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W-L Name Change Opponents Work to Keep Legal Challenge Alive, Appealing to Higher Court

The backers of a lawsuit seeking to preserve the name of Washington-Lee High School are working to keep their legal challenge alive, appealing the matter to a higher court after a judge previously struck down the suit on procedural grounds.

Three current W-L students are hoping to block the Arlington School Board’s decision to strip Robert E. Lee’s name from the building, arguing that the Board didn’t follow its own stated policies for renaming the building and ignored the community’s opposition to the switch. The Board first kicked off a process to consider a name change in August 2017, in the wake of the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville and a nationwide reconsideration of the meaning of Confederate symbols.

Arlington County Circuit Court Chief Judge William Newman ruled in December that the students were barking up the wrong tree, noting that the Board broadly followed the community engagement process it laid out for the name change, and that state law doesn’t even bind school officials to follow that process to the letter, in the first place.

But the students, who are backed by a group of the school’s alumni working feverishly to preserve W-L’s name, were undeterred. Their attorney, Jonathon Moseley, told ARLnow that he’ll be appealing Newman’s ruling, even though the Board already voted last month to rename the school as “Washington-Liberty HS.”

“The judge took into account that [the School Board] didn’t follow all of their own procedures for the renaming, but he said it didn’t matter that they didn’t,” Moseley said. “I don’t like that idea, and I think it’s a pretty important issue that the courts need to address.”

Moseley expects that the appeal will head to Virginia’s Court of Appeals, rather than the state’s Supreme Court, though he’s still waiting on judges to sort out the details. He filed his notice of appeal in circuit court on Jan. 30.

Initially, Moseley had planned to simply amend his original complaint. Even though Newman struck down the students’ initial legal arguments, he gave Moseley until Jan. 9 to file revised arguments instead.

Court documents show that he missed that deadline, asking instead for Newman to issue a written explanation for why he blocked Moseley’s previous efforts and more time to consider next steps.

“I wanted more information about the judge was thinking,” Moseley said. “If there were no set of facts we could allege that showed the Board violated the rules, there’s nothing I could’ve added that would’ve been any different.”

But attorneys for the School Board pointed out in a motion that that request came “on the eve of the School Board’s vote on a new name for Washington-Lee High School” on Jan. 10, arguing it was “nothing more than a delay tactic.”

Similarly, Board attorney John Cafferky argued that Moseley “failed to articulate any legal authority” for a delay, urging Newman to toss out the case.

The judge proved to be sympathetic to those arguments. He ruled against Moseley’s motion in a Jan. 25 hearing, reasoning that the students missed their chance to file any revised claims and that the court no longer has jurisdiction over the matter.

That’s forced Moseley to appeal the dispute to a higher court instead, which could drag out the proceedings for months yet. He plans to have a brief ready supporting his appeal within the next 90 days, then the court will need to decide whether to take the case.

“It could be a year to a year-and-a half project if the appeals court decides it’s even going to look into that at all,” Moseley said. “They can do what they want.”

In the meantime, the school system is moving ahead with putting the building’s new name in place. Officials hope to have everything from signage to sports uniforms changed to reflect the new “Washington-Liberty” name in time for the 2019-2020 school year to start up in September.

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School Board Approves New Calendar, Rejecting Proposal to Send Students to Class on Columbus Day

Arlington students will still have Columbus Day off next year, after the School Board rejected a proposal to send students to class on the controversial holiday.

The Board unanimously adopted an attendance calendar for the 2019-2020 school year at its meeting last night (Thursday). Students will still get the chance to stay home on Oct. 14 this year, while staff will have the day set aside for “professional learning.”

Arlington Public Schools staff had proposed another option sending both students and staff to school on Columbus Day, putting the school system in line with the rest of the county government, which largely does not observe the holiday. Students would’ve had Oct. 7 off instead, and staff would use the day for training.

That option did attract some support from APS employees and students — 69 percent of staff approved of that calendar, according to an APS survey, while 76 percent of students said they liked it as well. Just 22 percent of staff  and 14 percent of students said they supported the first option, though parents liked it a bit more. The status quo calendar earned support from 55 percent of parents, while the Columbus Day change garnered just 33 percent.

But Superintendent Patrick Murphy backed the calendar option maintaining Columbus Day as a student holiday instead, arguing that it provided fewer interruptions in the instructional calendar. It also better matches the calendar of other surrounding school systems, a key concern for APS employees who have children and live outside Arlington.

“This option is really similar to what we did this year, and most people felt like this worked, for the most part,” Erin Wales-Smith, interim assistant superintendent for human resources, told the Board at its Jan. 24 meeting.

Board members were initially skeptical of supporting a calendar that was so opposed by staff and students. But, in discussing the matter with staff, some members pointed out the second calendar, with Columbus Day no longer a holiday, appeared to show students and staff with more time off than the first calendar option did.

That difference could’ve accounted for some of the survey results, Board Vice Chair Tannia Talento reasoned. Staff ironed out that discrepancy in presenting the calendar options for the second time — now, students are set to see 30 days off next school year, as opposed to 29 under the rejected alternate plan.

Notably, the new school calendar also maintains Election Day as a day off for students, with staff doing off-site grade preparation.

The school system had a similar schedule in place last year, but the issue took on new urgency now that state lawmakers are advancing a bill to require all public schools to treat the first Tuesday in November as a holiday.

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Morning Notes

Arlington Dems Weary of Richmond Scandals — “With a political crisis of unprecedented proportions swirling at the statewide level, Arlington Democrats are reacting at perhaps the only pace available to them – one day, and one step, at a time. ‘We will get through this,’ a visibly weary Jill Caiazzo, chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee, said at the organization’s monthly meeting on Feb. 6.” [InsideNova]

Dems to Hold Caucus for School Board — The Arlington County Democratic Committee will hold a “firehouse caucus” over the course of three days in June to determine the party’s endorsement for School Board. [Arlington Democrats]

Sheriff Arthur Running for Reelection — “Arlington Sheriff Beth Arthur on Feb. 7 kicked off a bid for re-election, touting successful partnerships her office has forged with other government agencies and the community at large. ‘I hope that I can count on you,’ Arthur told the Arlington County Democratic Committee as she launched a bid to retain the office she has held for the past 18 years.” [InsideNova]

Arlington’s (Sometimes) Hidden Gems — “In Arlington, we’re lucky to be home to 10 of ‘the oldest federal monuments.’ Those 40 oft-overlooked boundary stones were laid back in 1791 to mark borders of the spanking new District of Columbia.” [Falls Church News-Press]

How to Walk from Crystal City to DCA — “Reagan National airport is about 1,800 feet from Amazon’s new Crystal City headquarters… that’s not to say it’s an easy stroll: Train tracks, busy roads, and other obstacles separate a walker from DCA. Eventually, a pedestrian bridge could make the journey less fraught, but in the meantime, we gave one route a try.” [Washingtonian]

Lunar New Year Event This Weekend — The Eden Center in Falls Church is holding a Lunar New Year event Sunday “with a lion dance, entertainers, balloon sculptures, face painting and ‘other surprises and giveaways.'” [Tysons Reporter]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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New APS Enrollment Projections Reignite Old Debate Over Fourth Comprehensive High School Plans

New school enrollment projections have reignited the long-dormant debate over the wisdom of building a fourth comprehensive high school in Arlington, as officials plot out the best strategy to educate a student population that won’t stop growing.

