Fairfax Co. superintendent details tentative back-to-school plan

No decisions have been made, but Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia has a tentative plan to bring additional groups of students back to classrooms in January.

The plan is part of the system’s effort to expand forms of in-person learning at county schools.

According to a draft discussed Thursday, Fairfax County’s school board would have all students begin the new year online, then start the phased return to at least a hybrid form of learning for all willing students between Jan. 12 and Feb. 2.

“Is this an aggressive timeline? Yes. Is it going to happen for sure? No, I can’t promise that it is,” Superintendent Scott Brabrand said.

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During the monthly discussion on in-person learning plans, the county’s school board heard from school officials including Brabrand, who said if cases continue to rise, he understands the school board won’t support such a timeline.

The return to the classroom is being done in groups, and the only students reporting to classes now for a few days a week include the first three groups of students in special career preparatory classes, those with special needs and students for which English is a second language.

The same groups would start the return to in-person learning next year under the draft schedule.

A part of the discussion included a presentation from Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu, the county’s director of health. She said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s five guidelines for preventing transmission of coronavirus will need to be followed to ensure the safety of returning students.

The guidelines include wearing masks, social distancing, washing hands, cleaning surfaces and contact tracing cases.

“They are very effective when practiced consistently and correctly,” Addo-Ayensu said.

The school system plans to create teams that will confirm that all the guidelines are being followed, and messaging will remind students and staff daily of what they must do.

Dr. Michelle Boyd, assistant superintendent for special services, also said visits to other classrooms will be restricted to reduce transmission of the virus throughout school communities.

While some board members expressed concern about returning too soon, others asked for the school system to make more COVID-19 data from schools available to them.

Before the proposed plan can be implemented, the school system also needs to find more classroom monitors — 730 total for the groups that will return. A virtual job fair will take place to try and fill some of those positions. The school system is also considering compensating teachers to be classroom monitors during their planning periods.

A vote by the school board for the plan wasn’t taken but will eventually be required to green light the plan to return to in-person learning.

But a union representing teachers in Fairfax County said the school system is rushing to put more students back in classrooms without regard to safety.

As for students currently participating in in-person learning, it could be short lived. Brabrand said if coronavirus case numbers continue in the current direction, the school system could decide this weekend to resume 100% virtual learning.

Loudoun County Public Schools announced Thursday afternoon that they will return to 100% distance learning on Tuesday, Dec. 15, after revised COVID-19 metrics for the county show that the point for triggering the return has already been passed.

The Fairfax Health District, which includes Fairfax, Fairfax City and Falls Church, posted a seven-day average of 43.6 daily cases per 100,000 people on Thursday.

“We are sending letters of caution, advanced notice, that this may happen,” Brabrand said.

Before the Thursday meeting, Tina Williams, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, said, “COVID cases are surging across the county and it isn’t safe for anyone to be in our buildings right now.

We continue to urge FCPS to transition all students and staff to virtual learning while the positivity rate is above 5% and meet all of FCFT’s 11 pillars of a safe reopening.”

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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