Press Club

Morning Notes

Swimming pool in May, ready for the new season (Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman)

Restorative Justice Coming to Schools — “Restorative Arlington has partnered with Arlington Public Schools (APS) to support Restorative Justice in Education. Restorative Arlington has allocated over $140,000 to provide direct services to APS, including services for students who have experienced harm as well as restorative justice training for staff and additional resources.” [Arlington Public Schools]

Candidate Addresses Achievement Gap —  “The county’s likely next School Board member has become the latest to try and enunciate ways to address [the academic-achievement gap]. The gap is significant and ‘has gotten worse’ over the pandemic era, candidate Bethany Sutton acknowledged during a May 14 forum sponsored by the Blue Families caucus of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.” [Sun Gazette]

Fatal Crash Near Arlington Border — “Officers responded at 2:16 a.m. to the 3700 block of S. George Mason Drive. Preliminarily, detectives from our Crash Reconstruction Unit determined the driver of a 2016 Volkswagen Jetta was travelling southbound on S. George Mason Drive attempting to turn left into Skyline Plaza. The driver of a 2018 Honda Accord was travelling northbound on S. George Mason Drive and struck the Jetta on the passenger side. Initially, both occupants of the Accord ran from the scene.” [Fairfax County Police]

It’s Friday — Rain and storms throughout much of the day. High of 73 and low of 67. Sunrise at 5:49 am and sunset at 8:26 pm. [Weather.gov]

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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Arlington School Board members clap after approving the final budget for the 2022-23 school year (via Arlington Public Schools)

The Arlington School Board unanimously approved a $749.9 million budget for the 2022-23 school year during its meeting Thursday night.

Revenue for the Fiscal Year 2023 budget includes a $563.8 million ongoing transfer from the county, a one-time transfer of $20.5 million, $3.5 million in carry-over funds from the 2021-22 school year, state and federal funding, and the use of $21.3 million in reserves.

The budget process, Chair Barbara Kanninen noted, went well. It was the first time in four years that the School Board was presented a balanced budget — as opposed to recent years when the superintendent proposed spending more than was anticipated in revenue.

Similar to the county budget, school system funding in the upcoming year emphasizes compensation for staff.

“We want to support our students as much as possible but a big part of that is recruiting and retaining that outstanding staff,” Kanninen said.

The budget will allow the school system to begin implementing its new compensation plan, which will update salary scales, provide consistent step increases and catch up from missed missed step increases in the past. On average, teachers, principals and administrators will see a 6.8% pay increase, while support staff will see an average of a 9.5% increase.

School Board members Mary Kadera and Cristina Diaz-Torres said when they first heard the proposed compensation increases, they thought it would be a “moonshot.”

The budget reduces class size by two students at the elementary level and one student at the high school level, funds additional school-based equity and excellence coordinators and an equity data dashboard, and adds more resources for English learners.

Adjustments to school bell times, which were also approved at the meeting, are expected to result in nearly $2 million in savings for the school system. The changes reduce the number of school start and end times from eight across APS to five, thus streamlining school bus routes and schedules.

The School Board added to Superintendent Francisco Durán’s proposed budget, including funding for four psychologists and social workers, trauma-informed professional learning, the National Board Certified Teacher program, a partnership coordinator, and a math curriculum supervisor.

A chart noting the School Board’s additions to the superintendent’s proposed budget (via Arlington Public Schools)

Other updates to the budget included $147,871 in funding to open the planetarium in October or November 2022 and hire a director, $391,484 for four high school math coaches and $628,000 for a year of tutoring for grades 6-12.

A few public commenters noted the disparities in minority students’ test scores and the need for more funding to compensate for lost learning during the pandemic.

“We took a first step, we have more steps to go until we see each and every one of our students be successful and right now we have a lot of students that are still having some academic and social emotional needs,” Durán said in response.

The Virginia General Assembly still has not adopted a budget for the Commonwealth, so the School Board will likely have to amend the budget to account for any state revenue changes. If there’s a shortfall, the superintendent proposes to fund them with reserves.