The issue reemerged in earnest late last month, when Arlington Public Schools planners unveiled some startling new data that could upend the School Board’s long-term construction plans.

It was not exactly breaking news when planners revealed that the school system’s enrollment is projected to grow by about 24 percent over the next 10 years. APS has added an average of 800 students annually for the last five years, after all.

But school leaders were a bit surprised to see that growth continuing apace, after initially expecting the number of students flowing into the county start falling through 2028, not rising. Even more notably, the new projections show about 2,778 additional elementary schoolers set to enroll in Arlington schools over the next 10 years, about 1,000 more than school planners projected just a year ago.

Considering how young those students are, that number could demand a major reexamination of the school system’s plans to add new high school seats.

The Board decided back in 2017 to build room for 1,300 high schoolers split between the Arlington Education Center and the Arlington Career Center, avoiding the expensive and difficult task of finding space for a fourth comprehensive high school in the county. But these new projections have some Board members wondering if that will be enough to meet these enrollment pressures.

“One of the bottom lines of this is that the 1,300 high school seats is not enough,” Board member Barbara Kanninen said at the group’s Jan. 24 meeting. “This looks, to me, like we’re really going to need that full, comprehensive high school after our Career Center project. And, to me, that means we need to start thinking about what that package of high school seats is really going to look like.”

New County Board member Matt de Ferranti also raised some eyebrows by suggesting in his introductory remarks on Jan. 2 that the county should fund a new high school, but not all of Arlington’s elected leaders are similarly convinced.

Superintendent Patrick Murphy urged the Board to “take a breath, look at this one year, and see if these patterns begin to play themselves out over a long period of time,” and some members agreed with a more cautious approach to the new projections.

“APS enrollment is growing faster than the available funds we have to address our growth, for operating needs (teachers, textbooks, buses) as well as for capital projects (building and expanding schools),” School Board Chair Reid Goldstein wrote in a statement to ARLnow. “It’s important to remember that student enrollment and projections are just a snapshot of one major factor. That’s why we will continue to emphasize flexibility in our planning so we can be responsive and adaptable to address our future community and operating landscape.”

But, for some parents who have long demanded a new comprehensive high school in the county — joining Wakefield, Yorktown and the newly renamed Washington-Liberty — the new projections only underscore the urgency of what they’ve been asking for this whole time.

“I think the data have been suggestive for quite some time that Arlington will need a fourth high school, and it seems to make the most economic sense to do that project all at once and not in pieces,” Christine Brittle, a market researcher and APS parent who has long been active on school issues, told ARLnow via email.

But Brittle did add that it was “surprising” that Kanninen sees a need for a new high school even after the Career Center project is finished.

It remains an open question just how the Career Center will look once the school system can add 1,050 new seats there, work that is currently set to wrap up by 2025 or so. As part of deliberations over its latest 10-year construction plan last year, the Board agreed to build some of the same amenities at Arlington’s other schools at the Career Center.

But the county’s financial challenges meant that the Board couldn’t find the cash to build all of the features to make the Career Center entirely equivalent to a comprehensive high school, and a working group convened to study the issue urged the Board to open it as an “option school” instead of requiring students in the area to attend a school without the same amenities as others elsewhere around the county.

Accordingly, Brittle would rather see the Board simply expand its plans for the site instead of setting out to build a whole new school.

“I’m actually agnostic about whether the Career Center is the correct location for a [fourth high school], so perhaps APS is going to revisit that decision in light of these new projections,” Brittle said. “However, assuming they are going forward with the Career Center project, it certainly makes the most sense to do that project now as a full, fourth high school.”

Such a switch would come with its own complications — as the school system’s Montessori program leaves Drew Model School, it’s currently set to move into the old Patrick Henry Elementary, which sits next to the Career Center. Any move to transform the site would likely require finding a different home for the Montessori students instead, at least in the long term.

“It would be far cheaper to find some additional, offsite-but-nearby field space, add a pool to the already robust Career Center plans, and find another building to repurpose for elementary Montessori, rather than building a large choice high school, which they may or may not fill, and then having to turn around and build a fourth comprehensive high school elsewhere (with money Arlington does not have),” Megan Haydasz, an APS parent who’s advocated for more amenities at the Career Center, told ARLnow via email.

However, Kristi Sawert, the president of the Arlington Heights Civic Association and a member of the Career Center working group, pointed out that APS is already pretty far down the path when it comes to moving the Montessori program to the Henry building. The Board recently agreed to reprogram hundreds of thousands of dollars to renovate the building to prepare for the Montessori students’ arrival, which she sees as an admission that “APS has no plans to tear it down to create a full-scale fourth high school (especially given that APS has a huge money deficit).”

“But I could be wrong,” she wrote in an email.

Still, that sort of option may well be on the table. Some Board members saw a need for more high school seats, but they didn’t share the same conviction that a fourth comprehensive school is the only way to achieve that goal.

“We’re going to have to put [these students] in a high school,” said Board member Nancy Van Doren. “1,300, 1,400 seats, that’s not enough, and we don’t have a school for all those kids in the [Capital Improvement Plan].”

Yet part of what drove Kanninen’s conviction that APS needs both new seats at the Career Center and a new high school is her belief that the county’s 10-year enrollment projections don’t tell the whole story.

Many of the new students planners expect to see in the coming years are young enough that they won’t be reaching high school by the time 2028 rolls around, convincing Kanninen that the data don’t paint a full picture of the school system’s in the distant future.

“The future kindergarteners you’re projecting won’t be in high school in 10 years, it’ll be 20 years,” Kanninen told APS staff at the Jan. 24 meeting. “We’re not seeing in this projection how many high school seats we are going to need… We need another high school down the road. We really need to clarify that story, and it’s really clear from this data in a way it never has been before.”

File photo

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APS Presses Pause on Science Focus-Key Building Swap, Citing Unexpected Enrollment Jump

Arlington schools officials are pumping the brakes on a controversial plan to swap the Arlington Science Focus School and Key Immersion School buildings, after new projections revealed an unexpected increase in the county’s elementary school students in the coming years.

