Fairfax Co. schools unveil plan to work through COVID-related teacher shortages

In preparation for students’ return to Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia on Monday, the school system has announced measures to continue in-person learning as coronavirus caseloads in the D.C. region remain high.

In an email sent to staff members and families, Superintendent Scott Brabrand outlined the steps schools will take to replace teachers in the event they get sick.

“Keeping our schools open is what’s best for our students and that is what we are committed to doing,” Brabrand said in a video message.

He said schools will first try to pull an available teacher from the substitute pool, before resorting to other teachers, staff members or volunteer substitutes to fill slots.

If no teachers, staff or substitutes are able to replace the sick teacher, the school would pair two classes together with one teacher. As a last resort, multiple classes would be grouped together for supervision during asynchronous teaching.

The statement also detailed a tiered system for how Virginia’s largest school system will operate under impacted staffing conditions.

In Plan A, schools will operate normally, with no classrooms without teacher coverage or doubled up. Under Plan B, if between 1 and 10% of classrooms are without teacher coverage, certain classrooms will have in-person asynchronous learning. In Plan C, if more than one-tenth to one- quarter of classrooms do not have teachers present, the entire school will transition to asynchronous learning.

“We’re really redeploying all of our central office staff to go into our schools and provide classroom coverage if a teacher is out because of absences related to COVID. And we know that this is a tough thing to do. But it’s the right thing to do to keep our schools open and our students in in-person learning,” Brabrand told WTOP.

Brabrand also asked the county’s operations teams to sign up to help cover schools with shortages in areas, such as food services, or to provide custodial support.

“I’m asking you to do everything in your power to help each other and to help me and all of us keep our students in our schools learning,” he said.

Brabrand said FCPS schools will follow the plan for two to three weeks and then reassess to respond to any long-term impacts.

Fairfax County schools have been closed since Monday due to snow.

“Mother Nature gave us a surprise and maybe really the gift of time with this pandemic a little bit. Where we haven’t had the students come back yet,” he said, adding that there have been higher-than-expected staffing absences this week for 12-month personnel.

However, in the last day or two, it has started to stabilize but still “below our average and still concerning,” Brabrand said. With the surge plan, each school will have a list of central office staff that can come in every day, and provide classroom coverage.

“So no kid is without a teacher. And we can continue instruction with our schools open,” Brabrand said.

Christy Hudson, with the Fairfax County Parents Association, said that she is pleased that the plan prioritizes in-person learning. However, she is concerned about the staff shortages that she said will likely come into play.

“We’ve had a teacher shortage for years, and we’ve certainly had a substitute shortage for years. And I think that it would behoove Fairfax County to put a little bit more emphasis on streamlining their hiring practices — I can tell you that it is very, very difficult to become a substitute teacher in Fairfax County,” Hudson said.

And although she said using central staff to offset staffing issues isn’t ideal, “We need to do what we need to do to make sure that we prioritize these kids receiving education in person, inside of the buildings.”

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.

WTOP’s Abigail Constantino and Mike Murillo contributed to this report.

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Lauren Hamilton

Lauren Hamilton is an Associate Producer at WTOP and a graduate of the University of Maryland. She enjoys covering the intersection of arts, culture and social justice in local communities. She began as an intern with WTOP in the summer of 2021.

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