A union representing teachers in Virginia’s largest school system believes instructors and parents have been ambushed by a dual announcement from the Fairfax County Public Schools superintendent, demanding a decision about returning to classrooms that will begin deploying a new form of instruction.
“We are doing concurrent learning; this is the model we will use,” first-grade teacher Emily Vanderhoff said, paraphrasing a return-to-school update released late last Friday afternoon.
“And, all these parents have been calling our principals saying, ‘What is concurrent learning?’” said Vanderhoff, who is a board member for the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers.
Concurrent instruction involves students who log in from home and kids in the classroom getting the same instruction from the same teacher at the same time.
According to the email notice, the school system will be contacting parents and caregivers to reconfirm previously stated preferences for children to continue virtual learning or their receptiveness to returning to in-person learning.
It includes a video demonstration of what concurrent learning looks like in a pilot program currently underway.
Vanderhoff doesn’t believe the video represents what would be reflected in average classrooms.
“The pilot classes have smaller class sizes, and they have extra support,” she said. “It looks like they have a full-time co-teacher, or buddy teacher supporting them — which is not the case in most schools.”
Fairfax County schools spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell said the positive feedback from staff and students involved in the pilot classes is “encouraging.”
“As we move toward returning additional small groups of students to school in person, we feel that the pilots are a way to test the system and the protocols that we have spent many months to plan. The only way to truly learn of issues and potential barriers to learning was to implement pilots,” Caldwell said in an email.
She said moving to concurrent learning is an operational decision, and the school system is moving forward in a “measured, careful manner.”
Caldwell said there are teachers who are enthusiastic about teaching their students in person, and the school system is ensuring they have the technology and related support they need.
There’s also a question of what the adjustment will mean for teachers, many of whom already are working outside contract hours.
“How are we going to give our attention to both groups at the same time?” Vanderhoff asked rhetorically. “The lesson materials that we use for in-person (instruction) are different than the lesson materials that we make for online. So you’d be making double the materials to be able to engage both groups,” Vanderhoff said.
A letter sent out to instructors, also last Friday afternoon, states that they have a week, until Oct. 30, to indicate whether they will return to work or intend to:
- Take an unpaid Leave of Absence;
- Access leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act for child care reasons and then return to support in-person instruction or take an unpaid Leave of Absence;
- Resign or retire.
Staff who have a pending Americans with Disabilities Act accommodation request are not being asked to provide their intent by Oct. 30. For these individuals, the ADA process will guide their return to work, Caldwell said.
Caldwell said that the school system continues to receive requests for accommodations, and these requests are being addressed individually in the order of the staff’s school or center reopening.
The school board will be briefed by FCPS leaders Nov. 12 on the concurrent pilot programs currently underway.
WTOP’s Abigail Constantino contributed to this report.
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