The school system had previously planned to move Key’s Spanish immersion program to the ASFS building, and vice versa, sometime in the next two years. The move was designed to solve some complex boundary issues in North Arlington neighborhoods, as some students currently zoned to attend ASFS actually live closer to Key.

But the school system’s plans have attracted some fierce community pushback since Superintendent Patrick Murphy rolled them out in September, with parents criticizing the logistics of the move and Murphy’s decision to press ahead with the decision without putting the matter to the School Board for a vote.

Yet Arlington Public Schools officials say the decision to “pause” the swap was driven instead by the newest data about school enrollment growth in the county, which staff presented to the Board last week.

APS planners previously believed that the county’s student population growth was finally beginning to level off after years of large jumps, but they’re now expecting a 24 percent jump in the student population between now and 2028.

Notably, elementary schoolers account for most of that change. Officials are forecasting a 21 percent increase in the elementary school population alone, which translates to about 2,778 more students over the next decade — that’s about 1,000 more kids than they expected the school system would add just a year ago.

“Given this projections update and the strong commitment APS has to the dual-language immersion program, the location for elementary immersion will be reevaluated to best meet the needs of our students,” APS staff wrote in an announcement on the school system’s website. “APS will reevaluate where the immersion program can grow, either at ASFS or other locations, while providing equitable access for all students in the immersion option.”

Both schools are currently overcapacity, and each one requires several trailers to educate those students. Some parents were already concerned that the swap would pose space problems even before these projection updates, as Key is both larger and currently holds more students than ASFS. A petition urging the Board to stop the swap has already garnered more than 800 signatures.

But with this new information in hand, the school system says it plans to keep studying the issue, with the goal of maintaining the “50/50 student balance of native Spanish speakers with speakers of English” for the immersion program wherever it might land.

“It’s important to consider the best locations for the immersion program at the elementary level to ensure equitable access for all students, and encourage participation by English learners along with native English speakers,” APS staff wrote. “This is critical to the integrity of the dual-language model and helps ensure that the academic benefits of the program are fairly distributed within a community.”

School officials hope to deliver a recommendation on a path forward to the Board by December, in order to include any adjustments as part of the next round of elementary school boundary adjustments. That is set to impact 14 schools in all, coming on the heels of the Board’s boundary changes for eight South Arlington schools at the end of last year.

More broadly, the new elementary school projections are igniting some big questions for the Board.

Planners reassured school leaders at their meeting last Thursday (Jan. 24) that this sort of surprise jump in student population is “not unprecedented,” and largely driven by the relentless pace of development in the county. But it’s concerning nonetheless for Board members, who only just signed off on a biannual update of the school system’s construction plans for the next 10 years.

“Our growth is continuing long-term,” said Board member Barbara Kanninen. “Until this update, the county and our data were kind of projecting we were going to level off at some point, probably around 32,000 students. You’re going beyond that… It really shows we have continual growth.”

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Drew Model School Set to See a Name Change, But Renowned Surgeon’s Name Will Remain

The Drew Model School in Nauck will soon get a new name as the school undergoes a bit of a transformation — but one key part of the building’s moniker won’t be going anywhere.

The elementary school is named after Charles Drew, a groundbreaking surgeon who grew up in Arlington. He was the first black man to hold a variety of prominent positions in the medical community, and is widely credited with establishing new storage techniques to set up lifesaving blood banks during World War II.

Drew’s family home in the Penrose neighborhood won a designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1976, and both a park and community center in Nauck also bear his name.

But the school named after the surgeon, who died in 1950, seemed set for a bit of a change after the School Board convened a committee to pick out a new name for the building earlier this month. The school system is shifting the county’s Montessori program out of the building next year, prompting the latest in a series of recent debates over a new school name.

That will make the school a full “neighborhood” program, drawing students only from homes surrounding the school. The Montessori program will move to what was Patrick Henry Elementary, while many (but not all) Henry students will move to the new Alice West Fleet Elementary, in what became a contentious process that angered many parents.

Yet, as the Drew naming committee gathered to begin its work last week, school officials told the group that it shouldn’t plan on making too many substantial changes. According to notes from the Jan. 22 meeting, Superintendent Patrick Murphy himself told the committee that the naming process is designed to “build culture and community rather than to eliminate the recognition of Dr. Drew’s legacy, who was a preeminent scientist and wonderful role model from Arlington.”

The notes show that some committee members questioned why the group was even convened if Drew’s name wouldn’t be changed, while others said they sought to join the committee specifically to advocate for the retention of the school’s name.

But Murphy stressed that he did not believe the Board ever intended to see Drew’s name removed from the building, a point he reiterated at the Board’s meeting Thursday (Jan. 24) — the Board did not deliver a specific charge in kicking off the group’s work, unlike when it stipulated that a naming committee should not consider the prospect of retaining the original name of Washington-Lee High School.

The committee is still in the early stages of its deliberations, but the meeting notes show that it’s already considering several options that could honor the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) program that just started up at the school. Options the group has proposed so far include “Drew Science Focus School,” “Charles Drew Inspiration School,” “Charles Drew Science Academy” and “”The Charles Drew Academy.”

The committee also discussed the prospect of simply adding “of South Arlington” to the building’s current name, or perhaps adding a prominent artist’s name to the building alongside Drew’s.

The group broadly agreed to focus on priorities like “adding instructional focus,” “adding a second name to Drew,” “adding a descriptive designation such as academy” and tacking on a “geographic component” in settling on a new name. Members now plan to survey the school’s community for their preferences as well.

The committee is set to meet several more times between now and April, and the Board is planning a final vote on an updated name for Drew in May.

The Board also agreed at its Jan. 24 meeting to spend $1.8 million in capital reserve funding to speed up renovation work at both Drew and Henry to “refresh” both buildings ahead of next fall’s changes.

File photo

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Morning Notes

H-B’s Rosslyn Home Has New Name — The new Rosslyn home for the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program has a new name, after a School Board vote last night. The under-construction structure’s new name: The Heights Building. The vote came after the School Board voted to change the name of Washington-Lee to Washington-Liberty. [Twitter, Arlington Public Schools]

CPRO Gets New Interim Leader — “The Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization (CPRO) has named Karen Vasquez as its Interim Executive Director. Karen has spent the last fifteen years working in the field of economic development, creating compelling stories to help recruit and retain Fortune 500 companies, non-profits, hotels and more to Arlington, Virginia.” [CPRO]

Animal Welfare League Nabs Chicken — “AWLA’s 75th animal control case of our 75th year came in just a few days ago! We received a call about a chicken on 8th Rd S., and Officer Swetnam was able to catch the chicken, now affectionately called Henny Penny, and bring her back to the shelter. [Instagram]

Arlington Housing Costs Top D.C. ‘burbs — “Homes in Arlington had the highest per-square-foot costs across the Washington suburbs, according to new sales data, although most jurisdictions saw lower averages from a year before. Arlington’s per-square-foot cost of $435 led the pack but was down from $473 in 2017, according to figures reported Jan. 10.” [InsideNova]

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UPDATED: School Board Picks ‘Washington-Liberty’ as New Name for Washington-Lee High School

(Updated at 10:15 a.m.) Washington-Lee High School will soon be known as “Washington-Liberty High School” instead, now that officials have finally wrapped up the contentious process of stripping Robert E. Lee’s name from the building.

