Fairfax County schools moving forward with plan to get more kids back in classrooms

This story is part of “Parenting in a Pandemic,” WTOP’s continuing coverage of how parents are dealing with childcare, schooling and more through the coronavirus pandemic.

Fairfax County, Virginia, is moving forward with a plan to get more kids back in classrooms.

At a virtual Return to School Town Hall Meeting Monday, the details of plans to keep kids safe and phase them back into the classroom were revealed.

Plans will be following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended five mitigation strategies: consistent and correct use of face masks for students, staff and visitors; cleaning and disinfecting on a regular basis, as well as protocols for if there is a positive COVID-19 case; contact tracing with the local health department; social distancing to the extent possible in classrooms, transportation and as students transition through the buildings; and hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette.

But what if a child refuses to wear a mask?

“Our regulation has provisions that would allow for students who have medical conditions that would prevent them from wearing [a] face covering. That would require a written statement from your physician that would be presented to the school,” said Lea Skurpski, director of operations and strategic planning for the county’s schools.

And in cases where students would not wear their face coverings or have behavioral reasons that they need to work through, teachers are going to be working on implementing strategies to improve a student’s ability and feasibility to wearing a face covering, Skurpski added.

But if a student simply refuses to wear a mask, the family will be called in to counsel the child.

“Ultimately, if there is a continued refusal, we would recommend and require that students return to virtual learning,” Superintendent Scott Brabrand said.

Fairfax County Public Schools is asking parents to do health screenings in the morning and to keep sick children home.

There will be temperature checks at multiple locations.

“We will be implementing temperature checks at bus stops with our bus attendants and also upon arrival at school,” Skurpski said.

Any student with a temperature of 100.4 or higher would not be able to board the bus that day. And for any student who arrives at school with a temp of 100.4 or higher, he or she would be escorted to the isolation room, and the school health aid would do a more extensive evaluation.

Braband said the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems will be reviewed and higher-grade filters will be installed. And the schools will make sure that the systems are working well.

The school system has also added custodial overtime in the budget this year for extra cleaning.

How will you know if there’s a case of COVID-19 at your child’s school?

Skurpski said the school district is working on protocols with the health department and making sure the community knows when there has been a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the schools.

“We also have been working on sharing that information with our community and have developed a COVID-19 case reporting dashboard that’s currently available on our website,” Skurpski said.

The dashboard lists any cases reported for employees, visitors to facilities, as well as students.

When will students return to in-person learning?

Later this week, there will be more information going out to families asking for them to confirm whether they want their children to return to in-person schooling or continue virtual learning. While parents made a decision over the summer, the county wants to give them a chance to confirm their preference.

The Fairfax County School Board has already approved some students going back to class, those in Groups 1-4, which include some preschool students, as well as some students with disabilities.

As the students return, they will be taking part in four days of education a week of concurrent learning, two days in the classroom and two days of virtual learning.

When asked why they are not returning to five days per week of in-person education, Braband said they wouldn’t be able to practice proper social distancing.

“We would need an additional five Pentagons of space to accommodate our kids five days a week. And that is just isn’t possible,” said Braband.

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