School Board student rep: 'I don’t want Robert E. Lee on my diploma' - Bear spotted throughout Braddock District - Pools open to 50 guests at a time
FCPS reopening plan envisions alternating day schedules - Board of Supervisors looks to speed up police body-worn cameras - Tomorrow is the deadline to apply for an absentee ballot
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School Board student rep: ‘I don’t want Robert E. Lee on my diploma’
A conversation with Kimberly Boateng about race in FCPS
Against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter protests sweeping the nation, the Fairfax County School Board has decided to resume its stalled effort to consider renaming Robert E. Lee High School, which is located in Springfield about a 10-minute drive from the Wakefield area. A virtual public hearing has been set for June 22, followed by a board vote June 23.
The decision to restart the process, which was paused after schools closed due to COVID-19, came shortly after a letter surfaced on Twitter calling out Fairfax County Public Schools officials for their inaction, asking: “What is taking us so long?” The author of that letter was Kimberly Boateng, a rising senior at Robert E. Lee who is nearing the end of her one-year term as the School Board’s elected student representative.
A conversation with Boateng is below, edited for length and clarity.
Pictured: Kimberly Boateng
Wakefield Weekly: Do you think there was a connection between your letter and the School Board’s decision to restart the process?
Boateng: I'd like to think there was. The junior class at Lee actually had a town hall with our principal the other day. The principal, Mr. [Alfonso] Smith, apparently he had heard that, because of the coronavirus, the process was halted and we weren't going to hear anything back until October. And, honestly, October is completely unacceptable. So, regardless of whether or not my letter got it rolling, what I wanted to do was get people talking, and I think that worked.
W.W.: What do you think of the board’s handling of the issue?
Boateng: I'm going to be honest, I was kind of irked that it took so many years to get it going. I think, in terms of politics, they're the type of group that likes to peel the bandaid off slowly instead of just ripping it off. And, for me, time is of the essence because I don't want Robert E. Lee on my diploma next year. I know from my one year on the board that everything is difficult in terms of all this. I do wish that we had gotten it started earlier, but I am happy that we are taking the initiative now. I'm upset with the system and the policies that have been in place, but I can't say that I'm upset with the School Board itself.
W.W.: Can you tell us what it’s like, as an African American, going to a school named for Robert E. Lee?
Boateng: Nobody really calls it Robert E. Lee. People think that we aren't bothered by the name Robert E. Lee, but as students we've abandoned the “Robert E.” part of it. We just call ourselves “Lee.” This past year—everyone does this thing where we get our student IDs and we get excited and post it on social media, like, “This is what my student ID looks like.” I have friends from all over the country, and when I posted my student ID they were like, "You go to Robert E. Lee High School?" And every single time that happened, I had to go, “Oh, no, it's not like that. Our school isn't what you think.” It's so disheartening that I have to do that because my school is one of the most accepting places that I've ever been. Everyone is diverse and everyone understands that we all have different lives and we all love each other for that. But from the outside people don't know that.
W.W.: What does Robert E. Lee symbolize to you?
Boateng: For me, Robert E. Lee symbolizes a history of white supremacy, black suffering, and racism as a whole. A lot of people have come to me and said, "When you actually look into Robert E. Lee, he did a lot of good things. He only fought for the Confederacy because he's a Virginian." I have to tell people, "It's not about Robert E. Lee as a person. It's about the principle of the Confederacy. It's about the fact that he was a war general for the Confederacy and he's an iconic figure for the Confederacy.” People like to argue that the Confederates didn't just fight for slavery, but they did fight for slavery. And it's rooted in white supremacy and racism that should not have a home in Fairfax County.
W.W.: In next week’s public hearing, there will likely be people who say that Robert E. Lee is a symbol of their heritage and state pride.
Boateng: They will 100% be there.
W.W.: What would you say to those people?
Boateng: It's okay if it's their heritage but that doesn't mean that it needs to be in a place that I go to everyday. People always try to hide behind the fact of, “This is my heritage; you're taking away my history.” Us changing the name of my high school is not going to take away their heritage; it's not going to take away history. In all honesty, I could basically say the opposite: It's my heritage of slavery, and we should be the ones to say whether or not the name stays.