The Arlington School Board voted unanimously on the new moniker for W-L during a lengthy meeting last night (Thursday), about seven months after deciding to rename the school. Washington-Lee has borne the name of the Confederate general ever since it opened back in 1925, but the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville in 2017 convinced school leaders to reevaluate W-L’s name.

“There are those that worry that by changing the name of our high school, we will lose our history,” said School Board member Monique O’Grady. “Rest assured, the history of Robert E. Lee will not be forgotten in Arlington Public Schools. It will continue to be part of our curriculum, and thus a topic for students to explore, debate, learn and, yes, even be tested on. As for General Lee, amid the smoldering scars of the Civil War, he urged us to move forward and refrain from erecting symbols that might cause division. With our vote today, we do just that.”

A committee convened to suggest new names for the school recommended “Washington-Loving” as its first choice for the Board, in reference to Richard and Mildred Loving, the couple who successfully challenged the state’s ban on interracial marriage before the Supreme Court.

But a narrow, 3-2 majority on the Board rejected that name in favor of the “Liberty” option, arguing that the moniker was better suited as to match the school system’s aspirations toward equality. O’Grady and Board member Nancy Van Doren cast the dissenting votes.

“I hope we can name something for Richard and Mildred Loving going forward,” said Board member Barbara Kanninen, who chaired the Board when the renaming effort first launched in earnest last year. “But the concept of liberty is woven throughout our history, and I find that there’s a clear, logical and organic story and narrative that we can build from that name… I don’t think there’s a point in our American history where liberty was not central to the discussions of our time.”

The new names mirrors the Fairfax County’s School Board to rename a high school bearing another Confederate general’s name “Justice,” opting for an abstract concept over drawing a name from history. Loving supporters like Van Doren believe the name could’ve represented “the progress America has made since the Revolution,” but found “Liberty” to be a fine second choice, considering that the renaming committee recommended it as an alternative option.

Some on the renaming committee also proposed substituting in William Lee, George Washington’s enslaved manservant, to leave the name mostly unchanged. That option was even backed by some prominent W-L alumni and former teachers at the school, who made a late push to see it considered instead.

But O’Grady argued that naming the school after a former slave could send the wrong message and run “counter to our [Arlington Public Schools] values.”

“He suffered from a life fraught from opportunity gaps,” O’Grady said. “We will never know the legacy William Lee would’ve left if not for the institutional bias that existed at that time — exactly what we hope doesn’t happen in our school system.”

Of course, support for the name change was far from unanimous. Many of the school’s older alumni fiercely opposed the name change, and have spent the last few months working to block the move — some even backed a legal challenge by three current W-L students, but a judge struck that lawsuit down on procedural grounds in December.

Tempers also flared on the renaming committee itself, with three members ultimately resigning in protest and claiming they were inappropriately barred from debating the possibility of leaving the name the same. And through the entire process, alumni have claimed that the Board misled the community about how they planned to conduct the change.

“You should all be ashamed of yourselves,” said Dean Fleming, vice president of the W-L Alumni Association and a vehement name change opponent. “There’s a much better way to do this.”

But the Board has long vigorously defended its methods, and Kanninen took time to once again stress that members followed “a proper procedure and process.”

School officials hope to have the name change fully in place by the time the 2019-2020 school year kicks off, and W-L staffers say they’ve already been hard at work identifying which signage and uniforms will need to change now that the new name is ready.

But with the final vote finally cast, the school system will now embark on the task of smoothing over hurt feelings and preparing the community for the switch. Board Chair Reid Goldstein assured all in attendance that the switch is “not going to change your diploma, it’s not going to change your education, it’s not going to change you as good citizens or representatives of Arlington Public Schools and the high school you went to,” but many feel the process of reconciliation will be a tricky one.

“You should make use of this opportunity to educate W-L students, parents and alumni,” Thornton Thomas, a freshman at W-L who served on the renaming committee, told the Board. “And if you do that, you might find people are much more accepting of the decision that you make.”

Board members are well aware of the challenges they’ll face on that front, and they’re hoping that even name change opponents can pitch in to start doing a little healing.

“There has been a great deal of emotion on all sides around this renaming,” Van Doren said. “It’s time to come together and remember this is still a great community, a great school with great students and great alumni… Let’s come together now and move forward together.”

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Letter to the Editor: Name W-L for William Lee, Push Back School Board Vote

Arlington’s School Board is set to pick a new name for Washington-Lee High School next week, putting an end to the simmering debate over how to best strip Robert E. Lee’s name from the building.

The Board voted in June to remove the Confederate general’s name from the school’s moniker, kicking off months of squabbling over potential new names and even a failed lawsuit seeking to block the change. A renaming committee has recommended “Washington-Loving” to honor the Virginia couple who successfully challenged the state’s ban on interracial marriage, while “Washington-Liberty” earned the support of some committee members as a secondary recommendation.

Others still supported swapping in one Lee for another, particularly William Lee, George Washington’s enslaved manservant. The following letter to the editor comes from a coalition of W-L alumni, former faculty members and even one of the original four black students to integrate the school in support of that option. 

The letter writers argue that the Board should delay its vote on Thursday (Jan. 10), and pursue a more “unifying solution” than its current options.

We are alumni and community stakeholders who care deeply about Arlington and the legacy of its oldest high school, Washington-Lee High School. We also support one of the renaming committee’s five finalist names, Washington-Lee High School, in honor of the African American Revolutionary War patriot William Lee.

A school that figures so prominently in Arlington’s history deserves a name that will inspire an understanding of our nation’s complex past and how it can move us forward. The clumsy attempts to retain the school’s nickname with the current Washington-Loving and Washington-Liberty proposals, however well-intentioned, do not meet that high standard. The name William Lee best “aligns with or reflects the APS mission, vision, and core values and beliefs” as stated in Policy F-6.1 Naming of Facilities.

