First day of classes brings changes for Va. schools

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WASHINGTON — About 400,000 Northern Virginia students are heading back to school Tuesday morning and will be walking into schools that have implemented changes for the new school year.

In Fairfax County, one of the biggest changes is the elimination of early release Mondays for elementary students — a change that affects the nearly 100,000 elementary students enrolled in Fairfax County Public Schools.

Since the 1970s, elementary school students were let out of school 2 1/2 hours early. Now, they will have a full day of class each day, which will add more instructional time and may eliminate the need to add makeup days for snow.

“All the way around, it was a very good decision. In fact, it added 2 1/2 hours of instruction per week for our elementary students,” Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Karen Garza says.

The changes were prompted by the school system’s accumulation of snow days. More time in class gives the school system more flexibility to adjust when cancellations, such as snow days, crop up during the year, Garza says.

Fairfax County added a new school this year. Bailey’s Upper Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences opens for students in grades 3 through 5. The five-story school, located at 6245 Leesburg Pike in Falls Church, helps alleviate overcrowding at Bailey’s Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences.

With the new school, comes new state-of-the-art security, Garza says.

“We do have cameras and secured door access for visitors, so that we can protect our students and make sure that only individuals that need to be in our schools are [entering] our schools,” she says.

Similar security measures are being implemented across other Fairfax County schools, Garza adds.

In Prince William County, 600 teachers have joined the school system. It will enroll 86,000 students.

High school students in Alexandria will find new city-issued computer tablets, and Arlington students can take American Sign Language classes for the first time. And, in Arlingto, high school freshmen are getting Macbooks.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter and WTOP on Facebook.

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