Fairfax County is one of the wealthiest areas in the U.S., but that success isn’t necessarily spread equally among all of the region’s inhabitants. The Board of Supervisors signaled that it wants to change that by passing the “One Fairfax” resolution to make “racial and social equity” a key factor for consideration in all decisions that the county makes.
The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on July 12 to adopt One Fairfax, which directs the county to develop “an intentional racial and social equity policy at its core for all publicly delivered services.”
“One Fairfax emphasizes the importance of making county-wide decisions through the lens of racial and social equity,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova said. “I am proud to represent a county that values our diverse community and supports our students, residents, workforce and business owners of every race, socio-economic status, and background.”
Developed in a joint effort by the Board of Supervisors and the Fairfax County School Board, One Fairfax stems from the work of Fairfax County’s Successful Children and Youth Policy Team (SCYPT), a task force comprised of government staff, school board members, and community representatives that first convened in May 2013.
According to Bulova, the county organized SCYPT in response to concerns about racial and economic disparities in the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) system. Specifically, reports suggested that a disproportionate number of African American and Hispanic children were getting expelled from school and winding up in the criminal justice system.
A report on disproportionality in the juvenile justice system conducted by the Center for the Study of Social Policy and released in September 2012 found that African American youths between 10 and 17 years old make up 10 percent of Fairfax County’s youth population yet account for 37 percent of its detention center placements. They’re four times more likely to be referred to the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court (JDRDC) than their white peers.
Similarly, Hispanic youth comprise 17 percent of the county’s youth population but 36 percent of its detention center placements, and they’re twice as likely to end up in juvenile court as white youths.
The study, titled “Disproportionate Minority Contact for African American and Hispanic Youth,” also found that Fairfax County has the highest referral rate for African American youths of any locality in Northern Virginia other than Arlington County. Fairfax also has the second-lowest diversion rate for both African American and Hispanic youths in the region, above only Loudoun County.
SCYPT’s main goal was to set public policy priorities and goals in order to reduce these disparities and improve the quality of opportunities available to all county children and families.
“[We’re] trying to make certain that, when we look for success in children, we look at all the needs of all children,” said Hunter Mill District Supervisor Cathy Hudgins, one of two supervisors on the task force along with Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay.
In addition to looking at FCPS policies, SCYPT examined how the county could help children stay in school and succeed, for instance, by improving its economic support system for families or changing how it distributes social services throughout different neighborhoods.
The Board of Supervisors and school board discussed SCYPT’s work during a joint retreat on June 14, and that conversation led to One Fairfax, according to Bulova.
The One Fairfax resolution broadens SCYPT’s focus beyond children to all county residents, and it applies to all government sectors, from land use and zoning regulations to law enforcement and education.
The resolution defines racial equity as policies and practices that can “reverse racial disparity trends” and social equity as the “intersection and compounding effects of issues such as poverty and disability with race and ethnicity.”
The One Fairfax resolution emphasizes the importance of equality as a driver of Fairfax County’s economy.
“The time is now to move beyond embracing diversity as an asset and implement a new growth model driven by equity,” the resolution, which can be found on the county’s website, reads. “A racial and social equity policy provides both the direction and means to eliminate disparities, and work together to build a vibrant and opportunity-rich society for all.”
The Fairfax County School Board voted on the One Fairfax resolution Thursday.
County staff has yet to establish a timeline for developing the policy requested by the resolution, but it could affect how policymakers make decisions regarding everything from the placement of recreational facilities to school procedures for disciplining students.
The next SCYPT meeting will be in September, which is when Hudgins believes they will start developing the One Fairfax policy. The Hunter Mill supervisor’s office is already planning to meet with community members to discuss the policy.
“As we see these issues in our community, it helps us to have some kind of tool that we can work with,” Hudgins said. “A lot of people have viewpoints, and we need to put those viewpoints out on the table with clarity and figure out how we can work together.”