Students back to class in some of Virginia’s largest counties and DC

cheerleaders at James Madison High School
Students at James Madison High School in Fairfax County are ready for school. (WTOP/Melissa Howell)

The wheels on the bus are set to go round and round again as students in Northern Virginia’s two largest school systems — Fairfax County and Prince William County —  as well as D.C. head back to class Monday.

In addition to Fairfax and Prince William, which have combined enrollments of roughly 279,000, schools open in the Manassas City Park school district. D.C. schools also start Monday.

Here’s a look at what’s new in public schools in Fairfax County,

Fairfax County Public Schools

Students will be returning to a school system where more than 1,200 new teachers and at least 12 new principals have been hired, Fairfax County Superintendent Scott Brabrand tells WTOP.

“We have high expectations, this community does, our kids do, our teachers do,” Brabrand said.

He said parents need to support their children throughout the school year.

“Build a relationship with your child’s teacher.”

Fairfax County students and parents are getting a new app that helps them keep track of bus arrivals.

Here Comes the Bus” (which is free) is designed to help families optimize their time in the morning and afternoon by knowing exactly when the bus will arrive.

The school system said the app is encrypted and secure, tracking the bus route not the individual student, and the only way to get the app is through a Student Information System Parent Account. It will be available the first day of school.

Parents and guardians can learn more or sign up online. Maryland’s Prince George’s County rolled out the app last year for their students.

On another technology front, Fairfax County Public Schools have launched the FCPSon initiative. This year, 59,000 high school students in the county’s 27 high schools will get laptops for use in school and at home.

“Every high school kid for the first time will have their very own laptop. We’re going to be able to close the digital divide here in Fairfax County and really give every kid equitable access to our rich curriculum and exciting activities,” Brabrand said.

“We’re in a digital age and we have to prepare our kids responsibly to be in this age,” he said.

Laptops have been in use in some schools, and a study done last year for Fairfax County Public Schools by Johns Hopkins on their effects finds teachers incorporating technology differently in the classroom and students using technology daily.

“The majority also conveyed that the devices made learning more interesting and often facilitated students’ turning in homework, completing assignments, and collaborating with peers,” the study said.

According to Brabrand, FCPS also added an equity lead in every school and an equity specialist in each region. As well as adding an assistant ombudsman to the ombudsman office to work with families, particularly those who need help navigating the resources available to special education students.

The school system also announced a policy for providing free or reduced-price meals for children served under the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. Copies of the policy can be found in each school’s nutrition office.

“We’re going to everything we can to help meet the needs of kids who are hungry. We want our kids hungry to learn. We don’t want our kids hungry,” Brabrand said.

Fairfax County Public Schools by the numbers:

  • There are more than 188,000 students in grades K-12. It’s the largest school system in Virginia. It’s the 10th largest school system in the U.S.
  • Budget: $3 billion.

Prince William County Public Schools

A new elementary school, John D. Jenkins Elementary School, opens in Woodbridge.

New classroom additions have been added to Antietam, Lake Ridge, Minnieville and Springwoods elementary Schools, as well as Stonewall Middle School.

Students will see 22 fewer trailers across school campuses countywide.

The system is introducing a new digital portal for students, parents and teachers called The Hub. The goal is to make it easier to access education information: bus and class schedules, teacher assignments and grades.

New counselors will be on hand for Prince William County students. The school system added 46 new counselor positions to help students.

The new school year budget ensures that there will be a full-time nurse on staff at every school as well and efforts have been made across the system to better serve students with disabilities, according to Superintendent Steven Walts.

Prince William County Public Schools by the numbers:

    • There about 91,000 students in Pre-K-12. It’s Virginia’s second-largest school system.
    • Budget: $1.24 billion.

The school system put together a fun, welcome back video.

Manassas Park City Schools

Manassas Park City Schools recently reached a milestone. The school system is able to provide a new Chromebook laptop for all students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

The school district also announced its plan for free or reduced price meals for when students return.

Manassas Park is weighing whether to open its own library.

Manassas Park City Schools by the numbers:

  • There are around 3,700 students.
  • Budget: $46.8 million.

D.C. Public Schools

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser holding a sign urging drivers to slow as students return to class. (WTOP/Mitchell Miller)

In D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser and other officials celebrated the first day of school in the District with a ribbon-cutting at one of several newly renovated and modernized school buildings.

“We are so excited for today where tens of thousands of students across all eight wards are heading back to school,” Bowser said, ahead of a ribbon-cutting at Maury Elementary School in Northeast D.C.

The school, for students in grades prekindergarten through 5th grade, underwent a $59 million renovation that includes new classrooms, a media center, “maker space” and a sustainable green roof.

Later Monday, Bowser and school officials will speak at the renovated Kimball Elementary School in Southeast D.C. The $55 modernization there includes a STEM-focused food-prep lab and science work, outdoor classroom space and two rooftop terraces.

Over the weekend, Bowser cut the ribbon on renovations at Calvin Coolidge High School in the Takoma neighborhood of Northwest D.C. The project included new space for the school’s Health Sciences Academy, a renovated theater and a new community health center.

The $158 million project also included the addition of Ida B. Wells Middle School — the District’s newest stand-alone middle school.

Hyde-Addison Elementary in Georgetown also underwent renovations ahead of the first day of school.

D.C. officials also celebrated the launch of the first early college program east of the Anacostia River. The Bard High School Early College initiative — a collaboration between D.C. Public School and Bard College — gives students the opportunity to graduate with a high school diploma and up to 60 transferable college credits and an associate degree from Bard College.

Earlier Monday, Bowser led a “slow down campaign” at Lincoln Park on Capitol Hill urging drivers to be more cautious on the roads as students return to classes.

WTOP’s Colleen Kelleher and Jack Moore contributed to this report. WTOP’s Melissa Howell reported from Vienna, Virginia.

Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Writer/Editor for He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

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