Arlington, VA

Morning Notes

Black Lives Matter Protest Held Saturday — “As protests continue around the nation following the death of George Floyd, the Black Parents of Arlington group welcomed families and neighbors on Saturday for a special gathering and vigil for the man who died in police custody in Minneapolis in May. Over 100 people gathered at Drew Model Elementary School, some bringing signs while others wore shirts and face masks showing support for the Black Lives Matter movement.” [WUSA 9]

Dorsey Discusses ‘Defund’ Demands — “‘We’re getting a lot of letters with the ‘defund the police’ calls,’ says [County Board member Christian Dorsey, on the WAMU Politics Hour]. He says that over the past few years, the police budget has only risen slightly above inflation. He said he’d be open to cutting tactical weapons and gear.” [Twitter]

Pentagon Entering ‘Phase 1’ Today — “Pentagon and Pentagon Facilities Employees: This Mon., June 15, begins Phase One of re-entering the buildings. Welcome back! Don’t forget your face covering and to social distance while inside.” [Twitter]

Current COVID-19 Hospitalizations Fall — “Fewer than 1,000 Virginians are now hospitalized for treatment of COVID-19, and the number of cases continued to slow both statewide and in Northern Virginia, according to reports Saturday morning. The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association reported only 959 coronavirus patients in state hospitals, the lowest number since the organization began providing data in early April… Only 342 of those patients were in Northern Virginia, down from a high of 818 on April 30.” [InsideNova]

County Expanding Free Wi-Fi Spots — “Arlington residents can now access free Wi-Fi in the parking lots of the Charles Drew Community Center and Barcroft Sports & Fitness Center as part of the County’s ongoing effort to help residents without reliable internet service during the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with these two new locations, public Wi-Fi is available via the ArlingtonWireless network in the parking lots at Aurora Hills, Central and Columbia Pike libraries.” [Arlington County]

PTAs to Distribute Face Masks — “County staff from a variety of departments packing up more than 4,300 cloth face covers for [Arlington Public Schools] PTAs to distribute to families. Face covering is required in Virginia public indoor spaces. ” [Twitter]

Restaurants Seek Expanded Outdoor Dining Spaces — “Arlington County has allowed 19 restaurants to add new space for outdoor dining or expand existing options, as part of the growing trend of shifting tables outside and allowing safer dining while the Covid-19 pandemic persists… Through June 9, the county has seen a total of 66 applications and approved just under a third of them.” [Washington Business Journal]

Photo courtesy Jean and James Knaack

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Schools may be closed, but Arlington PTAs have stepped up and supported local families in their school communities through the coronavirus pandemic.

At K.W. Barrett Elementary School in the Buckingham neighborhood, the school PTA has gone through two rounds of grocery gift card distribution to families in need.

“To date, we have distributed a total of $19,500 worth of grocery gift cards for Harris Teeter, Safeway and Giant,” Melanie Jones and Will Le, representing the Barrett PTA, said in an email. “In the first round (in early April), we distributed or mailed out $8,350 in $50 grocery gift cards (128 distributed; 39 mailed to families). In the second round (in early May), we distributed or mailed out $11,150 in $50 grocery gift cards (203 distributed; 20 mailed to families).”

The PTA has also distributed 275 school supply kits, paid from PTA funds totaling $1982.

The pair said in the email the PTA has received a total of $25,235 in donations and gift card contributions from families and friends and through the One Pantry at a Time GoFundMe set up by Arlington teachers.

The PTA’s goal is to do another gift card distribution in early to mid-June.

“Based on our past distribution (and with $5,735 and 40 gift cards to work with) we believe that another round of $50 grocery gift card distribution will require an additional $4,000 of donations,” the pair said.

Additional donations can be made to the PTA’s efforts through:

  • PayPal to [email protected] (with the note “gift cards for Barrett families” and sent as friend and family)
  • Venmo to @Melanie-Jones-10
  • Givebutter, though donations here have a fee
  • Gift cards donated to the Barrett PTA in $50 denominations.

