(Updated at 9:15 p.m.) Arlington Democrats have forced out a precinct captain for supporting a School Board candidate who had to withdraw from seeking the party’s endorsement because she’s a federal employee.
Heather Keppler said in an email obtained by ARLnow that she was pressured to step down as the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s captain for the Lexington precinct because of her support of Symone Walker, a “lifelong Democrat.”
Though School Board races in Virginia are technically nonpartisan, with no party designation next to candidate names on the ballot, Arlington Democrats endorse candidates each year through a party caucus. Walker, a federal employee, initially sought the endorsement, but withdrew after another candidate filed complaints about her candidacy being a Hatch Act violation due to her federal employment.
Walker is now facing the two Democratic endorsees, Cristina Diaz-Torres and David Priddy, in November’s general election.
Keppler, according to a statement from the campaign, is Walker’s campaign manager. The statement called the situation “disturbing” and characterized the party’s actions as “shamefully undemocratic.”
“The ACDC caucus process disenfranchises Black and other minority voters and effectively blocks federal workers from serving in their local government when the Hatch Act provides a pathway to do so,” Walker’s campaign said. “We will not be intimidated and will continue to keep our students, teachers, staff, and families the priority of our campaign, unlike ACDC whose only priority is their own power.”
Jill Caiazzo, Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee, said it’s against party rules to support the opponents of Democratic candidates and endorsees.
“The Arlington Dems bylaws require party officials, such as Precinct Captains, to support all Democratic nominees and endorsees in general and special elections,” Caiazzo said. “If a party official cannot do so for whatever reason, they are asked to take a step back from their party leadership role until the next election cycle, when they are welcomed back to party leadership.”
A similar situation played out with current Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey, who faced a temporary expulsion from the local party after supporting independent County Board candidate John Vihstadt over Democrat Alan Howze in 2014.
Julius Spain, Sr., a community activist and supporter of Walker, said the move to oust her campaign manager from the local party’s ranks — even temporarily — is unnecessarily divisive.
“As a Democrat, I am highly disappointed by the recent decision of ACDC to remove Ms. Walker’s Campaign Manager, Heather Keppler, from her role as a local Democratic party precinct captain,” Spain said. “Ms. Keppler was yet another dedicated Democrat who has done so much over the years to advance inclusivity within our party. This decision did more to divide rather than unite us.”
(Spain is also the head of the Arlington branch of the NAACP, which does not endorse candidates.)
Keppler’s full email is below.
Arlington County is considering a plan to host some children of working parents in community centers for supervised learning, while Arlington Public Schools readies its plan for a return to in-person learning.
The use of community centers would be a relief valve for families that are unable to have a parent stay home during the day and do not have the means to pay for daytime child care. It would serve as an interim step until APS again offers full-time, in-person learning — whenever that may be.
“There’s no one silver bullet that’s going to fix the whole situation for schools or for childcare,” Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey said at a virtual COVID-19 town hall meeting on Friday.
“We are looking at opening a couple of our community centers for children to have supervised learning when their parents have to be working,” Garvey continued. “I know that the school system and we too are interested in trying to get students back [to school] or get students into childcare who need it. We’re trying to do it in a priority order for those who are most at risk and having the toughest time with the current situation.”
Asked for more information on any such planning, Deputy County Manager Michelle Cowan issued the following statement to ARLnow.
The County has been exploring multiple options for care for school-aged children with APS and non-profit partners, with the initial priority being at-risk children. All options are being evaluated with the understanding that the County must comply with COVID and safety requirements when these types of services are provided in either County or APS facilities, and in many cases, child care licensure requirements. We are using some community centers for activities related to COVID (e.g., testing at the Arlington Mill Community Center) and for early voting; the County is working to ensure that the mix of uses is appropriate in light of COVID requirements.
Arlington’s public schools remain closed, but the school system is “continuing to plan for returning to hybrid, in-person learning,” Superintendent Dr. Francisco Durán said in an email to families on Tuesday.
Durán is expected to announce a similar plan at tonight’s School Board meeting.
The tentative plan is for some students with disabilities to return by the end of October; PreK-3 students, career and technical education students, and other students with special needs to return by “early to mid-November;” and for all students opting for a hybrid learning model — two days per week in classrooms — to return in early December.
