groups that were skeptical of her, such as the police department.”

Haywood added that there have been no homicides yet in 2021, and his office has observed that sexual assault appears to be prosecuted more aggressively now than under her predecessor, Theo Stamos.

Matthew Hurtt, a spokesman for the Arlington County Republican Committee and former ARLnow opinion columnist, said Arlington Republicans are concerned about the stats and “look forward to working alongside Virginians for Safe Communities wherever we can.”

“We are encouraged by a broad, bipartisan coalition of Democrats, Republicans, and independents who support prosecutors who will faithfully execute their oath of office and uphold the law,” he said. “Picking and choosing which laws to enforce or re-writing laws wholesale is not the job of a prosecutor — it’s the job of the general assembly.”

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(Updated at 4:35 p.m.) Tensions are rising in the Aurora Highlands neighborhood, as residents engage in a letter-writing, petition-signing tug-of-war over the softball fields at Virginia Highlands Park.

A pair of letters to the County Board from members of the Aurora Highlands Civic Association (AHCA), sent this month and in April, as well as a petition launched today (Thursday), illustrate a deepening divide between sports fans and open space advocates, who envision divergent futures for one diamond field in the park near Pentagon City.

The civic tussle surfaced while the neighborhood tested a new arrangement. This spring, Field #3 in Virginia Highlands Park — the bigger of the two diamond fields  — was split between scheduled games and casual use by neighbors, after the civic association said neighbors flocked to the field last year when sports were canceled due to the pandemic.

Adult softball had the field on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. It was open to residents for casual use Saturday through Monday, Department of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish said.

“This allows for the adult softball league to play on a field that is the correct size for their sport, while allowing the community access to a large green space in their neighborhood,” she said.

Some see shared use as a success requiring more maintenance to work long-term, while others see the model as successful but unsustainable — a demonstration that the community needs softball games condensed to one field and the other, possibly Field #3, converted into open space.

“This would allow thousands of our residents within Aurora Highlands, Arlington Ridge, Crystal City and beyond to have access to regular programming and dedicated casual use space, which does not exist in [Virginia Highlands Park],” civic association president and open space supporter Scott Miles tells ARLnow.

Bart Epstein, a civic association member and softball player, tells ARLnow that, barring maintenance problems, softball players who use Field #3 support the current arrangement and fear the alternative.

“It’s been a constant, low-level effort by a tiny group of people to see the fields destroyed,” he said.

Both sides report problems with shared use, which means the fields are used for everything from softball games to music nights. During an April meeting, AHCA members discussed the time and money required to use the field for non-athletes and return it to being game-ready.

“A big takeaway from the shared use work is that without an immense effort to ‘placemake’ with art, seating, activities, shade, etc.,” Miles said this week. “A field is just a field, and is of limited use. Making it more dedicated is the only way the needed casual uses can be maintained.”

Softball players and the parks department, meanwhile, say other users of the field leave behind waste from their dogs, which also dig holes, creating hazards for players.

“My hope is that the County Board will instruct the Department of Parks and Recreation to fully and properly support and maintain the fields,” Epstein said. Read More

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Morning Notes

New Italian Eatery Opening Soon — “Antonio Ferraro, whose Napoli Pasta Bar in Columbia Heights was named a Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant in 2018, is opening a new market concept in Arlington’s Pentagon Row. Napoli Salumeria is specializing in grab-and-go-style meals, including Neapolitan street food (fried mozzarella and focaccia), homemade pastas, and sauces. Expect classic sandwiches, including cheesesteaks, Italian subs, and sausage and peppers… the hope is to open the market late next week.” [DCist]

Arlington ‘Bachelorette’ Contestant Still On — Jason Foster, a former pro football player who lives in the Courthouse area, remains a contestant on ABC’s ‘Bachelorette,’ though Bachelorette Clare seems focused on another beau: Dale, who the other contestants spent part of Tuesday’s episode roasting. [Washingtonian]

Some Skeptical of County’s Race Conversations — “James Moore is an Arlington community activist and owner of a 60-year-old neighborhood barbershop in the Hall’s Hill neighborhood. ‘Our communities in Arlington will want action more so than just conversation,’ Moore said. Moore said he would like to see the county support Black people living in the community by providing more mental health and housing resources.” [The Wash]