The Barrett parents said the plan is to shift towards the distribution of groceries and other items of need rather than gift cards. This would require more volunteers and logistical support, but Jones and Le said it would be less costly and let the PTA utilize their own funding.

Other school PTAs have been organizing similar efforts.

The PTA for Abingdon Elementary School in Fairlington has raised over $14,000 for rent relief to help 34 local families. The goal is an additional $28,000 to help cover the families’ rent.

“We have heard that families are being threatened with eviction, despite the governor’s stay on evictions,” the PTA said on the donation page. “Our goal is to have rent covered for these families through June. We would like to provide rent relief for families as soon as possible.   When you pledge to make a contribution, a volunteer will get in touch with you via email within 24 hours regarding details. Checks will be written directly to property managers or landlords.

Emily Vincent, Vice President for Communications for the County Council of PTAs in Arlington, said these PTAs are continuing their missions to help their communities despite school being closed for the rest of the academic year. Such efforts are on top of Arlington Public Schools’ meal distribution program for families in need.

“Despite Arlington County’s wealth, a significant portion of our families experience economic difficulties,” Vincent noted in an emailed statement to ARLnow. “As of October 2019, 8,083 students (29% of the APS student body) qualified for free or reduced meals (FARM). Of those, 6,376 qualified for free meals, which means that their family is living on less than $36,000 a year.”

Vincent’s full statement is below.

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The Glebe Elementary Parent-Teacher Association says it’s managed to recover more than $88,000 raised in its spring auction, after initially fearing that a Crystal City company that collected the funds wouldn’t hand them over.

PTA President Kristen Johnson warned members in late August that the group’s vendor to collect payments for the auction — Student Info Hub, a subsidiary of ConnectUs, LLC — had only transferred over about $11,200 of the more than $98,000 the PTA raised at the April event. Johnson and PTA leadership consulted with law enforcement about the discrepancy, and even considered legal action over the incident.

But it seems the two sides have managed to come to a resolution. In an email to PTA members today (Tuesday) obtained by ARLnow, Johnson wrote that “the contract dispute between Glebe PTA and ConnectUS has been resolved to the satisfaction of Glebe PTA.” She subsequently confirmed the email’s contents to ARLnow, but wouldn’t discuss the issue in more detail.

“We have cashier’s checks in the amounts of $80,000 and the remaining funds in escrow pending any remaining chargebacks which will be accounted for in November,” Johnson wrote her email to the PTA.

The PTA previously feared that losing out on the money would mean the group would have to severely curtail the programs and events it offered this year, but this resolution should alleviate those concerns.

Johnson also would not say whether the PTA was considering additional legal action against ConnectUS in the wake of this outcome. This was the first year the PTA had worked with the company to collect payments for its annual spring auction.

Representatives with the company have not responded to requests for comment on the dispute.

Photo via Glebe ES PTA

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The Glebe Elementary Parent-Teacher Association is now in dire financial straits, alleging a local company that collected payments for a PTA fundraiser won’t hand over tens of thousands of dollars to the group.

In an email to members Friday (Aug. 17), obtained by ARLnow, PTA President Kristen Johnson said that as a result of the dispute, the group is out more than $88,350 raised in the PTA’s annual spring auction.

Consequently, she says the PTA is “beginning the school year with significantly less funds than we have had over the last several years” and “will not be able to fund all of the initiatives, programs and activities that the community has come to enjoy.”

“Needless to say, this is an enormous blow to our community,” Johnson wrote.

Reached via email yesterday (Monday), Johnson declined to offer more specifics on the incident, only saying that the “PTA is consulting with legal counsel about taking legal recourse at this time.” Representatives with the group’s vendor — Student Info Hub, a subsidiary of Crystal City-based ConnectUs, LLC — did not respond to a request for comment.