Capital Improvement Plan (CIP)

The School Board also kicked off its Capital Improvement Plan process, as Durán put forward his proposal, which totals $388.23 million between 2023 and 2032.

The CIP will be the first 10-year plan since 2018. The school system has only budgeted three years in advance since, in part due to budgetary uncertainty during the pandemic, but can return to the longer range planning now that APS is in a better place fiscally, Durán said.

All proposed project funding includes money set aside for escalation and inflation, as well as contingency.

While about 45% of the CIP will go toward the Arlington Career Center project, Durán said his proposal incorporates many other improvements. He proposed the larger of the two concept options for the career center, which could accommodate 1,795 students. The center is the county’s only career and technical education center.

“This is a major part of our CIP, certainly, but not the only one,” Durán said.

A pie chart in a slideshow depicts that 45% of the 2023-32 Capital Improvement Plan is budgeted for the Arlington Career Center (via Arlington Public Schools)

His presentation to the board also highlighted kitchen upgrades, security vestibules at schools, athletic field replacements and accessibility enhancements.

The first school renovation would have a target fall 2026 start — but the school system hasn’t determined which school will be upgraded.

In the proposal, new synthetic turf would be installed at Wakefield High School in fiscal year 2023, at Washington-Liberty High and Williamsburg Middle School in fiscal year 2024, and at Greenbrier  Park (Yorktown High School) in fiscal year 2025. Kenmore’s field will also be converted but costs will be shared with the county, Durán said.

An HVAC replacement at Barcroft Elementary School is under design and Randolph Elementary’s roof replacement will go to bid this fall.

Other items included in the proposal were upgrades to finance and HR staff software, known as STARS, replacing lock and key systems, and PA system replacements at six schools.

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Arlington School Board candidate Brandon Clark (left) and the Clark family (right) (courtesy of Brandon Clark)

A candidate for the Arlington School Board has withdrawn his name from the Democratic endorsement process.

Brandon Clark, a teacher at Gunston Middle School, said he decided to remove himself from consideration this week so he could run independent of party affiliation. He realized the partisan process did not align with his beliefs, he said.

“The more I thought about it, the more I was like, wait, this shouldn’t be part of the process,” he told ARLnow. “Education shouldn’t be a partisan issue.”

The caucus “represents a small microcosm of Arlington County,” Clark said. ‘It’s not up to the Arlington Democrats to decide who the School Board member’s going to be.”

The Arlington County Democratic Committee will now vote in June on whether to endorse Bethany Sutton, the only remaining candidate seeking the party’s endorsement, ACDC Chair Steve Baker said.

Clark had been steered in the direction of going through the Democratic Committee’s voting process when he decided to run in the otherwise nonpartisan election, he said.

“Because as a family, both of us being teachers, we don’t have a lot of disposable income to spend on a campaign, so I was told this is the only way you’re going to win,” he said. “It shouldn’t have this air of like, ‘this is the process where you win the race.’ No, the people need to decide and that happens on Election Day.”

Clark thanked the volunteers who began to lay the groundwork for the four-day caucus that will no longer take place.

James Vell Rives IV is also running without a party affiliation. Rives and Clark are the only two candidates who have qualified to be on the ballot so far, according to the Arlington elections office.

The Democratic endorsement process has been scrutinized for its overrepresentation of white, affluent Arlington residents, and discouraging participation in the general election while potentially making nonpartisan officials beholden to a political party, among other concerns. Calls for reform were ultimately defeated.

Clark said he hadn’t realized there were groups criticizing the caucus until he started going through the process.

“But I’m seeing now why these organizations have the grievances that they do,” he said. “In my opinion, it seems like a very insider kind of process.

This past weekend, before he pulled his name from endorsement consideration, he criticized local Democrats for selling a “Russian named vodka” at their Blue Victory Dinner, saying it “speaks to being out of touch on what our community might regard as tasteless and, although seemingly insignificant to others, [and] represents tacit support for Russia.”

He said as a teacher, he encourages his students to look at all sides of an issue to make well-informed decisions, so he didn’t think it was appropriate to align himself with a political party.

“In the future, I hope this process is more inclusive and more open and that there is a support for individuals who are trying to run,” Clark said.

