The Diocese of Arlington is advising Catholic schools to follow Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s (R) executive order exempting families from school-based mask mandates.
One of Youngkin’s first acts in office was an executive order intended to let parents decide whether their children wear masks to school. It goes into effect Monday and rescinds former Gov. Ralph Northam’s executive order last year requiring masks in schools.
In a letter to school leaders explaining what this means for schools in the Diocese of Arlington — which encompasses 21 counties and seven cities in Northern Virginia — Superintendent of Schools Joseph E. Vorbach III says state requirements supersede local public health guidance.
“Throughout the pandemic, our Catholic schools have been directed to follow state and local public health directives,” he writes. “Where those have been in conflict, the state requirement has primacy.”
The executive order says parents of a child enrolled in elementary or secondary school or a school-based early child care and educational program “may elect for their children not to be subject to any mask mandate in effect at the child’s school or educational program,” the order reads.
The state legislature, however, passed a law that some schools systems interpret as protecting their ability to establish mask mandates in order to offer in-person instruction. The executive order’s legality has since been challenged by some parents who sued. Attorney General Jason Miyares has already asked the lawsuit be dismissed.
In response, Arlington Public Schools, as well as other public school systems, including those in Alexandria and Fairfax County, have come out with guidance defying Virginia’s new governor. Last night (Thursday), the Arlington School Board voted to retain the school system’s mask requirement.
But Catholic schools in the sprawling Diocese of Arlington, which reaches from Arlington to Shenandoah County, are being told to follow Youngkin’s order while keeping up other mitigation strategies recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Diocesan direction to our schools is to continue following local public health guidance, without however, violating the rights of parents as described in Executive Order 2,” Vorbach said. “The governor’s executive order is clear on the right of parents not to have their child be subject to a mask mandate.”
As for how school administrators should walk this tight-rope, Vorbach says schools should provide updated, school-specific guidance to faculty and parents and maintain other COVID-19 protocols.
“The diocese continues to elect to follow CDC guidelines for isolation of those who contract COVID-19 and quarantining for those who come in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19,” he said.
Spokeswoman Amber Roseboom tells ARLnow that one way administrators can navigate this shift in approach is to identify “which parents prefer their children to wear a mask in school.”
In addition, she said, the schools will keep up with other public health recommendations related to isolation and quarantine.
“Local public health guidance remains very important, and our schools are continuing to employ a variety of COVID-19 mitigation strategies,” she said. “We are following isolation and quarantine recommendations to the greatest extent possible. Our schools communicate with local public health offices regularly. The Executive Order allowing parental choice on masks is a new variable our schools will work with, as we have done in each situation over the past two years.”
Jan. 6 First Responders Recognized — “The Arlington County Board today gave special honors and recognition to members of Arlington County Police Department, Fire Department and Sheriff’s Office for their efforts to respond to the Capitol riot on January 6. Approximately 60 personnel were honored during the event today at the County Board Recessed meeting.” [Arlington County]
Fmr. APS Students Staying in Private School — “Ten-year-old Jonah Kaufman of Arlington is proud of his 4th grade report card from the private school he attends in northern Virginia… it was a far different story in 2020 when Jonah and his 8-year-old brother, Noah, were in a public school, trying to learn from home during COVID-19. ‘They weren’t learning,’ Jena Kotler, the boy’s mother says. ‘They were sad, they felt isolated. It was just crazy.'” [WJLA]
Man Pulls BB Gun on Beer Thief — “At approximately 11:32 p.m. on July 19, police were dispatched to the report of a robbery by force… the male victim was walking in the area when the suspect approached and engaged him in conversation. When the victim walked away, the suspect began chasing after him. The victim fell to the ground and the suspect demanded the beer he was carrying. After the suspect took the beer, the victim retrieved a BB gun from his vehicle and confronted the suspect.” [ACPD]
Sluggish Fundraising in County Board Race — “The four candidates for County Board had a total of less than $14,000 on hand at the end of June, according to new figures from the Virginia Department of Elections. That’s not an average of $14,000 per candidate. It’s $14,000 for all candidates. Takis Karantonis, the incumbent board member… reported $5,301 on hand as of June 30, according to filings made public July 15. Audrey Clement, a frequent candidate for political office, reported $3,286.” [Sun Gazette]
