Arlington, VA

Morning Notes

Goldstein Fends Off Challenger — “Incumbent School Board Chair Reid Goldstein emerged as the victor Saturday night in the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s [School Board endorsement] caucus… Goldstein received 1,231 votes out of 1,999 ballots counted, or 61.6%… Challenger David Priddy received 763 votes.” [Arlington Democrats]

Car Runs Off Glebe Road Into Ditch — “At 1:54pm Sunday, units were called for a car off the road in 4500 blk of N Glebe Rd. Crews were able to walk 1 patient out with minor injuries. Patient was transported to local hospital while Hazmat team worked to contain leaking fluids. Please watch your speed on the wet roads.” [Twitter]

Del. Hope Not a PAC Man — Del. Patrick Hope (D) has joined a group of Democratic state Senators in announcing “their intention to introduce legislation in the 2020 General Assembly legislative session to limit excessive campaign contributions from influencing Virginia elections.” The proposed bill is in response to a PAC contributing nearly $1 million to the commonwealth’s attorney primaries in Arlington and Fairfax. [Blue Virginia]

New Additions to Amazon HQ2 Job Page — There are now 47 open jobs listed on Amazon’s HQ2 jobs page. Among the positions Amazon is hiring for in Arlington are hardware, system and software development engineers; recruiters; and numerous Alexa-related technical positions. [Amazon]

Middle School Project Running Behind — “It might be a little cramped for the first few months as students settle in at Arlington’s Dorothy Hamm Middle School… County school officials have known for months that the expansion of the school won’t be ready for occupancy when classes begin in September… On its website, the school system now pegs completion of the expansion at next March.” [InsideNova]

Wardian Places Third in Horse Race — “Mike Wardian, 45, of Arlington, Va. did not succeed at outrunning all the horses at the 40th anniversary of Whole Earth Man v. Horse Marathon in Wales yesterday, but he did pretty well nonetheless, placing third among the humans and finishing in 2:34:03.” [Trail Running]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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(Updated at 4:50 p.m.) The Arlington School Board has agreed to sign a settlement with the federal government promising to provide more services for English-learning students in county schools.

Board members voted to allow Board Chair Reid Goldstein to sign the document during a meeting last night (Thursday), two weeks after first announcing the Department of Justice (DOJ) sought a settlement with the school district.

Goldstein, who is currently running for re-election, asked Dr. Tara Nattrass, Arlington Public Schools’ assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, how many of the DOJ’s 33 requirements APS will implement “systemwide.” Nattrass said she didn’t have the number “off hand” but stressed the intention is to apply improvements to all schools.

“This is a resolution with the Department of Justice,” Nattrass said, when asked if she had comments to add earlier that evening.

“It’s an issuance that doesn’t have any adverse findings attached to it,” she said, but acknowledged that “there are some things that we need to be doing differently.”

The settlement identified several problems at Thomas Jefferson Middle School. As part of the agreement, the DOJ mandates that the county not use Google Translate in place of interpretation services, begin translating special education and disability plans, and submit annual reports to the federal agency on its progress, among other requirements.

“Many of the solutions outlined in the agreement are in practice in Jefferson” Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy said of the middle school.

He added that APS was “committed” to serving students learning English as a second language, and his administration will report to the Board quarterly about APS’ progress on meeting the DOJ’s requirements.

Both Murphy and Nattrass stressed that APS has already adopted some of the recommendations, such as surveying families for the home language.

Board members Monique O’Grady and Vice Chair Tannia Talento were not present for the Thursday night vote.

The vote was part of the evening’s consent agenda, a placement usually reserved for items expected to pass without debate.

Two parents shared their concerns over APS’ English-language learning resources Thursday night, one saying her adopted daughter had to request any accommodations she needed, like a bilingual dictionary.

“One teacher even told me she was doing her a favor by granting her accommodations,” said the parent, adding that she believed “there are systemic issues across the county” when it comes to services for students learning English.

“I’m sorry about all of this,” said Board Member Nancy Van Doren, who noted that she’d long heard from advisory committees about problems with APS’ English Language Learner programs.

“I wish that we would more assiduously listen to those committees when they tell us there’s a problem, so we can get out ahead of these things,” Van Doren said.

