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Union Kitchen in Ballston (staff photo)

Union Kitchen employees, including those at the Ballston location, have officially won their election to form a union.

Yesterday (June 21), employees at five Union Kitchen locations announced that a majority voted in an election to unionize with the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400. This includes employees at the Ballston retail shop and restaurant located at 4102 Wilson Blvd.

The final count was 20 votes in favor of unionizing and 11 votes against.

The vote comes about five months after employees first announced their intent to form a union. The vote took place back in March, with the election being conducted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). But results were delayed due, in part, to management challenging the eligibility of a number of ballots, as reported by DCist.

The workers cited pay cuts, lack of sick leave, and staffing shortages as the major reasons for organizing. Also, they’ve alleged that management has retaliated against workers for unionizing, an act that would be in violation of federal law. By unionizing, employees will now be able to negotiate as a unit.

The union’s main requests when they go to the negotiating table will be to start pay at $22 an hour and to increase staffing by 20% due to the stores being “severely understaffed,” union organizing committee member and former Ballston employee Mckenna Willis tells ARLnow.

In a press release, UFCW Local 400 called on Union Kitchen’s owner to come to the negotiating table.

We are pleased to announce that Union Kitchen is now unionized! After management spent the last few months attempting to postpone this result, all votes have finally been counted. We won our union.

We would like to thank all of our customers, elected officials, community allies, fellow union members and supporters everywhere who never stopped believing this day would come. We know we can count on you moving forward.

Now, we call on owner Cullen Gilchrist to respect the outcome of this election, cease his delay tactics, and finally sit down with us to negotiate a union contract.

ARLnow has reached out to Union Kitchen management and Gilchrist, but has yet to hear back as of publication.

Union Kitchen first began as an accelerator a decade ago, helping food startups by providing expertise. It has since grown into being a retail shop and restaurant. The Ballston location opened in August 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, selling a variety of coffees, convenience items as well as a takeout menu with sandwiches, pizzas, salads, and breakfast.

When ARLnow first spoke with Willis back in March, she was working at the Ballston location. She’s now a former employee, after making the decision to leave the about two weeks ago. It had become a “really difficult work environment” and was “taking a toll” on her, she says. Back in March, Willis accused management of cutting her hours after a meeting where she brought up her concerns.

“We’ve all been waiting so long,” she said of learning about the unionization vote. “When I got the text, I almost started crying. So many of us put hours and hours of work into this. For the workers that are there, it means that they have representation and the power to not be scared anymore.”

The effort follows a nationwide and local trend of employees deciding to unionize. Employees at a Starbucks in Merrifield voted to form a union in April. Late last year, employees at the bookstore Politics and Prose in D.C. also voted to unionize. Just last week, Apple store workers in Towson, Maryland became the first employees at the company to unionize.

In recent months, she says that a number of customers have approached her and co-workers at the Ballston location to express their support.

“We’ve had just overwhelming community support from Arlington,” she said. “So many people have just stopped in to say that they’ve heard about the union… that’s what brings us our strength.”

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The Arlington School Board has unanimously passed a resolution allowing teachers and staff to collectively bargain, becoming among the first school districts in Virginia to do so.

Arlington is following on the heels of Richmond in letting employees at public schools unionize, after the General Assembly in 2020 repealed a ban on school employees bargaining collectively.

“I believe we are the second school division to do this,” said Arlington Public Schools spokesperson Frank Bellavia. Richmond was the first school district in the state to grant employees such a right in December last year.

“This particular resolution is not the final conversation, this is not the collective bargaining agreement, this is just setting the rules of the game,” said School Board member Cristina Diaz-Torres during the board meeting Thursday.

The School Board made a few updates to its original draft resolution, published in April, after discussions with the Arlington Education Association and Virginia Education Association, two local unions representing public school employees.

The main changes concerned the way the union would be elected and the functions of the designated neutral third party. Under the adopted resolution, a union needs to obtain signatures from 30% of public school employees to trigger an election, a significant decrease from the 50% needed in the draft resolution.

Moreover, the costs of elections would be split between the School Board and the union under the finalized agreement. The original proposal would have given the union sole responsibility of cost.