William Lee, who served alongside Washington throughout the Revolutionary War, has long represented the contributions of the country’s “neglected patriots,” enslaved African Americans who fought in the Revolutionary War for their country and their own personal freedom. These patriots and heroes will soon be honored by the National Liberty Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Congress has approved a location for the memorial which, poetically, could be the last site on the Mall across from the Washington Monument. Their contributions, previously shunned, are among the most important in our nation’s history. Moreover, because of the intimate connection between the two men, Lee’s influence on Washington, his abhorrence of slavery, and our country’s founding are of profound importance. A newly renamed W-L could be a powerful impetus that redefines history and imbues our diverse community with a common purpose and pride.

Unfortunately William Lee had not been properly considered by the committee due to historical inaccuracies in its brief biography of his life and an incomplete assessment of his legacy. Regarding Mildred Loving, there are serious questions over how she viewed her own black heritage. While it is laudable a member of the Arlington Historical Society was appointed to the committee, historians and other experts should have been consulted as history is often more complex than it appears on the surface. Moreover, the significant number of resignations from within the committee further cloud the process. As the legacy of a school and county hangs in the balance, it is critically apparent that the five finalist namesakes need to be more thoroughly researched.

With a postponement of the Jan. 10 vote on a new name, the School Board could rectify these fundamental shortcomings. Moreover an extension would help build a bridge to alumni who have felt sidelined throughout the entire renaming process, which has lacked the transparency and public discourse typical of the Arlington Way. Hopefully, William Lee would then be fairly vetted by all stakeholders and the School Board. Alternatively, since Lee is one of the five finalist names chosen by the committee, the Board could opt to choose among all of those names on Jan. 10. Notably, many alumni who had been divided over the name change are now embracing the William Lee name as the school’s best opportunity to educate and inspire future generations of students.

The process is an understandably difficult one, made more painful by missteps that could have been avoided. We feel without reservation that the name Washington-Lee High School in honor of William Lee would be the most unifying solution, and one that will likely ensure continued alumni support that has been invaluable over the past 90-plus years. Most importantly, the school would have a dignified name and inspiring new namesake with an unmistakable connection to one of our country’s earliest African American heroes who helps us to better understand Washington and his extraordinary nature.

Sincerely,

Duy Tran, Ann Felker, Bill Sharbaugh, John Peck, Carmela Hamm, Kim Phillip, Maurice Barboza, Anne Ledyard, Anthony Varni, Peggy Jeens, Janeth Valenzuela, Charles Augins, Leonardo Sarli, Sally Mann, Max Golkin, Lauren Hassel, Margaret Jackson Bartolini, Betsy Debevoise Staz, Tom Dickinson, T.W. Dickinson, Betty Settle, Geraldine (Dresser) Frank, Marcia Bourkland Pauly, Fred Grover, Alfred Greenwood, John Dobson, Dana Gandy Croyle, Rebecca Mimms, Chris Fleet, Yolanda McDonald, Nancy Roberts, Gail Zucker Braunstein

We are a group of alumni, alumni faculty, and stakeholders. Many of us have contributed to local civic and cultural affairs over the years and devoted thousands of hours to support the excellent educational opportunities at Washington-Lee and APS. Our names are listed in no particular order. Bill Sharbaugh was the principal of Washington-Lee High School from 1976-1999. Maurice Barboza is CEO of the National Mall Liberty Fund, a non-profit that supports the establishment of a memorial to African American contributions to liberty during the Revolutionary War. Charles Augins is one of the four students who integrated Washington-Lee in September, 1959.

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

Photo via Mount Vernon

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School Board Mulls New Names for Washington-Lee High School, As Final Vote Draws Near

Though the process of renaming Washington-Lee High School has been marked by controversy and acrimony at every turn, the vast majority of those involved in the effort to find a new name for the building are reassuring school leaders that they’re ready to see some action on the issue.

The School Board is gearing up for a vote on a new name for the school next month, putting an end to a process that kicked off in earnest in September 2017. But between a lawsuit challenging the decision to strip Robert E. Lee’s name from the building, and accusations of misconduct surrounding a committee convened to come up with name suggestions, the Board’s faced its fair share of headaches leading up to that momentous meeting.

At the Board’s meeting last night (Thursday), however, members of the renaming committee sought to convince officials that their work to find a new moniker for Washington-Lee was thorough, thoughtful and fair.

While roughly a dozen people still spoke in opposition to the name change, most participants in the renaming process told the Board that they’d done their due diligence in proposing new name options and are ready to see a final decision.

“I’ve been part of bringing together stakeholders in Congress, the EPA, all sorts of places… and this was one of the best processes I’ve seen put together,” said Nikki Roy, who represented the Lyon Park Citizens Association on the naming committee.

The committee’s final recommendation was that the Board name the school “Washington-Loving High School” to commemorate Richard and Mildred Loving, the Virginia couple who successfully challenged the state’s ban on interracial marriage before the Supreme Court. A close second choice was the more generic “Washington-Liberty High School,” which committee members also presented supporting materials for Thursday.

Board members generally didn’t tip their hands on which option they might end up favoring in the end, instead using the meeting as a chance to better understand how the committee conducted its deliberations.

Committee members were certainly quick to acknowledge that the process got heated at times — three representatives ended up resigning from the committee by the time its work was completed, largely over complaints that they were pushed by Arlington Public Schools officials to ignore community feedback urging them not to change the name.

“Instead of honoring these opinions, we were told to dismiss them,” said Julia Crull, a representative of W-L alumni on the committee who eventually resigned from the group. “It should send a message to you when three people out of 21 members resigned for the same reason; we could no longer represent those we were chosen to represent.”

Yet Allan Gajadhar, a representative of the Cherrydale Citizens Association on the committee, stressed that the group did give weight to those views. However, he reiterated that the committee kept coming back to the fact that the Board had already decided to change the name, and it wasn’t within the group’s purview to overturn that decision.

John Holt, a senior at W-L serving on the committee, added that his surveys of current students found that “very few” cared about keeping Lee’s name on the building. While older alumni have largely led the charge to preserve the Confederate general’s name on the school, Holt said maintaining the school’s acronym was more important to most of his peers.

“Almost everyone wanted to keep W-L, but not many wanted Washington-Lee,” Holt said.

Thornton Thomas, a W-L freshman on the committee, also said that some of his classmates remained a bit confused about the “rationale” of changing the name in the first place. Though the Board’s discussions of the name change, kicked off in the wake of the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville last August, have attracted plenty of publicity, Thomas urged the Board to do a bit more outreach to students themselves about the process.

However, all involved seemed quite satisfied with the committee’s eventual recommendations.

Board member Barbara Kanninen questioned why the committee opted against advancing the recommendation for “Washington-Lincoln,” even though the option did become one of the group’s top five suggestions. In particular, she suggested that there was a “bit of incongruity” in matching Washington with either a pair of more contemporary figures or an abstract concept like “Liberty.”