Kid’s Skatepark Petition Gets 600 Signers — “I would like for the Arlington county board to add a new skatepark to our area. As you may have noticed the Powhatan Springs skatepark is starting to get very crowded and is hard to ride around without bumping into other people. This park is actually becoming dangerous with all of the people riding in the bowls at one time.” [Change.org]

Chamber Names ‘Best Business’ Honorees — “Last night, the Arlington Chamber of Commerce celebrated the 34th Annual Arlington Best Business Awards at the Crowne Plaza Crystal City-Washington, D.C., in a hybrid format that allowed attendees to join in person and virtually.” [Press Release]

Arlington Among Top Places for Nature Lovers — A list of the “best places in America for outdoor enthusiasts to live and work” has ranked Arlington No. 21, between Scottsdale, Arizona and Tampa, Florida. Seattle ranked No. 1. [SmartAsset]

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High school students in Arlington Public Schools say they are getting too many assignments and not enough time to do them during virtual learning.

More than 3,000 students and parents have signed a Change.org petition asking Arlington Public Schools to adhere to its high school homework “expectations,” as stated online.

Students are encouraged to engage in nightly independent reading of their choice. Beyond that, no additional assignments/homework will be required outside of the expectations for asynchronous work that is part of students’ daily class time, or the 30 minutes per subject of asynchronous work assigned for Mondays.

​The volume of signatures caught the attention of the school system. The petition was the first time staff were notified that these concerns are shared by more than just a few students, said APS spokesman Frank Bellavia.

“We take the feedback we receive via a variety of formats seriously,” he said. “All of our high school principals are aware and are meeting with teachers to examine the number of assignments being given and to reduce them where applicable.”

Principals are working at the subject level with instructional supervisors to come up with solutions that reduce the workload on students, he said.

Bellavia said the homework policy that the petitioners are referencing is not policy, but rather, it is guidance for secondary teachers. According to the guidance, teachers of college-level classes may need to assign more work to cover the breadth of their curricula.

One student told ARLnow that for the most part, the types of assignments and the volume are about the same, with the caveat that some teachers are assigning hours of video content.

“I probably spend… three hours a week watching videos for those classes, and I have three or four classes that assign videos,” he said.

That amounts to three to 12 hours a week of videos. For this student — who is taking all college-level classes and admits that more work comes with the territory — the workload did not motivate him to sign the petition.

“The homework itself doesn’t bother me,” he said. “It’s more that there was a policy made and they’re not following it.”

Despite the breakdown he sees between the school system’s expectations for assignments and the reality of distance learning, he commended his teachers for how they have adapted to online-only learning.

“Students like to give them flak, but from an objective standpoint, they’re doing pretty well,” he said.

Another student said, as a reason for signing the petition, that she has been working “15 hours every single day (8 a.m. 10 p.m.) non-stop ever since the beginning of school.”

She added that there are too many assignments and not enough asynchronous time in which to complete them.

“We shouldn’t be getting that much work especially in a learning environment that we aren’t familiar with,” she said. “It’s not because of poor time management, it’s because of so much work we are getting.”

In the petitions’ comments, parents also threw in their support, saying they have watched their students lose lunch hours to additional instruction and devote entire weekends to homework.

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(Updated at 2:45 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools is using Microsoft Teams to facilitate its online learning and some users dislike it so much they’ve started a Change.org petition to try to get APS to use Zoom instead.

“The foundation of any good virtual program rests on the video conferencing platform(s) used,” the petition organizers said. “From our experience this past spring, Microsoft Teams was not an accessible or user-friendly solution for successful remote learning. We would like to bring your attention to the issues many of us had with Microsoft Teams and implore you to make a change.”

APS is starting the school year in September with distance learning only, making the choice of software a more weighty decision than it otherwise might be. Unlike APS, Fairfax County Public Schools attempted to teach new material via online instruction in the spring — the effort proved disastrous due to technology challenges.

The petition says Arlington teachers have had issues with getting students into the virtual rooms, which the petition noted as being among the most basic requirement for a functional online learning system.

