Reston, VA

Due to the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) has three scenarios for reopening schools this fall.

In May, a task force was created to prepare recommendations for FCPS reopening. On June 9, Gov. Ralph Northam unveiled his phased reopening plan, which provides flexibility for schools in Virginia.

The school board discussed the proposed Return to School plan, which includes three reopening scenarios, Monday afternoon.

The three scenarios are:

  1. virtual learning for all students
  2. in-school learning with health and social distancing
  3. online learning for students with a high risker of severe illness

In the first scenario, students would not be allowed in buildings but the staff would be. Students would have four days of synchronous learning per week and one day of asynchronous learning.

Meanwhile, the second scenario has two proposals for attendance in the buildings at any one time — 50% and 25%.

In-school learning would include cleaning of high-touch areas, daily health screening forms, social distancing in classrooms and on buses and restricting buildings to visitors.

Finally, the third scenario would make groups of students and teachers for online instruction. With the online model, students would receive four days of synchronous learning per week and one day of asynchronous learning.

Additionally, FCPS has proposals for what would happen if the pandemic prompted another shutdown. The plan also mentions shared elements of the three scenarios — middle and high school students having access to laptops via FCPSOn — and how they address equity.

Discussion during the meeting noted that FCPS needs to prepare for the possibility that more than one scenario might happen, especially if there’s a resurgence of COVID-19.

How to keep students and staff dominated the school board’s discussion.

Gloria Addo-Ayensu, the director of the Fairfax County Health Department, said that there aren’t plans to test students prior to them coming back to school. Addo-Ayensu noted that screening forms are a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Addo-Ayensu and Benjamin Schwartz, a medical epidemiologist with Fairfax County, said that data on the impact of COVID-19 on kids is limited.

They said that the infection rate is unknown for kids and added that information is emerging on Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome of Children (MIS-C) — a rare but serious COVID-19 complication.

Input from local health data and the Fairfax County Department of Health will inform the final decisions, according to the plan.

“You’re talking hundreds and hundreds of kids coming in at once,” Superintendent Scott Brabrand said, adding that social distancing cannot be guaranteed in schools.

Brabrand said that safety procedures are also important for retaining staff: “We don’t want folks resigning.”

FCPS is looking to get face shields for bus drivers and special education teachers, Brabrand noted. Ricardy Anderson, the representative for the Mason District, called for teachers to receive face shields as well.

If FCPS decides to go with an in-person reopening that alternates days for students, childcare could become an issue for families.

Dranesville District Representative Elaine Tholen suggested that FCPS coordinate with the Fairfax County Park Authority so that families and staff have childcare options.

Tholen proposed a “creative idea” to turn outdoor space at the schools and nearby parks into childcare centers contained in tents, adding that kids could access WiFi outside the schools.

Brabrand and Hunter Mill District Representative Melanie Meren agreed that more childcare is needed, with Brabrand calling it a “great idea.”

As FCPS moves forward with plans for the fall, the school board is aware that the botched rollout of online learning this spring puts more pressure on the school system to get the reopening right.

“We can’t risk another failure like we did before,” Providence District Representative Karl Frisch said.

Brabrand addressed the criticism of the distance learning attempts, saying it’s important that FCPS does not overpromise and under-deliver: “We did that before.”

Families will have several opportunities to provide feedback on the recommendations ahead of the deadline for FCPS to announce a reopening decision on June 26.

FCPS plans to host a town hall on Tuesday, June 16, that will talk about the Return to School plans. The town hall is set to run from 6:30-7:30 p.m. and will include Brabrand, the assistant superintendent of Facilities and Transportation Services and the manager of School Health Services.

People can also submit feedback by emailing the superintendent at [email protected] and fill out a survey.

FCPS also plans to hold a virtual public hearing on the Return to School plans at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 18. People can register online to speak.

Photo via Element5 Digital/Unsplash, infographics via FCPS

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While seniors at public schools in Fairfax County may have to wait until the fall for ceremonies, they will have opportunities this spring to celebrate finishing high school.

In a message to families yesterday, Superintendent Scott Brabrand shared that the school board has agreed to his proposals on how to recognize graduating seniors.

