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Students listen to a speaker during a walkout from Yorktown High School (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

A petition calling on Arlington Public Schools to ramp up education on sexual misconduct and healthy relationships has netted more than 31,000 signatures.

The petition targets Yorktown High School, where in October a homecoming football game was marred by “unacceptable behavior” by a group of students. Several Yorktown students reportedly harassed fellow students with sexual language, and one student told police she was inappropriately touched.

These events in part sparked walkouts at YHS and other high schools in APS across the county a few weeks later.

“To put in plainly, Yorktown has a problem with sexual misconduct,” said the petition authors, who are members of the Teen Network Board, a county- and APS-appointed teen advocacy group. “We are two of many concerned students who want to change the way the system works to handle issues such as sexual harassment and assault in schools.”

The student authors propose introducing two prevention and awareness programs at Yorktown, and possibly throughout APS. They call on YHS to “hold students accountable for their actions in schools” and to make reporting sexual assault and harassment to administrators easier.

As of Tuesday morning, more than 31,600 people had signed the petition. In an update to the petition on Friday, the authors said exceeding 20,000 signatures was “absolutely amazing,” as their initial goal was around 1,000-2,000 signatures.

In the update, the authors said they were meeting with Yorktown administrators Monday (yesterday) to discuss implementing their proposals at YHS. They said they reached out to Superintendent Francisco Durán and the School Board to discuss making the changes at a county level.

“Arlington Public Schools is aware of the petition, and we fully support and stand with our students against sexual harassment and assault in our schools and community,” Durán said in a statement sent to ARLnow. “We are also open and committed to the exploration of additional ways we can support students at Yorktown High School, and across the division.”

Together, APS and Yorktown staff and student members of the Teen Network Board will review current practices and consider their recommendations, as well as any additional steps needed to ensure every student feels safe, accepted and respected at school, he said.

Specifically, the petition recommends introducing Coaching Boys into Men and safeBAE. The first is a prevention-based education program for male athletes in which coaches educate players on how to have healthy relationships and be leaders in the community. The second would “spread awareness” about sexual misconduct and healthy relationships to the general student body.

“A lot of sexual misconduct in schools is caused by ignorance; often students don’t know what they’re doing is wrong. Education is key in preventing assault and harassment,” the petition said. “We want to make our community a safe and positive place for all students.”

Currently, Yorktown partners with several outside educational and advocacy organizations, such as Doorways and Project PEACE, that target intimate partner violence, according to Durán. The school holds assemblies to educate and support students and the Students Against Sexual Assault Club works to de-stigmatize and educate their peers about sexual assault.

He affirmed that Yorktown follows APS policy and procedures for responding to reported incidents of harassment or assault. He said all complaints are followed up on “with appropriate actions to prevent the behavior from happening again and provide the needed supports to students.”

“We encourage students to report incidents to a teacher, counselor, administrator or parent,” he said. “If a Yorktown student does not feel comfortable reporting in person, we encourage them to use the anonymous Student Safety Reporting form found on the Yorktown homepage.”

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Arlington school bus on a snowy morning

Arlington Public Schools will be capping the number of traditional “snow days” students get this winter.

Once the school system calls six snow days, APS will revert to remote learning for students who are attending school in-person this year.

“We have updated our winter weather procedures, including a return to traditional snow days and a code system,” Superintendent Francisco Durán said in a School Talk email sent last Wednesday. “The first six inclement weather days will be treated as traditional ‘snow days.’ These six days may occur consecutively as part of a single major event or at different times during isolated weather events.”

Starting with the seventh snow day, APS will call distance-learning days so that learning can continue and to avoid scheduling makeup days.

“APS will announce decisions impacting the following day by 6 p.m. whenever possible,” Durán said. “Morning decisions will be announced by 5 a.m., as needed, based on conditions overnight.”

He encouraged families to update their emergency contacts and have a plan in place for snow days.

APS also reintroduced the five weather codes, which each signify a different level of closures depending on the severity of the weather:

  • Code 1: All Schools and Offices Closed
  • Code 2: Two Hour Delay
  • Code 3: Early Release
  • Code 4: After School Activities Canceled
  • Code 5: Weekend Activities Canceled
Winter weather procedures (via APS)
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(Updated at 3:40 p.m.) Firefighters investigated smoke seen inside the Montessori Public School of Arlington around lunchtime today.

The school at 701 S. Highland Street, in the Arlington Heights neighborhood, was evacuated after an alarm started sounding, according to initial reports. Arriving firefighters said they found smoke coming from the vents. There was no sign of an active fire.

Police were also dispatched to the school to assist with traffic control. Students were able to return to classrooms quickly, however.

