Reston, VA

Fairfax County Public Schools students will offer four days of in-person instruction to select students starting this week, FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand announced yesterday (Monday).

The opportunity to get four days of in-person classes has been extended first to the pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students who have been experiencing the most significant challenges in virtual and hybrid learning.

FCPS says school personnel identified these students using the school system’s Multi-Tiered Systems of Support model, which takes into account students’ behavior and social and emotional well-being as well as their academic success.

Other students may be able to receive four days of in-person classes starting the week of April 20, but only if their families opted for in-person learning in the fall and they are currently attending two days of in-person classes.

“I am thrilled to announce that FCPS is continuing to move forward with bringing back additional students to in-person learning — particularly our students who are experiencing the greatest learning challenges,” Brabrand said. “Overall, we see this as very good news for FCPS students, families, staff, and the community and will help us prepare for five days of in-person instruction this fall.”

Brabrand told the Fairfax County School Board on March 16 that FCPS could expand in-person learning to four days on a limited basis after spring break, with the goal of providing more support to students with disabilities, English-language learners, and others who have especially struggled this year.

To ensure that there would be sufficient capacity, FCPS required students who opted for some in-person learning to confirm that they were attending school regularly by March 26, the day before spring break. If they were not in class, they risked being reverted to all-virtual instruction.

FCPS spokesperson Lucy Caldwell says that the school system does not have an exact figure for how many students were sent back to virtual learning, but those decisions were handled on school-by-school basis.

The expansion of in-person learning comes even though FCPS is instructing all staff and students at middle and high schools to maintain six feet of social distancing, citing Fairfax County’s high rate of community transmission of COVID-19.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance for schools on March 19 to recommend at least three feet of social distancing in classrooms if everyone wears a face mask. However, the federal agency also said that middle and high school students should be at least six feet apart in communities with high transmission levels.

“This recommendation is because COVID-19 transmission dynamics are different in older students — that is, they are more likely to be exposed to SARS-CoV-2 and spread it than younger children,” the CDC said.

The CDC determines community transmission levels primarily based on testing positivity rates and the number of new cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days. Fairfax County has recorded 103.4 new cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days, and 5.2% of all PCR tests have been positive, as of the week of March 27, according to the Virginia Department of Health’s school metrics dashboard.

Caldwell says that the ability of schools to accommodate four days of in-person learning varies widely based on current occupancy, the size of classrooms and lunchroom spaces, furniture, and staffing.

“Some of our schools DO have open space,” she said in an email. “Some students who were expected to come back in-person did not; school staff reached out to those families who’s students did not show up and ascertained whether or not we might have open seats through those discussions. We are addressing these open seat opportunities now.”

In-person attendance currently ranges from 20 to 80% depending on the specific school, according to Caldwell, who also noted that staffing levels could become insufficient if employees need to quarantine.

As of Monday, FCPS has recorded 1,253 COVID-19 cases since Sept. 8, including 660 cases among staff and 440 among students. Public health officials are currently investigating outbreaks at McLean High School, South Lakes High School, and the Word of Life Christian Academy, according to VDH.

Reported to the state on March 26, the South Lakes outbreak stems from 11 cases among players in the school’s football program. The outbreak led to the cancellation of two games and required almost 40 other students to quarantine.

“Each school is working within their own capacity to accommodate additional in-person opportunities for students whose families have already expressed a desire for them,” Caldwell said.

Photo via FCPS

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The Town of Herndon is considering a plan to allow Peppertree Montessori School to open at 400 Herndon Parkway.

An application asking for a special exception that would permit the opening of a private school or daycare at Sugarland West Business Center is slated to be discussed at today’s Planning Commission work session.

A special exception is needed since the school would lie in the Office & Light Industrial zoning district. The other occupant of 400 Herndon Parkway is Honeywell, an aircraft parts manufacturer.

According to the staff report, a recommendation from staff not been made yet to the Planning Commission.

This is due to a revised plan from the school detailing parking location, logistics of child pick-up/drop-off, and the size/location of the fenced play area still being needed. It is expected to be provided prior to the public hearing, which is set to take place on March 22.

The Peppertree Montessori school would use the existing building and no construction would be needed at this time, a Montessori school official confirmed. It’s simply an “occupancy change.”

Because of this, if approval happens soon, the school could start accepting students and open as soon as May, a Peppertree Montessori representative told Reston Now. Everything is currently “on track” for this to happen. The school is also currently scheduling site visits and tours.

Montessori learning is one that’s focused on individualized, personalized, student-led learning based on principles developed by Italian physician Maria Montessori in the early 20th century.

The proposed 4,951-square-foot school would hold up to 50 students, ranging in ages of newborns at 6 weeks of age to eight-year-old third graders. An outdoor fenced-in play area is also expected to be added.

Screenshot via Herndon Planning Commission Staff Report

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Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

I have never known a politician who has not promised better schools, quality of life and safety. Although these standards are defined differently by the persuasion of the persons making them, the promises share one thing in common: to be realized fully will cost money. The true measure of an officeholder comes not in the promises made but whether that person is willing to put their money where their mouth is. I could not be prouder as a member of the House of Delegates and the Appropriations Committee of the budget passed in the House of Delegates last week. The Senate passed a very similar budget with the differences between the two to be resolved in a conference committee over the next couple of weeks.