“We are committed to celebrating our seniors in the safest and most personalized manner possible,” Brabrand said. “We share the disappointment that the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent school closure placed on our senior class.”

Instead of in-person ceremonies this spring, the high schools will schedule individual graduate photo opportunities starting in June where the student and a small group of family members can watch the student get their diploma and have their photo taken.

Fairfax County Public Schools also plans to produce a celebration video with videos submitted by students. Brabrand said that the video will be available for free to everyone in the class of 2020.

If COVID-19 does not pose a health risk in the fall, each school may schedule an in-person ceremony, Brabrand said.

He noted that state health department data indicates that summer ceremonies would “pose too many health risks and too much uncertainty with regard to social distancing requirements and restrictions on large gatherings.” More details will be announced around Labor Day.

“If a fall in-person ceremony cannot be held for health and safety reasons, then we will consider scheduling the face to face ceremony in the winter or next spring,” Brabrand said.

Photo via Tai’s Captures/Unsplash

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Fairfax County school board members expressed major dismay over the botched rollout of the school system’s first week of distance learning, including security issues and technical problems with Blackboard’s system.

At an online meeting today (Thursday), school officials acknowledged the school’s leadership failed to ensure adequate security measures were in place when students and teachers logged on to online sessions.

Teacher-led distance learning was canceled this week due to technical issues the school system is working to resolve.

FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand told the school board today that the issues have been two-fold: capacity and load issues on Blackboard’s end and failures to implement and monitor security protocol by FCPS.

Security Issues

Sloan Presidio, the school system’s assistant superintendent for instructional services, described security issues as a “leadership failure.”

“We failed to properly train the staff,” Presidio said, adding that the school’s leadership did not communicate how teachers should properly set up online sessions and make sure security settings were in place.

In some cases, students were able to set up and run unmonitored chat sessions that were not seen by moderators. Some students were able to log on with fake names and upload inappropriate photos.

“We absolutely share the concern and the dismay at some of the behavior that was reported,” Tim Tomlinson, Blackboard’s chief product officer, said. “It’s unconscionable.”

Although instructors were given guidance on how to maintain security and set up online sessions, school officials said the information was not properly disseminated. Once school officials were made aware of security issues, additional guidance on security was provided.

School board member Megan McLaughlin said she was “shocked” the 10th largest school system in the country did not conduct load testing prior to the launch of the system.

“There is no getting around it,” McLaughlin said.

Blackboard Problems 

In addition to security challenges, the system experience log-in issues on the first day of learning, following by problems associated with Blackboard’s servers. The Reston-based company is working on upgrades to the system to resolve ongoing issues.

Tomlinson said that Blackboard “had no indication that these problems would occur” and shared a statement from the company apologizing for the disruption.

“We are working with FCPS to require students to log in to the FCPS 24-7 site and authenticate their identity before they are permitted to join a virtual classroom,” according to the Blackboard statement.

Tomlinson also noted that FCPS chose not to update its software for three years to the latest system. Seven updates were publicly available but not applied, he said.

But Maribeth Luftglass, assistant superintendent of the school system’s department of information technology, noted that the school system was never told those upgrades were required for performance purposes, especially prior to the launch of distance learning. She also added that the system was due for a planned upgrade this June.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic hit locally, the school system had plans in place to replace Blackboard Learn, a virtual learning environment, with Schoology, another distance learning tool operated by PowerSchool Unified Classroom, over the next two years.

The school system hopes to pilot the system in the fall.

School Board Responds   

School board members also questioned why distance learning proceeded if there was indication there were technical problems prior the launch. Several of the members urged FCPS to consider learning alternatives, like resources from Google.

“If Blackboard can’t handle this, lets try Google” Laura Jane Cohen, who represents the Springfield District. “Everyone has worked too hard to make this happen.”

According to the presentation, less than half of the teachers have Google Classroom sites, which could be used as a learning supplement.

“There would be significant teacher training required and additional workload on teachers to create these sites,” the presentation said. “Additionally, Google Classroom is not linked to the student information system and teachers would have to manually create courses.”