“It was an HVAC motor and the all clear was given around 12 p.m.,” said Arlington Public Schools spokesman Frank Bellavia.

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Kenmore Middle School (photo via APS)

There will be a police presence at Kenmore Middle School on Friday after two separate incidents yesterday.

The school told parents Wednesday afternoon that threatening graffiti with the statement that “I’m gonna shot this school on Friday 11/5/21” was discovered in the 8th grade boys’ bathroom earlier that morning.

“While we do not believe this to be a credible threat, the investigation is ongoing,” the school’s principal wrote.

Additionally, last night parents were informed of a separate incident that day, in which a student showed another student an airsoft gun in a school bathroom.

“The Arlington County Police Department (ACPD) was immediately made aware, made contact with the student and took possession of the antique ‘airsoft gun’ and appropriate disciplinary action is being taken,” wrote principal David McBride.

“There is no change to our schedule for Fri, Nov. 5, as a result of the threat; however, as a precaution, there will be a police presence at the school on Friday,” McBride wrote.

Arlington Public Schools students have the day off today for Diwali as part of a three-day week that also saw Tuesday off for Election Day.

Friday’s police presence at Kenmore, located at 200 S. Carlin Springs Road, comes as APS charts a path forward for its relationship with the police department, after voting to remove School Resource Officers from school grounds earlier this year.

The full emails from the Kenmore principal are below.

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Facing a shortage of substitute teachers, Arlington Public Schools has raised its pay rates to attract more candidates.

Teachers have been struggling to find substitutes, leading them to come in on days they wanted to take off or to rely on co-workers willing to cover for them, according to Superintendent Francisco Durán and the Arlington Education Association.

“I personally know staff who’ve chosen to come to work instead of calling out because they knew substitute teachers were so scarce,” said teacher Josh Folb, representing AEA, during a School Board meeting on Thursday. “Unlike the Virtual Learning Program, where some found it acceptable for weeks to let kids sit with absolutely no teacher of any kind, the in-person burden falls on coworkers to double up or split classes, where less learning can occur.”

This is the third reported staffing shortage APS has faced this summer and fall.

Ahead of summer school, the school system had to dial back the number of eligible kids because there weren’t enough teachers willing to teach over the summer, a nationwide phenomenon attributed to pandemic-era burnout. For the first month of school, many students enrolled in the Virtual Learning Program did not have teachers — which APS also attributed to staff shortages — and were placed in waiting rooms with substitutes.

In response to substitute shortage, which is also playing out nationwide, APS increased rates of pay for substitute work, which is typically considered low-paying and inconsistent, and launched a bonus program encouraging substitutes to take on more sub jobs. The plan was presented last Thursday (Oct. 28) during a School Board meeting and went into effect on Monday.

New pay rates and bonuses for substitute teachers (via APS)

“We will now be the highest-paying in Northern Virginia for substitutes — the front runner — we were fourth or fifth,” Durán said on Thursday. “So we’re moving forward to do that to support our teachers ultimately and also our subs, who are coming in on a daily basis to provide that support when it’s needed. “

School divisions in the U.S. are facing similar shortages and also offering perks and higher wages. Closer to home, D.C. is spending $40 million to hire contact tracers, substitute teachers and workers to handle COVID-19 logistics in the city’s public school system.

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Braving the rain and wind, Arlington Public Schools bus drivers demonstrated along S. Arlington Mill Drive on Friday, calling for better pay and greater respect.

Huddled under umbrellas across from the Arlington County Trades Center (2700 S. Taylor Street) in Shirlington, about 50 drivers held signs saying, “We need our bonus” and “honk 4 drivers” and “equality for all” to cars passing by.

“It was amazing,” said Arlington Education Association President Ingrid Gant. “The bus drivers and attendants wanted to make sure their voices were heard. They felt like they were empowered to let the public know that we love their kids and we love working for Arlington, but they want to be heard and want to be treated like the rest of employees.”

The bus drivers were protesting what they say is unfair treatment when compared to other APS employees, she said. Drivers are waiting on longevity bonuses and had expected the same summer school bonuses other staff received. They are also frustrated with how they’re treated by transportation office staff.

“The longevity bonus, we’re still in the process of trying to figure that out,” she said, adding that drivers began their advocacy when they learned summer school bonuses wouldn’t apply to them.

This summer, facing deep staff shortages and having promised a robust summer school program, APS offered $1,000 bonuses to teachers and $500 bonuses to assistants who signed up. In September, when APS doled out those bonuses, Gant said bus drivers felt left out despite having worked through the summer.