The plan is contingent on there not being a deterioration of health metrics in Arlington County.
“Our teachers and students are doing incredible work to adapt to distance learning, and we are doing everything we can to support their efforts,” Durán wrote on Tuesday. “We are working to bring in small groups of students based on level of need and will define that further at this Thursday’s meeting.”
The candidates for School Board this November are weighing on how they might approach the prospect of additional cuts to the Arlington Public Schools budget next year.
The pandemic forced Arlington Public Schools to slash millions from its budget this year, and additional budget pressures may be ahead. The candidates — independent candidate Symone Walker, and Cristina Diaz-Torres and David Priddy, who received the Democratic endorsement — were asked about that during an online forum this past Tuesday (Sept. 8), hosted by the Arlington County Civic Federation.
Walker said she thinks “we need to ask for more money from the county.”
“What we absolutely cannot do is cut funding for curriculum and instruction,” said Walker. “That cannot be sacrificed on any circumstances or any programs that require equity. We have to look at how we’re wasting funds and how we streamline and save on funds. One way we could have done that is to replace iPads with cheaper Chromebooks.”
Diaz-Torres said the community should have more of a say on best choice of action.
“I think this is a really important place where collaboration is absolutely critical: work best with the community to identify where we can make cuts,” Diaz-Torres said. “But also, collaborating at different levels of government. The reality is that the only way that we’re going to get out of that 20-25% budget deficit is with a significant investment from the federal government.”
Priddy said budget cuts will not be easy and will require a deft hand.
“Your budget is comprised of: 80% is your operations and salaries, 10% is debt service, and that leaves your middle 10% where that’s what we have to look at and historically,” he said. “Arlington has looked at how do you cut programs instead of cutting personnel and I think we’re going to have it the same way.”
“This is where my professional background comes in,” Priddy continued. “I’ve had many decisions on what to cut and what’s in the best interest of the business and this way it’ll be the community and being from Arlington and knowing the policies of Arlington, I know that I’m the right person to make those decisions.”
Another topic of conversation was whether APS should try to use parkland to build new schools. The candidates largely said it was an option that should be considered, but stopped short of saying it should actually be pursued.
The candidates, who also spoke before an online meeting of the Arlington Committee of 100 this week, discussed why they were running for what’s usually a fairly thankless job. There are two open seats on the School Board this fall, after incumbents Nancy Van Dorn and Tannia Talento decided not to seek new terms.
Diaz-Torres emphasized that she’s a “former teacher and education policy specialist” who wants to “create an education system where all students have the ability to succeed no matter their race, income, or socioeconomic status.”
Priddy introduced himself as a “parent of two sons in Arlington Public Schools, business leader, and lifelong Arlingtonian, running for one of two open seats on the Arlington County school board because I know that with proper planning, we can build back in more equitable and transparent APS.”
Walker said she is an “APS parent and education activist, serving in the school community for the past decade, and as recently as co-chair of the NAACP.”
Walker added that she’s “running for School Board to be an instrument of change because a lot needs to change.”
“The opportunity gap has not closed in decades, the reading curriculum is leaving students farther behind, struggling students are graduating semi-literate, our Black and Latino students are performing far below their white and Asian counterparts,” she said.
The election will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 3.
Superintendent Dr. Francisco Durán revealed the numbers at last night’s School Board meeting. The first-day enrollment on Tuesday was 27,109 students, 911 fewer than last year’s official September 30 count of 28,020, he said.
As of April, enrollment this school year was projected to be 29,142, a 4% increase over last year.
The final, official count will take place in just over two weeks, on September 30. Durán told the School Board that some families are continuing to register and the numbers will fluctuate between now and then.
During the public comment period of the School Board meeting, numerous parents called for in-person education to resume sooner rather than later, arguing that students are better off being back in school, even factoring the health risk from COVID-19. (At last check, APS was hoping to start a phased return to in-class instruction later this fall.)
One parent said he, as have others, declined to enroll his child in kindergarten this year, instead opting for a private, in-person program. That’s an option that is not available to working families with fewer financial resources, he said.
“Families like mine have significant means, and history tells us we will use those means to ensure and facilitate our children’s success,” the parent told the School Board. “Who do you think will find alternatives to your failure to uphold the social contract with schools?”
