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Week In Arlington

Schools Agree To Federal Demands

The Arlington County School Board came to an agreement last week with the U.S. Department of Education over a dispute about how to test non-English speaking students.

In a resolution adopted on Thursday, the School Board reluctantly agreed to administer reading tests to students with limited English skills as demanded by the federal government. But it also allowed students to opt out of the test if they find it too difficult.

The dispute about testing began earlier this year when Arlington County joined several other Northern Virginia school divisions in refusing to give grade-level reading tests to their non-English speaking students, claiming that they could not be reasonably expected to pass the tests.

The Department of Education demanded that the school divisions administer the exams to comply with the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires schools to evaluate all of its students at grade level.

In an interview conducted last month, School Board Chair Libby Garvey said that giving the grade-level tests to students with limited or no English speaking abilities would be "educational malpractice."

But after the Department of Education threatened to withhold millions of dollars in federal funds from the school divisions, the Virginia Department of Education encouraged compliance and most of the divisions acquiesced.

Prior to adopting the resolution, Garvey reiterated that "We don’t want the exam to be distressing to the students."

But she said that the state brokered an agreement with federal authorities that would allow students to stop taking the exam if they felt they could not answer the questions.

Garvey acknowledged that this means that Arlington’s non-English speaking students will almost certainly fail the exams in large numbers. But she said that the compromise was only negotiated for one year at which point the testing issue will be revisited.

"It will be coming back next year," Garvey said.

— David Schultz

Church Sanctions Gay Marriage

A Protestant church in Arlington has voted to allow marriages of same-sex couples.

The Rock Spring Congregational United Church of Christ used to offer only civil unions to homosexual couples but will now perform its traditional marriage ceremonies for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons.

The decision to allow same-sex marriages was made in a near-unanimous vote by congregants of the church at a meeting last month. The vote came after the church conducted an 18-month study on the issue that included book studies, forums and other meetings open to all in the church.

"The Rock Spring vote means no more two-track system for gay and straight couples in our church and no more ‘separate but equal’ treatment," Rev. Janet Parker, a pastor at the church, said in a statement.

Rock Spring United Church of Christ, which has been in Arlington since 1912, is the second church in Arlington to offer same-sex wedding ceremonies. The first was the Clarendon Presbyterian Church, which opened its doors to homosexual couples in the fall of 2005.

The marriages will not be legally recognized by the state government. In 2006, Virginia voters approved a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

School Records Deadline May 1

Former Arlington Public Schools special education students born in 1980 should contact the Student Services Records Clerk by May 1 if they would like a copy of their special education records. Students must provide a written request for their records and include their name, birth date, and the name of the last Arlington school in which they were enrolled. Students should send their request to: Arlington Education Center, Attention: Student Services Records Department, 1426 N. Quincy Street, Arlington, VA, 22207. Special education records of students born in 1980 that are not claimed by May 1 will be destroyed. Call Records Clerks Xenia Castaneda or Mary Beth Vieira at 703-228-6062.