Reston, VA

As Fairfax County Public Schools prepares for virtual classes, some private schools in Reston and Tysons are bringing students back into classrooms.

Four private and parochial school administrators told Reston Now a high demand for in-person instruction and their ability to socially distance students are the main reasons they are offering in-person learning.

At Ideaventions in Reston, admissions staff noticed an increase in applications over the summer that they attribute to their in-person opening. The school serves students in fourth through 12th grades. The academy gained five extra students, bringing their student population for the 2020-2021 school year to 62 students as opposed to last year’s 56, Juliana Heitz, the admissions director at Ideavations, said.

“The summer was surprising in terms of admissions,” according to Heitz.”We had to reopen admissions because so many people were looking for that in-person instruction.”

Green Hedges School in Vienna also noted an increase in enrollment interest for the 2020-21 school year, according to Jennifer Bohnen, who is the head of the school.

After initially planning for a hybrid of in-person and online classes, FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand announced in July that the public school system, which is the largest one in Virginia, would open virtually on Sept. 8 for the fall. Concerns about public health safety and staffing levels prompted the switch to fully online classes.

Unlike big public schools with larger class sizes, the private school administrators Reston Now spoke to said that they will be able to keep students spaced out.

Oakcrest School plans to move classes with 20 or more students outside, weather permitting. The school is looking to use its 23-acre campus near the Reston Presbyterian Church to keep its approximately 260 students safely spread out.

“We’re trying to implement as many safety precautions as possible without disrupting the normal rhythm of the school day,” said Miriam Buono, who heads up operations at Oakcrest.

To further ensure social distancing, Oakcrest is implementing unilateral stairways to avoid overcrowding in the halls. The school is also extending passing periods from five to 10 minutes to compensate for the stairways and to allow students to step outside for mask breaks.

In addition to figuring out how to keep students physically distanced, school administrators are also finding ways to deal with another new element: getting kids to wear face coverings for several hours.

“It’s a learning curve,” Kristen Rogers, the head of Academy of Christian Education in Reston, said. “We have little footprint stickers on the floor to remind them even when they’re lining up to go to the bathroom to stand 6 feet apart.”

To address the issue of mask fatigue, St. Joseph Catholic School in Herndon is allowing teachers and students to pull down face coverings when 6 feet apart or when alone. Additionally, the school is allowing students to remove masks while eating.

Even while many private schools in the Fairfax County area are planning for in-person learning, some are offering a virtual option for families with health concerns. The school administrators Reston Now spoke to also said that they have to remain flexible if new state guidelines or a COVID-19 surge require a switch to fully-virtual learning.

In addition to following Gov. Ralph’s Northam Phase 3 guidance, Heitz noted that Ideavations is also using Fairfax County’s COVID-19 dashboard and Harvard’s dashboard assessing COVID-19 risks levels.

Administrators want parents to know they are tracking the ongoing conditions to determine whether or not in-person classes are safe.

Photos via Oakcrest School/Facebook

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