In addition, drivers recently lost a third of their parking spaces at the bus depot, and most have to take a shuttle from the Barcroft Community Center to their bus. Some have been given placards permitting them to park around the lot, but have recently been getting ticketed.

She said a lottery system was established to ensure spots were distributed fairly, but it was conducted while bus drivers were on their routes, leaving other staff to get the coveted spots.

“The bus drivers are feeling like they’re the last people on the totem pole,” said Gant, who has brought these concerns to Superintendent Francisco Durán since August.

APS spokesman Frank Bellavia tells ARLnow that APS is working to address drivers’ concerns, which they have also raised during School Board meetings.

“[We] are working to address the concerns related to compensation and workplace climate that our drivers and attendants have raised in recent meetings. Most recently, staff members were provided a timeline to improve the climate within the office,” he said. “Our bus drivers provide a vital service to students and the community and we are committed to responding to their feedback and ensuring they feel valued and appreciated as members of the Arlington Public Schools team.”

As for the bonuses, he said those were targeted to classroom staff.

“Teaching summer school is voluntary,” he said. “Bonuses were provided to teachers and assistants in an effort to address a significant shortage in teachers for the summer school program. In addition, teachers are on 10-month contracts and summer school is not required of them. Bus drivers are on 11-month contracts which includes summer school.”

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(Updated 10/25/21 at 9:50 a.m.) Hundreds of students walked out of their classrooms this morning to take a stand against sexual assault and harassment in Arlington Public Schools.

Walkouts were held from 11 a.m. to noon at Yorktown, Washington-Liberty, Wakefield high schools, H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program, and Arlington Career Center. The Yorktown walkout — held just two weeks after reports that a group of students yelled inappropriate sexual language and touched a fellow student inappropriately at a football game — trekked from the campus to nearby Chestnut Hills Park for a rally, then returned.

“It was so amazing to see so many people come out,” YHS student body president Sebastian Morales-Talero tells ARLnow. “Seeing them come out gave me hope that things will be better and that we can change as a community.”

He said another organizer was in tears over the show of support from fellow students.

During a speech by Scotney Young, a social worker and sexual assault prevention specialist for local nonprofit Doorways, many students raised their hands to indicate they’ve experienced sexual violence or know someone who has.

“It was really powerful to see so many students using their voices and actions to speak out against sexual violence and to demand more action from school administrators,” Young tells ARLnow. “Sexual violence thrives when there is a culture and system that allows and accepts it, and these students were saying they want to change that.”

Young said she conducts educational programming focused on giving young people the tools they need to have “respectful, safe and supportive relationships and interactions free from violence.”

Today’s protests were tied to similar ones at schools nationwide, according to School Talk emails APS sent to high school families last night (Thursday). In his email to families, Yorktown Principal Kevin Clark connected the walkout to the Homecoming game.

“While we do not have additional details about this activity, we understand that this is to raise awareness about the issue of sexual assault and harassment and ensuring appropriate responses,” Clark said. “While we know of recent events at the Yorktown Homecoming Football game, there have also been similar walkouts at other schools across the country recently.”

During half-time, a handful of YHS students allegedly used “inappropriate and unacceptable language of a sexual nature and inappropriately touched a student,” Clark wrote to students and families two weeks ago. A report of sexual battery was filed with Arlington County Police Department.

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Arlington Community High School (courtesy photo)

(Updated 9:45 a.m.) For the first time, an alternative high school in Arlington Public Schools will have a permanent home — in the second phase of Amazon’s HQ2 in Pentagon City.

Currently located next to the Arlington Career Center building, Arlington Community High School is attended by about 300 county residents 16 and older pursuing their high school diploma.

At nearly a century old, it has always moved around “to locations that were not ideally located or tailored to meet the needs of ACHS students,” according to a joint press release from Arlington Public Schools and Arlington County.

APS and the county had been searching for a permanent location in South Arlington, the release said. With Amazon’s HQ2 being built near the Pentagon City Metro station, ACHS will have just that.

“We are excited about what this new building will mean for ACHS students, many of whom work full- or part-time jobs to support their families as they earn their high school diplomas. Having a new home, built to serve their needs in an accessible location, will make a world of difference as they pursue their academic and professional goals,” Arlington School Board Chair Barbara Kanninen said in a statement.

Amazon will build the facility as part of its 10.5-acre, mixed-use development located at the corner of S. Eads Street and 12th Street S., which features the flagship Helix building. ACHS is expected to be completed by the start of the 2026-27 school year, the release said.

But ACHS will have to relocate once more, in 2023, before the permanent location is built, as major renovations are scheduled for the Arlington Career Center. APS spokesman Frank Bellavia says the school system “will begin looking for a temporary space for ACHS in the coming months.”

