Fairfax Co. teachers union says school system rushing reopening plans

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

The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers said it questions the process used to determine whether schools are being kept safe.

“It isn’t safe for anyone to be in our buildings right now,” Tina Williams, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, said in a statement released as the county was outlining plans to return more students into school buildings next month on Thursday.

Citing rising coronavirus infection rates around the region, Williams said the metrics being used to determine whether or not more students should return to the classroom are too high — and nonexistent when it comes to determining if it’s safe for the small number of students currently getting instruction inside county buildings to be there.

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Williams also took issue with the “safety audit teams” the county sends into different school buildings to make sure CDC recommendations for mitigation are being followed.

Fairfax County Public Schools has a small number of students in classrooms right now — generally those with learning disabilities, specialized career students and students learning English as a second language.

But Williams said the inspection teams that have been visiting schools are sometimes doing so when those students are not present, meaning “FCPS is not getting an accurate picture of how mitigation efforts are being handled.”

Williams also criticized the makeup of inspection teams, noting they lack parents, medical or health specialists, or school staff.

The school system said the safety teams are made up of FCPS staff members and retirees.

“It is a conflict of interest for FCPS to do its own safety verification process without a transparent process to publicly report the results,” said Williams in a statement.

The county responded, saying concerns about the safety inside of school buildings are unfounded based simply on the data that already exists. Conceding that coronavirus infection rates are rising around the region, the county said that rise is not connected to the school system.

“Emerging data actually indicates that in-school transmission is low in our schools,” read a statement provided to WTOP by a Fairfax County Public Schools spokeswoman.

“With strict observance and adherence to mitigation strategies, such as proper usage of face coverings and social distancing, we feel that we can keep the transmission rate low.”

The FCPS spokeswoman disputed the idea that the school system has been anything but transparent and honest with data and information, pointing to the daily updates provided by the county and the school system.

But the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers argued mitigation isn’t enough to stop community spread, saying no plan will be safe without “controlling COVID-19 levels in the community as a whole.”

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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