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Rendering of the proposed Arlington Career Center project (via Arlington Public Schools)

(Updated at 3:20 p.m.) Arlington Career Center plans remain on track after a contentious School Board vote late last week.

Two concepts that were presented will move to the schematic design phase after a 3-1 vote at Thursday’s meeting, which also cemented the project in the superintendent’s proposed Capital Improvement Plan, to be presented May 12.

The concepts are a $174.6 million “base” plan with 1,795 seats and a $158.3 million “alternative” plan with 1,345 seats.

Options for new Arlington Career Center (via APS)

The project, which could be the most expensive the school system has undertaken, will provide a new home to the county’s only career and technical education center, while potentially relieving some capacity pressure on Arlington’s comprehensive high schools.

Plans haven’t been solidified for the existing, aging Career Center building.

School Board member Mary Kadera casted the only dissenting vote, wanting to delay the project from moving forward until after the CIP passes.

She pointed to the unknown cost of repurposing or demolishing the existing Career Center and pressed the Board to carefully consider the project’s effect on debt service and ability to fund other projects — concerns also expressed by some nearby residents.

“We owe it to ourselves and the community to make decisions about its future within the context of our overall needs,” she said. “What are the down sides to the delay I requested?”

The layout of the proposed Arlington Career Center project (via Arlington County)

Chair Barbara Kanninen, the most senior member of the School Board, later appeared to admonish Kadera, who is in her first year on the board.

“I want my board colleagues to recognize that when you join the School Board, you’re not a candidate anymore. You’re not a commenter on social media or on ARLnow,” Kanninen said. “You’re heard when you speak and when you take action… And we need to be so aware of that. When we take action, that school communities hear us not supporting them, it’s heartbreaking.”

The Career Project project has been delayed in the past after the board pushed forward with ideas that proved too costly.

“We mustn’t make the same mistake again,” Kadera said.

Kanninen said the project is affordable and will not affect the school system’s other priorities.

“Everything that we had slated… everything we have on our list, infrastructure projects, HVAC, it is all already in this current three-year CIP,” Kanninen said. “We got this project in and there is still debt capacity and there is still $34 million in capital reserves.”

Kanninen added that if a more urgent project was introduced during the CIP process, APS can always adjust.

“The bottom line is we have this doubly verified number, we’ve never had this before, for this Career Center project going into the CIP,” she said. “We are solid with this number. We know what it is. We can work with it.”

Kanninen and the other two “yes” votes on the board — Vice Chair Reid Goldstein was not at the meeting — emphasized their commitment to building a new Career Center.

“For us to suddenly come back now and decide that we’re not going to do that would be irresponsible,” said Cristina Diaz-Torres.

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The Arlington School Board during its April 7, 2022 meeting (via Arlington Public Schools)

(Updated at 11:35 a.m.) Arlington’s School Board race is starting to take shape.

With School Board Chair Barbara Kanninen’s seat up for grabs, a few hats have been tossed in the ring so far.

Wednesday marked the end of the filing date for the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s endorsement process, which has a few changes this year in light of calls for a broader reform that were ultimately defeated.

Two candidates are seeking the Democratic endorsement in the otherwise non-partisan November school board election. A four-day voting process to determine the endorsee will be held in June.

Bethany Sutton is hoping to get the endorsement over Brandon Clark, the first person to qualify to run for school board through the Voter Registration and Elections Office. And James Vell Rives IV has also qualified for the November ballot.

Sutton is a certified leadership coach, executive search consultant and a former PTA president. She has lived in Arlington for more than 20 years and has a background in governance, strategic planning, staff and leadership development, and nonprofit management, according to her profile in the ACDC announcement of candidates.

Sutton served on Randolph Elementary School’s PTA board for seven years, three of which she was president of the board. Since spring 2020, she has led the Randolph Food Pantry, a community-based volunteer effort to support families affected by the pandemic.

Bethany Sutton, who is running for School Board (via Arlington Democrats)

For her work at Randolph Elementary, she was awarded the APS Honored Citizen Award in 2021 and the Distinguished County Service Award in 2020 from Volunteer Arlington and the Leadership Center for Excellence.