Johnson wrote in the email to parents that this was the PTA’s first year using the new vendor, after opting to switch to the local business last year.

“Last year, on a recommendation, we considered a local small business as a new vendor,” Johnson’s email said. “The Auction Committee vetted the vendor and proposed it to the Executive Board. After thoughtful review, the Executive Board voted to use the new vendor for the April 2018 Glebe PTA Auction.”

While the company did hand over more than $11,200 collected in the April auction, Johnson claims that’s the only money the PTA has received, despite months of back and forth.

“In subsequent exchanges with the vendor, we continued to demand that the money be transferred,” Johnson wrote. “The vendor did affirm that the funds were Glebe PTA’s, as well as the amount, and represented that all funds would be transferred by the end of June. However, the funds were not transferred. Throughout the summer we have continuously pursued the payments directly from the vendor.”

Johnson added that the PTA has contacted a variety of law enforcement entities about the dispute, including the state attorney general’s office and Arlington County Police.

Police spokeswoman Ashley Savage confirmed that her department did receive a report on the dispute, and “did attempt to assist by facilitating conversations with each party to help mitigate the issue.”

“Ultimately, this was determined to be a civil issue and police are no longer involved,” Savage wrote in an email. Charlotte Gomer, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Mark Herring, added that her office similarly judged that “the situation did not appear to be one that would be subject” to state law, also recommending that the PTA pursue a civil suit instead.

In a second email to parents Monday, also shared with ARLnow.com by a concerned parent, Johnson said the PTA recently hired a lawyer and is contemplating legal action, with next steps yet to be revealed.

“We are doing everything we can to secure our funds,” she wrote.

Johnson also urged parents to try to keep the situation out of the public eye.

“We have had a lot of media requests as I am sure the community as a whole wants to help us,” she wrote. “For now, please refrain from posting on social media and speaking to the media… We don’t want to inadvertently harm our legal position with misinformation.”

Photo via Glebe ES PTA

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Some members of the Washington-Lee High School Parent-Teacher Association are concerned that the Arlington School Board may re-purpose the adjacent Arlington Education Center into an elementary school instead of adding high school seats, as was previously decided.

The concern stems from a working session on April 12 centered on the Arlington Public Schools Capital Improvement Plan, in which School Board members briefly discussed the costs of potentially converting the Education Center into elementary school space rather than up to 800 high school seats.

John Chadwick, Arlington Public Schools assistant superintendent of facilities and operations, said that the cost determination was done in anticipation of the possible need for swing space in the future, to make sure the numbers are correct from the get-go.

The Washington-Lee PTA circulated an email last week noting that changing the Arlington Education Center plans would make it “extremely likely that boundaries will be redrawn.” If a boundary re-working were to occur, it could knock some Washington-Lee families out of the school’s district, the PTA stated.

At the April 12 working session, School Board members Nancy Van Doren and Tannia Talento both voiced concern about confusion within the community about actions that the School Board may take.

“I’m very concerned that we have two months to make this decision,” said Van Doren at the working session. “This is a compacted time frame and a very complex set of decisions… I’m worried that we need to take the community along as we make that set of decisions.”

Talento added that the Board “cannot be vague” about its future plans, and that the community should be kept apprised of the entire process, even just casual discussions about future facility repurposing. She noted that many families might have already tuned out of school planning discussions because they assumed that nothing would change dramatically, which could cause confusion for those just hearing about a possible Education Center plan change. In fact, Talento said that she herself is unclear on where the Board stands on the matter at this point, and she asked for direction.

“I’m happy to consider, if we’re reconsidering the use, I just need to know and we need the community know that we’re reconsidering,” Talento said.

The email from the WLHS-PTA added that if a re-worked Education Center plan were to come to fruition, the future of and use guidelines for certain facilities — like sports fields and the planetarium — is an open question.