But committee members argued that the Lovings proved to be an attractive option particularly because they weren’t as “heroic” as someone like George Washington.

“It was that humility, that lack of heroic statue that lends the gravity and weight to what they did and achieved,” Gajadhar said. “These were people just trying to live their own lives and be happy, yet they had a significant impact on us. It wasn’t necessarily symmetrical, but I consider it quite balanced.”

Some Board members expressed some consternation that embracing the “Loving” name might make it a bit difficult for the school to maintain its current mascot: the Generals.

But W-L Principal Gregg Robertson assured the Board that staff and students were already brainstorming ways they might change the school’s mascot, or even colors (currently blue and gray). Because the committee was anxious to see the “W-L” acronym remain, Robertson added that he was optimistic that any name change wouldn’t prove to be too disruptive otherwise, allowing the school to leave many signs and murals untouched.

Nevertheless, the proposed new names certainly won’t make everyone happy. Many W-L alums remain frustrated with how the Board managed the renaming process, and pledged to keep working to block the change ahead of the Board’s Jan. 10 vote on the matter.

“You violated my trust as a parent, and as a voter who helped put you on the board to represent me,” Toni DeLancey told the Board. “Simply stop this illegitimate process. Let’s start over and listen to the community.”

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School Board Names New Middle School for Dorothy Hamm, Ditches Any Reference to Stratford School

(Updated at 11:15 a.m.) Arlington’s School Board will name a new Cherrydale middle school after civil rights activist Dorothy Hamm, opting against including any reference to the historic Stratford School on the new building’s site.

Following the Board’s unanimous vote yesterday (Thursday), the school will open next year as “Dorothy Hamm Middle School.” It’s set to be located at 4100 Vacation Lane, the former home of the H-B Woodlawn and Stratford programs, and should hold about 1,000 students.

Though the process of naming the building hasn’t drawn quite as much controversy as the renaming of Washington-Lee High School, the debate has nonetheless raised familiar questions about how the county grapples with its history. The “Stratford” name presented a particularly thorny option for the Board to consider, as it has a bit of a complex legacy.

Many people around the community hoped to see the Stratford name stay attached to the new school, considering its significance in the civil rights movement in Virginia. The original Stratford Junior High School (which remains on the site) was the first school in the state to admit black students following the momentous Brown v. Board of Education decision, marking the beginning of the end of Virginia’s policy of “massive resistance” to desegregation.

Yet the original school was named after Stratford Hall, the childhood plantation home of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, making some uncomfortable with the name’s connection to Lee’s legacy of defending slavery. After all, the Board voted just a few months ago to strip Lee’s name from W-L over similar concerns.

Accordingly, Hamm emerged as an alternative choice, given her role in fighting to integrate Stratford. Her children attended the school soon after its desegregation, and Hamm also supported a series of other court challenges to Jim Crow-era laws in Arlington.

“What I really love is that this was a story of the moms of Arlington, who heard from their children,” said School Board member Barbara Kanninen. “They wanted to know why they couldn’t attend this school. That’s why they stood up and fought. By naming this building after Dorothy Hamm, we’re honoring the fight, rather than the place. I think it’s going to be a terrific message that we’re sending to the students of that school, and I think that’s something to be excited about.”

But in ditching the Stratford name entirely, the Board cast aside the recommendation of an advisory committee convened to offer recommendations for the school’s moniker. The group suggested either naming the building simply “Stratford Middle School” or the lengthier “Dorothy Hamm Middle School at the Historic Stratford Building” to ensure a reference to the “Stratford” remained.

Board Vice Chair Tannia Talento proposed that the Board accept the latter option, but Kanninen made a motion to remove the “Historic Stratford Building” section of the name. That passed, but only on a narrow, 3-2 margin, with Talento and Board Chair Reid Golstein dissenting.

“I find it a bit incongruous that we all like the Dorothy Hamm name because we’re lauding the significant, dynamic and historic actions of Dorothy Hamm in the desegregation activity and, at the same time, setting aside the Stratford name, which is equally a part of the significant desegregation history here,” Goldstein said.

Dean Fleming, a friend of the Hamm family who has also been active in organizing opposition to the W-L name change, also told the Board that Hamm’s daughter, Carmela, is “not interested in having her mom’s name on school.” Dorothy Hamm herself passed away in 2004.

Instead, Fleming said her daughter suggested creating a “hall of honors” at Stratford to honor the family’s legacy, while preserving the original name of the building.

Yet Board member Nancy Van Doren argued that the school system has already sketched out an extensive plan for creating an “interpretative trail” and other memorials on the new school’s grounds to ensure that the full history of the Stratford building is available to students.

Though some historic preservation groups around the county have protested any removal of the Stratford name, Van Doren believes the new building will not lack for commemorations of its integration history.

“Those will all be up at the time the building opens,” Van Doren said. “And because it will all be physically there, on the site, I don’t think we need the ‘at the Historic Stratford School’ section of the name.”

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Judge Strikes Down Lawsuit Challenging Washington-Lee Name Change Vote

A judge has struck down a lawsuit challenging plans to rename Washington-Lee High School, though name-change opponents are holding out hope that they may yet convince a court to block the process.

Three current W-L students were hoping to reverse the School Board’s vote to strip Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s name from the building, arguing that the Board misled the public and failed to follow its own established procedures in making the decision back in June.

But Arlington County Circuit Court Chief Judge William Newman ruled today (Wednesday) that the students didn’t have grounds to challenge the vote, and that the Board didn’t commit any errors egregious enough to warrant the legal action.

Though he stopped short of tossing the case out of court or barring the students from adjusting their claims, he also granted a motion by School Board attorneys to dismiss the case, throwing up a key legal roadblock for the suit.

“Even though I can see things could’ve been done differently here, I can also see that, under the statute, there’s nothing wrong here,” Newman said.

For W-L alumni upset with the name change, about a dozen of whom watched the proceedings Wednesday afternoon, the result isn’t necessarily unexpected, but is disappointing nonetheless. Many have spent the months since the renaming vote aggressively pleading their case, with some even backing an independent challenger to one of the Board members who supported the name change.

Dean Fleming, one W-L alum who’s helped marshal opposition to the name change, told ARLnow that the ruling won’t deter those efforts, as it merely gives opponents “another bite at the apple.” Jonathon Moseley, the attorney representing the students, was a bit more hesitant, however.

“We do have the ability to rewrite [the suit],” Moseley said after the proceedings. “But we will have to think about whether a rewrite will cure what the judge saw to be a problem.”

Chiefly, Newman agreed with many of the procedural arguments raised by the Board’s attorney, John Cafferky.

