Fairfax County extends time for some teachers to decide whether to return to classrooms

Virginia’s largest school system is extending the deadline for some faculty and staff members to decide whether they will return to the classroom.

Previously, Fairfax County Public Schools gave a specific group of teachers and classroom instructional support staff until Friday to decide and let the school system know about their intention to return in support of in-person instruction. They now have until 4:30 p.m. Tuesday to respond.

The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers urged a call to send a message to school leadership, including school Superintendent Scott Brabrand, to work together to delay opening until there is a plan. The group also asked for an extension of the deadline, after it said initially teachers were given two days to decide.

“This isn’t a decision that can be made lightly since the district has not been transparent in its safety mechanisms, and the plans they have shown fall short of what we need,” said Tina Williams, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers.

The school system said it regrets the anxiety that staff members felt. It also pointed to the detailed plans — presented to the school board last September — regarding phased-in reopening of schools for the most vulnerable students.

“Following that meeting last week, teachers and other instructional staff were notified about the specific cohorts of students that would start in-person instruction this month. The cohorts include career and technical education classes, preschool autism classes, English language learners and other special education students,” Fairfax County Public Schools spokeswoman Lucy H. Caldwell said in a statement.

Caldwell said these students represent 3.5% of the total student population, and 653 teachers and staff are needed to provide them instruction.

In a survey of 1,335 federation members that will be published next week, 85.7% said they lack confidence in the school system’s plan as written, with 69.5% specifically citing that they do not feel safe, Williams said.

The union said teachers and staff were given the choice to return to in-person work, take a leave of absence or resign.

Caldwell said staff responses are not binding, but principals and human resources will follow up with individuals regarding their decisions.

Caldwell said the school system has received over 2,000 staff requests for accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the school system assesses other options within the schools for which employees qualify and can telework if their requests cannot be accommodated.

Fairfax County schools also offer unpaid leave of absence for the remainder of the school year in order to preserve jobs.

“For employees who request non-ADA telework — the need to telework due to a family member’s health risk, child care concerns or personal preference, FCPS’ ability to honor these requests is limited based on the number of students returning for in-person instruction,” Caldwell said.

And for those who are designated to return to work but choose not to, “FCPS strives to offer an unpaid Leave of Absence option, subject to School Board approval,” Caldwell said.

The federation said that of those surveyed, 52.9% reported that they were undecided if they would take a leave of absence or resign.

“The district is currently asking staff to make a decision between putting their faith in a plan that doesn’t prioritize the health of us and our families or giving up our healthcare, pay and livelihood. This is not a decision any of us should be forced into, and one we expect that will be replicated at some point for all staff,” Williams said.

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Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

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