Others have similarly told ARLnow that they pulled their children from APS this year and enrolled them in private schools instead — or, for younger children, kept them in daycare — to ensure an in-person learning experience and to allow both parents to continue working.
During the School Board meeting, Durán also discussed this week’s technical difficulties and the school system’s meal distribution program.
Durán said most of the technical problems that prevented students from logging in to APS systems on the first day of school were solved that day. Other students continued to encounter problems on Wednesday, but Durán said those problems were fixed that night.
“Late Wednesday night we identified a software issue that was causing some further challenges for high school students using MacBook Airs. This was addressed and fixed as of Thursday morning,” his presentation said. “We are monitoring connectivity throughout this week to ensure all students can access learning and enhance the student experience.”
Durán also encouraged students who had switched from APS-issued devices to personal devices to switch back “so teachers can effectively leverage the resources and applications available on those devices.”
As for meals, Durán said that 4,356 students were served free meals on Tuesday and Wednesday. APS is serving free meals to all students 18 years of age and younger, at 10 drop-off locations and 21 school sites around the county.
The Arlington School Board is setting the stage for a process that would evaluate the Arlington County Police Department’s role in Arlington Public Schools.
The School Board heard an update from APS staff on the relationship between APS and ACPD’s School Resource Officers (SROs) last night.
The plan is to form a work group to evaluate how SROs have impacted APS since they entered schools in 1969, to listen to input from the community and the police department, and to ultimately provide a report to the School Board and Superintendent Francisco Durán with recommendations on ACPD’s operations in APS.
The proposed timeline has the group being formed throughout the fall, starting work in December and presenting a report by June 2021.
Since June 1, the School Board has received 265 messages from the public regarding the role of police in schools, according to a presentation given in the session. Attendees of the session said the concerns expressed in these messages, coupled with months of local and national calls for police reform, are what led to a work group being created.
“Due to our national narrative as well as much community input that we have received, we have decided it is time to evaluate and examine our partnership with ACPD and, specifically, to review our long-standing practice of School Resource Officers in our schools,” Durán said.
The group will have up to 48 members representing APS students, parents and staff as well as ACPD and relevant County advisory groups. Potential recommendations could range from making specific adjustments to APS’s Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with ACPD, which sets parameters for SROs, to removing all SROs from schools and ending APS’s relationship with the police department.
Eliseo Pilco, lieutenant of ACPD’s SRO unit, said that under the current agreement officers provide a variety of services to schools. He said duties include educating students on subjects like substance abuse, providing security for sporting events and evening school meetings, and acting as threat assessment supervisors.
Pilco added that officers help make schools more secure and provide a trusted point of contact for reporting drugs, violence or threats in school.
APS’s presentation described a racial disproportionality in student suspension rates during the 2019-2020 school year.
Hispanic students make up 28% of all APS students, but they received 45% of all suspensions. Black students make up 10% of all students, but received 26% of all suspensions. White students make up 46% of students, and received 19% of all suspensions. APS served 779 suspension in the school year, and all school discipline is the responsibility of school administrators and teachers, the presentation noted.
The work group will prioritize community involvement, with the first public hearing expected to take place in January 2021, according to the presentation.
“It is imperative that we have this conversation as a community, that we’re able to ask questions about whether or not our children feel safer now with the new revelations that are being seen across the county,” School Board Chair Monique O’Grady said.
Approving the work group will be an action item in the School Board’s September 24 meeting and, if approved, applications to be a part of it set set to open October 9.
Image via Arlington County
The policy, passed in a 5-0 vote, includes an overall equity belief statement and identifies governance, education, the workforce, and operations as key areas for APS to practice equity in.
“Equity is tied to everything that we do, and we are committed to eliminating inequitable practices in cultivating the unique gifts, talents and interests of every student so that success and failure are no longer predictable by student identity such as race, culture, socioeconomics, gender, or any other social factor,” Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer Arron Gregory said at the August 20 meeting, quoting the belief statement.
The School Board first directed APS to create an equity policy in August 2018. After two years of drafting and revisions based on APS and community feedback, the policy will now help guide APS action relating to inclusion, equity and diversity.
