An ongoing local surge in COVID-19 cases has forced some Fairfax County Public Schools students to revert to online learning for the first time since FCPS started phasing in-person learning back in on Oct. 5.
FCPS announced on Monday (Nov. 23) that administrators had notified families that students in Group 4 would return to all-virtual instruction that day after Fairfax County’s health metrics surpassed the threshold that determines whether they should continue learning in person.
“The health metrics that guide our return to school in person reached a threshold yesterday that indicated we must dial back our Group 4 cohort in order to comply with the metrics we had stated to our community,” FCPS Director of News and Information Lucy Caldwell said in a statement.
Group 4 consists of 2,900 students, including elementary students at Burke School and students in specialized high school career preparatory programs. Affected classes range from culinary arts and musical theater to robotics, veterinary sciences, and the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC).
These students had been permitted to learn either virtually or through a hybrid model with two days of in-person instruction and two days of online instruction since Oct. 26.
Based on metrics recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, FCPS determined that Group 4 could continue in-person learning as long as Fairfax County’s COVID-19 caseload did not exceed 200 cases per 100,000 people for seven consecutive days.
The county’s positivity rate for novel coronavirus testing also had to stay at or under 10%.
Fairfax County officially passed the 200-case threshold on Sunday (Nov. 22). At 289.8 cases per 100,000 people, Monday marked eight consecutive days of the county exceeding that limit.
The county’s cases-per-100,000-people and testing positivity rates must both fall under the established thresholds for seven consecutive days for students to resume in-person learning.
“As soon as these metrics indicate that it is safe to return to in-person instruction, Group 4 students will be phased back into schools,” FCPS said on Monday.
This is the second consecutive week that Fairfax County’s COVID-19 spread has required FCPS to revise its Return to School timeline.
Superintendent Scott Brabrand announced on Nov. 16 that FCPS would pause plans to welcome back an additional 6,800 kindergarten, preschool, and special education students that had been scheduled to return to classrooms on Nov. 17.
FCPS has set Dec. 1 as a possible new day for those students to start in-person learning, but with health experts anticipating the pandemic to worsen over Thanksgiving break, that date looks extremely tentative.
“As far as Group 5, we had indicated we would be communicating their in-person return closer to the December 1 date,” Caldwell said. “The numbers right now have not decreased as we have been hoping.”
With FCPS closed for the week starting on Wednesday, Caldwell says the school system will share more information on what Group 5 students can expect either today (Tuesday) or at the end of the break on Nov. 30.
Roughly 5,500 FCPS students are still attending in-person classes. Most of them are in special education, English Learners, career preparation, and other specialized programs.
Though their established thresholds are looser, those cohorts could potentially join Group 4 students in transitioning back to learning exclusively online.
“Given the COVID-19 infection rates in our community, we do anticipate that it may be necessary to dial up and dial back our in-person cohorts,” Caldwell said.
Photo via FCPS