(Updated at 2:45 p.m.) Today is the first day high school-aged Arlington Public Schools students can carry naloxone in schools.
Students in grades 9 and above can now carry the opioid reversal drug if they have consent from a parent or guardian, according to the school system. Those who are at least 18 years old can also provide consent if they wish.
The policy change comes four months after the fatal overdose of a 14-year-old at Wakefield High School in January. The death of Sergio Flores has led to calls for changes at APS by teachers, parents and School Board members — including a push to have more naloxone in schools and to let kids carry it.
Any student who carries the overdose-reversing drug — the most well-known brand of which is the nasal spray Narcan — must provide the day they were trained and agree to call 911 and notify school staff if used in school or at a school activity, per a presentation to the School Board last night (Thursday).
Consent may be provided through an online authorization form or via the family portal ParentVue, an option APS says will be available by the end of the day today.
Students who need training may attend training hosted by Arlington Addiction Recovery Initiative on Thursday, June 1 at Washington-Liberty High School from 7-8 p.m. Another training session is planned for the week of June 5.
Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.) came to Arlington today to discuss substance use and the fentanyl crisis. He participated in a roundtable at National Capital Treatment and Recovery (521 N. Quincy Street), an addiction treatment center in the Ballston area.
This facility is preparing to resume offering options for teens seven years after ending its youth programs. Those services will begin June 5, a spokesman for the center told ARLnow Friday afternoon.
Consumption of fentanyl — a powerful synthetic opioid that can be prescribed or taken illegally — contributed to the deaths of nearly 2,000 Virginians in 2022, per a press release announcing Kaine’s visit.
While the number of fatal, fentanyl-involved overdoses in Arlington was not readily available, as of last Thursday, there have been seven fatal overdoses so far in 2023, according to publicly available county data.
This year there have been a total of 61 opioid incidents, of which 22 were overdoses and the rest were possession and distribution cases, according to county data.
As fentanyl-related deaths have risen, the federal government has responded with calls for de-stigmatizing addiction and for increased access to naloxone. Two months ago, the Food and Drug Administration approved an over-the-counter version of the nasal spray Narcan.
Arlington County, meanwhile, has joined lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies linked to the opioid crisis, putting settlements toward treatment. It reexamined its teen programming to provide youth and young adults with more positive experiences and steer them away from drug use.
Last week, Kaine introduced legislation with Joni Ernst, a Republican senator from Iowa, to declare fentanyl trafficking a national security threat and direct the Pentagon to work with other federal agencies and Mexican officials to tackle drug trafficking by transnational criminal organizations, the release said.
Kaine says he is also pressing the federal government to dedicate more resources to the crisis and ease access buprenorphine, which, like methadone, is used in addiction therapy to replace the effects of a stronger substances.
Additionally, the senator joined other lawmakers in asking Meta — which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp — to address drug trafficking on its platforms.
Washington-Liberty High School senior Ava Schwarz always wondered about outer space.
But she did not always love the fields that made the heavens intelligible: science, technology, engineering and math.
That changed once she moved to Arlington and got an internship with Rosie Riveters, a nonprofit focused on promoting STEM education among kids 4-14, particularly girls.
“She took an initial spark of an opportunity and made it her own through our connections and resources,” says Rosie Riveters Executive Director Brittany Greer.
The internship opened doors to more opportunities — including a competition through NASA in which technology she and other W-L students made was launched into space. It culminated with Crystal City-based Boeing holding a STEM Signing Day on Tuesday, as a diverse array of promising students signed a letter of intent to pursue degrees in STEM in college.
“I’m just excited to work in the orbit of her future,” Greer said.
The aerospace company honored 34 Virginia high schoolers, including Schwarz, who plans to study aerospace engineering at Yale University, and Alex Anderson, a soon-to-be Arlington Career Center graduate set to attend William and Mary University to study computer science.
The day hyped up students who will study STEM the way other schools celebrate students signing to play with college sports teams.