The presentation notes that students and teachers have equal permissions on Google Meet, which could let students override teacher content, and that guest access is allowed.

“Additionally, Google engineers expressed concern about handling the volume of FCPS users,” the presentation said.

Other school board members said a two-hour delay in instructor-led learning on Wednesday was not communicated effectively to the school community.

Brabrand apologized for not making the “right call” when he called for the two-hour delay.

“We could have communicated it better,” Brabrand said, adding that his mistake “caused undue confusion for our teachers and our principals.”

Next Steps 

Blackboard is currently working on software patches this week to address the capacity issues behind the login difficulties, Luftglass said.

On April 14, Blackboard Learn and Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, a real-time video conferencing tool, were linked with a new feature that will only allow students enrolled in a class to join the class session and ban guest access, school officials said. Additionally, a back-up plan is being developed using Collaborate Ultra, they said.

FCPS aims to resume its synchronous learning on April 20.

Catherine Douglas Moran contributed reporting

Image via FCPS

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As the coronavirus pandemic creates turmoil for the fiscal year 2021 budget considerations, Fairfax County Public Schools aims to mirror Fairfax County’s budget revision approach.

The Fairfax County School Board tackled changes to the FCPS budget during its meeting yesterday.

Marty Smith, the chief operating officer for FCPS, shared in a presentation that Superintendent Scott Brabrand is looking to mirror the reduction strategy being used for the county’s budget.

The presentation also noted that FCPS aims to maintain its existing staff, but will defer compensation increases to fiscal year 2022. Amendments and new strategic investments will also be pushed.

Extended Pay For Some Substitute Teachers

The school board also unanimously approved a motion that continues pay for part-time, temporary, hourly employees through April 24.

The motion applies to long-term substitute and does not include short-term substitute teachers.

The school board will reconsider pay for those employees when the superintendent provides more information to the board for the meeting on April 16.

At that upcoming meeting, the board will decide pay for the remainder of the school year.

“To Be Determined”

While FCPS is expecting several one time savings, many of the costs associated with the pandemic are still unknown.

So far, all of the financial amounts for categories, like social emotional supports and a COVID-19 second wave contingency plan, listed in FCPS’s “Post COVID-19 Response Plan” are “TBD,” according to the presentation.

Financial impacts related to unemployment and paid leave under the Families First Coronavirus Actare also unknown at this time.

FCPS may also face another, yet-to-be-determined impact: more students.

Brabrand said during the meeting that FCPS must prepare for a possible influx of students.

“It’s a job creation area and we have families in private school who may be financially impacted,” he said.

Image via FCPS/YouTube

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(Updated at 6:40 a.m.)

In a late-night decision, Fairfax County Public Schools will close today (Friday) and Monday off so staff can prepare for distance learning due to the recent spread of the coronavirus.

“During the past several hours we continue to hear genuine concerns from parents about keeping our schools open while the coronavirus response escalates around the country.  Schools are closing in Maryland and several other states and a state of emergency was declared in Virginia.  As a result, and in an abundance of caution, I believe it is prudent for FCPS to cancel school tomorrow to help ease parent, staff, and student anxiety,” Superintendent Scott Brabrand wrote in a letter to parents last night.

The change came just hours after Brabrand said at a press conference yesterday (Thursday) that schools are staying open because there is no evidence of “community spread” with the virus.

“FCPS takes very seriously the COVID-19 challenges that are before the community today,” Brabrand said, adding the school system is “working very closely” to monitor the virus with local public health officials.

In a tweet later that day, the school system reversed its decision.

The school system was under growing pressure to close its schools due to concerns about the coronavirus outbreak.

“We woke up to have a neighboring school division close,” he said, referring to Loudoun County’s announcement that it will close its schools through March 20.

FCPS announced earlier this week that there is a plan with different scenarios for school closures.

“If we were to have a positive response, we would make a decision to close that school or schools were that was to happen,” he said today.

Brabrand added that the schools are undergoing “deep cleans” with a protocol confirmed by medical officials that “kills viruses, including COVID-19.”