More from the PTA’s email:

In June 2017, the School Board voted to create 500-600 high school seats at the site of the Ed Center building, next to W-L by the planetarium and to create 700-800 high school seats at the Career Center. While the program details for the Ed Center site was not decided at that time, there was a strong possibility that they would have been added as an expansion of WL. If this occurs, W-L would likely get additional benefits such as a black box theater (which YHS and WHS have today, but we don’t) and the capacity to expand our IB program to offer it to any Arlington student who wants it. (Note: For the freshman class entering W-L in 2018, we could accept less than half the students who applied.)

During the April 12 School Board work session, it was revealed that APS staff has been working to determine costs for using the Ed Center site as a Middle School or an Elementary School and to move ALL the new high school seats to a comprehensive neighborhood school at the Career Center school. If this actually happens, it is extremely likely that boundaries will be redrawn such that some W-L families will no longer be in the W-L district. Furthermore, it is not known whether W-L students who can currently take advantage of classes offered at the Career Center would still be allowed to do so. There are questions about facilities such as fields – will we have to give up some of our sports fields to be used by a Middle or Elementary School? What other ramifications are there if a MS or ES is built at this site? Will the planetarium remain or will that be destroyed to make room for parking, a playground, or something else?

It is urgent that W-L’s community be aware of this possible change in plans because the timeline for finalizing decisions is extremely short, and the board is bypassing the typical community engagement process to which we are accustomed. The school board vote to finalize its decision is June 21.

File photo

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Morning Notes

School Walkouts Today — Student walkouts are planned at Arlington’s high schools today, part of a national demonstration against gun violence. The walkout is happening at 10 a.m., is expected to last 17 minutes, and is being treated as an excused absence by Arlington Public Schools. Middle schoolers at St. Thomas More Cathedral School in Arlington, meanwhile, have organized a 2:30 p.m. prayer service to honor the victims.

JBG Talks HQ2 in Quarterly Earnings — Property owner JBG Smith has stayed largely mum about its wooing of Amazon — until now. In its quarterly earnings report, JBG said it believes that its Crystal City properties are well-positioned to win the bid for Amazon’s second headquarters. The D.C. area’s tech prowess “combined with our blend of walkable places, in-place infrastructure and low-cost housing makes Crystal City a compelling location,” the company wrote. “Our holdings alone can accommodate Amazon’s entire long-term space requirement and we have a cost advantage over our competitors given the existing in-place parking and substantial infrastructure.” [Washington Business Journal]

Lobbyist Claims Attack at Local Hotel — Jack Burkman, a “conservative lobbyist known for his controversial positions” who in January told police he was pepper sprayed outside his house near Rosslyn, is alleging another attack. Burkman claims, in a press release, that he was “run down by a large, black SUV” last night while “working with an FBI whistleblower” at the Key Bridge Marriott in Rosslyn. [Twitter]

Two Charged in Murder of Arlington Man — Two suspected gang members from Maryland have been charged in the fatal stabbing of an Arlington resident in Oxon Hill, Md. on Feb. 25. [Town of Morningside]

Arlington House Closing for Rehab Project — Arlington House, the iconic historic mansion at Arlington National Cemetery that was formerly home to Gen. Robert E. Lee, “is closing to the public beginning Monday, March 19, so it can undergo a monthslong rehabilitation project… part of a $12.35 million restoration plan.” [WTOP]

National PTA Meeting in Arlington — The National Parent Teacher Association is holding its annual legislative conference at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Crystal City this week. The conference runs from March 13-15 and kicked off yesterday with a keynote address by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. [National PTA]

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Money (file photo)Scammers are trying to defraud local Parent Teacher Associations and civic associations.

The scam attempts “have been ongoing for several months,” a tipster tell ARLnow.com. It involves official-looking emails asking the organization’s treasurer to wire money.