New Capital Improvement Plan Approved — “The Arlington County Board has approved a $1.25 billion three-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) that focuses on meeting Arlington’s existing commitments, addressing critical infrastructure maintenance, and beginning investments in long-term plans and programs that will ensure sustainability over the years to come.” [Arlington County]
Air Quality Alert Today — “A Code Orange Air Quality Alert means that air pollution concentrations within the region may become unhealthy for sensitive groups. Sensitive groups include children, people suffering from asthma, heart disease or other lung diseases and the elderly. The effects of air pollution can be minimized by avoiding strenuous activity or exercise outdoors.” [National Weather Service, Twitter, Capital Weather Gang]
Crash Prompts Hazmat Cleanup — From the Arlington County Fire Department last night: “N Glebe Rd closed in both directions between Arlington Bl and N Pershing due to a fuel leak following a motor vehicle crash. #Avoid the area.” [Twitter, Twitter]
Metrobus Crash in Ballston — From our Twitter account yesterday afternoon: “Southbound N. Glebe Road is blocked at Washington Blvd by a crash involving a car and a Metrobus. Police and medics on scene.” [Twitter]
Police Oversight Vote to Be Held Wednesday — The County Board vote on creating a Law Enforcement Civilian Review Board will be taken during a special carryover meeting on Wednesday. [Arlington County]
Activists Decry Possible Route 29 Development — “An activist group raised the alarm about what it suggests could be a major upzoning along the Route 29 corridor. Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future… said efforts to impose ‘major increases in density’ along the 5-mile Lee Highway corridor were resulting in ‘stiff opposition’ from residents. The group encouraged those with concerns about the proposals for more intense zoning to get in touch with County Board members sooner rather than later.” [Sun Gazette]
Arlington Firefighter Honored — “2021 Northern VA EMS Council Regional Award winner for Outstanding Prehospital Educator is EMS Education Specialist, FF Clare Sabio, Arlington Co Fire Dept.” [Twitter]
Local Private School Gets Accredited — “The Sycamore School in Arlington has earned accreditation by Cognia, a nonprofit organization that provides quality assurance for schools, school districts and education-service providers.” [Sun Gazette, Press Release]
Western Wildfires Make for Hazy Sunset — “The haze that hung high above us on Monday has been identified as smoke from Western wildfires, in what seemed a vivid visual reminder that faraway hardship may not leave us unaffected. ‘A thick layer of smoke’ at upper atmospheric levels ‘can be seen in the sky at this time,’ meteorologists in the local office of the National Weather Service said Monday night.” [Washington Post]
Photo courtesy Tom Mockler/Twitter
Arlington has long had a childcare shortage problem. During the pandemic, strangely, that helped its programs survive.
Although childcare programs across the nation have shuttered due to the coronavirus, in Arlington, only three licensed programs have closed, said County Board member and childcare advocate Katie Cristol. One is reopening in a new location better equipped for social-distancing, while two others closed permanently (one of those closures was virus-related).
“The good news is, what has been one of the biggest challenges of the landscape of Arlington has been an asset,” she said, adding that demand remained strong locally, buoying Arlington’s centers, “most of which have faired fairly well.”
Amid the three closures, Cristol — who helped launch the county’s Child Care Initiative in 2017 — helped welcome a new addition to Arlington’s stock of early education and childcare options this week. Looking to help address Arlington’s demand for early education options, two sisters, Saniya Dhala and Zahra Isani, opened Primrose School of Arlington in the Courthouse area yesterday (Thursday).
“There continues to be a great need for high-quality early education and child care options in our community and Primrose Schools delivers that in a convenient setting, close to neighborhoods and businesses,” Cristol said.
It is independently owned and operated by Dhala and Isani, who quit their jobs in the finance and food industries to open this Primrose School location, the 450th nationwide. The school at 2107 Wilson Blvd can accommodate up to 185 children.
“The pandemic has been devastating to so many businesses and industries, and the childcare industry is no exception to that,” the sisters tell ARLnow. “Some schools have had to shut their doors, and some have had to reduce hours and capacity. As we start to return to normalcy things are opening back up, many schools are ready to welcome families again and we are excited to be opening a high-quality option in an area where it’s needed.”