“Getting onto their online class meetings should be as easy as walking into a school building,” the petition said. “If it is not, then it is an inequitable, non-accessible system. We have heard story after story from both teachers and families of students not able to access class meetings on Teams (despite setting everything up as directed and in many cases having made it onto calls without issue in the past).  Getting on the class calls easily is the most basic requirement in making a synchronous program viable.”

The petition also argues that Zoom has superior sound blocking and video quality to Microsoft Teams, and that parents are more familiar with using Zoom than Microsoft Teams.

“While APS banned teachers from using Zoom for APS business, parents immediately started hosting virtual playdates and class meetings on Zoom,” the petition said. “Zoom is now used for the majority of online courses, tutoring sessions (many with APS teachers), and camps our county’s children are attending. Playdates, happy hours, and parent meetings are happening on Zoom.”

While ranking which video conference system is best tends to be subjective and outside the purview of a local news organization, both have benefits and certain unique features.

The school system, for its part, says Microsoft Teams fit its needs better than Zoom.

“APS uses Microsoft Teams to support a wide variety of instructional functions,” APS said on its website. “For example, while much of the digital coursework is provided through Canvas, videoconferencing is conducted through Microsoft Teams.”

“When the Dept. of Information Services was looking at video conferencing solutions for APS, we included Zoom in our research. We concluded that Zoom was not a good solution for APS,” school spokesman Frank Bellavia told ARLnow. “There were privacy and security concerns with [Zoom]. In addition, shifting to the paid model of Zoom would add a financial burden to the division in a time of very tight budgets. We also want to be sure that teachers aren’t asked to learn multiple tools.”

Bellavia added that Microsoft has been responsive to school needs.

Microsoft had listened to feedback from educators and is making several improvements to better align Teams with educational needs,” he said. “They are expanding the screen to support 49 faces at the same time this fall. Additionally, later this year they will be rolling out updates such as breakout sessions which is a much-requested feature to support small group instruction, attendance, data reporting, etc.”

As of Monday afternoon the petition sits at 240 signers with a goal of 500.

Top photo by Jay Westcott, petition photo via Change.org

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(Updated at 5:15 p.m.) An increasingly vocal group of parents and teachers are calling on Arlington Public Schools to scrap plans to have most students return to classrooms twice per week.

The current APS “hybrid” plan calls for two cohorts of students each going into school two days per week, while wearing masks and practicing physical distancing. It also allows parents and students to opt for online-only learning.

Nearly 2,000 people have signed an online petition that instead pushes for a “#OneAPS” model that starts all students with online-only classes in the fall and eventually allows a return to school for teachers and students who opt to do so.

“This will keep APS as one, united school system; protect the health and safety of students, teachers and staff; will not force teachers into options that might precipitate mass resignation; and support our most vulnerable learners,” says the petition, an excerpt of which is below.

Under the #OneAPS model:

  • APS will create a robust online learning platform and provide training for how to teach virtually. (See this article and Driver #3.)
  • All students begin school online and receive synchronous (live) online instruction four days a week (Tuesday through Friday) after Labor Day. The delayed start allows for intensive teacher training.
  • Mondays remain planning days for teachers, intervention days for small groups and asynchronous (independent) learning days for the majority of students.
  • When public health officials deem conditions safe to reopen, survey teachers to see who is comfortable returning to school for in-person support. NO teacher will be forced into this option.
  • Depending on the number of teachers available for in-person support, calculate the number of seats available. Allot those seats to our most vulnerable students

Other groups of teachers and parents have been organizing in opposition to a return to classrooms in the fall, similarly citing health and safety concerns.

One group — which is”advocating for a full distance learning model until Arlington County sees 14 days with no COVID-19 cases” — is planning a protest of Thursday night’s School Board meeting.

A Twitter account called “APS 14 Days No New Cases,” meanwhile, has been posting what it says are pleas from school staff not to reopen Arlington schools in the fall.

On the opposite side of the spectrum from the #OneAPS petition, a new group called “Arlington Parents for Education” has been formed to oppose the hybrid plan and push for five-day-per-week, in-person classes. The group argues that not returning to in-person schooling on a full-time basis disproportionately hurts low-income and single-parent households, and carries “economic and educational performance” risks.