On Friday, the Virginia PTA sent the following warning about the fraud to local organizations:

Please note there are fraudulent emails going to PTA units asking treasurers to transfer (wire) money to unknown accounts. Because they look to be sent from your PTA’s officers email addresses, please do not respond or wire money to unknown accounts without first doing due diligence on the request. This is happening quite often — even I receive them. They get names and email addresses from websites.

The tipster, who did not want to be identified, said that civic associations are also now receiving the scam emails.

“Recently the scammers have branched out to neighborhood associations,” said the tipster. “The citizens association that I am involved with has also gotten these emails.”

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Oakridge fitness classes flyerLast year, Oakridge Elementary parents used donations and sponsorships to buy pedal desks, standup desks and yoga ball chairs to help fidgety kids learn while staying active.

Now, parents are back trying to raise money to expand the program, which received both local and some national attention.

On Tuesdays this month, starting tomorrow, the Oakridge PTA is hosting four evening fitness programs for adults, featuring local fitness and wellness businesses like SpecOps Fitness and Mind Your Body Oasis.

“These adult May fitness classes are one of two fundraising efforts we are currently doing to raise additional funds for the kinesthetic equipment,” explained Dana Dougherty, a mother of three and substitute teacher. “All donations will go toward our mission, all classes are sponsored by the individuals teaching.”

Oakridge student on a pedal deskDougherty said parents hope to provide new equipment for the kinesthetic classroom initiative, but what they buy will be determined by how much they raise.

“We have had incredibly positive feedback from parents, students and teachers — they want more!” she told ARLnow.com. “Depending on the funds raised, we will look at adding pieces the teachers would like to add. You can see tons of different options at www.kidsfit.com… there are several great options under kinesthetic classroom desks.”

Money for the initiative will also be raised at the PTA’s Spring Fling on May 22, where teachers and administrators will be dunked for the cause.

“We will have a dunk tank with favorite teachers, principal and perhaps even a school board member participating,” said Dougherty.

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Drew Model School grocery store revenue (image courtesy Drew Model School PTA)The Drew Model School Parent Teacher Association is throwing its first Spring Fair next weekend, in hopes of closing a $22,000 funding gap.

Because of changes to local grocery stores’ policies in the last two years, donations that have come from shoppers signing up to donate a portion of their purchase to schools have almost disappeared. According to Drew PTA President Evan Thomas, grocery store donations accounted for $22,700 of the PTA’s $30,000 budget in the 2012-2013 school year.

This year, the PTA projects $495 in revenue from the two stores that it has received money from, Harris Teeter and Safeway.

A manager at Harris Teeter said their program hasn’t changed, but schools are no longer allowed to sign up shoppers on the way in, which has hamstrung participation, Thomas said. According to a manager at Safeway, the chain was just purchased, and in the lengthy negotiations over the past two years, the “program has changed some.” According to Safeway’s website, donations through its eScrip program aren’t taken from credit card purchases.

Thomas doesn’t begrudge the grocery stores, he said, but the fiscal reality of the PTA’s current budget is inescapable.

“We felt fortunate that we were able to work within the program as we were before those changes were made,” he told ARLnow.com today. “It’s just a reality of where we are, and we’re just trying to look for ways to move forward and fundraising without doing it on the backs of our families.”

The PTA has responded by hosting a Spring Fair next Saturday, May 16, to draw families to the school and raise a few thousand dollars.

Drew School (Photo via Google Maps)The fair will take place on the school’s grounds (3500 23rd Street S.) from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. There will be foods from a variety of food trucks, a moon bounce, a cake walk game, and raffles. There will also be carnival style games, with the price of participation going to the Drew PTA.

“We’re really hoping the Spring Fair can serve as a signature event so we can have a little more certainty going into each year to allocate comfortably,” Thomas said.

The PTA has received help from its counterpart at Nottingham Elementary School in North Arlington. The Nottingham PTA has chipped in $1,500 to offset costs and provided mentorship and support — Drew is hoping to model the Spring Fair after Nottingham’s annual MayFest.