“We heard a lot of encouragement,” Schwarz said. “It can be so intimidating so it was cool to have so many people tell you you can do it and that this is an exciting time to be in STEM.”
There was also a message that felt tailor-made for her. One young graduate — a self-described “bubbly” woman — encouraged Signing Day participants to be themselves even if it might not fit engineer stereotypes.
“She said… bring your fullest self to table — that’s how you’re going to be most effective,” Schwarz recalled.
Boeing has been a long time supporter of Rosie Riveters, which began referring students for the STEM Signing Day last year, Greer said. Boeing, for instance, makes possible its education opportunities on military bases.
Going to Boeing’s corporate headquarters in Arlington (929 Long Bridge Drive) this week with Schwarz brought Greer “full circle.”
“She hadn’t had an interest in STEM prior to Rosie,” she said. “It was a clear example of the amazingness of what a public-private partnership can look like.”
Sponsors of her program, including Boeing and Amazon, make it possible for the nonprofit to go into schools and show students what STEM careers look like and what scholarships or internships are available to get them into those careers.
“It’s not just something where they got lucky to hear about it: it’s something they’re being actively called to and their families can support the path to that opportunity,” Greer said. “There’s an incredible amount of talent in our backyards and Ava is evidence of that.”
Schwarz was grateful for the opportunity and the support of Rosie Riveters for helping her push through when she was outnumbered 10-to-one by boys in her engineering classes.
“It’s amazing to have this community backing me, reassuring me that I may be one of the only women in room, but as time goes on, the whole next generation coming up and there will be more women in the room in the future,” she said.
Schwarz going from unaware of STEM opportunities to participating — along with other students of diverse backgrounds — in Boeing’s signing day is proof of concept for Greer.
“You’ve really got this movement of these awesome companies who are based in Arlington and the surrounding area, who are invested in local talent… particularly for groups who haven’t been represented in those spaces,” Greer said. “It’s a more effective, efficient way to invest in the pipeline.”
Sofia Kaarina Kurbat from Innovation Elementary is grateful for her teachers instilling in her the joy of learning.
So, it was fitting that she was in class on Tuesday when Google paid a surprise visit to the Courthouse-area school to say her submission to the 15th annual Doodle for Google competition was named the best in Virginia.
Young artists were asked to draw a picture of something they are grateful for and explain it in a statement. Kurbat was one of 55 state and territory winners and this is what she had to say about her drawing:
2023 is my first year of school and I love it — going to school, learning new things, enjoying the company of my classmates makes me happy every day because of the wonderful teachers, who work so hard to give us the joy of learning.
This is the year I learned to read and I’m thankful for my teachers being so encouraging. I am also thankful for my supportive community, where everyone is welcome and everyone’s special talents are recognized and celebrated. This [is] what I tried to express in my Doodle.
Other artists depicted their gratitude for spending time in nature, taking part in hobbies and spending time with their communities, Google said.
“We were amazed by the submissions we received. Across ages, students showcased what they appreciate most in thoughtful and intentional ways,” Google said in a statement. “Given the challenging nature of the past few years, we were really inspired to see the many ways students have been nurturing their spirits and facing the opportunities and challenges that every day brings.”
Kurbat and the 54 other children received Google hardware and swag and “held celebrations in their hometowns to showcase their artwork,” the tech company said.
Voting is expected to open today to choose which five of the 55 winning state Doodles will advance as national finalists and eventually, which student will be declared the big winner and have their design temporarily grace the top of Google.
School Board candidate Miranda Turner has found success on her second go-round.
Following a three-day caucus process, Turner has captured the Democratic endorsement for Arlington School Board, with 1,004 votes to 332 for Angelo Cocchiaro. Turner will face at least one independent candidate in the November general election: James “Vell” Rives, who is also running for the second time.
Cocchiaro appeared to be considering dropping out of the race in April, but ultimately stayed in and picked up some key endorsements, including from outgoing School Board Chair Reid Goldstein. Cocchiaro’s promise to be “a prizefighter for our teachers and school staff” also helped to win him the endorsement of the political action committee of the local teachers union.