Moseley and the students claimed that the Board erred when it first voted to change its policy governing the names of all Arlington Public Schools, then decided to initiate a name change for Washington-Lee immediately afterward, citing Lee’s “principal legacy” as a soldier for the Confederacy and defender of slavery.

Yet Cafferky pointed out that the Board largely followed the process it laid out in September 2017 to govern the name change deliberations. Though the Board did circulate some other possible guidelines in January that would’ve called for another round of community engagement before a name-change vote, Cafferky noted that the Board never formally adopted that change, and stuck with its initially established procedures.

“Everyone knew darn well that renaming the school was a possibility,” Cafferky said. “It wasn’t a surprise, because by that point, there had been all kinds of engagement for the past nine to 10 months.”

Moseley argued that it would’ve made more sense for the Board to “go back to the community, talk to them, advertise and then have a vote” before changing W-L’s moniker. But Cafferky also charged that it was within the Board’s discretion to guide how the process was managed, noting that “renaming procedure is not a provision of law.”

“The school could hold an essay contest to change the name or take nominations from the floor during a meeting,” Cafferky said. “They have a great deal of flexibility here.”

Procedure aside, Moseley and the students claimed that the school’s name was “part of their community experience,” and changing it would force them to shell out cash to change the names of uniforms and clubs. Yet Cafferky argued that such negative impacts on the students were “speculative,” considering that Washington-Lee won’t actually receive a new name until the Board votes on the matter next month.

Similarly, he pointed out that the Board is considering “Washington-Loving” and “Washington-Liberty” as the new names for the school, which could avert the need for any cumbersome logo or uniform changes by maintaining the “W-L” acronym.

With Newman’s ruling, the Board’s renaming work is set to move ahead (though it has not been without additional controversy). The Board will review new name proposals for the first time tomorrow (Thursday), then is set to vote on the matter on Jan. 10.

Moseley said his clients may well file an amended suit before that vote, though the impending holidays could complicate scheduling.

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Favola Hopes Lawmakers Could Finally Grant Arlington School Calendar Control Next Year

(Updated at 3:35 p.m.) In Arlington’s long fight to regain control of its school calendar, one of the county’s representatives in Richmond finally sees some reason for optimism.

School leaders have hoped for years now to wrest control of the calendar from state officials, giving Arlington Public Schools the chance to start classes before Labor Day each year. State law generally bars school systems from starting any earlier unless officials can demonstrate a compelling reason to push up the calendar, like the threat of winter weather, in what has long been referred to as the “King’s Dominion Rule.”

The theme park helped convince state lawmakers to take control of the school calendar in a bid to boost the state’s tourism industry back in 1986, and the company has frequently fought attempts by school systems to adjust their own calendars since, over fears that doing so would cut into the park’s pool of low-wage summer workers. But the park’s ownership has softened its opposition to the change as time has gone by, and dozens of school systems have managed to obtain “waivers” to the state law to set calendars as they please.

Even still, the General Assembly has repeatedly stymied efforts to hand control back to all the state’s school systems, including Arlington, despite the mounting pressures of standardized tests on the final months of the school calendar. But this year, however, state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st District) has hope.

She’s crafting legislation that would specifically give all Northern Virginia localities the power to set their own school calendars. Some, like Fairfax and Loudoun counties, already have waivers to start before Labor Day, but she’s hoping that such narrowly tailored legislation to sweep in counties like Arlington might prove more palatable to her Republican colleagues.

“We have so many jurisdictions under the waiver already, it’s ridiculous,” Favola told ARLnow. “We don’t have control over when SATs or SOLs start… and after those are done, students just aren’t energized. I’m hoping this will finally give Arlington the chance to start earlier.”

The state Senate has killed similar efforts plenty of times before, and this year was no exception. Even though a bill giving all school systems calendar control passed overwhelmingly in the House of Delegates this session, it died narrowly in a Senate committee.

But Favola says she’s heard that some Republicans in the chamber are “not opposed” to the bill she’s planning, and even gotten “positive feedback” from others. During a work session with Arlington’s County Board on Friday (Dec. 7), Favola said she’d heard specifically from Sen. Steve Newman (R-23rd District) that he could support such legislation — that’s notable because Newman chairs the Senate’s Education and Health committee, the very group that killed the school calendar bill this year.

In an interview after the meeting, Favola declined to elaborate on Newman’s support, or put other Republicans “on the spot” who might support the bill. Through his legislative aide, Newman said he will “look forward to reviewing Sen. Favola’s legislation again this year, and will give it every consideration.”

“As you may know, I have been working to get a Labor Day exemption into the budget over the past few years that would cover much of Virginia,” Newman wrote in a statement. “We will continue to move this important endeavor forward in the 2019 General Assembly Session.”

Despite her optimism, Favola would concede that it’s no sure thing that her legislation will succeed. Even though King’s Dominion has not been as vocal in lobbying against such legislation in recent years, she said the company is “still saying there’s a need” for student workers ahead of Labor Day weekend.

That’s where she hopes the legislation’s provision targeting only “Planning District 8” — which includes Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church, Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, Manassas and Manassas Park — can provide some reassurance to the theme park, and the legislators who may be swayed by King’s Dominion’s concerns. Since the park sits roughly an hour-and-a-half down I-95 from Northern Virginia, it stands to reason that it doesn’t draw many workers at all from the area’s schools.

However, Favola’s bill would leave some large and influential localities without calendar control, including Virginia Beach, Chesterfield, Henrico and Richmond.

That means her legislation will likely need to compete with other bills designed to give all the state’s school systems control — Sen. Amanda Chase (R-11th District), and a representative of some suburban Richmond communities a bit closer to the park, has already introduced just such a bill.

The General Assembly is set to reconvene for a one-month-long session on Jan. 9.

File photo

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School Board Signs Off On New South Arlington School Boundaries, Ending Messy Debate Over Maps

Eight South Arlington elementary schools will soon see changes to their attendance boundaries, now that the School Board has signed off on a final map and put an end to a contentious, messy debate over boundaries that roiled several school communities over the last few months.

The Board voted unanimously last night (Thursday) to approve a boundary map drawn up by school officials just a few days ago, a move that could send as many as 413 elementary students to new schools starting next year.

Arlington Public Schools officials designed the boundary process to meet a series of different concerns. Not only is the school system facing rising enrollment numbers across all of its schools, but officials needed to account for the opening of Alice West Fleet Elementary School next year. The school system is also gearing up to convert Drew Model School into a “neighborhood” school, drawing its attendees primarily from the communities surrounding the Nauck building, and move its Montessori program to the building currently serving as Patrick Henry Elementary.

Accordingly, the process involved drawing new boundaries for both Drew and Fleet, while shifting some students primarily from Oakridge and Long Branch to those schools, as well as Hoffman-Boston.

