Fairfax County schools delay in-person instruction for some students

Amid worsening coronavirus metrics, Fairfax County Public Schools announced Monday that it is delaying expanded in-person instruction that was set to begin for more students this week.

Students in “Group 5,” which includes Head Start, pre-K, kindergarten and those who receive special education services, were scheduled to return to classrooms Tuesday. They will now continue virtual learning until at least Nov. 30 while FCPS monitors the health situation.

Any new pilot programs or classes scheduled to start Tuesday are on pause as well.

Students and staff who have been attending in-person classes as part of Groups 1 to 4, or as part of existing pilots, will continue to do so unless health metrics change.

The number of students in those groups is relatively small. According to FCPS, students who are most in need of in-person instruction — about 4% of its total population — are already attending in-person classes for part of the week.

The plan to bring back Group 5 would have meant thousands of students returning to the classroom this week. It ran into fierce opposition by Fairfax County teachers who were concerned about both safety and the quality of education.

A recent survey by the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers found that its members overwhelmingly agreed that “concurrent education” — teaching students who are participating in both virtual and in-person learning — represented the worst of both worlds.

Union President Tina Williams released a statement praising the decision to postpone Group 5 in-person instruction, but she questioned the move to delay it by only two weeks. She called it a “good step in the right direction.”

“However, there are still staff and students in school buildings and COVID-19 is on the rise in Fairfax County. We are shocked that FCPS wants to bring additional groups of students back on Nov. 30, directly following the Thanksgiving holiday. Experts have said this period will be a hot bed for new cases because of expected small group gatherings,” Williams said.

Coronavirus cases have been surging throughout the region. Last Friday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced he was tightening the state’s coronavirus restrictions on social gatherings although he did not address the issue of schools. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan tightened restrictions last week.

Fairfax County Public Schools lowered the threshold to reopen schools last month. Originally, it required the county to be below a 5% positivity test rate for the coronavirus, but then changed the metric to being below 10% positivity.

The teachers’ union noted that Fairfax County currently has a 7.1% positivity rate. It is urging county leaders to adopt its “11 Pillars of a Safe Reopening,” which includes a decline in new cases and hospitalizations for at least 14 days, and a positivity test rate of less than 5%.

In its recent announcement, Fairfax County Public Schools said it hasn’t ruled out further changes.

“We made this decision as soon as new health metrics were released and are communicating it to you immediately as promised,” Superintendent Scott Brabrand said of the move. “We always anticipated the need to potentially adjust our return to school plans as necessary during this ongoing pandemic.”

Under the county’s phased approach, first- and second-graders (around 13,500 students) are slated to return Dec. 8, with all remaining students scheduled to return to school in January.

Parents would have the option to keep their children at home to learn virtually.

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Anna Gawel

Anna Gawel joined WTOP in 2020 and works in both the radio and digital departments. Anna Gawel has spent much of her career as the managing editor of The Washington Diplomat, which has been the flagship publication of D.C.’s diplomatic community for over 25 years.

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