Following the release of the caucus results, the 22-year-old youth organizer said in a statement that “Arlington Democrats have made their voices heard, and I am proud to give my full-throated and unequivocal endorsement to Miranda Turner.”
“It is critical that Arlingtonians elect a candidate this November who will uphold, defend, and advance the progress achieved by this School Board, and who will advocate for every student,” he continued. “Miranda Turner is that candidate.”
Turner notably advocated for a swifter return to in-person school at Arlington Public Schools in the fall of 2020, at a time when concerns about the health impacts of such a move were heightened. Her campaign this year has focused on classroom instruction and support for teachers and students.
“The need for high-quality instruction, appropriate intervention, and the use of data to support our students is more urgent than ever,” her website says. “If elected, I will ensure a laser focus on instruction and providing an excellent education for all students.”
Turner is a Brown- and UVA-educated attorney, focused on insurance litigation, and a partner at a prominent D.C. law firm. On her website, she highlights her pro bono work and representation of Planned Parenthood.
Turner’s website notes, additionally, that she has been an APS parent since 2015 and has been active in her elementary school’s PTA and in the Green Valley Civic Association.
More on the caucus results, below, from an Arlington County Democratic Committee press release.
Arlington Public Schools has hired a well-liked high school principal from Alexandria.
APS announced four new principal appointments last night, after their approval by the Arlington School Board. Among them: Alexandria City High School (ACHS) Principal Peter Balas, who will take over as principal of Wakefield High School in the fall.
Wakefield, which has faced the overdose death of a student as well as threats of violence this year, has its top spot open with Principal Chris Willmore being promoted to Director of Secondary Education at APS.
Balas, who has been with Alexandria City Public Schools for 22 years, took over at then-T.C. Williams High School in 2017. Since then, Balas has navigated the school through Covid, a consequential decision to stick with one large high school for the city, the school’s renaming and issues around violence in and outside of the school.
ACHS saw frequent leadership turnover in the years before Balas took charge and, despite continued turnover at the leadership level in the years that followed, Balas has been a stabilizing force for the school.
“To watch these students grow over time is more rewarding than I ever anticipated,” Balas wrote in announcing his decision to take the Wakefield position. “And, seeing all of my elementary school students now at the high school has given me one of the most unique and special opportunities of my career. My time in ACPS has made me a better teacher, leader and person.”
Balas said he won’t leave until June and will see the school year through until graduation.
Also last night, APS announced a trio of elementary and middle school principal appointments, including Long Branch Elementary Assistant Principal Carolyn Jackson becoming principal of Gunston Middle School.
At its May 11 meeting, the Arlington School Board appointed Carolyn Jackson as Principal of Gunston Middle School. She currently serves as the Assistant Principal of Long Branch Elementary School.
Jackson earned a Bachelor of Science from North Carolina A & T State University, a master’s from George Washington University and George Mason University and is currently working on a Doctor of Education from William and Mary.
Jackson has been an educator serving Arlington Public Schools in a variety of roles for 23 years. Throughout her career, she has served in different capacities at Gunston Middle School, including teacher, activities director, Director of Counseling Services and Assistant Principal. Jackson also served as a counselor at Claremont Immersion School, Assistant Principal at Nottingham Elementary School and a Supervisor in the Office of Equity and Excellence.
Rounding out the appointments are new Hoffman-Boston Elementary Principal Helena Payne Chauvenet and new Carlin Springs Elementary Principal Carmen De La Cruz Scales. Payne Chauvenet is another external hire — she is currently principal of Maury Elementary School in D.C. — while De La Cruz Scales is an assistant principal at Arlington’s Washington-Liberty High School.
The hiring of Balas, meanwhile, is reverberating around Arlington’s southern neighbor, with many on social media lamenting a titanic loss at a time of transition for Alexandria’s school system.