“Having this as an official policy is just part of the work that we need to do,” Superintendent Francisco Durán said in the meeting. “Moving forward to having an equity mindset, where we’re actually changing our practices and our actions and our thinking is really what we need to be moving forward with, and we are.”
The policy follows reported racial disparities in standardized testing results and student suspension rates within APS. The U.S. Department of Justice has previously alleged that APS provided inadequate help for students learning English.
Gregory said APS, when developing the policy, accounted for such disparities.
“APS acknowledged the historical and current impact of bias, prejudice and discrimination, and is implementing this equity policy, and subsequent implementation procedures, to address the impact discrimination has had on students and staff,” he said.
Monique O’Grady, Chair of the School Board, said the equity policy can help solve such issues if it is followed.
“[The policy] will help us make decisions that can help all students reach their highest potential without placing opportunity gaps in their way,” O’Grady said. “This is necessary to continue addressing disparities that exist in our country, in our state, and, yes, even in our own system.”
Photo via Arlington Public Schools
Arlington Public Schools is planning on paying workers whose job cannot be moved to telework through at least the first academic quarter, which ends on November 2.
Superintendent Francisco Durán laid out plans at the July 30 School Board meeting to have bus drivers and attendants, custodians, food service workers and Extended Day staff receive pay and a regular schedule during full-time distance learning.
“We honor and value all of our employees, and to strive and retain them as an excellent workforce during these unprecedented times, I am recommending that we continue to pay these employees throughout the first quarter of the school year… while we assess our long-term needs based on the changing situation and whether or not we return in hybrid,” Durán said in the meeting.
Durán also listed goals for shifting these staff members to different, temporary roles while APS buildings are closed.
New roles could include “providing direct support to connect with students and families regarding access and engagement” and aiding in “virtual social-emotional learning student activities and support,” slides in Durán’s presentation said.
Some Extended Day staff will also provide childcare for teachers and staff at cost in designated school facilities.
Paying these workers is estimated to cost $3,072,000 for the entire first quarter. Bus drivers and attendants are already included in APS’s Fiscal Year 2021 adopted budget, so are costs from Extended Day and food service employees.
Durán said this expense can be mitigated by revenue from the services that staff would provide, as well as from federal funds.
“This cost may be partially reduced for those who may provide childcare and meals,” Durán said. “Fees [for childcare] would cover the cost of staff providing childcare. Revenue and federal reimbursement would cover the cost of the food service staff working to provide meals to students.”
APS is now contacting impacted staff to clarify plans and next steps. Schools have been closed since March 13.
Photo via Arlington Public Schools
Monique O’Grady has been selected to serve as Arlington School Board Chair for the 2020-2021 school year.
O’Grady takes over the rotating chairmanship from Tannia Talento, who along with Nancy Van Doren is retiring from the School Board after this year, setting up a three-way race to fill the two empty seats.
Arlington Public Schools is preparing to begin the school year on Aug. 31 in a hybrid learning model, with most students only going to in-person classes twice per week. O’Grady said in a statement that communication and collaboration “will help us serve our students, families, and staff through these challenging times.”
In addition to O’Grady’s selection as chair, the School Board selected Barbara Kanninen as Vice Chair at its organization meeting earlier today.
O’Grady, the mother of actress Brittany O’Grady, has been a member of the School Board since 2018 and an APS parent for 23 years. She is a “longtime community advocate and communications professional,” according to her APS biography. Kanninen has served on the School Board since 2015 and was named one of the Most Powerful Women in Washington by Washingtonian in 2017.
More from an APS press release:
At its July 1 organizational meeting, the Arlington School Board selected Monique O’Grady as School Board Chair for the 2020-21 school year. The School Board selected Dr. Barbara Kanninen as Vice Chair.
“Communication and collaboration are setting an important foundation as we prepare to reenter school this fall. We are stronger together, and these two actions will help us serve our students, families, and staff through these challenging times,” said new School Board Chair Monique O’Grady.
On collaboration, O’Grady had the following message. “We will need to continue to collaborate with the County to maximize success within new fiscal constraints that may get worse before they get better. We will need to lean on our community leaders and partners to support our families in need. We must honor our teachers and staff as they work with students in different ways, and we must be ready to support our students social emotional and learning needs, because they will be on the frontlines of this change.”