A recent unscientific poll conducted by ARLnow found that a plurality of respondents — just below 40% — support the APS hybrid plan, with the rest nearly split between those favoring five-day-per-week classes and online-only classes.

(The “APS 14 Days” account, mention above, criticized ARLnow for conducting the poll. “Shame on you for farming the reopening crisis for clicks,” the anonymous account tweeted.)

A recent Arlington Public Schools survey found that only 7% of school staff were comfortable, with no reservations, about returning to school on a normal schedule, while 39% were “not comfortable at all” and 54% were either “comfortable with concerns” or “somewhat comfortable.”

The top concern of APS staff, according to the survey, is “public health regulations not being followed.”

Among other major D.C. area school systems, Montgomery County public schools are expected to start the school year fully online, while Fairfax County public schools are planning a hybrid model but facing teacher pushback.

Monday afternoon, after the initial publication of this article, the Arlington Education Association, which represents Arlington teachers, issued a statement calling for remote learning to start the school year.

The Arlington Education Association Executive Board believes re-opening Arlington Public Schools this fall puts students, educators, and staff, at an exponential risk of COVID-19 that can lead to illnesses and death. We believe, this fall, all learning should continue online from home. This is the only way to keep all educators and students safe and healthy.

According to the recommended guidelines from the CDC and plans chosen by Arlington Public Schools the plans will not protect the health and safety of all students and staff. While the plans sound good, they and have not been proven safe and there are too many unknowns.

AEA further urges APS to look at professional development for all educators, to provide a consistent platform for virtual teaching and learning. Professional development is needed immediately, and instructional assistants must be included as it will be their responsibility to reinforce lessons and skills taught by teachers.

APS families have until next Monday, July 20 to select either the hybrid option or the distance learning-only option for the return to school on Aug. 31.

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(Updated at 11:45 p.m.) More than 500 people have signed a petition calling for the S. Abingdon Street bridge over I-395 to be renamed “Black Lives Matter Bridge.”

The petition was created amid dueling efforts to place and remove the letters “BLM” on the bridge’s chain link fence, a thus far nonviolent dispute that has resulted in multiple calls to Arlington County police.

The BLM art first appeared about a month ago, during nationwide protests over the deaths of Black men and women at the hands of law enforcement.

Two weeks ago, the red cups used to form the letters were removed, promping locals to replace them with new cups and to write new chalk slogans. Among them: “no justice, no peace” and “take it down and we’ll do it again.”

Melissa Schwaber, who sent photos of the cups being replaced, described those doing so as “Fairlington moms and their kids.”

The cups were later removed again, which led to Black Lives Matters supporters creating a heart and spelling out BLM with harder-to-remove ribbons. That won Twitter praise from Arlington County Board Chair and Fairlington resident Libby Garvey. The next day, however, someone spray-painted “TRUMP 2020” under the letters.

The spray paint was in turn sprayed over later that morning, and “BLACK LIVES MATTER” written in chalk over it. Then, more spray paint appeared.

In a series of tweets on Wednesday, July 1, a local resident posted photos of an older man and a younger man — wearing a motorcycle helmet and a Liberty University shirt — who she accused of vandalizing the bridge and the lettering.

On Friday, a tipster said the “BLM vs. MAGA battle” was continuing to escalate.

“Now there are people putting up conspiracy theory banners on the bridge and people camped out on the bridge with large dogs,” the tipster said. The banners included a photo of Hillary Clinton under the words “WANTED 4 Crimes Against Humanity.”

Later that day, there were more skirmishes.

“I was driving on the Fairlington Bridge an hour or so ago and saw a man arguing with several white women near the BLM signs,” said another tipster. “He was waving his arms in one woman’s face. About 15 minutes ago, on my way home, I saw that the Arlington PD (about 3 cars) had detained the man at the gas station in Shirlington.”

An Arlington County police spokeswoman tells ARLnow that officers have responded to the bridge several times.

“ACPD has responded to multiple reports of disputes in the area of the S. Abingdon Street bridge regarding the posting and removal of signage,” said Kirby Clark. She said that “no charges have been filed related to any incidents involving the signs,” but one incident is under investigation.