This location is one of five Primrose locations scheduled to open in the D.C. area — joining 11 existing outposts — in the middle of a pandemic that has shined a light on deep problems in the industry, such as a shortage of spots, high staff turnover and thin operating margins.
There are some signs of relief, however. President Joe Biden announced that $39 billion of the American Rescue Plan will help sustain these programs, Gov. Ralph Northam announced $203 million to expand eligibility for the Commonwealth’s Child Care Subsidy Program.
While Dhala and Isani said they started the process of opening their franchise location before the pandemic hit, the coronavirus did reinforce their decision to open a school.
“Being in the process of opening during the pandemic allowed us to be agile and adjust our space on the front-end to ensure we met and innovated around all the new safety guidelines,” they said. “Childcare is essential to our workforce and to our nation’s economic recovery, not to mention to prepare our next generation of leaders for the future.”
The pandemic made more people realize the dearth of options available, as waves of women have exited the workforce to take care of their children full-time, Cristol said. The county initiative she helped launch is still working to address the high demand and low supply of options.
Blown Transformer Knocks Out Power — A power transformer blew Friday night near the corner of Wilson Blvd and N. George Mason Drive, knocking out power to the surrounding neighborhood and parts of Ballston and Virginia Square, and prompting a road closure due to the fire department response. [Twitter, Twitter]
Catholic Schools Walk COVID Tightrope — “No one — not students, parents or staff, public or private, liberal or conservative — prefers learning while locked down during a pandemic. But area Catholics are using the crisis forced on us all to innovate boldly. They feel blessed.” [Falls Church News-Press]
Crowds May Flock to Arlington for St. Paddy’s — “Bar owner Mike Bramson, who operates the Clarendon PopUp Bar… says he’s expecting a full house in VA — something he might not see in DC. ‘I do believe people are traveling to Virginia spaces. It’s frustrating to have one location being overbooked [Clarendon Pop-Up] and another location losing business [Rebel Taco DC],’ says Bramson. He says the main deterrent in DC right now is the six-person table limit and 10 PM alcohol curfew.” [Washingtonian]
Beyer Supports Moon Mission — “There is support in Congress. ‘I clearly want to keep building on what we’ve done already,’ Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), the new chair of the House Science subcommittee on space and aeronautics, said in an interview. ‘The 2024 goal may have been a reach, so let’s see what we can do to get our moon landing back on track.'” [Washington Post]
Arlington Police K-9 Retires — “Please join ACPD in wishing a happy retirement to K9 Jax as he finishes his final tour of duty today! We are grateful for his years of dedicated service to the Arlington Community through patrol and narcotics detection.” [Twitter]
Senior Sees Son For First Time in a Year — “97-year-old Mary Cavanaugh has finally seen her son Mike Cavanaugh and daughter-in-law Marie Cavanaugh after more than a year. They’re all fully vaccinated, and with strong hugs and kisses, they were able to reunite as a family at Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads.” [NBC 4]
Big Jump in Local Home Sales — “The red-hot summer real-estate market that evolved out of the springtime COVID crisis showed no signs of abating in September across Arlington. If anything, the market last month doubled down – literally. Home sales across the county totaled 274, up 44.2 percent from the 190 transactions recorded in September 2019.” [InsideNova]
Dems Protest Outside Trump HQ — Democrats protested outside of Trump reelection HQ in Rosslyn yesterday morning, criticizing the president for not agreeing to a virtual debate with Joe Biden. They came with signs and a large “Baby Trump” balloon. [Twitter]
Photos: Outdoor Coworking Space in Rosslyn — “Like dining out and birthday parties, coworking is now an outdoor activity thanks to the pandemic. At least it is in Rosslyn. Today, the new O2 pop-up (short for Outdoor Office) opens in Gateway Park by the Key Bridge.” [Washingtonian]
Amazon Employees to Keep Teleworking — “Amazon.com Inc.’s corporate offices may not return to pre-pandemic staffing levels until the middle of next year, with some managers telling their teams that they can continue to work from home until summer 2021.” [Washington Business Journal]
Tonight: Town Hall with APS Superintendent — “Dr. Durán will be hosting a community virtual Town Hall on Friday, October 16, from 5-6 p.m., to address the Return to School Plan. The Superintendent will address questions already received and take questions during the live event using Microsoft Teams or Facebook Live.” [Arlington Public Schools]
Ballston Private School Tackles Racism — “The Sycamore School (TSS), an independent nonprofit school serving 5th-12th grades, has invested in a year-long contract with nationally regarded educator and trainer Dr. Deborah Stroman as part of their continuing commitment to address issues of systemic racism.” [Press Release]
ART Bus Ridership Down — “For the fiscal year ending June 30, the ART system – funded by the Arlington government but operated by a private contractor – reported an average daily bus boarding total of 8,224, down 12.8 percent from the 9,434 reported for the previous fiscal year.” [InsideNova]
ABC Stores Are Doing Just Fine — “From March to September, [liquor sales in Northern Virginia] were up almost 17 percent over the year before: an average of nearly $37 million per month. March remains the month with the highest dollar amount of liquor sales in NoVa, at $39.3 million. July wasn’t far behind, with $38.5 million.” [Washingtonian]
(Updated at 4:50 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools is seeing a sharp decline in enrollment this year as families cope with remote learning during the pandemic.
