Fairfax County schools head on fall reopening: ‘Not the most ideal of circumstances’

Some students in Fairfax County Public Schools won’t be going back to their Virginia classrooms at all this fall, after their parents opted strictly for remote-learning when the new school year begins in September.

For other students who will be in school buildings this fall, they will only be there a couple of days a week.

Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand conceded it’s not the most ideal of circumstances for anyone.

“There’s no substitute for face-to-face, in-person instruction between a teacher and a student,” said Brabrand, during an appearance on C-SPAN radio’s “The Weekly” podcast.

Brabrand said “it is troubling to consider the possibility of a lost academic year,” as he called the disruption by the coronavirus and the struggles with getting a distance learning program established “a lost spring.”

Brabrand, who is the superintendent of Virginia’s largest public school system, vowed staff would be better trained and better prepared for remote, distance learning and said if a spike in coronavirus cases forces schools to shut down in their entirety, they will be better prepared to adjust immediately.

“We’re going to train our teachers that are doing in-person to be able to pivot to do virtual at a moment’s notice,” said Brabrand.

“We’re going to practice the links with the teachers, practice the links with the teachers and kids, so that we can make that switch if we need to.”

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Brabrand and FCPS were dragged into the national debate about schools reopening when the Trump administration was critical of the school system’s plan for the fall.

He didn’t quite fire back, but he defended the school system’s decision making.

“We need to listen to our health officials, we need to listen to all of our stakeholders who are a part of schools and we need to reopen school in a responsible way,” said Brabrand.

“It just simply isn’t the case that you can maintain six-foot social distancing and open a school at full capacity.”

The superintendent said teachers who carry a high risk for serious infections from the coronavirus will not be back in the classroom this fall, and instead will teach students remotely.

Brabrand said that could be a long-term situation for some staff, since he expressed reservations about how widely available a coronavirus vaccine would be and who would get it first once a vaccine is approved for distribution.

He also admitted concern about how effective the first batches of a vaccine are.

“This is a time where we ask for the collective wisdom of our community and the collective grace for our community because we know it is a moment of great debate and anxiety about returning and reopening schools,” said Brabrand.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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