She also serves on the Arlington County Food Security Task Force and is chair of the APS Advisory Council on Teaching and Learning, which she has been on since 2018.

“She has a passion for excellence in student learning and a deep commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” according to the ACDC writeup.

Sutton grew up in the Philadelphia area, attended college at the University of Mary Washington and graduate school at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She also completed a graduate program in leadership coaching at Georgetown University.

Arlington School Board candidate Brandon Clark (left) and the Clark family (right) (courtesy of Brandon Clark)

Clark, a Gunston Middle School teacher, says he wants to bring a needed employee perspective to the school board, while pushing to improve the school system’s communication and engagement efforts.

While Clark is seeking the Democratic endorsement, he expressed displeasure with the party over the weekend. He told ARLnow via email that he left ACDC’s Blue Victory Dinner, held at a Ballston hotel Saturday night, miffed at the choice of vodka offered given the ongoing war in Ukraine.

“I briefly attended an event hosted by Arlington Democrats as a school board candidate… I left early and before the event started, when I saw that Russian named vodka, originally started in Moscow, was being offered for purchase,” he wrote. “I am confused and appalled by this and would like to say that this is an oversight and greater symptom of a larger problem in Arlington politics.”

A day after the initial publication of this article, Clark clarified that the vodka issue was not the only reason he left the event early, while adding that it “speaks to being out of touch on what our community might regard as tasteless and, although seemingly insignificant to others, [and] represents tacit support for Russia.”

Rives, meanwhile, is not seeking the Democratic endorsement, and is running as an independent. He is a psychiatrist and serves as co-chair of Arlington Public Schools’ School Health Advisory Board.

Rives has lived in Fairlington with his wife Carmen since 2003, and their children attend Wakefield High School and Claremont Elementary.

As a physician with a background in mental health, he said he can bring a unique perspective to the board. He particularly wants to help as schools recover from the effects of the pandemic, keeping schools open so students can catch up on lost skills and ensuring the school system retains its teachers.

“Restarting has been bumpy,” he said. “I want to help get back on track.”

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Morning Notes

A tulip in a pot along Crystal Drive in Crystal City (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Local Unemployment Rate Still Falling — “Arlington’s unemployment rate, which bumped up at the start of the year, dropped back down in the latest data. With 149,651 county residents in the civilian workforce and 3,192 looking for jobs, the county jobless rate stood at 2.1 percent in February, down from 2.6 percent a month before and off from 3.6 percent in February 2021.” [Sun Gazette]

Tree Pollen Levels Rising — From the Capital Weather Gang: “Tree pollen spiking. Today’s count is HIGH or 429.39 grains per cubic meter. Grass pollen is low/moderate. Further rises next few days with highs well into the 70s today and near/above 80 Wed and Thur.” [Twitter]

New School Board Candidate — “Bethany Sutton, chair of the Arlington Public Schools Advisory Council on Teaching and Learning, announced she is seeking the Democratic Party’s endorsement for the Arlington School Board. Sutton, a 20-year resident of Arlington, is a former PTA president and a parent of two daughters who attend middle school and high school in Arlington Public Schools.” [Patch]

No Dem Challenger for de Ferranti — “There is one less election on the horizon for Arlington this year. The April 7 filing deadline came and went with no challenger emerging to take on incumbent County Board member Matt de Ferranti in the June 21 election. As a result, the primary will be canceled and de Ferranti moves on to the general election.” [Sun Gazette]

Library Worker Helping With Ukraine Archive — “Arlington Public Library’s Digital Archivist, Greg Pierce at the Center for Local History (CLH), has been part of global volunteer effort to back up Ukraine’s digital heritage, currently at risk of being erased by the Russian invasion. Pierce’s involvement includes database verification, task and link wrangling, and internal communications with other volunteers.” [Arlington Public Library]

Marymount Announces Commencement Speakers — “In mid-May, approximately 1,080 students will receive their degrees.. The newest graduates of the mission-based university will hear from three distinguished speakers – the first female Saudi Arabian ambassador to the U.S., Princess Reema; physicist and former NASA research center director Dr. Julian M. Earls; and global financier and philanthropist David M. Rubenstein.” [Press Release]

It’s Wednesday — Warm and mostly cloudy throughout the day. High of 80 and low of 59. Sunrise at 6:36 am and sunset at 7:44 pm. [Weather.gov]

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(Updated at 12:55 p.m.) Plans are taking shape to rebuild the Arlington Career Center with improved amenities and, potentially, an additional 450 seats.

