Reston, VA

The Fairfax Education Association is petitioning Fairfax County Public Schools to remain virtual until August 2021.

“​Science and Health Safety data support and require that no one should return to in person instruction until there is a widely available scientifically proven vaccine or highly effective treatment,” the petition said. “The metric for Safe Reopening should be 14 days of zero community spread.”

So far, the petition has more than 1,000 signatures and is 600 away from its goal. The union, which represents 4,000 staff in the school system, published the petition on Sept. 30, but received renewed attention after a tweet about it went viral.

But not all teachers support the petition, according to one Twitter user.

https://twitter.com/livinindc8/status/1318613492522430464

Parents who have been vocal on social media in their demands to reopen FCPS denounced the petition and its motivations.

FEA was not immediately available to answer questions.

FCPS Spokesperson Lucy Caldwell responded to the petition from the teachers’ union in a statement Wednesday:

Dr. Brabrand is working with FCPS staff and partners to ensure a safe, measured student in-person return to our classrooms and buildings. We firmly believe that while virtual environments are necessary at the current time, students learn best in-person. That experience cannot fully be duplicated on a screen. Many thousands of FCPS teachers, families, businesses, and the community at large, have expressed their strong support for students to return to in-person learning and we are working diligently to make this a reality as swiftly and safely as possible.

Our superintendent will continue to collaborate and engage with teacher organizations as he has been doing for the entirety of the pandemic planning, to help ensure safe, effective plans.

During a work session last Thursday, the Fairfax County School Board agreed to send to school on Nov. 16 students in the Early Head Start program, three- and four-year-olds, kindergarteners and special-education students who spend more than half their time in specialized education settings. No later than Nov. 30, students in grades 1 and 2 and in the specialized career centers will return to school.

The board asked Brabrand to determine the best timeline for regular-education students in grades 3-6 and 6-12, who comprise groups 7 and 8, respectively.

“I advocated for beginning, as soon as possible, some social distanced, outdoor activities for cohorts of students in groups 7 and 8. I am hearing from so many families and students themselves how badly this is needed,” school board member Elaine Tholen said in her weekly newsletter.

FEA outlined five guidelines its members say the school system should follow if it attempts to bring high-needs students and families back to school. According to the petition, they are:

1. All buildings should be equipped with HVAC Merv-13 filters, changed on schedule.

​​​​​ 2. All staff should be provided Medical Grade PPE (N95 masks, goggles, face shields, gowns, gloves, foot coverings, laundry service at each site).

3. All staff should be provided COVID testing.

4. NO Employees who feel unsafe, whether Tier 1- Tier 4, should be forced to return before the ​safe reopening metric of 14 days is met.

​ 5. All staff and families should be granted the option of teleworking/distance learning.

“Since none of the requirements for safe return are likely to be met in the foreseeable future of the 2020-21 school year, we reiterate: Keep Fairfax County Public Schools Virtual for the 2020-21 school year,” the petition said.

The other teachers’ union representing educators in Fairfax schools, Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, recently released data showing that teachers are not confident in the system’s reopening plan.

This came after board members had blasted a previous version of the plan for lacking specific data. Last week’s presentation included metrics on ventilation, personal protective equipment as well as guidelines for making local decisions to open or close school buildings.

Image via Fairfax Education Association

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