This project will fulfill a provision from the initial 2013 approval of development on the large PenPlace site — once considered as a location for the Nationals baseball stadium — for a community space up to 20,000 square feet. The plan said a use would be chosen during the final site plan review process, which is ongoing.

“The school will benefit the entire community and advance the County’s commitment to equity, fulfilling the community benefit promised when the original site plan was approved in 2013,” County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti said in a statement. “I look forward to working with our schools and Amazon to help make this agreement a wonderful reality for our students and our community.”

The “transit-rich” site is easily accessible to students across the county, and is the ideal size for ACHS’s capacity needs, the release said.

“This school will be an incredible asset to so many local students and their families,” said Joe Chapman, Amazon’s Director of Global Real Estate and Facilities in a statement. “The mission of ACHS is to make success possible for every student, and we are proud to partner with Arlington County and Arlington Public Schools to help provide equitable education opportunities in the Arlington community.”

ACHS provides flexible schedules for its students, who come from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, as many also work to support their families.

Last school year, 79% of students were Hispanic, 8% were Asian, 7% were Black, and 5% were white, according to the release. More than 80% of students were enrolled in the English Learner program and more than 35% qualified as economically disadvantaged. About 18% of students were age 30 and older.

Meanwhile, review of PenPlace is ongoing. Next Thursday (Oct. 28), the county will host a walking tour and begin a 10-day virtual public engagement period.

Site Plan Review Committee meetings are scheduled for the end the year and early 2022, ahead of Planning Commission and County Board public hearings anticipated for March 2022.

This article was updated to include a more accurate photo of Arlington Community High School’s location

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A new tech and innovation lab funded by Amazon is expected to launch at Wakefield High School by the end of the year, according to Arlington Public Schools.

Construction is currently underway on the “AWS Think Big Space,” which will provide a dedicated space for hands-on learning in robotics, the fields of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (known collectively as STEAM), and training in cloud computing-based technologies.

“This lab will provide stimulating learning environments for students to work individually or collaboratively on entrepreneurial, STEAM, and Design Thinking projects,” said Wakefield Principal Chris Willmore. “All students in grades 9-12 will be encouraged to extend their learning of STEAM topics beyond the classroom through engagement in the lab. We are grateful and excited that Wakefield was chosen by Amazon for this public-private partnership. All of our students will benefit from this learning environment.”

The Amazon-funded lab, which will open to students across the school system, also has the support of some private community sponsors.

Wakefield High School is first high school in the Americas to receive a Think Big Space, according to APS. It is the second in Virginia, after Amazon funded and built its first lab in 2019 at an elementary school in Prince William County.

Amazon has built similar spaces around the world.

“At Amazon, we are committed to making a positive impact in the communities where our employees live and work,” said Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy. “We are proud to call Virginia home and to support our neighbors as we grow in Arlington. This AWS Think Big Space at Wakefield High School will provide students across the community with the tools and connections they need to build, imagine, and innovate their best future. We can’t wait to see what they will create.”

Wendy Maitland, who most recently served as the Resource Teacher for the Gifted at Wakefield, will oversee the new space.

“We believe that this AWS Think Big Space will act as a significant point of access for students who may not normally take advantage, of or be aware of, STEAM career paths. At Wakefield, we are committed to eliminating opportunity gaps to ensure access and provide excellence in education for every student, especially first generation and low-income students,” she said. “Our partnership with Amazon will allow us to build a community of learners who collaborate, explore, and seamlessly apply technology throughout all aspects of teaching and learning.”

The AWS Think Big Space is expected to receive final School Board approval at a meeting on Thursday, Oct. 28.

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(Updated 4:20 p.m.) Against the backdrop of Alexandria’s City Council voting to reinstate School Resource Officers, Arlington school and police officials say they’re confident kids and staff will be safe without daily police presence.

That’s because, leading up to the decision to remove SROs this summer, the county spent six years investing in other school safety pillars, adding counselors, enhancing building safety and beefing up emergency management operations, according to School Board Chair Barbara Kanninen.

When the School Board ended the program — out of concern for racial disparities in juvenile arrests — they did so knowing that staff could handle regular student disruptions without involving law enforcement, she said.

“I believe that background made us uniquely well-situated to think about the next step regarding SROs,” she said last night (Wednesday) during a discussion hosted by the Arlington Committee of 100 on school safety without SROs.

“It’s difficult talking about different jurisdictions in a harsh way, but the fact is that the Alexandria superintendent didn’t recommend removing SROs from schools for the simple fact that they didn’t believe they had the resources in place,” Kanninen continued. “They felt they needed SROs for safety.”

