Superintendent Scott Brabrand said during a town hall last night that he plans to ask the Fairfax County School Board this week to delay the start of the school year to after Labor Day.
Brabrand kicked off the town hall by saying that families will now have until Wednesday, July 15, instead of Friday, July 10, to pick whether they prefer four days of synchronous online learning or two days of in-person learning with asynchronous online learning.
Brabrand said that he wants to extend the start date to Tuesday, Sept. 8, to give principals more time to prepare, because the survey deadline is getting extended. The pushed back start date this fall would not lengthen the school year, Brabrand said, adding that he wants teachers and staff to return at the normally scheduled times to get a head start on planning and reaching out to families.
During the town hall, audience members called and emailed in questions asking about what the two learning options will look like, COVID-19 safety measures and what to do about childcare. Here’s what the superintendent said.
Safety Measures for Students and Staff
Brabrand said that more health and safety protocols, including recess and playground equipment, are expected to get released later this week. Currently, he knows students and staff will be asked to wear face coverings in schools.
The schools will not check every child’s temperature, but will check if a kid shows up without a mask, he said, adding that parents will be expected to complete a form daily about whether or not their kids have COVID-19 symptoms.
Students who show COVID-19 symptoms in class will be sent to the clinic and then possibly have to wait in an isolation room before their parents come to pick them up, he said. For COVID-19 cases, schools would decide on a case by case basis what to do after the contract tracing investigation, he said.
Brabrand urged families are struggling to decide between the two options to see how their kids respond to wearing masks for six hours.
What School Will Look Like
Brabrand stressed that FCPS will remain flexible if the pandemic dramatically worsens or improves, but he said that he wants to curb parents going back and forth on in-person vs. online learning during the school year.
“We’ve never had to create two separate school systems before, ever,” Brabrand said.
While he wants parents to stick to their choice for the entire school year, he said that the schools will consider emergency situations on a case by cases and school by school basis.
Depending on how many families select in-person vs. online learning, Brabrand said that additional in-person days might be offered. Even if FCPS increases in-person learning, teachers would have Mondays reserved for planning and additional time to work with students who are struggling.
“We know that for families who want in-person, they want as much in person as possible,” Brabrand said.
Brabrand said that capacity is the key reason FCPS won’t offer five days of in-person learning.
The schedules for the two days of in-person learning would work alphabetically by last name so that families with kids in multiple grades would go to school on the same days, Sloan Presidio, the assistant superintendent for instructional services, said last night.
Currently, the school system is trying to figure out to maximize learning space for students. Brabrand said that he’s working with principals to consider temporary learning space outside. The weather, though, could pose obstacles, he added. School cafeterias are also places that might turn into classrooms this fall, Brabrand said.
As for online learning, families can expect FCPS teachers to use Blackboard Collaborate Ultra and Google Classroom for video conferencing, Brabrand said, adding that FCPS has plans to use a new platform called Schoology.
Several callers raised concerns about childcare when deciding which learning option to pick, saying that their childcare centers don’t have plans yet for the fall and that they don’t know how the synchronous online learning would work if both parents work during the day.
Presidio said that FCPS is planning to have several hours of learning for kindergarten students in the morning, but that families should check with their schools’ principals to find out what the schedules would look like.
While FCPS is working with the county and private childcare providers, Brabrand said that childcare challenges are outside the scope of what the school system can accomplish in a few months.
“I know childcare remains one of the critical issues,” Brabrand said, adding he would like to see faith communities offer more support.
Brabrand said that people can expect future town halls — including Spanish language, Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) and Special Education PTA ones — and more information on health and safety guidelines.
Image via Fairfax County Public Schools