FCPS commits to in-person classes, shares plan for handling staffing shortages

Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand discusses plans to manage potential surges in COVID-19 infections when schools reopen (via FCPS/YouTube)

Updated at 4:05 p.m. — Fairfax County Public Schools will be closed again tomorrow (Friday) due to tonight’s anticipated snowfall, using its last allotted traditional snow day.

Fairfax County Public Schools reiterated its commitment to in-person instruction today (Thursday), even as it acknowledges that surging COVID-19 cases will likely result in staffing shortages.

In a message sent to families and staff, Superintendent Scott Brabrand shared a plan for managing the anticipated strain on teachers and other staff and minimizing potential disruptions once classes resume after winter break, which has now been extended by four days due to the snowy weather.

“These weeks ahead will challenge us all and we need to work together,” Brabrand said in a video. “We must expect that things will change often and we must be flexible. Most importantly, we must be understanding, patient, and come from a common expectation that this is not business as usual.”

With classroom supervision as a priority, FCPS plans to fill teacher vacancies with substitutes, other faculty or staff members, and volunteers with teaching experience from its central office and management staff.

However, if no one is available to cover for an absent teacher, schools could have one teacher lead two classes or combine multiple classes under a supervisor for asynchronous learning, where students work on assignments independently.

If as many as 11 to 25% of classrooms at a particular school have no dedicated teacher, the entire school would shift to asynchronous instruction, with students getting the option to access lessons in person or from home.

FCPS notes that it may not always be possible to continue providing a livestreaming option that was introduced in the fall for students who are required to pause, quarantine, or isolate due to a COVID-19 exposure or positive test.

Staffing shortages are expected to affect other school operations as well, particularly transportation. An unusually high deficit in bus drivers resulted in delays of up to an hour when the 2021-2022 academic year started in September.

“Expect that there will be delays in bus routes with more double-backs that may mean students will arrive after the bell,” FCPS says. “Schools will adjust instruction to ensure that no child is missing important classroom time.”

FCPS advises parents to drive their children to school or have them walk or bicycle if possible. The school system now has an app that tracks bus delays.

FCPS says meal services have not been affected so far, but if there are increased staff absences, it could switch to bagged lunches, rather than the usual cafeteria menus.

FFXnow asked FCPS for the number of teacher and other staff vacancies it currently has, but did not receive a response by press time.

“We will reassess, adapt, and adjust if needed,” Brabrand said. “I have faith that our FCPS family can and will get through this together.”

Health protocols implemented last year, including mask requirements, will remain in place, but FCPS is not requiring COVID-19 testing or vaccinations for students, though the latter is strongly recommended for those who are eligible.

While FCPS reported relatively low COVID-19 infection rates last month, cases among students, staff, and visitors jumped from 631 in November to 1,312 in December. There have been 25 new cases reported this month, as of Jan. 5, including 13 staff infections and 11 among students.

Fairfax County as a whole is currently averaging more than 2,000 new cases a day.

Earlier this week, the fast-spreading omicron variant and still-limited availability of testing had some parents and teachers urging FCPS to postpone reopening and provide an option for students to learn virtually.

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