From September 2019 to September 2020, PreK-12 enrollment fell from 28,020 to 26,895 — a 4% drop — according to APS’ official Sept. 30 count. That’s an even bigger drop than the preliminary numbers at the beginning of September, which showed enrollment of 27,109.
The drop comes after years of enrollment growth. As of earlier this year, enrollment fall enrollment was projected to be 29,142, a 4% increase over 2019.
The change is sharpest in the elementary schools, and levels off in the secondary schools. Elementary schools in more affluent North Arlington neighborhoods — including Ashlawn, McKinley and Jamestown — have some of the biggest drops.
PreK enrollment alone is down 270 kids versus last year, the APS numbers show, while K-5 enrollment at elementary schools is down by 843 students.
“The elementary is where you see the story,” said Lisa Stengle, Executive Director of Planning and Evaluation for APS, adding that kindergarten alone has seen a drop of about 300 students.
Anecdotally, officials in public and private education say families are opting for parochial and private schools that are offering more in-person instruction. Currently, APS is fully remote, though moving towards “hybrid” in-person learning in the coming months.
Stengle said staff have told her that families are deciding to wait a year, homeschool their kids or switch to private and parochial schools.
About 74 new students enrolled at Our Savior Lutheran School in Barcroft, which Principal Joshua Klug described as a “huge increase.” His school offers daily in-person sessions in the morning or afternoon, with have no more than 10 children per class.
Normally, the largest increases are in kindergarten, with 15 to 20 new students. This year’s surge crossed grade levels, he said. Enrollment is now 126 students, up from 113 last year.
“We get new families every year, but it’s a greater percentage this year than in past years,” he said. “We lost more than we would normally lose because of the pandemic, but we definitely gained more than we normally do.”
Klug said he’s not sure whether all of the new students will stay when public schools reopen their buildings for all students. But there might also be an influx of students when conditions feel safer.
“We’ll see what happens,” he said.
Stengle said the fluctuation is not a sustained pattern, but “the effect of the pandemic.” Still, that decline is not as sharp as it may appear, she said.
“We’re lower than projected, but we’re not a lot lower than our actual enrollment,” she said. “Next year, I expect to see growth when we return to a normal school setup.”
Some schools saw increases, including Wakefield High School, which is located in one of Arlington’s fastest-growing areas for student enrollment.
Among nearby school systems, Fairfax County Public Schools also saw a decrease in enrollment, by about 8,000 students. In his opening of schools report on Sept. 18, Superintendent Scott Brabrand said 181,477 students enrolled in this year, compared to the 189,837 students projected in the budget.
Alexandria City Public Schools also recently had a high-profile instance showing the draw of private schools. Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. recently confirmed that one of his two children has enrolled at the private Bishop Ireton High School since the start of the pandemic. Hutchings confirmed the decision to Theogony, the T.C. Williams High School paper.
“I can confirm that our family made a decision to change my daughter’s school this school year,” Hutchings told Theogony. “Decisions like these are very personal family decisions and are not taken lightly. This in no way impacts my absolute lifelong, commitment to public education, to which I remain as personally dedicated as ever.”