As for the drastic downturn in PTA revenue, Thomas said purchases the group has made in the past, like smartboards for classrooms and a climbing wall, will no longer be feasible. Thomas said 65 percent of Drew students are on a free or reduced lunch program. APS spokesman Frank Bellavia said it’s one of nine schools in the county that have at least 40 percent of its students receiving free or reduced lunches.

Image, top, courtesy Drew Model School PTA. Photo, bottom, via Google Maps

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Arlington County school busesSome north Arlington elementary school parents are asking the County Board to spur the Arlington School Board to action on a new middle school.

The Jamestown Elementary PTA wrote to County Board Chair Jay Fisette on Monday, asking him to work with the School Board on a middle school construction plan as part of the County Board’s 2015-2024 Capital Improvement Plan.

The PTA is peeved that APS waffled in its recently-passed CIP, punting a decision on the location for a new middle school to December and only including planning funds instead of construction funds. It comes at a time when the county’s student population — especially on the elementary level — is burgeoning, thanks to more young families moving to or staying in Arlington to raise their kids.

If a new middle school is not built soon, current kindergarteners could enter middle school in 2020 at a time when Arlington middle schools are over capacity by more than 1,000 students, with most of the overcrowding focused in north Arlington, the PTA said.

“The proposed CIP can only be regarded as an APS plan knowingly to overcrowd Williamsburg and other middle schools in north Arlington and degrade the learning environment for thousands of the county’s middle school students,” Jamestown PTA president Thomas Jensen wrote.

The School Board has eyed both the Wilson School site in Rosslyn and the building that currently houses the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program as possible locations for a new 1,300 seat middle school. Both proposals have met community criticism.

The Wilson School and H-B Woodlawn options are still on the table, according to a school spokesman, and the School Board says it will make a decision no later than Dec. 31. But the PTA wants more decisive action and planning.

“Lack of unanimity about use of the Wilson site is not an adequate reason to allow Williamsburg and other middle schools to become even more overcrowded,” Jensen wrote.

The full letter, after the jump.

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Morning Notes

Snowy Iwo Jima Memorial (Photo courtesy @carmstrong07)

‘Trolley Pub’ Bill Fails in Richmond — A bill that would have allowed patrons of Arlington’s Trolley Pub to drink alcohol while on board has been passed over indefinitely in the House of Delegates. Del. Patrick Hope (D-47), who introduced the bill, said there were “too many significant issues” around the bill. [Patch]

Middle School PTA Peeved at Bus Inequality — The Thomas Jefferson Middle School PTA is upset that North Arlington schools appear to be getting preferential treatment when it comes to bus service for students inside the standard 1.5 mile perimeter for secondary schools. The PTA president says S. Glebe Road is dangerous for middle school students to cross and the school system should provide bus service for students who have to cross it. [Sun Gazette]

Settlement to Fund Surveillance Cameras — Arlington will use $55,000 from a federal settlement to fund the purchase of portable digital video surveillance cameras. The cameras will be used “to enhance security at large scale events.” The funds from from the $1.5 billion federal settlement with Abbott Laboratories Inc. in 2012 over unlawful promotion of a prescription drug. [Arlington County]

Freedom Rider Shares Memories — “Freedom Rider” and Arlington resident Joan Trumpauer Mulholland spoke earlier this month about her experience in trying to promote civil rights and racial integration in the deep South in the early 1960s. Mulholland was also the keynote speaker at Arlington’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration on Sunday. [Falls Church News-Press]

Man Survives Key Bridge Plunge in 1929 — A quirky bit of local history: In September 1929 a drunk 26-year-old man fell off the side of the Key Bridge, landing on his side in the water 120 feet below. Miraculously, he was rescued by a police officer and a boat club employee and “appeared none the worse for his experience.” But alas, it wasn’t a completely happy ending: five weeks later the stock market crashed, leading to the Great Depression. [Ghosts of DC]

Photo courtesy @carmstrong07

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