Wow. Mr. Balas is truly a phenomenal principal. Wakefield is lucky to have him!
— Yahney-Marie Sangaré (@yahneymarie) May 12, 2023
💔 We love you, @PrincipalTitan https://t.co/XLpsgBecVv
— Ashley Simpson Baird (@ASBforACPS) May 12, 2023
That shattering sound you hear is my heart breaking. https://t.co/txZOXt8yQd
— Laura Simons (@_Simons_says) May 12, 2023
Vernon Miles contributed to this report
Voting to determine which School Board candidate gets the endorsement of the local Democratic party kicked off yesterday and continues this week.
Candidates Angelo Cocchiaro and Miranda Turner are vying to be the Democratic-supported candidate who will run in the general election in November to replace outgoing School Board Chair Reid Goldstein. The winner will face any independent candidates, which so far includes James “Vell” Rives, who is running for the second time.
Both Democratic hopefuls continue racking up high-profile endorsements. In addition to Goldstein’s support, Cocchiaro was endorsed by the political action committee of the teachers union, Arlington Education Association (AEA). Turner earned the support of some Arlington County Board members, former chairs of Arlington County Democratic Committee and community leaders.
In a statement released Friday, the political action committee representing Arlington Public Schools educators and staff said it believes Cocchiaro’s “youthful vision and strong commitment to students, educators and the labor movement will make him a fresh voice for APS.”
“He impressed the interview committee with his student activism in support of educators in West Virginia,” the statement continued. “His support of labor rights and collective bargaining will serve our students, community, and staff well by giving those on the front-lines of providing educational service to our community a real voice in planning to make it the best it can be.”
The teachers union recently won an election by county school employees to be the exclusive representative for educators once collective bargaining begins with Arlington Public Schools.
Cocchiaro said he is willing to go the extra mile “to be a prizefighter for our teachers and school staff.”
“There are those who would create an artificial, invisible wall between AEA and the School Board,” he said in a statement. “Let me be clear: not me. As a Democrat’s Democrat, I’ll always take the side of labor over management — I’ll have their back — and that’s never going to change.”
Cocchiaro says he will fight for “raises that beat inflation,” 12 weeks of paid family leave and a “Live Where You Work” housing support program. Arlington County offers financial assistance to eligible staff looking to rent or buy in Arlington and APS has offered similar grants in the past.
Turner also advocates for better pay and benefits and paid parental leave for APS staff. She says the school system should let staff who live in Arlington enroll their children at the school where they work, and says the county and school system should explore providing grants to teachers looking to buy a home in Arlington.
(Updated at 12:10 p.m.) A student at Kenmore Middle School is facing charges after an alleged threat.
The student posted a photo of a gun and the words “wait until tomorrow” in a group chat, according to an email from school administration.
The incident was reported Thursday morning. A police investigation “did not reveal an ongoing threat to the community” but the student is still facing potential criminal charges and disciplinary action by the school, according to Arlington County police.
THREATS (Significant), 2023-05040050, 200 block of S. Carlin Springs Road. At approximately 7:56 a.m. on May 4, police were dispatched to the report of threats. Upon arrival, it was determined a juvenile posted threats involving a firearm to a social media group chat. The involved juvenile was identified and the investigation did not reveal an ongoing threat to the community. A petition for Threats was obtained for the juvenile.
Previously, threats found inside the school — and a student with an airsoft gun — prompted a police presence at Kenmore in November 2021.
Kenmore families were told of the threat in a School Talk email from Principal David McBride, below.
“We always take threats of violence of any kind very seriously,” McBride said, while noting that “ normal school operations were not interrupted.”
Dear Kenmore families:
We were informed this morning of a social media threat involving a photo of a gun and the words “Wait until tomorrow.”
The Arlington County Police Department (ACPD) and APS Safety, Security, Emergency and Risk Management were immediately made aware of the threat, and they are investigating the situation.