W.W.: You’ve attended six different FCPS schools. Has that given you perspective on diversity and equality across the district?
Boateng: My experience of moving around a lot has definitely given me my perspective on everything. I went to South County my freshman year, which is starkly different than Lee—very different demographics, a very different socioeconomic status on average. It showed me that not everybody in Fairfax County has the same experiences. Resources at South County are amazing. They have resources and resources. They have programs; they have all these different extracurriculars. At Lee, it's an uphill battle. I made a joke because on my first day of school when I went to South County, I looked outside and I was like, “Oh my goodness—they have sprinklers on their fields.” That was insane to me. I didn't know that you could even have sprinklers on the fields.
W.W.: Is there anything we haven’t asked you that you’d like to add?
Boateng: The public hearing—a lot of people at my school are concerned. I've been posting non-stop on Twitter, “Yall better sign up to speak.” I’m encouraging everybody from my school—we need to see color; we need to see diversity in voice. Us not showing up means that we're just giving the mic to people who may not represent us as a school.
W.W.: Thank you for chatting with us. Do you have thoughts, at this point, on college and a career field?
Boateng: I’ve got my college list down, but it's kind of all over the place, so I'm not going to bore you with all of those. In terms of career fields, I'm still figuring it out, but I'm looking to the social sciences, sociology, looking at whether I want to try out global affairs. I was thinking at first political science, but I realized, as much as I loved my position as student rep to the School Board—my dad would say I was like a little politician this year—I don’t like the bureaucracy of the political system. To me, I don't like professionalism for the sake of professionalism, and that's been a big part of my experience this past year. I'd like something that actually gives me more freedom to talk how I talk, to be how I am, instead of something where you have to fit this mold.
Members of the public—including current FCPS students (wink wink)—can register to speak at the June 22 public hearing here.
The New Normal
FCPS fall reopening plan envisions alternating day schedules: Over the weekend, FCPS unveiled its draft proposal for reopening schools in the fall—and the details make clear our world will not be returning to “normal” anytime soon, if ever. Superintendent Scott Brabrand and other FCPS officials are set to present the plan to the School Board at 1:30 p.m. today—followed by a survey that will be distributed to FCPS families this week and a virtual hearing to receive public input on Thursday. You can register to speak at the hearing here. A final plan is expected to be approved by the board and released to the public later this month.
The 57-slide draft proposal, which is designed to comply with guidelines released last week by Gov. Ralph Northam, lays out several scenarios for the fall and notes that nothing has been finalized yet. But the plan seems to favor a scenario in which students return to in-person instruction once or twice per week on alternating days so building capacity can be kept at 25% or 50% to allow for social distancing. The presentation says full-time distance learning will be available to students who are at high risk for severe illness—and that full-time online classes could be a possibility for all students if there’s a resurgence of COVID-19 this fall. The presentation does not provide a clear answer on whether FCPS will provide childcare support to working parents during the three-to-four days per week that their children would not be in school.
The presentation also makes clear every aspect of student life is being re-imagined to comply with social distancing. School buses might allow just one student per seat, parents will be asked to send their kids to school with signed forms stating that they are symptom-free, and children will be required to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds after “blowing nose, coughing, or sneezing”—which sounds like quite a challenge for teachers. Here’s a slide from the presentation showing how classrooms could be rearranged to ensure adequate space between desks:
You can catch today’s 1:30 p.m. School Board meeting here.
Pools open to 50 guests at a time as Northern Virginia enters Phase 2: On Friday, Northern Virginia joined the rest of the state in entering Phase 2 of Northam’s reopening plan, which allows restaurants to offer indoor dining at 50% capacity, among other loosened restrictions. Many of the pools in the area are now open on a limited basis, allowing up to 50 guests at a time. The Wakefield Chapel Recreation Association has rolled out a reservation system where families can sign up for roped-off sections of the pool for 90 minutes. Our family was fortunate enough to secure a slot yesterday—and we snapped this photo of what WCRA looks like in pandemic operating status:
This bear won’t scare: Several area residents got quite a surprise last week, catching glimpses of a bear who seems to be fond of the Braddock District. There have been several reports of the young, non-aggressive black bear meandering through yards and walking down streets, including Braddock Road. “A number of residents have posted photos and videos of our large, furry friend rummaging in their backyards or traipsing down the sidewalk,” Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw said in a message to the community. “While state and local officials are aware of the situation, unless an animal is sick, injured, or poses a threat to public safety, we do not remove bears. They are not typically aggressive and will move on to a more hospitable location in a matter of days.”