Under the final resolution, the elected union will become the exclusive representative to negotiate directly with the School Board for wages and benefits. The union will be representing all public school employees whether they are in the union or not.

“I am particularly glad to see that some of the more significant concessions that were requested by AEA and VEA have been implemented,” said School Board member Mary Kadera, “and I appreciate VEA and AEA flagging that issue and advocating for that.”

She added that she would be committed to “leaning in and listening and working in good faith” with the employee associations in the future.

Not all suggestions from the employee associations were adopted. AEA pointed out several issues it had with the final resolution, chief among them being the School Board’s power to automatically decertify the union if members of the latter were to join any union strikes, according to AEA’s president-elect June Prakash. She further stated that those issues “must be resolved before sitting down at a bargaining table.”

AEA’s UniServ Director Sean Genson, who acts as a liaison with state and national associations, said the power to decertify “should be held with a neutral third party.” He added that this resolution was like “writing the rules to a new game” and should be “difficult to change over time.”

“APS’s resolution does that very well, but not perfectly,” he said.

In the same School Board meeting, the board also appointed Stephanie Maltz as the new director of labor relations. She will be responsible for establishing the guidelines to elect an exclusive representative and handling complaints from public school employees.

Maltz has been an attorney adviser at the D.C. Government Office of Labor Relations and Collective Bargaining and had managed similar job duties at D.C. Public Schools for the past five years, according to an APS news release announcing her appointment.

Before this resolution, the Arlington Education Association could not enter into binding contracts with the School Board. The association could only “meet and confer” with the board on issues regarding wage and benefits.

Under the new resolution, the elected union will be able to put their demands into a legally binding contract with the School Board, according to an infographic from the group.

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Former Arlington Education Association President Ingrid Gant delivers remarks during a press conference (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Arlington’s teachers union will be temporarily led by its national association after the local organization’s executive board was ousted.

The move marks the culmination of a tumultuous year for the Arlington Education Association (AEA). A group of delegates to the AEA from every school site in the county voted last Wednesday to have the National Education Association — which represents educators and staff from public school through higher education — take the helm temporarily.

The interim trusteeship is in charge until the AEA holds an election later this month to select new executive board members. The board was previously led by President Ingrid Gant and had a vice-president, treasurer, representatives from the elementary, middle and high schools, and an executive assistant.

Some members tell ARLnow that frustrations had mounted recently as they were preparing for the upcoming election and for the introduction of collective bargaining. The Arlington School Board is gearing up to consider allowing salary negotiations later this spring.

The organization, sources said, effectively had stopped operating. Screenshots indicate the AEA’s website was down for most of February and March. (It now redirects to the Virginia Education Association website). They couldn’t reach anyone by phone or leave a message — a problem ARLnow has also run into — as the mailbox for the phone line was full. The meeting during which members were supposed to launch their executive board campaigns was canceled, raising doubts among members about the fairness of the election.

AEA had also picked up some negative press this year for publishing a press release with a number of grammatical and stylistic errors.

That these frustrations occurred as the possibility of collective bargaining drew nearer led the delegates to place their organization under a “protective trusteeship” on an emergency basis. In an email provided to ARLnow, the interim trustee from the NEA reassured union members that little would change with the new administration.

“We want to assure you that as members of the Arlington Education Association this trusteeship will not have an impact on your member benefits such as legal representation, liability coverage, or affect our ability to advocate for our students as part of the nation’s largest union, the National Education Association,” interim trustee Mark Simons wrote.

Problems plaguing the AEA go back even further, according to internal documents shared with ARLnow, which some AEA members said they also received. These documents reveal a battle between the AEA and the state union — the Virginia Education Association — over local control. The AEA and the VEA did not return a request for comment.

The Virginia union’s president, James Fedderman, told Arlington local members that he had concerns about governance and finances and was “committed to rectifying this situation with integrity and transparency.”

Former president Ingrid Gant had outlasted her tenure of two two-year terms and several executive board seats were appointed without a vote by delegates, he said, citing opinions he solicited from the NEA and someone certified to interpret parliamentary procedures.