And it seems Arlington Public Schools is proposing a novel use for those seats: a middle school component to the Arlington Tech project-based learning program.

The idea appeared to elicit surprise from some Arlington School Board members, who requested to see this idea fleshed out more before they voted on it. The board is set to pick between two concepts for the Career Center project, only one of which proposes the additional seats, during its meeting on April 28.

Board Vice-Chair Reid Goldstein said using the seats for a middle school component “[puts] the cart before the horse.”

“There’s been no decision that a middle school component is decided and going to take place or appropriate,” he said.

School Board member Mary Kadera said she needed to see “a robust evaluation” of the program before deciding to create a middle school program.

“Before we talk about expanding a program, I want to make sure the program is actually delivering on what it promises to offer,” she said.

Although the idea of a middle school appears new, plans to add 450 seats to the Career Center date back to the fall, when the School Board directed APS staff to flesh out two designs: a “base” plan with the additional seats and an “alternative” plan without them.

The only other difference between the plans is the cost: the added seats raise project costs from $158.2 million to $174.6 million. Both those estimates are $4 to $5 million higher than initial projections back in October, due to higher construction costs.

Board Chair Barbara Kanninen reminded the School Board members that the designs reflect the Board’s direction to come up with plans that meet, or nearly meet, its requirements to spend about $170 million and complete the project by 2027.

“I think it’s important for us, and the community, to recognize what’s been approved by the board and the question on the table,” she said. “It’s generally good practice for us to honor what’s been voted on in the past — otherwise, we end up with chaotic governance.”

Goldstein said he does not intend to further delay the project but added that the designs and cost estimates do not totally meet Board parameters.

“I need more insight into the future vision to know this is the right step,” he said.

Should the School Board accept one of the two designs during its meeting on April 28, the long-awaited project would still require the approval of voters via a School Bond referendum this November.

If that is approved, demolition could begin in the summer of 2023 and construction could start that December. The new building would be completed in 2025 and the entire project would be completed in April 2027.

Phases of development for the proposed Arlington Career Center project (via Arlington County)

Career Center renovations have progressed in fits and starts over the last decade. Most recently, a two-year planning effort to add 800 seats to the building ground to a halt in 2020 because estimates came in $84 million over budget.

Instead, APS focused on smaller-scale projects: renovations to the Columbia Pike Branch Library and expanding the Arlington Tech high school program.

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The Arlington School Board during its April 7, 2022 meeting (via Arlington Public Schools)

Arlington Public Schools is adding funding to its proposed budget to fund positions supporting student mental health and safety.

The revised budget includes about $800,000 to add the equivalent of 5.5 full-time school safety coordinators and restore four psychologist and social worker positions, which were initially cut due to lower enrollment projections.

“I’m really glad to see our budget is paying attention to mental health, which we know is a significant concern locally and nationally,” School Board member Mary Kadera said during the School Board meeting Thursday night.

Members of the School Board unanimously approved several changes to the proposed budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year, but the budget is not yet set in stone — final approvals are slated for May.

The additional safety and mental health expenses come as many schools — particularly the middle schools — are seeing an uptick in fights and instances of students either bringing, or threatening to bring, weapons to school, as ARLnow previously reported. School administrators say they are stepping up their focus on social-emotional learning in response.

Last week week, Arlington police investigated text messages referencing potential violence at Swanson and Dorothy Hamm middle schools, but concluded there was no active or ongoing threat, Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman Ashley Savage said. The week before last, a Swanson student brought a taser to school, according to an email to families.

Additionally, in response to students filming peers in the restroom, teachers have started monitoring bathrooms and confiscating students’ phones during bathroom breaks, Fox 5 reported.