As of 6:45 p.m. on Thursday, the Virginia Department of Health says that there are 17 cases in the state, with Fairfax County having the most.

Two new presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 were announced earlier today in the county, bringing Fairfax County’s known count of coronavirus patients to four.

Also earlier today, Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency in Virginia.

“This is a very serious matter,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said at the press conference. “We must accept this is a changing situation hourly.”

McKay said that Fairfax County is “well prepared” and looking to phase-in additional telework and remote work options for county employees.

While county buildings will remain open, McKay urged people to do transactions online if possible.

Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu, the director for Fairfax Health, said the risk for the general public in Fairfax County is low.

FCPS announced Thursday evening after the press conference said all extracurricular activities, interscholastic contests, field trips, after-school programs, community use activities conducted by groups not affiliated with FCPS are canceled from March 14-April 12.

“SACC centers will remain open,” FCPS said. “We will share with you updates about today’s decisions by March 31.”

FCPS said it a review is underway for the food service and food handling procedures and that several parent-teacher associations are canceling school-based events “due to anticipated low turnout.”

This story appeared on our sister site Tysons Reporter

Image via Fairfax County

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(Updated 2/28/2020) Students at Fairfax County’s public schools will get to stay home on March 3 for Super Tuesday.

Large crowds are expected to turn out for the primary election in Virginia. Brian Worthy, a spokesperson for the county, said that 167 polling places will be in the schools for voters casting their ballots for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The county’s school board voted last spring to make Super Tuesday a student holiday for the 2019-2020 school year.

While students will have the day off, staff will still need to report to the schools, Lucy Caldwell, an FCPS spokesperson, said.

Eligible voters can find their polling location on the Virginia Department of Elections website or the My Neighborhood App.

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Lake Anne Elementary School has lost its Title I funding due to recent changes in the structure of the federal program, which was established by the U.S. Department of Education.

If a school has more than 75 percent or more students with eligibility for free and reduced meals, the program creates funding opportunities. Each local school district sets eligibility requirements.

This year, Fairfax County Public Schools increased the threshold from 40 percent of students eligible for free and reduced meals to 45 percent. The decision was due to “fluctuations in funding and increasing costs of programs and other supports,” according to a Wednesday statement by principal Jill Stewart.

In an email to parents, Stewart wrote that the loss of funding is expected to have a “minimal impact” on the school community. She noted that the school thoughtfully invested its funds in resources with longterm benefits for students, including:

  • diversified and increased our novel units for literacy instruction
  • expanded our leveled readers that are used for guided reading instruction across grade levels
  • purchased additional laptops for students
  • enabled us to purchase math manipulatives that provide concrete examples of math concepts
  • refined and expanded the instructional practices of our teachers
  • funded staff members participation in Title I professional development
  • attended a conference with Virginia Department of Education to learn more about family engagement practices
  • allowed Title I specialists to train our teachers and in our school

The school plans to discuss the funding change at a Parent Teacher Administration meeting tomorrow (Thursday) at 7 p.m.

Image via Google Maps

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Dominion Energy plans to roll out eight new electric school buses in Fairfax County Public Schools by the end of the year.

FCPS is one of 16 districts chosen by the company, which will cover the difference between the cost of diesel-fueled and electric buses. Dominion Energy’s vendor, Thomas Built Buses, will provide 50 buses for the first phase of the project.

“This is an innovative, sustainable solution that will help the environment, protect children’s health, make the electric grid stronger, and free up money for our schools,” Dominion Energy Chairman, President and CEO Thomas Farrell, II, said in the press release.

Here’s more from Dominion Energy:

The buses also provide environmental and health benefits through reduced emissions and reduce operation and maintenance costs for schools by up to 60 percent.

Phase two of the project, with state approval, would expand the program to bring at least 1,000 additional electric school buses online by 2025. Once phase two is fully implemented, the buses’ batteries could provide enough energy to power more than 10,000 homes.

Phase three would set the goal to have 50 percent of all diesel bus replacements in Dominion Energy’s footprint be electric by 2025 and 100 percent by 2030.

“Adding electric school buses in our fleet is consistent with the environmental focus of Fairfax County and the school division,” FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand said in the FCPS press release. 