He added that the union’s finances were in disarray and not communicated to members. Local leaders admitted the budget was disorganized in a memo to members, saying AEA began the 2021-22 fiscal year without a budget and owed $732,000 in dues to the state and national unions. Amid this, the treasurer resigned and a new treasurer was installed.

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Morning Notes

Heavy rain along the Potomac River, with Rosslyn in the background (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Mysterious Bug Bites Reported — Arlington residents are against dealing with red and intensely itchy bug bites, the cause of which is so far unclear. One theory is that last year’s scourge of oak mites are back. [Facebook, WUSA 9]

Catalytic Converter Thefts in Fairlington — “A resident has reported that the catalytic converter on their Toyota Prius was stolen during the night March 21, 2022. The converter was physically cut away from the vehicle. There have been 7 similar thefts of catalytic converters reported from the Fairlington neighborhoods.” [Twitter]

Man Pistol Whipped By Intruder — “2000 block of S. Kenmore Street. At approximately 2:15 p.m. on March 22, police were dispatched to the report of trouble unknown. Upon arrival, it was determined that the victim was inside his residence when the three known suspects forced entry inside and struck him with a firearm. The victim then deployed pepper spray and the suspects fled the scene. The victim sustained non-life threatening injuries and was transported to an area hospital for medical treatment. Warrants were obtained for one suspect.” [ACPD]

Gym in Crystal City Unionizes — From Washingtonian’s Andrew Beaujon: “Movement Crystal City is the US’s first unionized climbing gym. We wrote about this place when it was called Earth Treks.” [Twitter, Twitter]

Help for Arlington’s Ukrainian Sister City — “That partnership, which came to fruition after years of advocacy by Sonevytsky, has mostly focused on cultural and professional exchanges. But the unprovoked Russian attack on Ukraine last month changed all that. Now, the Arlington Sister City Association and the volunteer group that runs the Ivano-Frankivsk relationship are focused on a new mission: helping send humanitarian aid to their partner city and educating Arlington residents about their community’s ties to a place now in a war zone.” [WAMU]

Reminder: Free Observation Deck in Rosslyn — “If you’re looking for views of the blossoms at the Tidal Basin and beyond, head to The View of DC, located at 1201 Wilson Boulevard! This 360-degree observation deck is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (with evening hours until 9 p.m. on Mondays!) and admission is free with a valid government ID.” [Rosslyn BID]

Injunction Against Va. Mask-Optional Law — “Preliminary injunction granted by the federal court preventing defendants from enforcing EO 2 and SB 739 (the mask-optional law) in schools where the plaintiffs & their children are enrolled.” [Twitter, Washington Post, WJLA]

Pappy Is Back at Virginia ABC — “Good news bourbon lovers: Virginia’s annual Pappy Van Winkle lottery is back — this year with two types of Van Winkles… Anyone 21 and over with a valid Virginia driver’s license (you have to prove it when you show up to purchase) can enter the lotteries on Virginia ABC’s website from Wednesday, March 23 until Sunday, March 27 at 11:59pm.” [Axios]

It’s Thursday — After early morning storms, light rain throughout much the day. High of 66 and low of 58. Sunrise at 7:06 am and sunset at 7:25 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Morning Notes

A military helicopter flies along the Potomac River and National Mall, as viewed from near the Netherlands Carillon (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Wet, Windy, Snowy Saturday on Tap — “A powerful storm system will cross the region Saturday. We are likely to see winds gusting over 50 mph Saturday, along with very low wind chills by Saturday night. We remain uncertain about snowfall, as the cold air will be chasing the precip — a wide range remains possible.” [Twitter, Capital Weather Gang]

Firefighters Union Wins Vote — “For the first time in more than FOUR DECADES — a public sector union will have the right to negotiate a contract with Arlington County. And it wasn’t just a win — it was a BLOWOUT.” [Facebook, Twitter]

PSA: Don’t Leave Keys Inside a Parked Car — An auto theft near Upton Hill park: “At approximately 12:40 a.m., a witness observed three unknown suspects rummaging through a vehicle. The witness yelled and the suspects fled the scene on foot. The suspects then entered into the victim’s car, located the keys inside and drove away from the area. The vehicle is described as gray in color, 2015 Honda CRV bearing VA license plate VKX2844.” [ACPD]