Responding to concerns from Swanson staff and parents, administrators said in a School Talk email, provided to ARLnow, that there will be increased monitoring, more mental health and social-emotional learning and improved communication with families and staff when incidents arise.

This year, APS has leaned on specialized school safety staff after removing sworn ACPD School Resource Officers from its buildings last summer.

None of the newly budgeted “school safety coordinators” will go to Swanson, but they will go to Gunston Middle School, the Langston High School Continuation Program and New Directions programs, and the newly renovated education center building that will serve Washington-Liberty High School. There will also be two substitutes.

The coordinators add to an existing 28.5 full-time-equivalent school safety staff members, who once were called “security resource assistants.” APS aims to have at least one coordinator per middle and high school building, with an additional coordinator per 500 students beyond that. Roaming coordinators support multiple elementary schools.

These staff monitor hallways, watch for student behavior during arrival and dismissal and during night time events and activities, ensure searches of students are performed correctly and conduct drills, Director of Safety, Security, Risk and Emergency Management Zach Pope said during a budget work session last month.

They are required to complete more than 60 hours of training, including compulsory minimum training through the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, schools spokesman Frank Bellavia tells ARLnow.

“APS has been engaging in conversations since 2018 with Arlington County public safety agencies about the best way to adjust these positions and provide maximum level support to the safety, security and wellbeing of our communities,” he said.

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Morning Notes

A cherry blossom with a few raindrops (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Two Local Spots on Best Bagel List — Arlington’s homegrown Brooklyn Bagel has ranked No. 4 on a list of the D.C. area’s best bagels, while Bethesda Bagel, which has an outpost in Rosslyn, ranked No. 1. [Washingtonian]

Dems Set School Board Caucus Rules — “The 2022 Arlington County Democratic Committee School Board caucus will be an in-person-only affair with the controversial party-loyalty oath retained, based on rules adopted by the party’s rank-and-file on April 6. Democrats will select their School Board endorsee during four days of voting in June, using the instant-runoff format that has been a familiar feature of Democratic caucuses in recent years.” [Sun Gazette]

Ukrainian Ambassador Lauds Local Donation — From County Board Chair Katie Cristol: “It was profoundly moving to have Ambassador Markarova join us as we send off pallets of emergency protective equipment and kit to Ukraine. With these supplies, we also send our solidarity and commitment to help our sister city and the Ukrainian people however we can.” [Twitter, Twitter]

Preservationists Push Pols for Protection — “The trigger for the discussion was the possibility that the circa-1949 Joyce Motors building in Clarendon could be torn down to make way for new development, even though it was one of just 10 commercial buildings, and just 23 properties overall, that were designated ‘Essential’ (the top tier) in the 2011 HRI. That 2011 document was the culmination of a study of 394 properties – garden apartments, shopping centers and commercial buildings – completed in 2009.” [Sun Gazette]

Va. Senators on Supreme Court Confirmation — From Sen. Mark Warner: “Justice is served! I voted to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson as our next Associate Justice of the Supreme Court because she’s qualified, brilliant, and honest. And for the first time in two centuries, the court will contain the voice of a Black woman.” [Twitter, Twitter]

Arlington 9/11 5K Returns — “The Arlington Police, Fire, Sheriff and ECC 9/11 Memorial 5K is currently planning on having an in-person 20th Anniversary race on September 10, 2022. However, there is a possibility that some restrictions on runner capacity, social distancing measures and mask use may be in place in September due to COVID-19.” [Arlington 9/11 5K]

Fairlington 5K Returns — “After a 2 year pandemic hiatus, the 7th annual Fairlington 5K will take place on Saturday, May 7th. There is a new canine competitor entry this year! Here is the map route. The race will start at 8:30 AM.” [Twitter]

It’s Friday — A sunny morning, followed by a cloudy afternoon and possible rain later. High of 59 and low of 45. Sunrise at 6:43 am and sunset at 7:40 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Screenshot from video of a fight at a cafeteria in Arlington Public Schools (courtesy anonymous)

Over the last four days, fights involving kids and weapons broke out near Gunston and Thomas Jefferson middle schools, while Wakefield High School had multiple trash cans set on fire.