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The School Board is expected to sign a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice over allegations that Arlington Public Schools has provided inadequate help for students learning English.

“In 2015-2016, a complaint was filed regarding service concerns for our English Learners at Jefferson,” said APS spokesman Frank Bellavia, referring to Thomas Jefferson Middle School (TJMS).

“The settlement provides specifics on actions that APS will continue to take to meet the needs of our English Learners,” he told ARLnow in an email Monday. “This settlement agreement provides a mutually agreed upon resolution in lieu of litigation.”

DOJ’s 19-page settlement gives APS 33 requirements to comply with, including that TJMS teachers and administrative officials be trained in English Learning (EL) program requirements. It also seeks to “ensure that ELs are not over-identified as needing special education services based on their language barriers in elementary schools and are not denied timely evaluations for suspected disabilities at TJMS.”

Bellavia said APS already has procedures in place to prevent English-learning being confused with special needs.

“For example, through the Arlington Tiered System of Support, all students are provided with core instruction and interventions based on their needs,” he said.

The settlement also stipulates that APS begin to translate copies of special education documents like Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and 504 plans for disabilities into the languages spoken by EL students’ families.

“As part of the settlement agreement, we will now translate the framework into the four major languages of our families (Spanish, Amharic, Arabic and Mongolian),” said Bellavia, who added that the IEP framework is now only translated into Spanish. “We will also let parents know that the full IEP or 504 will be available for translation if requested.”

“Except in an emergency, the District will not use students, family or friends of limited English proficient parents, or Google Translate for interpretation of District- or school-generated documents or for any other translation or interpreter services,” the settlement notes.

Nineteen percent of APS students in 2017 were enrolled in EL learning programs, according to the most recent reports shared by the School Board. Among students in Pre-K through high school that year, Spanish was the most common foreign language spoken (22.8 percent of students), followed by Amharic (2.4 percent), Arabic (2.2 percent), Mongolian (1.8 percent), and Bengali (1 percent).

Although the new federal settlement only names TJMS, it notes that the recommendations apply to all of APS’ EL programs.

The document is currently listed on the consent agenda for the School Board’s Thursday meeting, a place usually reserved for items expected to pass without debate.

The settlement will not be finalized until DOJ officials and School Board Chair Reid Goldstein sign it.

If Goldstein signs the document, APS would also agree to do the following:

  • Tracking each student’s progress in EL programs and record the information in their permanent record.
  • Reporting compliance updates to the DOJ for review starting this October and until July 2022.
  • Conducting a three-year “longitudinal analysis” of all its EL programs, due for DOJ review by August 2022.
  • Develop a plan to “actively recruit” English as a Second Language (ESL)-certified teachers within 90 days of signing the settlement.

Failure to comply could mean APS violates the 1974 Equal Educational Opportunities Act, which requires schools provide the same opportunities for all students regardless of race, gender, or language.

DOJ did not respond to a request for comment for more information about the settlement.

The agency has settled with dozens of school districts over similar complaints in recent years, including Prince William County in 2013.

Bellavia told ARLnow that compliance with the settlement would not affect APS’ budget for the next fiscal year.

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An Arlington Heights parent is launching a challenge to School Board Chairman Reid Goldstein, arguing that the county school system needs a more transparent, comprehensive planning process to match the county’s persistently rising student enrollment levels.

David Priddy told ARLnow that he’s filed papers to compete in the upcoming caucus to win the Democratic Committee’s endorsement in the race. School Board seats are nominally non-partisan, and candidates don’t run under party labels, but local parties frequently endorse candidates for the Board.

Goldstein announced his re-election bid in early January in the race for the lone Board seat on the ballot this fall. He’s seeking his second term in office after winning the seat in 2015, replacing retiring Board member Abby Raphael.

Democratic Committee Chair Jill Caiazzo says that Goldstein and Priddy were the only candidates to file for the caucus ahead of last night’s deadline. Considering that every School Board member for the last 15 years has won the party’s endorsement before going on to win the general election, the caucus will likely decide the outcome of the race.

Priddy wrote in an email that he’s an Arlington native, and grew up attending Arlington Public Schools. He serves on Superintendent Patrick Murphy’s Advisory Committee on the Elimination of the Achievement Gap and he has two children currently in the county’s school system: one at Thomas Jefferson Middle School and the other will attend Alice West Fleet Elementary School when it opens next year.