The discussion, which addressed current police engagement efforts and Arlington’s Restorative Justice program, couldn’t have been more timely. Not only did unsafe conditions in Alexandria schools lead the City Council to reinstate SROs this week, but also, APS recently had two safety-related incidents in which police got involved.

Panelists in the most recent Arlington Committee of 100 discussion Wednesday night (via Arlington Committee of 100/Facebook)

On Friday, allegations of sexual battery during Yorktown High School’s Homecoming football game resulted in a police investigation. Last Wednesday, police responded to false claims of a school shooter at Washington-Liberty High School.

As for Alexandria, Kanninen emphasized the fact that City Council narrowly voted to remove SROs against advice from the School Board, which voted 6-3 to keep them.

“We’re in a different situation,” Kanninen said. “We believe we have the resources and supports in place to keep kids safe as possible.”

In unsafe situations such as fights, she said APS has staff trained in defusing those situations and prefers this approach to introducing kids to the juvenile justice system.

“We don’t want their first interaction to be with a police officer,” she said.

Still, Kanninen said administrators will call 9-1-1 any time there’s a safety threat. For example, police were called to Washington-Liberty High School over the school shooter claim, conducted an investigation, found no threat and gave the “all clear” later that morning.

“Just like any other building, organization, or anyone in Arlington, if something happens, we’re going to call the police,” she said. “There have been situations where events happen in schools, and as a follow-up, parents may call the police. But for schools, we would do it if it’s a safety threat.”

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Arlington Public Schools is preparing to redraw boundaries for a half-dozen schools to relieve high enrollment and over-capacity at three of them.

The boundary process, which will go into effect next fall, is “limited in scope” and will target Abingdon Elementary School, Gunston Middle School and Wakefield High School.

“The boundary process will bring enrollment at these three schools to more manageable levels for the 2022-23 school year by re-assigning some planning units to neighboring schools with capacity to accommodate additional students,” APS said in a School Talk update to parents last week.

For each school, staff will focus on planning units where neither school is in walking distance, according to APS’s 2021 boundary process webpage.

APS says it will move some planning units from Abingdon to Drew Elementary School, which is two miles away. As of Sept. 30, Abingdon has 688 students and a projected capacity utilization rate of 119%, compared to the 433 students and use rate of 76% at Drew.

This direct step to balance enrollment comes on the heels of a less successful attempt to alleviate the overcrowding without redrawing boundaries. During the 2020-21 school year, APS set up a program encouraging families zoned for Abingdon to choose to send their children to Drew, with transportation provided.

Only 12 students took the “targeted transfer” option. School Board members said a dozen students would not make a dent in the schools’ enrollment imbalance and predicted the need for a boundary process.

“[The option] did not come out with numbers that were able to solve the problem,” Board Member Monique O’Grady said during an Aug. 26 School Board meeting. “I did want to point out that we have given the community the choice to go to what I think is a phenomenal school. After trying that, I think we’re at a different point in time, where we maybe need to take more intentional action.”

The renewed focus on Abingdon and Drew also comes three years after another boundary process that would have moved students at both Abingdon and Henry elementary schools to Drew proved controversial.

Some Gunston planning units will be moved to to Thomas Jefferson Middle School, but current Gunston students will not be affected. Gunston has 1,109 students and a projected capacity rate of 112%, compared to Jefferson’s 849 students and 101% use rate.

APS intends to move some planning units from Wakefield to Washington-Liberty High School, but the moves will not impact current Wakefield students. Enrollment and capacity rate margins are closer for the schools: 2,241 versus 2,174 students, and 108% versus 102%, respectively.

APS says the move will also make better use of the additional 500 or so seats at the former Arlington Education Center (1426 N. Quincy Street), which is set to open September 2022.

Despite the limited success of targeted transfers at the elementary level, APS plans to offer them so that current Wakefield students can opt to attend W-L next fall.

During the same August meeting, Executive Director of Planning and Evaluation Lisa Stengle said APS is offering the option because she’s “not sure moving ninth graders will be enough” to balance out Wakefield’s rising enrollment.

“With boundaries we want to be cautious, because we may have to come back and make changes in the future, and we don’t want to have to redo things,” Stengle said. “This way, it’s a choice.”

Community engagement sessions on the boundary process will begin with a virtual meeting on Saturday, Oct. 16. Engagement will run through the end of October.

Superintendent Francisco Durán will propose a more detailed plan during a meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 16. Two weeks later, on Tuesday, Nov. 30, there will be a public hearing. The School Board is expected to vote on his proposal on Thursday, Dec. 2.

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