Marymount Adding Wrestling Teams — “Marymount University is moving forward on plans to add both Men’s and  Women’s Wrestling as varsity sports, expanding the institution’s athletic offerings to 22 different varsity-level teams. Men’s competition will begin in the 2022-23 academic year, as Marymount currently searches for a head coach who will begin recruiting for the program immediately. Women’s competition will debut during the 2023-24 academic year.” [Marymount University]

How Arlington Landed HQ2 — “If you’re interested in how Amazon could reshape our region, it’s worth understanding what our region had to build to land them. It’s an underdog story that starts with a small team of local business-improvement officials who had neither the clout nor the cash of most of their competitors. Instead, they figured out what Amazon was really looking for and quietly began the process of shaping a city to fit those needs.” [Northern Virginia Magazine]

An Irish Tale on a Local Stage — “Tis the time of the year that everyone wants to be Irish, if only for a wee while, and Encore Stage & Studio has joined the celebration of all things Eire with the world-premiere production of ‘Riley O’Brien and the Lost Leprechaun.’ While aimed at the younger set, the show is inventive in its conception and solid in its execution, making it a treat for all ages.” [Sun Gazette]

Fairfax County Local News — ARLnow’s latest sister site, FFXnow, is providing up-to-the-minute coverage of Fairfax County following its recent official launch. Sign up for the email newsletter or follow on Facebook or Twitter. [FFXnow]

It’s Friday — Sunny most of the day, then rain overnight. High of 59 and low of 37. Sunrise at 6:27 am and sunset at 6:13 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Arlington County firefighters rescue a window washer dangling in a safety harness in the 1500 block of Wilson Blvd last year (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

The Arlington firefighters union says the county’s proposed 2022-23 budget underfunds the fire department and puts residents in unnecessary danger, but county officials dispute the characterization.

The union wants the budget to support having someone with Advanced Life Support training on each fire department vehicle, something that county officials say is not necessary. ALS providers are certified to treat critically ill patients with life-saving drugs or intravenous medicines, among other training that goes beyond basic emergency medical care, also called Basic Life Support.

Currently, Arlington has a mix of ALS and BLS medic units on duty at any given time.

The budget also does not include premium pay for the Swift Water Rescue Team to reflect the riskier work they do, while wages have stagnated for rank-and-file members, according to the union.

IAFF 2800, which represents more than 300 firefighters, proposes adding $8.5 million to the 2022-23 budget to address these issues.

Budgeting decisions regarding wages “have led to diminished emergency services at the risk of potential harm to the citizens, businesses and visitors of Arlington,” the union said in a letter to the Arlington County Board and County Manager Mark Schwartz. “It is with this in mind that we bring these issues to the forefront before it escalates to a point that causes unnecessary harm to the community we serve.”

The $8.5 million would provide a 7% raise to keep up with inflation, make firefighters whole for missed pay increases since 2018, provide premium pay for responders who took on more work due to labor shortages, and increase compensation for the Swift Water Rescue Team, IAFF says.

County Manager Mark Schwartz says the union’s account is inaccurate and the county has not been cutting costs.

“All County residents should know that there is no ‘unnecessarily hazardous situation’ and that each resident can rely on a strong and well-trained workforce to respond to their needs,” he said in response.

Specifically, ACFD has stepped up its medical care without “over-resourcing” every call through mobile diagnoses, on-site treatments and new technologies that give patients more options, he said, adding that “not every patient needs an Advanced Life Support provider.”

Schwartz says the Swift Water Rescue Team does not receive premium pay, but he is committed to adding compensation for the team in addition to funding that addresses stagnant wages.

Employee compensation is the chief focus of the 2022-23 budget, which is currently being hammered out. Schwartz proposes 6.5% salary increases for public safety employees and a $2.2 million increase for the fire department over the 2022 budget, according to a recent presentation.

The summary of the 2022-23 budget for the fire department (via Arlington County)

Among other changes, the increase would fund the implementation of the Kelly Day, which will reduce each firefighter’s average work week from 56 to 50 hours, improving work-life balance and reducing attrition, the county says. The county hired nearly 40 additional firefighters over four years to instate the Kelly Day.