He hopes that, as “a product of APS as well as an APS parent,” he’ll have a unique perspective to bring to the job.

“Priddy is running for the School Board because he believes better transparency into School Board decision-making is needed, along with comprehensive planning for growth to enable fiscally-responsible financial investments in both new and renovated educational facilities,” his campaign biography reads. “He is not afraid to directly confront the tough issues – from technology to inclusion to capacity challenges – that Arlington’s schools are currently facing.”

Priddy’s Arlington Heights neighborhood has a bit of a fraught history with the school system, and Goldstein, in particular.

The process of determining how, exactly, the school system will add new space for high schoolers at the Arlington Career Center has frustrated many parents in the neighborhood, who argue that the school shouldn’t open as a high school serving the South Arlington neighborhood unless APS can guarantee it will boast the same amenities as the county’s other comprehensive high schools.

Similarly, the recent redistricting process to divvy up students from nearby elementary schools and send them to Fleet as it opens next year sparked conflict in the community.

Parents at Patrick Henry Elementary School, which will soon become the exclusive home of Drew Model School’s Montessori program, argued that Board members (Goldstein, in particular) repeatedly promised them that the school community would move as one to Fleet. School officials dispute their account, and the Board ended up directing about a fifth of Henry’s student body elsewhere, prompting plenty of hurt feelings.

However, Priddy does not make any direct reference to those controversies in his campaign materials, and he said he will launch his campaign in earnest in mid-March.

Goldstein and Priddy will square off in a three-day, “unassembled” caucus in June.

Democrats hoping to vote in the race can do so on June 4 at Drew Elementary (3500 23rd Street S.) from 7-9 p.m., June 6 at Key Elementary (2300 Key Blvd) from 7-9 p.m. or June 8 at Washington-Liberty High School (1301 N. Stafford Street) from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Anyone hoping to vote in the race will be required to sign a pledge indicating that they are a Democrat and don’t plan to support any other candidate in the race.

Caiazzo stresses that this process is different from a primary, which Virginia law does not allow to decide nominations in School Board races.

Courtesy photo of Priddy, right, file photo of Goldstein, left

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Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos has officially kicked off her bid for re-election, looking to rebuild bridges among her fellow Democrats after repeatedly endorsing independent John Vihstadt and drawing a primary challenger from her left flank.

Stamos emphasized that she’s “been a Democrat since I was holding up signs for Hubert Humphrey on the south side of Chicago” in a speech announcing her run for re-election last night (Wednesday) at the county Democratic committee’s monthly meeting.

The county’s top prosecutor has ruffled plenty of feathers among party leaders in recent years, becoming one of just three elected Democrats in Arlington to back Vihstadt’s independent bids for County Board.

And with Parisa Tafti (a former public defender who’s served in leadership roles for the local Democratic party) hoping to win the party’s nomination for the post this June, Stamos began her campaign on a bit of a conciliatory note. After all, the committee threatened to boot County Board member Libby Garvey out of the group over her support for Vihstadt, leading her to briefly resign instead.

Accordingly, Stamos primarily cited her long history with the entire Vihstadt family in explaining her support for the independent, who won a pair of elections in 2014 to become the first non-Democrat on the Board since 1999. Vihstadt lost his bid for re-election last year to Democrat Matt de Ferranti, returning the Board to one-party control.

Stamos regaled the audience with memories of relying on the Vihstadts, her neighbors for years, to look after her kids as they were growing up. She says her family and the Vihstadts still celebrate holidays together, making her backing of his candidacy as personal as it was political.

“Back in 2014, when John asked, and again last year, if I would support him, I wasn’t going to say to him, ‘You know, I’ll support you privately but I can’t do it publicly,'” Stamos said, according to a video of the event posted on the Democratic blog Blue Virginia. “I didn’t want to do that. And, as President [John F.] Kennedy once said, and it’s an important thing to remember, ‘Sometimes party loyalty asks too much.’ And my support for John was one of those times.”

However, Tafti has so far chosen to base her challenge to Stamos on policy disputes, rather than any party infighting. She claims that Stamos, who was first elected in 2011, has been insufficiently committed to reforming the county’s criminal justice system, and even exacerbated some of the system’s racial disparities.