But APS leaders and Board members have come under fire from virtually all sides as they’ve managed this complex series of moves.

Many parents at Henry felt betrayed by proposals that would send roughly a fifth of the community to Drew instead of Fleet, even though they felt school officials had long promised to avoid such a change. Others at Drew fretted that the boundary changes wouldn’t do enough to even out demographics at each South Arlington school, while Abingdon parents were alarmed by a prior proposal to move some students in Fairlington to Drew instead.

Even still, Board members expressed confidence that the map they’ve approved will best serve the needs of the entire school system, despite the acrimony that marred the process.

“It’s a solution we need to have happen at this point because of our rising enrollment,” said Board Chair Reid Goldstein. “This boundary change is not perfect. No boundary change is perfect.”

Yet plenty of parents arrived at Thursday’s meeting to decry the entire process, with many lamenting that the Board has managed to break their trust that future efforts will be managed competently.

“You’re failing Drew and Fleet,” parent Susan Hampton told the Board. “I don’t know why you’d willfully increase economic segregation… I’ve lost my faith in the process.”

Notably, even some Board members expressed regret that they couldn’t do enough to better spread out students eligible for free and reduced price lunch (a key indicator of their family’s economic means) across the eight schools. While the new map will reduce FRL rates at some schools, Barcroft, Drew and Randolph will all still have at least 50 percent of their student bodies eligible for free and reduced lunch.

“I certainly didn’t meet all the goals we laid out for this,” Goldstein said.

But Board member Monique O’Grady argued that the new map still took major steps toward addressing racial inequality in the county, primarily with how it will transform Drew’s future. She noted that the Nauck community has long hoped for a “single-focus neighborhood school,” though students there have been constantly bused away from the area, dating back to the days of the Jim Crow era.

While some parents at Henry proposed transforming Drew into a countywide “option” program as one way to avoid more boundary changes elsewhere, O’Grady stressed that converting Drew into a pure neighborhood school is the best way to meet the community’s needs.

“Now Drew will follow in the footsteps of Oakridge and Abingdon… which now enjoy huge support from the families they serve,” O’Grady said. “I believe Drew will enjoy similar success.”

Other parents were similarly pleased that the Board’s map will keep the entirety of the Fairlington community together at Abingdon, even though it will leave the school a bit overcrowded for now. The Board chose to leave some schools a bit under-capacity — including Fleet and Drew — to allow for growth over the years, and avoid more boundary changes. Then, it hopes to address any remaining issues in the 2020 boundary drawing process.

“[This map] acknowledges that our neighborhoods continue to fill with elementary-aged children who want to take advantage of our excellent schools, and gives our county and our kids room to grow,” said Claire Rosenberger, an Abingdon parent.

But many remain nervous that the 2020 changes will proceed similarly turbulently, and warned parents to be vigilant moving forward.

“Successful civic engagement does not require that everyone agree with end result, but it does require transparency and accountability,” said Joe Everling, a Henry parent who has been fiercely critical of the Board’s process. “To my utter amazement, that has not happened here… there is no oversight for this board, except for the citizen voter.”

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APS Fees For Lost, Damaged Devices Leave Some Parents Frustrated

Some parents are fuming over the school system’s decision to charge them for damage to school-issued laptops and tablets this year, arguing that officials shouldn’t pass along the costs of a mandatory program for students.

The School Board agreed to a policy change ahead of this school year, stipulating that parents could be charged if officials see any “intentional or negligent” damage to a student’s device. All county elementary and middle school students are currently issued iPads, while high schoolers receive MacBook laptops, as part of the “1:1 device” program the school system first kicked off in 2014.

Arlington Public Schools still takes responsibility for “routine maintenance or standard repairs” to school-owned devices, under the terms of its “acceptable use” policy. But the school system does reserve the right to charge parents hundreds of dollars for substantial repairs, or replace a lost device.

“People were concerned about the expense at first, but everyone told us: don’t worry, you’re not going to be liable for these,” Danielle Werchowsky, the parent of a sophomore at Yorktown High School, told ARLnow. “A lot of us didn’t ask for these pieces of equipment… but APS chose this path and they should have to figure out how to fix it and how to pay for it, not charge us.”

APS spokesman Frank Bellavia points out that the Board approved such a change back when it was still setting a new budget back in May, in order to “reduce the number of devices being damaged.” The issue has bubbled up now, however, largely thanks to an email from the Yorktown Parent Teacher Association sent out Monday (Dec. 3) laying out the exact cost of repairs.

Werchowsky says many parents were completely unaware of the size of these fees until that email went out (though they are posted on the APS website), and they felt a bit of sticker shock. A “complete replacement” of laptop could cost anywhere from $634 to $734, for instance, while an iPad would cost a family $279.

“I just got a bill for $100 for repairs to my son’s iPad,” Val Steenstra wrote in a Facebook post on the matter. “He pulled it out of his backpack and the screen was glitching. No discussion of fault. No questions about if he did something to damage it. Just a bill.”

“These kids have their laptops for four years, but there’s no depreciation taken into account here, you’re still paying $700,” Werchowsky added. “These aren’t like a home computer where it’s in one spot… And their frontal cortex aren’t necessarily fully developed, they lose things. My son would forget his coat if I didn’t remind him.”

Yet Bellavia notes that only 3 percent of all the school system’s devices are lost, stolen or damaged each year — and even then, “the most common occurrence” is a lost charger. For iPads, replacements for those cost $27: for MacBooks, it’s $53.

Bellavia adds that APS is “self-insured,” so the school system is only charging parents “the actual costs APS pays to have the repairs made.” Given the tight budgets the school system has been facing recently, officials are particularly eager to find ways to defray any costs they can.

“The self-insurance covers the costs to repair accidental damage and situations where the families are unable to pay the full cost of the repair,” Bellavia wrote in an email.

But Werchowsky and many of her fellow parents argue that any fee is too high, considering that they harbor serious concerns about using the devices in the first place, making the potential costs all the more frustrating. Some Arlington parents have managed to collect hundreds of signatures on a petition urging APS to to cut back on how often young students are exposed to the devices — the Board itself has even considered moving to a “2:1” or “4:1” device policy for elementary students, as a strategy to control costs and reduce screen time for younger kids.

“It’s not that I’m anti-computer, but I just don’t think a lot of it has been well thought out,” Werchowsky said. “You really can’t opt out, even if you have screen addiction concerns.”

Yet Bellavia notes that concerned parents do have some options, even if the devices will remain a key component of APS curricula moving forward.

“During the school day, teachers build lesson plans with the knowledge that every student will have their device to use as appropriate to support their learning,” Bellavia said. “Families which have concerns that the device might be damaged outside of school hours can request that the device be kept at school.”

File photo

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