Fairfax County teachers push back on return-to-school plans

Next week, thousands more Fairfax County Public School students will start moving back into classrooms, and a month from now, first- and second-graders will be in classrooms, too.

But the move to more and more “concurrent learning” — where some students are in the classroom and others are learning at home virtually — is drawing criticism from teachers, both for the quality of education they think is being provided and for the move to get more of them back into school buildings as coronavirus cases around the region keep climbing.

This week, the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers has been posting videos from members explaining their unease with returning to schools for safety reasons, but also for educational ones.

A survey conducted by the union found that over 90% of teachers think the concurrent model leaves some students behind, depriving some students of an equitable education. Nearly an identical number of teachers also say they aren’t getting enough support when challenges crop up.

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During a school board meeting Thursday night, the union live-tweeted comments about the county’s updated return to school plan. One concern the union highlighted was a change in the metrics required to proceed with school reopening.

In particular, the county now said it has to be below a 10% positivity rate in order for buildings to reopen. Originally, it was 5%. Currently, the county’s positivity rate is 6.4%.

The union is accusing the county of changing the required metrics “in order for school buildings to reopen.”

But the county disputed that, saying it was aligned with CDC guidance. The county also noted that as more students return to the classroom, the minimum positivity rate over a two-week period will eventually decline.

“Our return-to-school plan … prioritizes the safety of students and staff,” the school system said in a statement. “Many of our teachers have told us they want to return to the classroom, and believe that the steps FCPS has taken make it safe for them to do so.”

On Nov. 17, the county will see about 6,800 “Group 5” students, which includes Head Start through kindergarten students, as well as some others with special needs, return to school.

First- and second-graders (around 13,500 students) are slated to return Dec. 8, with the rest of students currently on track to return to school in January.

Parents will have the option to keep their children at home and learning virtually.

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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