Photo via Unplash

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A local eighth-grade student earned the highest possible ACT composite score.

Anika Gulati, a student at Rachel Carson Middle School (13618 McLearen Road), is one of less than 0.5 percent of students to earn a top score. In last year’s high school graduating class in the United States, only 4,879 of the 1.8 million students who take the test earn the top score.

Aparajita De, Gulati’s mother, said her 13-year-old daughter took the test “out of curiosity.”

She wanted to see how the test is and how she fares in each of the different sections of the test,” De said.

Composite scores are derived from the average of test scores in English, math, reading and science.

Photo courtesy Aparajita De

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Herndon Middle School‘s administration is considering installing security cameras on school grounds.

The school’s administration stated that the cameras will “increase the ability to maintain the safety of all students, staff members and visitors within the building.”

Before installation begins, the school’s administration is accepting feedback from members of the school community. An informational meeting for parents is set for Thursday (Jan. 16) at the school at 5:30 p.m.

Lucy Caldwell, the director of news and information for Fairfax County Public Schools, told Reston Now that the move was not prompted by any specific events. Caldwell noted that all high school and middle schools are slated to install security devices in the near future. 

Cameras, by their mere presence, offer a deterrent to criminal and/or inappropriate behavior. Photographic evidence also serves to help identify individuals who are trespassing onto school property, thus greatly enhancing school safety.

Additionally, camera evidence can help exonerate individuals accused of acts they did not commit,” Caldwell wrote.

Photo via Google Maps

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Today’s snow may bring some welcome news for students wishing for a snow day this week.

Fairfax County Public Schools will closed today (Wednesday). Last night, the schools system planned to open on a two-hour delay.

“The change in FCPS’ operating status for today is due to the hazardous travel conditions that remain in various parts of the county at this hour, especially on secondary roads,” FCPS tweeted earlier this morning.

Photo by Brian Murphy

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Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) unveiled its proposed fiscal year 2021-25 Capital Improvement Program (CIP) last week.

In November, Fairfax County voters approved a $360 million school bond referendum that includes $2 million in planning funds for a new “Silver Line elementary school,” along with other construction and renovation projects.

“Funds approved in the 2019 School Bond Referendum and previous referenda will address approximately $500 million of the five-year requirement, leaving a balance of approximately $573 million unfunded,” according to FCPS.

For the new Silver Line elementary school, permitting would happen in FY 2022, with permitting in FY 2023 and construction from FY 2024-2026, according to the CIP draft.

The revised budget estimates the Silver Line elementary school will cost $39.5 million.

“Anticipation of the completion of the Silver Line Metro has already spurred higher density residential growth along that corridor which may result in an increase in students within FCPS,” according to the CIP draft.

Along with the Silver Line school, the proposal addresses a new elementary school in the northwest area of the county to address current overcrowding in the McNair Elementary school area, with a projected budget of $34.8 million.

In addition to the Silver Line school, the CIP also includes information on a new high school that would provide relief to high schools in Centreville, Chantilly, Herndon, Oakton, South Lakes, and Westfield areas.

The new high school is projected to cost $157 million.

A public hearing will be held on the CIP on Jan. 7 at 6 p.m. at Jackson Middle School (3020 Gallows Road), followed by a school board work session on it on Jan. 13. A vote on the CIP is scheduled to take place on Jan. 23.

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(Updated 12/28/19) Come Jan. 1, the Fairfax County School Board will have a lot of new faces.

The 12-member board will see eight newcomers in 2020.

Half of the school board’s incumbents decided not to seek reelection, including: Ilryong MoonRyan McElveen, Jane Strauss, Pat Hynes, Sandy Evans and Dalia Palchik. The two Republican incumbents — Elizabeth Schultz and Thomas Wilson — lost their reelection bids.

At-Large Member Karen Keys-Gamarra won reelection, along with:

Here is information on the new incoming members, who took their oaths of office on Thursday (Dec. 12) at Jackson Middle School.

At-Large Members Abrar Omeish and Rachna Sizemore Heizer

Omeish and Heizer, along with incumbent Karen Keys-Gamarra, beat three opponents for the At-Large seats.