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Morning Notes

March Planned Tonight in Crystal City — “This Tuesday (6/30) we will be gathering in Crystal City Courtyard Green to march to Pentagon City in defense of Black womxn.” [Twitter]

Petition for APS to Require Masks — “To maximize the chances of success for Arlington Public Schools (Virginia) hybrid return to school model we urge the School Board and Superintendent Dr. Francisco Durán to make face coverings compulsory for both students and teachers during the days they are at school for in-person learning. Those who object to wearing masks can always choose the distance-learning option.” [Change.org]

Local Church to Feed Thousands — “On Wednesday, July 1, 2020, Our Lady Queen of Peace (OLQP) in south Arlington is working with José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen (WCK) to feed families in need of food assistance. World Central Kitchen is providing 3,500 meals to OLQP for distribution to the community. Meals will be offered to take home in conjunction with pre-packed food the OLQP food pantry distributes every Wednesday morning. This is the second time WCK will be providing meals to OLQP during the pandemic.” [Catholic Diocese of Arlington]

Catholic Churches Enter ‘Phase 3’ — “All 70 parishes in the Catholic Diocese of Arlington will move into phase three of Virginia’s reopening plan on Wednesday. Officials announced Monday that each parish is ‘able, but not mandated, to celebrate public Mass with capacity restrictions lifted’ beginning on July 1.” [Fox 5]

County Adjusts Committee Meeting Rules — “After facing a rebellion from members and chairs of advisory commissions, the Arlington County Board has revised rules for holding meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps the two biggest changes from the original plans: Commission chairs (apparently) will no longer have to seek county-staff permission to hold meetings. Advisory-group meetings will be allowed in-person or in a hybrid format, in addition to the previously announced “virtual”-only arrangement.” [InsideNova]

New Construction Contract for VHC Inked — “Skanska USA has inked more work with Virginia Hospital Center as the Arlington hospital soldiers on with its $250 million expansion project. The construction company said Monday it signed a contract worth $96 million for site work for the new outpatient pavilion and parking garage at the hospital. That’s on top of a $37 million contract with VHC it grabbed late last year.” [Washington Business Journal]

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In the midst of an uptick of activism in Arlington, both current and former students of Arlington Public Schools are calling for reforms to the school system.

Sparsh Srivastava, a 2016 graduate from H-B Woodlawn, has gathered over 750 signatures on a Change.org petition launched earlier this week asking APS to offer a racial education elective course for high schoolers to take as a social studies credit.

According to the petition, the course would be “a discussion-based, socratic format,” that would “discuss systemic racism by examining Jim Crow minstrel shows and segregation, burning of Black Wall Street, generational wealth accumulation,” and more.

“Thinking back on my time at H-B, I received little to no racial education, especially on topics such as affirmative action and systematic racism,” said Srivastava, who has been in contact with APS teachers who expressed interest in creating a “mock,” or trial-run of the course, for the 2020-21 school year.

Srivastava has also reached out to APS Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer Arron Gregory in hopes the petition will ” gain enough traction to convince the APS administration of its value.”

The second Change.org petition, authored by Rosie Couture and Belan Yeshigeta, two current sophomores at Washington-Liberty High School, calls for APS to address its education inequities. It currently has more than 450 signatures with a goal of 500.

After reviewing the data from Arlington’s 2019 Community Report, Couture and Yeshigeta’s made a list of demands for APS including:

  • Meaningful implicit bias and cultural competency training for APS staff and students
  • A zero-tolerance policy for white supremacy
  • A transparent disciplinary policy that collects and reports disciplinary actions based on age, race, and gender, and limit the types out-of-school suspension
  • A disciplinary policy that includes student participation and oversight
  • A Restorative Justice program for APS that “will address the school-to-prison pipeline and give students the skills they need to properly address conflict”
  • And the elimination of the police department’s School Resource Officer program and redirected resources to fund more school social workers and school psychologists

“We see Arlington as a utopian, progressive county, and while the County and School Board does provide us with a lot of resources, we shouldn’t gloss over change that still needs to happen,” said Yeshigeta.

The pair plan on reaching out to the Arlington County Board and have created an action pledge for APS teachers to take. According to Couture, 54 teachers have signed on, and the list will eventually be publicized to students.

APS spokesman Frank Bellavia said the school system has seen both petitions and applauds “students for seeking change.” APS will be hosting a virtual forum on June 22 to further conversation, he said.