“I enter this situation ready to lead because of the support of the school board staff and each of my colleagues, who have all been board chairs before. I have learned a lot from you and will continue to treasure your expertise and guidance. I have special gratitude for Ms. Talento who mentored me through the past year as her vice chair. Her intelligence, kindness, wit and compassion are an inspiration to me.”
She concluded her remarks by thanking the Executive Leadership Team and those who came before her. “Thank you, Executive Leadership Team, as you work overtime to craft and support a reopening plan that serves our students. Thank you to all the women and people of color who have served on this board before me, including Evelyn Syphax, for whom our offices are named. Thank you to my family for their constant support in my effort to serve our community. And thank you to all those who helped me earn the opportunity to be the first black elected woman in Arlington so I can serve our students and families in this important role.”
The next regular School Board meeting is scheduled for the evening of Thursday, July 16.
Congratulations to our new School Board Chair @Monique4APS. I look forward to our continued work together to make Arlington Public Schools the best they can be! #MadameChair pic.twitter.com/3i8lILjYl0
— Barbara Kanninen (@BarbaraKanninen) July 1, 2020
Photo courtesy Arlington Public Schools
The swap, which was approved by a 4-1 School Board vote in February, would move Key Elementary students and staff to the current Arlington Traditional School, Arlington Traditional students and staff to the current McKinley Elementary, and McKinley students and staff to a new school being built in Westover.
The suit was filed in March by Louisa Castillo, an Arlington resident and Key Elementary parent, against the School Board. It claims the School Board violated a Virginia law “when it adopted a proposal to relocate thousands of Arlington County elementary school students… rather than engaging in the necessary process to enact a school boundary change.”
Specifically, the suit alleges that the School Board failed to take into account six factors — financial efficiency, student proximity, educational stability, student alignment, school demographics, and and boundary contiguity — when considering the changes.
School Board members who voted for the swap said it was a tough decision but agreed with APS staff that it was the option that would impact the smallest number of APS students, at a time when the school system continues to build and expand schools to keep up with rising enrollment growth.
“This decision won’t solve our capacity issues, and moving forward with this proposal without a proper review of its impacts is intellectually dishonest,” he wrote. “Despite the current pandemic and corresponding budgetary issues, APS is still planning to spend about $3 million to move these three schools.”
“Louisa Castillo, a Key parent, hired a lawyer and filed a lawsuit against the School Board. Logistically, her son may not be able to move with the program to ATS and does not know what school she will be zoned for because the school moves decision was separate from the boundary decisions,” Krieger continued. “Many other families at Key, ATS, and McKinley are living with similar levels of uncertainty about where their children will attend school when we return to in-person instruction.”
“Instead of doing the right thing and analyzing the school moves in conjunction with the boundary process, the School Board hired a large law firm to fight Louisa’s lawsuit,” wrote Krieger.
So far the GoFundMe campaign has raised just over $300 of a $20,000 goal.
In a race upended by the coronavirus pandemic, Cristina Diaz-Torres and David Priddy have emerged on top of a five-candidate field for the Democratic school board endorsement.
Diaz-Torres and Priddy will now advance to the general election, as they seek to fill the two Arlington School Board seats being vacated by Nancy Van Dorn and Tannia Talento. In November they are expected to face Symone Walker, who dropped out of contention for the Democratic endorsement and is instead running as an independent.
(School Board races are officially nonpartisan and parties can only endorse candidates, not nominate them as in a primary.)
Due to the pandemic, the Arlington County Democratic Committee conducted voting by mail, which was deemed “the only safe and reliable option for a large-scale caucus.” Steven Krieger, a candidate in the race who placed a close third, last month publicly criticized the format as inequitable.
“This process presented significant equity challenges to disadvantaged citizens including the poor, English language learning voters as well as voters with disabilities,” he wrote in an op-ed published by Blue Virginia. “The vote-by-mail election for the School Board caucus should serve as a clear reminder that if we fail, even for a moment, to be intentional in fighting inequities in our community, the most vulnerable members of our community will bear the consequences.”
Arlington Democrats, however, said the two-month process was the only one that would allow safe voting in a timely manner.