“Safety is justice and justice is safety,” Tafti said Wednesday night in formally announcing her own campaign. “In Arlington, it is long past time that we start leading on this issue.”

Tafti, who recently won the backing of former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, has pledged not to seek the death penalty if she’s elected in Stamos’ stead, and to end the practice of requesting cash bail for all criminal defendants. Stamos has pledged to end cash bail for most defendants accused of misdemeanors, but both Tafti and other local public defenders believe that change doesn’t go far enough.

Tafti also took aim Wednesday at Stamos’ relationship with local legislators, arguing that they need “an honest partner who understands, even outside of campaign season, the need to support policies important to Democrats” in order to pass criminal justice reforms at the state level.

She specifically singled out Stamos’ comments to ARLnow back in June for criticism, after Stamos dismissed a letter by the state’s legislative delegation urging her to do away with cash bail entirely.

“When our delegation seeks my help to reform the bail system, I shall do so with an open mind, not dismiss the request as ‘silly’ and ‘misguided,'” Tafti said.

But Stamos also took some time to defend her record heading up the prosecutors’ office in her kickoff speech, claiming she’s “led our office on a set of values that any Democrat would support.”

“I’m proud to say that, as of last Friday night, the inmate population in the Arlington County jail is the lowest it’s been in the past five years, and that’s not by accident,” Stamos said. “It’s because of smart policing and smart prosecution, because of innovations that I’ve supported and championed.”

She also pointed to her decision to not seek jail time for people convicted of their first marijuana-related offenses as a move toward reform, and her embrace of diversion programs to keep people struggling with addiction or mental health issues out of jail.

“The core mission of our office will always remain the same: the principled prosecution of criminal defendants, the vigorous protection of victims’ rights and never losing track of the public’s and community’s safety,” Stamos said.

Local activist Nicole Merlene also formally announced her primary challenge to state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st District) at the meeting, while Treasurer Carla de la Pava proclaimed her own bid for a second full term in office.

Unlike Stamos, de la Pava did not address her support for Vihstadt in her speech. She has yet to draw a challenger this year, and has never run a contested race for the post — she was appointed to replace retiring treasurer Frank O’Leary, then won a special election and general election in consecutive years to retain her role.

School Board Chair Reid Goldstein also used the meeting as a chance to announce his bid for a second term, as he hopes to once more win the party’s endorsement for the nominally nonpartisan role.

Only one seat on the Board is up for grabs this year and Goldstein has yet to face any challengers in the race, though he has attracted some criticism for his handling of the controversial process of drawing new boundaries for eight South Arlington elementary schools last year.

Nevertheless, Goldstein used his speech as a chance to present the school system’s challenges as issues arising from the quality of county schools.

“These are tough issues, but we have to be in a situation where people aren’t eager to leave our schools,” Goldstein said.

The committee is set to select a Democratic School Board nominee in a caucus sometime in May or June. A June 11 primary will decide the other races on the ballot this year.

Photo via Facebook

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Morning Notes

Another Heat Advisory Today — “Heat Advisory again for… Tuesday from noon to 8 p.m. due to the continuous heat. Remember to stay hydrated, limit strenuous outdoor activities, and wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.” [Twitter]

New School Board Chair — At its meeting last night, the Arlington School Board elected Reid Goldstein as chair and Tannia Talento as vice chair for the 2018-2019. [Twitter]

State Department Employee Guilty of Child Porn Production — An Alexandria man who worked for the U.S. State Department in Arlington has pleaded guilty to “producing child pornography, in part by using his work-issued cellphone.” Skydance MacMahon “worked with a woman in Canada to shoot explicit photos and videos of five children inside her home, federal prosecutors say.” [NBC Washington]

Vets Hiking to Arlington National Cemetery — Despite blistering heat, two veterans are hiking 150 miles from the gravesite of legendary Marine Chesty Puller, in Middlesex County, Virginia, to the gravesite of decorated World War II soldier Audie Murphy at Arlington National Cemetery. [WUSA 9]

Arlington Remembers World War I — “Veterans of six U.S. military conflicts were on hand June 28 as the Arlington Historical Society paid homage to county residents who fought, and died, in what was termed – ultimately incorrectly – the war to end all wars.” [InsideNova]

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