Today, the department is close to full staffing and is experiencing vacancies comparable to Arlington’s historical average, Schwartz said. ACFD loses about two employees a month, and there are currently 15 uniform vacancies.

“I hope that the historic investments we have made over the past four years in a reduced work week and exemplary practices will continue to attract the best staff in the nation,” he said.

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Union Kitchen in Ballston (staff photo)

(Updated, 5:00 p.m.) Employees at Union Kitchen in Ballston are looking to unionize, joining colleagues at other area locations.

The employees cite pay cuts, lack of sick leave, and staffing shortages among the reasons for organizing.

In late January, employees at three Union Kitchen stores in D.C. filed union petitions, as DCist reported. Within days, workers at the Ballston location joined those efforts, Union Kitchen union organizing committee member and Ballston employee Mckenna Willis tells ARLnow.

Now, employees at all five open locations have signaled their intent to unionize. That includes eight eligible employees in Ballston.

A mail-in election is set for Tuesday, March 8 with a count planned for March 28. Workers are holding a “pre-election rally” in D.C. this Saturday.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 400 would be the collective bargaining agent for the store’s employees if the vote passes.

Union Kitchen started as a food accelerator, helping food and beverage startups by providing business and technical expertise, and has since grown into a retail shop and restaurant. The Ballston location opened at 4238 Wilson Blvd in August 2020, offering a mix of packaged food, beverage and convenience items for sale as well as a takeout menu of breakfast items, sandwiches, salads, melts and pizzas.

Many of the reasons for organizing are common across all of the locations, but Willis explains that a number of these grievances are acutely felt at the Ballston location.

Earlier this year, management stopped providing customers the option to tip on their payments. This has effectively cut employees’ pay by three or four dollars an hour, according to Willis.

In February, management sent a notice, which was provided to ARLnow by Union Kitchen CEO Cullen Gilchrist, to workers that they were “increasing compensation by almost 20% on average across all positions.”

Willis says that increase does not come close to making up for the lost wages from losing tips. She explains that the Ballston location has more “established” employees — those with families, mortgages, and long-term relationships — than the other locations and can not afford what is effectively a pay cut.

Union Kitchen management, which has said it won’t voluntarily recognize the union, wrote that employees’ compensation is “industry leading pay.”

“We pay a minimum wage of $18/hr with an average compensation in our Ballston store of $28.5/hr,” Gilchrist wrote to ARLnow in an email. “We are very proud of our ability to pay so well.”

As for why tips were cut, Gilchrist said this is what customers wanted.

“The vast majority of customers don’t tip, and many of those who did felt pressure to do so,” he told DCist. “We’re trying to make our customers comfortable.”

Sick leave is also an employee concern, with Willis calling Union Kitchen’s Covid policy “horrible.” During the pandemic, Willis says employees wanted to take sick leave as a precaution but didn’t want to risk not getting paid.

Willis says she lives with her father and when he contracted Covid, she told work she wasn’t coming in because “it was the right thing to do.” She was told it would be unpaid leave.

Additionally, “severe” staffing shortages have hit the Wilson Blvd location of Union Kitchen hard. While Willis acknowledges that this is an issue across the industry at large, she says management is not handling it appropriately.

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(Updated at 3 p.m.) A half-dozen Arlington fire stations will be upgraded to accommodate more firefighters.

The renovations will give firefighters and EMTs at Fire Stations 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 9 more space and amenities to use while they’re at the station.

On Saturday, the Arlington County Board approved the $1.4 million project, which responds to a recent change to the Arlington County Fire Department’s schedule that required the department to hire more staff.

Last month, the county officially implemented the “Kelly Day,” an extra 24-hour shift off every 28 days, which reduces a firefighter’s average work week from 56 to 50 hours per week. The day helps reduce absenteeism, exposure to hazardous and stressful conditions, and overtime, while improving work-life balance, recruitment and retention, according to the county.

“[The] implementation of the Kelly Day [is] the result of committed funding across multiple years and dedicated advocacy on behalf of our firefighters to modernize the schedule of the Arlington fire service to improve their balance and quality of life to make ACFD more competitive across the region,” Board Chair Katie Cristol said on Saturday. “We’re really excited to see the Kelly Day implemented as a way of thanking and respecting our firefighters as the professionals they’ve been, especially our firefighter EMTs, who’ve worked so hard during the pandemic.”