Those are the most recent incidents in what some parents — mostly to middle schoolers — say is a rash of fights, threats of violence and other concerning behaviors happening in the public school system.

Earlier this month, for example, a mother told the School Board her daughter at Gunston Middle School was attacked by other students.

“My daughter’s eye is messed up,” Shana Robertson told the Arlington School Board on March 10. “She was jumped by two boys and two girls, and nothing has been done.”

A parent, Shayna Robertson, speaks out about unsafe conditions in Arlington Public Schools (via APS)

ARLnow spoke to multiple parents who say these issues are happening across the school system. We also reviewed several videos of brawls on school grounds, or near them, recorded by students this year.

Arlington Public Schools confirms to ARLnow that the school system has, in fact, noticed an increase in the number of reported fights and incidents this school year.

“This rise in concerning behaviors follows the national trend that is not unique to Arlington, as students re-acclimate to being back in school and face increased stress and anxiety, as well as other mental health and social-emotional challenges due to COVID and the trauma students experienced as a result,” APS spokesman Andrew Robinson said.

The trend has prompted some parents to call for more disciplinary actions for students and a renewed conversation about whether to reinstall Arlington County Police Department School Resource Officers, who were removed over the summer out of concern for racial disparities in juvenile arrests.

Opinions on reinstalling SROs are mixed. Some say this would help keep students in line and some say they may help — but they will not address the root cause. Others say SROs would not only fail to address the root cause, but they would also needlessly drive up the number of arrests.

“This is happening across the country, even at schools with police officers,” says Symone Walker, a member of the Arlington branch of the NAACP’s education committee and a former ARLnow columnist. “You really have to start addressing the emotional needs, the physical needs, the academic needs. Of course, there’s stuff going on at homes where families are stressed. Parents are angry and the kids are soaking it all up — it’s a much deeper problem.”

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Officials at the March 2022 Arlington School Board meeting (via APS)

Earlier this month, the Arlington School Board meeting featured some business casual attire on the dais.

That was not well received by the Sun Gazette’s Scott McCaffrey. He took to his editor’s blog to rail against the “sans cravate” look for elected members and other top officials:

This has been festering for a while, but a couple of current members of the Arlington School Board – maskless since last week’s meeting! – are going commando, either without a jacket, without a tie, or without both. Even the superintendent, who makes an obscene amount of money and ought to dress the part, seems to prefer the jacket-and-sweater look, although there may have been a tie hidden underneath.

Some will call the informal look inviting, saying those who expect formality are Luddites and fuddy-duddies. What is that you say from the great beyond, oh sartorially splendid John McLaughlin? “Wrong!” And right you are.

In that earlier incident, Ye Olde Sun Gazette had enough heft in the community that it got the elected official to mend his ways and return to a tie. Not sure our whining about it will make the current elected officials do the same. Nobody seems to care any more about keeping up appearances and maintaining standards. But they should. Sloppiness reflects badly on the School Board, the school system and the community.

Please, fellas, have a little self-respect. This is not Bradenton Beach, Fla., a community I have some knowledge of, where flip-flops and Hawaiian shirts are the norm for men at some meetings. Northern Virginia is supposed to be a little higher up the political food chain.

Officials did not make the same out-of-the-norm sartorial choices at this past weekend’s Arlington County Board meeting — the men on the dais were all wearing suits and ties (though at least one suit jacket came off after a little while).

Many may agree with McCaffrey, but surely some do not. It’s 2022, lots of people are working from their pajamas at home, and perhaps the old ways of dressing should become another pre-pandemic relic, outside of courts, cotillions and the upper echelons of government.

It’s been a decade since Mark Zuckerberg’s hoodie made business headlines and of all the problems we have in the world, tech executives and local elected officials ditching neckties remains pretty low down the list. There is, some may believe, a happy medium between a sea of suits and the State of the Union scene from Idiocracy.

What do you think? Should our top local officials keep up suit-and-tie norms as part of their public service, or can the dress codes be relaxed a bit?

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