According to the Fairfax County Park Authority, black bears are typically spotted as they begin emerging from hibernation in March through May of each year. Black bears are naturally shy of humans, but can be attracted to human-occupied spaces due to the presence of bird feeders, pet food, and garbage. For this reason, the Park Authority advises residents to remove these common attractants or relocate them to garages or sheds. With no access to human foods, it is likely the bear will find its way back to a more natural habitat.
Here’s a video of the bear, posted to YouTube by Annandale resident Kevin Dobbs:
Tomorrow is the last day to apply for a mail-in ballot! The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot for the June 23 primaries is tomorrow at 5 p.m. The county is encouraging residents to vote absentee, and the state application website provides directions for what to do if your reason for voting absentee is the pandemic. You can access the website here.
The Republican primary will determine the party’s candidate to face off in November against Democratic Sen. Mark Warner. Meanwhile, the Democratic primary pits six-term congressman Gerry Connolly, who lives in Mantua, against the longshot campaign of political newcomer Zainab Mohsini, a first-generation Afghan-American who’s challenging Connolly from the left. We reached out to both Democratic candidates to ask how the pandemic has affected their campaigns. Their responses, edited for length, are below:
Connolly: COVID-19 has changed all of our lives, and my campaign has changed too: In-person meetings with constituents have been replaced by Zooms, and we can only reach out to voters over the phone and online, not by going door knocking. We're also encouraging every voter to be safe and vote by mail, which due to COVID-19 all voters are eligible to do. As someone who loves the in-person elements of a campaign and hearing my constituents’ concerns face-to-face, it's been a sad but necessary adjustment to help keep our community safe and stop the spread of COVID-19.
Mohsini: COVID-19 has become a political crisis in the sense that it has threatened the voting rights of everyone, but particularly those who already face societal marginalization. Our campaign has tried to lobby the Department of Elections and the governor to enact universal mail-in ballots so that everyone can preserve their right to vote. As it stands, the burden has been placed on voters to do their own research to get our ballots. We've started a large digital organizing campaign to help people with the process of getting their ballots. Hopefully we can come together as a community to make sure that everyone can preserve their right to vote safely during this pandemic.
News In Brief
The Board of Supervisors voted last week to require county officials to submit a plan to reinstate funding for “Year 2” of the rollout of police body-worn cameras. The second and third years of the program—which include the West Springfield police district that serves the Wakefield area—had been put on hold because of COVID-19 budget cuts, but an incident of alleged police brutality earlier this month has renewed focus on the program.
No black students were accepted to the Class of 2024 at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, the region’s most prestigious magnet school, according to the Annandale Blog. Of the 486 students in the incoming class, 16 are Hispanic, 86 are white, 355 are Asian, and 29 identify as multiracial/other. Principal Ann Bonitatibus sent an email to TJ families calling for an evaluation of racial equity at the school and opening a dialogue about whether TJ should replace its mascot, the Colonial.
FCPS has reopened its playgrounds, athletic fields, and basketball courts.
Fairfax City is closing the Recycling Center off Pickett Road, citing “increased costs for single-stream recycling services due to the declining recycling market, as well as persistent illegal dumping at the site.”
Saturday, June 20: Eagle Scouts Miguel and Antonio Alonso will be collecting canned goods in the Chapel Square neighborhood from 10-11 a.m. for the Food Closet of St. Matthews’ United Methodist Church. Chapel Square residents are asked to leave items outside their house by 10 a.m. on the 20th on the sidewalk or in the driveway for the Alonsos to pick up. Items needed include cereal, pasta, pasta sauce, beans (canned or dried), canned soup, canned veggies, canned fruit, canned meat, canned tuna, juice boxes, crackers in sleeves, and brown paper grocery bags.
Tuesday, June 30: Woodson High School’s virtual graduation begins at 11 a.m. It can be streamed here.
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