The full statement from Bellavia is below.

We have seen both petitions and applaud students for seeking change. We acknowledge the anger and hurt that our APS community and the nation are experiencing, especially our African American community. APS strives to celebrate the differences of all our students and strongly condemns violence and racism.

As Superintendent Dr. Francisco Durán and School Board Chair Tannia Talento stated in their June 2 letter to the community, APS pledges to continue the work started prior to the school closures to better educate and train our leaders and staff to tackle systemic bias and inequities, that have led to opportunity gaps and disproportionality in discipline. A first step in this work is to hold a virtual conversation on June 22. This will be the first in a series of conversations with our students, staff and community.

Photo via Change.org

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The Arlington branch of the NAACP has thrown its voice into the push for body-worn cameras to be implemented in the Arlington County Police Department.

A Change.org petition calling for Arlington County leadership to prioritize body-worn cameras sits at 2,409 of its 2,500 goal at the time of writing.

“Arlington is the only jurisdiction of size in the entire DC-region without a Body-Worn Camera (BWC) program,” Arlington Branch NAACP #7047 said in the petition. “As leaders, we must prioritize programs that encourage public confidence in our government.”

The NAACP said in the petition that body-worn cameras:

  • Assist with collection of evidence
  • Enhance transparency, public trust and confidence
  • Provide the best evidence of police/public interactions
  • De-escalate situations

“We must implore our elected leaders in Arlington County to prioritize appropriate funding for the BWC program,” the NAACP said. “Removing programs that are non-essential, ineffective, or which disproportionately target minorities can generate funding for BWCs and support community resources. Additionally, exorbitant funding from Amazon could be immediately reallocated to fund 100% implementation of BWCs.”

The petition has attracted the attention of some local leadership who expressed support.

“I am writing in support of your efforts urging Arlington County to implement a Body-Worn Camera program,” Del. Patrick Hope said in a letter. “While I was aware that these devices are widely deployed throughout the United States, it came as a complete surprise to learn that Arlington County remains the only jurisdiction of size in the D.C.-region without a functioning Body-Worn Camera program.”

Neighboring Alexandria, which has a population roughly two-thirds that of Arlington, also has no body camera program for police officers, after a planned pilot program sat delayed for years due to budgetary concerns. Fairfax County began implementing body cameras in the first quarter of 2020. Body camera footage recently led to a Fairfax County officer being charged with assault.

“These devices help strengthen police accountability, improve agency transparency, reduce use of force incidents, reduce citizen complaints against officers, and help solve crime,” Hope said. “This technology also has proven to produce significant savings in time and expense for communities as both complaints and cases are resolved much faster using body-worn camera evidence.”

Hope wrote another letter to County Board Chair Libby Garvey urging the County to consider creating a body-worn camera program.

Efforts to implement body-worn camera programs on a local level could be stalled by legislation approved earlier this year that would require localities to follow policy and standards yet to be laid out by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services.

Arlington Chief of Police Jay Farr also recently said that costs are a major hurdle for the implementation of body cameras.

“It’s extremely expensive,” Farr said in an interview with local Black Lives Matter organizer Yolande Kwinana last week. “The County Board, after getting all the facts, made the decision not to fund them.”

Farr said the total for the first year of using the body cameras was $2.5 million, which he attributes primarily to regulations requiring departments to retain terabytes of data for years, in addition to the cost of new full-time employees to manage the data and the cost of the cameras themselves.

Body-worn cameras could be a tough sell for a county still reeling from the financial cost of the COVID-19 shutdown.

“While I recognize all localities are struggling due to the financial impact of COVID-19, as leaders we must prioritize programs which encourage public confidence in our government,” Hope said. “It is my belief that a fully-funded body-worn camera program would do just that.”

Part of the NAACP petition also included a call for the implementation of a civilian review board of the police department with subpoena power, something for which Farr had earlier expressed some support.

“We must implement this technology and civilian oversight to protect citizens from police brutality and enforce accountability,” the NAACP said. “This is a humanitarian crisis that should be acted upon now to end racial injustice and improve equity in our criminal justice system. Our demand for compliance and accountability from law enforcement will not go unheard.”

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