Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia has received an extension to finalize meetings with families of students who may be eligible for extra help in the aftermath of the pandemic.
At Thursday’s school board meeting, Superintendent Michelle Reid said the county has already held meetings about eligibility for 30,656 students, or 96.7%, and expects to be finished by next month. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights extended the deadline for the county to hold all of the meetings to Oct. 15.
Of the meetings the school system has already had, it determined that 6,266 students, or 20.4%, were eligible for the extra learning hours. Either the school system can provide the services or families can pursue help through a private vendor and submit it to their school for reimbursement. However, some families have reported delays in getting reimbursed, which Reid said the county is working to address.
Thousands of students are entitled to the compensatory services after a federal investigation revealed that Virginia’s largest school system failed to offer a sufficient education to thousands of students with disabilities during the pandemic. The county, the investigation found, didn’t offer students the services included in their Individualized Education Programs and 504 plans during the period of remote learning.
Fairfax County created a plan to address the challenges the investigation outlined. Reid characterized the execution of the county’s plan as “unquestionably one of the heaviest lifts our staff have undertaken since the COVID pandemic.”
“This is significant,” FCPS school board member Ricardy Anderson said. “This is not a small feat.”
Eligibility for the compensatory services is “a very individualized process” that’s based on “student needs by looking at their time during that COVID period,” according to Terri Edmunds-Heard, interim assistant superintendent in the Department of Special Services.
So far, the county has emailed and sent communication via USPS to enrolled and formerly enrolled families about their rights under the plan, according to school board documents. The school system said it has offered over 27,000 compensatory service hours to students, which Reid said can include “instructional-related services, life skills and employability services.”
Some examples of the programming, Reid said, include sessions “before or after school, summer school or individual schools that are co-located with ESY (extended school year) summer programs and regional sites for Saturday programming. Families also have had an opportunity to have private provider options when those are discussed at IEP meetings.”
While Reid said that as of Aug. 31, the county has disbursed $5.5 million to families, she said “some families have experienced process issues that have delayed reimbursement. We apologize for that and appreciate our community’s patience with that process.”
To address those delays, the county has created a process for vendors to be paid directly, and is allocating additional employees to help with the backlog of reimbursements.
“We are suffering from a loss of faith,” board member Megan McLaughlin said. “People are interpreting this delay as intentional. It’s, unfortunately, creating a deeper loss of trust.”
Board member Abrar Omeish, meanwhile, called the county’s progress in providing compensatory services bittersweet.
“I’m proud to see it underway,” Omeish said. “But, you know, it’s not lost on me that we got here because we were kind of forced to get here.”