(Updated at 2:15 p.m.) Of Arlington’s eight private schools that offer a level of K-12 education, seven have announced plans to bring students to the classroom either five days a week or in a hybrid model.
Full Circle Montessori School is the only school that told ARLnow it is not planning on opening for in-person instruction.
All reopening schools have said they will implement plans aimed at curbing the coronavirus’ spread as cases continue to rise in Arlington. Required mask wearing, physical distancing and general compliance with Virginia’s Phase 3 guidance for schools were the most common strategies schools said they will use.
In other parts of the country, some schools that have reopened to in-person learning are already reporting coronavirus outbreaks. A recent study from South Korea found that while children under 10 are less likely to spread the disease, those ages 10-19 spread it “at least as well as adults do.”
The following list provides a brief outline of each local school’s plan. Only schools where the majority of education is at a K-12 level were included.
Full Circle has an elementary school for 1st-6th grades near Bailey’s Crossroads and Montessori schools at three locations throughout Arlington.
Tatjana Vichnevsky, head of school at Full Circle, told ARLnow in an email she is “not planning on opening Full Circle Montessori School until — at the earliest — the week of October 5.”
Vichnevsky added that her husband, an epidemiologist, is directing the school’s reopening plan using COVID-19 metrics for the D.C. region and Arlington’s population.
Our Savior offers kindergarten through 8th grade instruction to about 120 students at its Barcroft building.
Its reopening plan is based on a modified hybrid model. Students who do not want to return in person can choose distance learning, but classroom lessons will not be available virtually and these students will instead work with an online liaison to their classroom teacher.
Only staff and students will be allowed in Our Savior’s building, and everyone will have their temperature checked upon arrival.
Students must wash their hands when they enter the classrooms and everyone in the building must wear a mask. Socially distant breaks will be provided during the day for students to be without masks.
Rivendell School, located on Lee Highway in the Yorktown neighborhood, has K-8 education for about 150 students.
A spokeswoman said Rivendell “is planning to be at school with a modified schedule and mitigation strategies.”
Parents will also have the option of keeping their students at home for distance learning.
The Sycamore School, based in Ballston, enrolls approximately 60 students in 5th through 12th grades.
According to the school’s website, it announced on July 21 plans to resume in-person instruction five days a week in the fall.
No visitors, including parents, will be allowed in the school. The school’s meetings and community workshops will be conducted over Zoom.
Arlington’s four other K-12 private schools are under the direction of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington.
These three K-8 schools — with student body sizes of approximately 460, 220 and 400, respectively — will open five days a week for in-person instruction, according to Joseph Vorbach, superintendent of schools for the Catholic Diocese of Arlington.
Vorbach said the schools’ reopening plans are primarily based on Virginia’s Phase 3 school guidance. The state encourages schools to require face coverings, limit gathering sizes, restrict classes and groups of students from mixing, and mandate six foot distancing whenever possible.
Arlington Dems Reject Bipartisan Redistricting — “Despite criticism from within the party that the move would be seen as blatantly partisan as well as bad policy, the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s membership on Aug. 6 voted to oppose the state constitutional amendment that, if enacted, would set up an independent redistricting commission.” [InsideNova]
Marymount Announces Reorganization — “In its latest strategic initiative, Transform MU, Marymount University is restructuring its existing academic programs into three highly focused Colleges, each combining disciplines to create broader educational and research opportunities.” [Press Release]
Diocese Announces New Virtual School — “The Catholic Diocese of Arlington announced it will offer a fully virtual school for grades K-8 in the 2020-2021 academic year, which begins in early September. The school, St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, provides a new option to parents interested in enrolling their children in local Catholic schools. All 41 brick-and-mortar Catholic schools in the Diocese, which serve 17,000 students, have announced they will reopen in the fall for either safe-distance full-time in-person instruction or a combination of in-person instruction and e-Learning. St. Isidore offers families an option for full-time virtual learning.” [Catholic Diocese of Arlington]
Local Teen Raises Money for Yemen — “Since July 1, an Arlington teenager has raised $300 for Saba Relief. The organization helps people affected by the crisis in Yemen. Emily Tesone started hand sewing plushies for her friends when the pandemic began. Her hobby grew more meaningful after she learned about what was happening in Yemen.” [WDVM]
Flickr pool photo by Eric
The Goddard School — a private early-childhood education franchise — is planning to open a pair of linked childcare facilities 350 yards apart on Lee Highway.