Kelly Day planning began in the 2017-18 fiscal year, and the county began funding additional firefighter positions in the 2019 fiscal year, ACFD spokesman Capt. Nate Hiner tells ARLnow. Between then and the official implementation on Jan. 16 of this year, the department hired 39 firefighter EMTs.

Those 39 firefighters will need additional personnel lockers for their gear, uniforms and street clothing, he said. Other upgrades include expanded refrigeration and storage spaces in the kitchen, additional bathrooms and showers, stackable washer-dryer units to increase laundry capacity and expanded and improved gym areas.

Only Fire Station 4 will require additional locker space after these renovations are complete, says Hiner.

Fire Station 10 in Rosslyn, which was finished last summer, has the additional amenities, as will the new Fire Station 8 in the Halls Hill neighborhood once it’s complete about two years from now, he said. The old Fire Station 8 is currently being torn down and crews are operating from a temporary station.

Also related to firefighters, the County Board approved a deadline extension in its civic code giving new labor unions — authorized last year — more time to get through the necessary procedures to officially form as collective bargaining units. Firefighters were concerned that the delayed hire of a labor relations administrator would put off compensation negotiations another year.

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(Updated at 12:05 p.m.) After decades away from the bargaining table, the Arlington firefighters’ union may have to wait a little while longer to negotiate compensation and benefits.

Arlington Professional Firefighters & Paramedics Association are relying on a recently hired labor relations administrator to work double-time so an election can be held by March and negotiations can begin before April, as required by law.

“The newly appointed LRA appears to be working very promptly and efficiently,” Dustin Drumm with Arlington Professional Firefighters told ARLnow. “However, March 1st is a very tight timeline.”

If the deadlines aren’t met, an agreement can’t take effect for the following year.

Drumm said County Board Chair Katie Cristol plans to propose an amendment to the law at the board’s February meeting that would help ease the tight deadlines. Deputy County Manager Michelle Cowan said the amendment would extend the March 1 deadline, allowing negotiations to begin later this spring but still conclude by Oct. 1.

“It is our sincere hope that all members of the County Board join Chair Cristol in making sure firefighters’ voices are heard and we actually have collective bargaining in Arlington County as opposed to just on paper,” Drumm said.

The county appointed an administrator in late December, months after someone should have filled the role, according to the ordinance the County Board passed, leaving less time to get the required steps complete. By March, the new county labor relations administrator has to issue election rules, determine if enough members are interested in being part of a bargaining unit and then order an election.

If a simple majority votes in favor, the union is certified and bargaining can begin.

The association represented firefighters in collective bargaining in the 1970s before the Virginia Supreme Court ruled collective bargaining illegal. But after the General Assembly in 2021 allowed communities to re-establish collective bargaining, Arlington County Board passed an ordinance in July allowing it.

Within days of Arlington County restoring the ability to collectively bargain, the association sent a letter requesting the election and enclosed a membership roster. It requested the election at the earliest opportunity.

“A voice on the job via collective bargaining has been a stated goal in the union bylaws predating passage of [the county code],” the letter reads. “This shows we have the support of the overwhelming majority of bargaining unit members. This high level of support has been steady for decades.”

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Screenshot of a Arlington Education Association press release that got grammar-checked by a local mom

A tweet correcting the grammar and style of a press release from the Arlington teachers union has gotten some national media attention.

A local homeschooling mom tweeted pictures of the corrections she says she and her children made to a press release sent by the Arlington Education Association, which represents educators and staff in Arlington Public Schools.

The New York Post, Fox News and the Daily Mail have since picked up Ellen Gallery’s edits, and her tweet has gone viral, garnering nearly 2,000 likes and 740 retweets as of Monday morning. AEA President Ingrid Gant has since released a statement taking ownership of the errors and explaining that the release was actually a draft that had not been edited before publication.