The student involved has been identified and the ongoing investigation has not revealed a credible threat to the safety of the school community. ACPD is seeking criminal charges. Students are reminded that making threats, regardless of credibility, is unacceptable and in violation of the Student Code of Conduct and will result in disciplinary action by the school as well as a referral to law enforcement.
We ask all members of our community to report any threats they may see or hear, whether they believe they are credible or not. We also need to remind everyone that spreading rumors among classmates or on social media that have not been verified can create unnecessary stress for students.
We always take threats of violence of any kind very seriously. We will keep you updated if we receive new information.
The safety of our students and staff is our top priority and I want to thank the Kenmore community for your support and responsiveness, and if you hear or see something that concerns you, please let me or a member of our staff know immediately. Normal school operations were not interrupted.
Thank you for working together to make our school safe. If you have any questions, please feel free to call the office at…
James “Vell” Rives is entering the race to fill the Arlington School Board seat being vacated by Reid Goldstein.
He will be running in the general election in November against the candidate who wins the Arlington County Democratic Committee endorsement caucus, either be Miranda Turner or political newcomer Angelo Cocchiaro, who both nabbed high-profile endorsements recently.
Voting in the caucus will take place in early May.
Rives, an Arlington resident of 24 years with two children in Arlington Public Schools, ran as an independent last year, nabbing the endorsement of the then-Sun Gazette (now the Gazette Leader). He lost to Bethany Sutton, who had the support of Arlington Democrats and captured 68% of votes on Election Day, compared to the 30% Rives garnered.
“His campaign priorities include school safety, academic rigor, and teacher retention,” Rives’ announcement says.
Some of his previous campaign issues included reinstating School Resource Officers and doing away with standards-based grading, per a video on his website.
Rives is a psychiatrist and past co-chair of the Arlington Public Schools School Health Advisory Board (SHAB). He currently represents SHAB for the Arlington Addiction Recovery Initiative and his website details his policy positions on the twin epidemics of student drug use and mental health issues.
“Substance Abuse has increased since the pandemic among students nationally, and anecdotal reports suggest the same for Arlington,” Rives’ website says. “While continuing preventive education in school, I support aggressive early intervention to change the trajectory for students using drugs.”
Earlier this year, a 14-year-old student died of a drug overdose at Wakefield High School, which one of his children attends. APS has since stepped up education and increased the availability of the overdose reversal drug Narcan but some teachers say they do not feel heard when they report concerns to administrators.
Rives says APS should redirect resources to address rising mental health concerns.
“We must also rebuild connectedness among the school community by promoting athletics, performing and visual arts, and physical education that involves exercise and play,” he said.
The budget that the Arlington School Board is teed up to adopt later this year includes a handful of additional substance abuse counselors and a psychologist and social worker to maintain current staffing levels.
Rives says he also supports the position of SHAB that APS should adopt a policy requiring students to keep personal devices off and stored during school hours. A handful of schools have independently adopted this but SHAB says it needs to be systemwide to be enforceable. Some current School Board members support such a policy, while others oppose it.
As for the Democratic candidates, Turner has also staked out positions on mental health, such as more teen programming and tighter controls on APS-issued devices, as well as greater academic rigor, especially calling for more math interventionists.
On substance use, Cocchiaro says he would like to add more counselors.
Arlington County police are investigating whether a student threatened another student with a knife brought into a local middle school.
The alleged incident happened this past Thursday morning at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, at 125 S. Old Glebe Road.
Police were only informed of the incident yesterday (Monday) afternoon, after a school administrator learned about the incident and called ACPD.
“At approximately 2:57 p.m. on April 24, police were dispatched to the late report of threats,” said today’s ACPD crime report. “Upon arrival, it was determined at approximately 11:20 a.m. on April 20, the juvenile victim and juvenile suspect were in a restroom in the building when the suspect allegedly demanded the victim’s shoes, displayed a knife and made threatening statements.”
