Fairfax Co. schools ‘pause’ return to in-person learning, await vaccinations

Less than a week before the planned return to hybrid in-person learning for some public school students in Virginia’s Fairfax County, Superintendent Scott Brabrand and the county school board agreed to delay the return for at least a month.

During a work session with the Fairfax County School Board, Brabrand heard concerns from board members, principals, teachers and educators’ unions that bringing willing students back into school buildings during current high numbers of COVID-19 cases was unsafe.

After presenting the “Return to School” plans and mitigation strategies developed to bring some students back on Tuesday, Jan. 12, Brabrand suggested delaying the reopening.

“What we need to do right now is say we’re taking a pause, and let everybody take a big exhale,” Brabrand said during the video conference call.

“Let me take time, and make sure people don’t feel rushed, to talk to talk to teachers, and teachers’ associations, and principals, and principals’ associations, and get a plan that I bring back Feb. 2.”

One main concern was teachers and school employees had not received their first doses of the coronavirus vaccine.

Fairfax County Director of Health Gloria Addo-Ayensu said although school employees had been classified as essential workers as part of the Phase 1B group for vaccinations, Virginia is still giving vaccines to health care workers, long-term care residents and others in Phase 1A.

Since the vaccination rollout protocols are still in their earlier days, Addo-Ayensu said she didn’t have enough information to provide a date for teachers to be vaccinated.

“I am working with the county executive as we speak about the vaccination,” Brabrand said. “We know that is a game-changer in back to school and lowering anxiety of our staff to return.”

Even after school employees begin receiving vaccines, Brabrand said their new mitigation strategies will still be implemented throughout the school system.

“It’s not a magic wand because we don’t have a vaccination for our children,” he said.

While the county school system, board members and parents have reiterated that a return to in-person learning is the ultimate goal and essential to children’s mental health, Brabrand said he suggested the pause based on the current situation.

“In February, we’ll know more about the vaccine,” Brabrand said. “If we’ve got distribution that starts in another week or two, that might mean some of our people are already vaccinated, and I think that makes for a very different conversation.”

More Coronavirus news

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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