Gant sent the initial release after APS announced Wednesday evening that in the new year, amid record levels of reported COVID-19 cases, it would continue in-person instruction and halt sports and activities for up to two weeks. School was set to resume today (Monday) but the snow storm has delayed the start of school until at least Wednesday.

Gant’s letter to Superintendent Francisco Durán, sent early Thursday morning, called on APS to require negative COVID-19 tests of every returning student and staff member, something being done by D.C. public schools. Gant also drew attention to the possibility of increased COVID-19 transmission with lunch indoors, calling for stronger mitigation measures.

But the errors in grammar and style drew more attention than the release’s substance, Gallery told Fox News via Twitter.

“Being able to write a clear, persuasive letter is a fundamental skill all students should master before high school,” she said. “The quality of this writing was so glaringly terrible that it distracts from the writer’s message.”

On Saturday, Gant released a follow-up statement in response to the viral Tweet and the national news coverage.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has persisted far longer than any of us in the Arlington community had anticipated. A draft letter was sent in place of a fully edited one in a rush to address the latest challenge. While I personally take full responsibility for this mistake, errors in my letter should in no way distract from its message: Arlington’s students and educators are returning to school Monday without sufficient testing supplies and with a lunch plan that fails to address the increased risks associated with the Omicron variant. Arlington’s students and educators deserve a safe return to in-person instruction.”

“It is clear that a layered mitigation strategy is the key to safe and effective teaching and learning in our county’s classrooms. As a community, we must focus on acquiring a sufficient supply of tests for every student and staff member prior to our first in-person day in January and on enhancing our meal service mitigations. The children of Arlington deserve no less.”

This week, Smart Restart APS — a group that advocates for improved COVID-19 protocols in schools — is outfitting APS staff with the higher-grade masks reportedly needed to lower the transmission of the highly contagious, but less deadly, Omicron variant. It called on Durán to provide better masks, promote the booster shot and upgrade air filters in school buildings.

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Morning Notes

APS Appoints New DEI Chief — “The School Board appointed Dr. Jason Ottley as the new Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer at its Oct. 28 School Board meeting. Dr. Ottley has been serving as Interim Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer since Sept. 1.” [Arlington Public Schools]

Ed Center Project Taking Longer — “The firm that has been overseeing construction at the former Arlington Education Center will get another funding bump, as the project lingers longer than expected and requires more oversight. School Board members on Oct. 28 were slated to be briefed on the plan to provide another $277,083 to McDonough Bolyard Peck, which is serving as construction manager adviser on the project. Final approval of the funding is slated for November.” [Sun Gazette]

Time to Compost Your Pumpkins — From Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services: “Reincarnation is real. Toss rotting pumpkins in the green curbside cart and they’ll come back to life as nutritious compost.” [Twitter]

Fewer Day Laborers at Shirlington Site — “The users, who live mostly on Columbia Pike and Alexandria, have shrunk to 10-20. ‘The outdoor site is no longer there, and it’s only a matter of time before jobs disappear from there,’ Tobar said.” [Falls Church News-Press]

ANC to Recreate 1921 Procession — “Arlington National Cemetery said Wednesday that it will host a public memorial procession and military flyover on Nov. 11 in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Tomb of Unknowns. The procession, which visitors can observe, will begin at the main entrance to the cemetery on Memorial Avenue near the welcome center.” [Washington Post]

Honor for Wakefield Driving Teacher — “The Virginia Association for Driver Education and Traffic Safety has named Wakefield High School’s Tony Bentley the Behind the Wheel Teacher of the Year. The announcement was made at the state meeting, held online on Oct. 1, which featured 140 driver-education teachers and representatives from the Virginia Department of Education.” [Sun Gazette]

Staff of Rosslyn-Based Politico Unionizes — “The news staffs of Politico and E&E News went public Friday with the news that that they have formed a union. Around 80 percent of the newsrooms’ combined staffs are on board… Politico is based in Virginia, a right-to-work state, so employees will likely have the choice of whether or not to join if the union drive is successful.” [Washingtonian]

It’s Monday, Nov. 1 — The first day of November will be sunny, with a high near 60. Northwest wind 7 to 11 mph. Sunrise at 7:35 a.m. and sunset at 6:07 p.m. Tomorrow there will be a chance of showers. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 53.

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