“The victim then safely exited the bathroom. No injuries were reported and no items were reported stolen,” the crime report continued, “Officers made contact with the suspect at his residence and recovered a knife. Petitions were sought for the juvenile suspect for Attempted Robbery and Possession of a Weapon at School.”
In one year, a group of Washington-Liberty High School students built a subatomic particle detector from scratch, teaching themselves everything from a new coding language to how to solder.
Now, that hardware and software are set to get launched into space this week, though a date has yet to be set.
“I feel ecstatic,” senior Ava Schwarz tells ARLnow.
Their project, originally scheduled to launch on Friday, will help scientists who are researching particle physics understand the kind of atmospheric radiation that rockets experience on flights just under the line between “space” and “outer space,” which is 62 miles above sea level.
Currently, scientists know that there are electron-like particles called “muons” that form when x-rays and gamma rays produced by stars, including the sun, react with particles in the Earth’s atmosphere. Someone even invented a detector to figure out the strength and magnitude of the muons.
What scientists want to know is where exactly these muons get formed — and that is what the students set out to discover. They proposed building detectors and launching them into space to measure the altitude where they are formed and NASA accepted the project.
The team from W-L did so as part of the inaugural NASA TechRise Student Challenge, which was designed to engage and inspire future STEM professionals. The students comprise one of the 57 winning teams to receive $1,500 to build their experiments and receive a NASA-funded spot to test them on suborbital rocket flights operated by Blue Origin or UP Aerospace, per an Arlington Public Schools press release from last year.
The W-L students essentially started from scratch.
“A year ago, I didn’t know what a muon was,” Schwarz said. “I started completely from ground zero and took a crash course in particle physics, electrical engineering — the whole works.”
Senior Pia Wilson was a teammate with, comparatively, substantial coding experience. Suddenly, she was knee-deep in professionally created code using a language she had never worked with before.
“It was definitely a lot of Googling, lot of scouring forum posts in all the coding forums and a lot of help from professionals as well,” she said. Wilson added that she never expected learning how to solder electronics while in high school.
When they needed an expert with whom to talk through a problem, they spoke with associates of their school supervisor, Jeffrey Carpenter — who got into teaching after a 20-year career in space operations — as well as the person who invented a muon detector, Massachusetts Institute of Technology research assistant Spencer Axani.
“It was a very ‘two steps forward, one step back’ process,” Schwarz said. “We were going into a high-level project without a foundational skill set, which we obtained through trial and error.”
Whenever the detector malfunctioned, she said they troubleshooted by eliminating what the problem was not.
“There were many, many afternoons that turned into evenings spent after school, just working for hours, figuratively banging our heads against the wall,” she said.
As the experiment dragged into the summer last year, they kept hitting technical setbacks, particularly with the weight of the detector. They sometimes worried they would not finish in time for launch.
Arlington Public Schools has “paused” some overnight field trips amid a law enforcement investigation.
Some fifth-grade students were on a recent overnight field trip to the school system’s Outdoor Lab in Fauquier County when an incident allegedly occurred and was reported to the local Sheriff’s Office.
In response, APS is not conducting any additional overnight field trips to the facility for fifth graders at this time, spokesman Frank Bellavia confirmed to ARLnow.
“APS has temporarily stopped overnight trips but day trips are still happening,” he said. “This is a temporary pause in overnight trips to the Lab as we review and revisit our staffing and safety procedures.”
Jeffrey Long, Public Information Officer for the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office, confirmed law enforcement is looking into an incident reported on March 30. He did not elaborate on what allegedly transpired at the 225-acre wooded facility about an hour from Arlington, just that it involved “one or more juvenile.”
“As this is an ongoing investigation I am not able to provide details of the incident,” Long told ARLnow in an email. “There have been no charges filed at this time.”
In addition to one-night overnight field trips for fifth graders, the school system sponsors day trips and summer camps at the Outdoor Lab.
Owned by the nonprofit Arlington Outdoor Education Association and used by APS, Outdoor Lab celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2016. It was founded with financial support from the late Arlington philanthropist Preston Caruthers.