Heizer has worked as a college professor, disability justice advocate and lawyer, according to her campaign website. Omeish is the co-founder of Give, a youth-led nonprofit and led the county-wide campaign for an anti-bullying campaign, according to her campaign website.

Hunter Mill District: Melanie Meren

Meren, a former U.S. Department of Education employee, beat her opponent, Laura Ramirez Drain. Meren is a parent and small business owner who has lived in Fairfax County for more than 15 years, according to Reston Now

Dranesville District: Elaine Tholen

Tholen beat three opponents. A resident of Fairfax County for 25 years, Tholen most recently served as the director and treasurer for the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District, according to her campaign website.

Mason District: Ricardy Anderson

Anderson beat opponent Tom Pafford. She has been a community volunteer, a veteran of the National Guard Army Reserve and lived in Annandale for more than 10 years, according to her campaign website.

Providence District: Karl Frisch

Frisch beat opponent Andrea Bayer in the election. Frisch has served as the executive director of consumer watchdog Allied Progress, was a small business owner and worked as a staffer for the Committee on Rules in the U.S. House of Representatives, according to his campaign website.

Springfield District: Laura Jane Cohen

Cohen beat two opponents, including Republican incumbent Elizabeth Schultz. Cohen has been a resident in the county for nearly 20 years and is a former preschool teacher, according to her campaign website.

Sully District: Stella Pekarsky

Pekarsky beat Republican incumbent Tom Wilson. She was previously an FCPS ESOL teacher, small business co-owner and trustee on the Fairfax County Board.

Come 2020, the school board seats will all be filled by Democrats.

“Corbett Sanders will remain chair of the School Board and Derenak Kaufax will remain as vice-chair,” according to FCPS. “School Board officers are elected at the first meeting in July of each year.”

The board also includes a non-voting student representative who is selected by the Student Advisory Council.

Image via FCPS/YouTube, photo via Melanie Meren website, photo via Facebook

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As phase two of the Silver Line opens early next year, Fairfax County Public Schools are looking to secure funds to begin planning for a new elementary school near the Silver Line.

On Tuesday, Nov 5., voters will consider a bond referendum for $2 million in planning funds for the project.

A site for the new school has not been finalized. A spokesperson for FCPS also declined to release the pyramid the school would be located in until a location has been selected.

“Fairfax County Public Schools is collaborating closely with Fairfax County land use and government staff to identify sites,” said Lucy Caldwell, the school system’s director of news and information.

Developer Pomeroy/Clark LLC plans to dedicate six acres of land for the school — a condition of approval for the developer’s mixed-use project at the intersection of Sunrise Valley Drive and Frying Pan Road.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the project in June, which includes 2 million square feet of residential uses and an elementary school in five separate land bays spread over 44 acres.

The plan depicts a five-story, 135,000-square-foot elementary school — details that are contingent on the future approvals of the final development plan for the school and pending discussions between the school system and land use staff. 

The applicant worked closely with Fairfax County Public Schools on the site design to ensure that adequate parking, bus circulation, and recreation space can be provided for the school,” according to the county. 

School renovations and construction projects are financed through the approval of bonds.

File photo

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Fairfax County Public Schools are looking to hire more bus drivers.

To date, the system has 80 openings for bus drivers, according to a recent release.

A job fair is set for Wednesday, Nov. 13 from 10:30 a.m. to noon at the Gerry Hyland Government Center (8350 Richmond Highway) in Alexandria.

In order to qualify to work as a bus driver with FCPS, applicants must be at least 21 years old; have a good driving record; pass a physical exam, drug screening, and background check; complete a five-week training program, take the commercial driver’s license road test, and obtain a commercial driver’s license,” according to FCPS.

The current salary for a bus driver is $19.20 per hour. The position includes benefits like retirement, health, and dental plans and six paid non-working days. Drivers are also allowed to bring infant and preschool-age children on the bus with them.

Morning shifts typically run from 6-9:30 a.m. while afternoon shifts run from 1:30 to 5 p.m.

File photo

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