A decision on permits for the facilities at 5328 and 5222 Lee Highway are docketed for the County Board meeting this Saturday, July 13.
The larger of the two projects is a childcare center and school at 5328 Lee Highway, which will host up to 208 children.
“The child care center will serve children ranging from two (2) to five (5) years of age, in addition to before/after school services for school age children ages five (5) to ten (10) years,” says a county staff report. “The applicant proposes to reconfigure the existing office space to create 14 classrooms, one of which can also operate as an indoor gymnasium, as well as several ancillary rooms, including a pantry, teacher resource room, and two offices.”
A portions of the building, which most recently served as an office building, had previously been approved as a child care facility in 2017, but the staff report noted that the proposed facility never opened. The property is attached by a breezeway to United Bank, which the report says is expected to continue operating alongside the school.
Meanwhile, the proposed childcare facility at 5222 Lee Highway will have up to 60 children, ranging from 6-weeks to 2-years-old. The building will replace the former Chevy Chase Bank and drive-thru, which has been vacant for two years.
Under local ordinance, the larger of the two facilities would be required to have 26 parking spaces, but only 18 are available in the parking lot behind the building. The staff report says The Goddard School is asking to have the additional parking be provided off-site at the 5222 Lee Highway location. That proposal has been met by concerns from neighbors.
“Yorktown Civic Association which is adjacent to the subject site, is in support of the proposal, however, has concerns regarding circulation and turning movement around the site,” the staff report says.
The report said pick-up and drop-off would occur from the parking area, accessible via two existing curb cuts, and staff recommended that the County Board find the circulation and parking issues sufficiently addressed.
If approved, the facilities would be the first locations for The Goddard School in Arlington.
Another childcare center — VINCI Early Learning School — has been proposed for 3508 Lee Highway and is also on Saturday’s County Board agenda. Consideration of that facility, however, is expected to be deferred until September “to allow the applicant additional time to meet with the community and address any concerns that they may have with the proposed use.”
St. Thomas More Cathedral School is an authentic Catholic learning community that promotes spiritual, moral and intellectual excellence for students in Pre-Kindergarten through 8th grade.
Prospective families are invited to attend an Open House on Sunday, November 4 at 11 a.m. and Wednesday, November 7 at 9 a.m. to meet faculty and explore the school on tours led by student and parent ambassadors. RSVP for this event by clicking here.
St. Thomas More is recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School and recently became the first elementary school in the world to launch a CubeSatellite. There is a focus on high-interest projects which encourages students to stretch their knowledge and motivates them to attempt hands-on activities.
Teachers at St. Thomas More differentiate instruction in the classroom by meeting with students in small groups to reach all levels of learners. The curriculum includes The Comprehension Toolkit featuring Daily 5 and CAFE, Writer’s Workshop, Words Their Way and the Everyday Mathematics program.
Kindergarten students experience a robust program with STEM embedded in their day, 3 recesses daily and special performance events throughout the year such as America Sings and Manners Tea. Each grade level selects a service project to help others in our community, with kindergarten supporting HOPE in Northern Virginia, a non-profit organization committed to empowering women facing unplanned pregnancies
Students come to St. Thomas More Cathedral School from Arlington, as well as Alexandria, Fairfax County, the District of Columbia and Maryland. The diverse backgrounds and experiences of our families contribute to the welcoming spirit you will find at Saint Thomas More.
The Diocese of Arlington and the STM School and parish community are committed to making a Catholic education attainable for all who seek it. Families are encouraged to apply for tuition aid if assistance is needed, 30% of families receive a form of financial aid.
Visit our website for information regarding the admissions process, learn about the after school Enrichment Program, extended day care and more. St. Thomas More Cathedral School is conveniently located at 105 N. Thomas Street, in the center of Arlington near the Pentagon, Ballston, Ft. Myer and the National Guard.
To schedule a tour on an alternate day, call 703-528-6781, extension 242 or email [email protected].