“This was the first all-mail School Board Endorsement Caucus in the history of the Arlington Democrats, and I am proud to say that our team and the community stepped up to make it a success,” ACDC Chair Jill Caiazzo wrote in an email to members tonight. “More than 5,700 ballots were cast, far exceeding the 1,994 ballots cast in the 2019 in-person School Board Caucus.”
In a press release, the party congratulated the two endorsees.
“The Arlington School Board’s thoughtful stewardship of our schools is a big part of what makes Arlington such an attractive place for both families and businesses,” Arlington Democrats School Board Endorsement Caucus Director Jacki Wilson said. “We congratulate Cristina and David, and thank all five candidates who stepped up to serve their community and sought our endorsement.”
More on the endorsees, from the press release:
Cristina Diaz-Torres is an education policy specialist who began her career as a part-time preschool teacher at a Head Start program, and then worked as a high school math teacher in Las Vegas, where she taught geometry and founded an AP statistics program. After leaving the classroom, Diaz-Torres served as a legislative fellow for Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, where she worked on implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the 2015 federal law that replaced the No Child Left Behind Act governing U.S. K-12 public education policy.
David Priddy is an Arlington native, community activist and former business executive. Priddy attended Arlington Public Schools; he and his wife, Melanie, now have two sons who attend local public schools. Priddy serves on numerous education-related councils and committees, including the: Superintendent’s Advisory Committee on Equity and Excellence; County Council of PTAs (CCPTA); and the NAACP Education Committee.
A new Arlington Public Schools budget passed late last week will increase class sizes by one student at all grade levels, starting in the fall.
The $670 million budget largely follows Interim Superintendent Cintia Johnson’s revised budget proposal, which included $54 million in cuts to her original budget, due to a projected downturn in revenue attributable to the pandemic.
The School Board voted to nix about $3 million in cuts, eliminating a proposed staff furlough day, adding back a few administrative positions, and restoring crew and band transportation, among other things.
More from an APS press release:
At its May 7 meeting, the School Board unanimously approved its Fiscal Year 2021 Arlington Public Schools (APS) Budget to fund operations for the 2020-21 school year. The FY 2021 budget totals $670,274,629.
The School Board’s FY 2021 budget requires an on-going County Transfer of $524,628,986, a beginning balance or carry forward of $3,500,000, and funding from Reserves of $16,476,194. The School Board previously restored several items that were listed as reductions in the Interim Superintendent’s Revised Proposed Budget when they adopted their FY 2021 Proposed Budget on April 23.
These changes, totaling $3,047,119, include:
- Eliminating a one-day furlough for all staff, resulting in no furlough days for staff during FY21
- Restoring crew transportation;
- Restoring the Adobe Creative Suite license renewal (for Career and Technical Education (CTE) students as well as staff use);
- Restoring band transportation;
- Restoring Humanities Project funding;
- Restoring half of the proposed cut for the non-renewal Communities in Schools contract;
- Restoring the 3.4 Attendance Specialist positions; and
- Restoring the 1.0 administrative assistant for the Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office.
“From the start, this has been a difficult budget year and has become even more so because of the current economic crisis created by the coronavirus pandemic,” said School Board Chair Tannia Talento. “This budget balances a revised gap of $53 million with increased class sizes of one student at every level, budget cuts to our operating budget, and cuts to baseline additions that were meant to support our growth. We worked hard to prioritize restoring some items that directly support our teachers and staff, items that sustain funding for after-school activities and other student services, and items that continue our focus and commitment to eliminating opportunity gaps.”
During budget deliberation, the Interim Superintendent shared that APS will work with the vendor to ensure Smart Notebook access for teachers for the FY 2021 budget. In addition, the School Board directed the Interim Superintendent to establish user fees to recover operations and maintenance costs for community use of APS-owned aquatics facilities, increasing user fees by 5% for FY 2021, and continue to discount and reduce user fees according to current practice.
The Board also directed the Superintendent to prepare a fee bracket structure similar to that for the Montessori program for Extended Day fees that would take effect in FY 2022.
APS also recently announced that it would be adding two new grab-and-go meal distribution sites to its existing seven, starting this past Monday: Glebe Elementary (1770 N. Glebe Road) and Barcroft Elementary (625 S. Wakefield Street).