While debate over the budget is most often about spending, discussions need also to take into account revenues and investments. There had been dire predictions about state revenues heading into the pandemic, but the loss in revenue has not been nearly as great as feared. In addition, federal monies coming to the state for education and for COVID relief helped make up for lost revenue. The Governor’s proposed budget already had more than a billion dollars in reserve, and the House added $150 million to that amount to soften the impact of a decline of revenue next year without the same level of federal relief.

Both the House and the Senate funded the biggest investment in preschool education ever made. I term it an investment for much research shows that investing in early childhood education pays off many fold in later learning success, civic engagement, and quality of life. The House budget includes the state share of a five percent pay increase for teachers whose average pay has continued to lag behind the national average and who have had to do double duty this year with virtual learning. Funding is provided for another step to a 1:325 school counselor-to-student ratio moving towards the ideal of 1:250. Federal relief of $1.3 billion is provided for schools along with $51.1 million to address COVID-19 learning loss. An amount of $84 million is provided in the budget to maintain affordable access to Virginia colleges and universities and $8.5 million to increase Tuition Assistance Grant awards and include online education.

COVID-19 concerns drove many budget decisions. In addition to getting the schools open when safe and to make up for lost learning, the budget provides paid sick leave for essential workers, increased funding for nursing homes, and worker compensation for health care workers and first responders.

The budget makes investments in the future of the economy and our environment. Funding is provided to expand broadband access throughout the state. A one-time five million dollar capitalization fund is established for rebates on the purchase of electric vehicles for persons whose income qualifies them. The largest ever amount is provided for agricultural best-management practices to meet Chesapeake Bay clean-up benchmarks.

The best compliment that I and my colleagues could receive is that we put the public’s money where we have been told that it should be!

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Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand is asking for a $3.1 billion budget for the 2022 fiscal year that focuses “on the most pressing needs” of the school system.

He presented the nearly level-services budget — “a modest request” with an approximately $400,000 increase — to the county school board last Thursday (Jan. 7).

The proposed budget requests a $42.7 million increase in transfer funds from the county government to pay for new preschool special education classes, retirement rate increases, and rising health care costs, which would patch over a gap created by drops in county and state revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As all of you know, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted FCPS, our students, families, and staff in ways we couldn’t have imagined,” Brabrand said during the meeting. “I have designed a budget to meet the educational and social-emotional needs of our children so they can continue to learn and grow despite the challenges of the past year.”

The proposed budget includes money for distance learning, including cybersecurity protection and Zoom, which will replace Blackboard for web-conferencing, he said.

The budget does not contain compensation increases for most employees, though there is $3 million to finish a three-year initiative to increase the salaries of instructional assistants and public health training assistants.

In December, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam outlined a state budget for schools that features a one-time, 2% bonus for teachers and support staff, with the potential for the salary boost to become permanent. But Brabrand said Fairfax County is opting out because it cannot afford to participate.

The burden would be on Fairfax County to match state funds with $32 million in county-level funding, he said.

“We understand that [FCPS] kept everybody whole,” Fairfax Education Association President Kimberly Adams said. “But many staff see it as a slap in their face.”

In comparison, Prince William County offered compensation increases in its budget last year , and Loudoun County’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year includes money to cover compensations that were frozen last year, she said.

“If Loudoun and Prince William moved two steps ahead of Fairfax, we’re behind,” she said. “People are already irritated. This is a potential reason to leave.”

The lack of compensation particularly hurts Virginia teachers, who have the largest teacher wage penalty in the country at 32.7%, Fairfax County Federation of Teachers President Tina Williams said.

“We’re disappointed that the FCPS proposed budget does not include a pay increase for school employees, especially after a year that is the hardest in their career,” she said in a statement. “We urge FCPS to demonstrate it values the hard work and dedication of its employees by providing wage and cost of living adjustments to help keep employees whole.”

The Fairfax County School Board will hold a work session to discuss the proposed budget tomorrow (Tuesday). A public hearing has been scheduled for 6 p.m. on Jan. 26, though it could carry over to Jan. 27 if needed.

The school board will adopt its advertised budget on Feb. 18 and present it to the Board of Supervisors on April 13. A final approved budget is scheduled to be adopted on May 20.

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As students spend more time in front of screens for virtual learning, staff from the Fairfax County Police Department’s Crime Prevention Unit will offer internet safety tips for children.

The virtual event, which is set for Oct. 27 at 7 p.m., is organized by the Reston Community Advisory Committee. The presentation will help parents learn more about how their kids are using the internet, according to the event description.

Here’s more from event organizers:

Things have changed, school is online, work is online, life is online. But do you know what your kids are doing and seeing on the internet? This virtual presentation will discuss how some of the more popular apps work, how to start the conversation about internet safety with your child and how you can prepare yourself for the world wide web according to your pre-teen or teen. This presentation is geared towards parents and family members.

Participants must register online to take part in the virtual conversation.

Photo via Annie Spratt/Unsplash

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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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Helping to supplement K-12 curriculum in the era of COVID-19, Reston-based maker space Nova Labs decided to extend its class offerings this fall with a new program.

Called Nova Labs MakerSchool, the school is designed by Nova Labs Vice President Karen Shumway who said the program supports homeschool students whose parents want to ensure they have a comprehensive education.

“Whether you have been homeschooling for years, were already unhappy with your child’s school situation before COVID-19 made its appearance, or want to augment traditional schooling, the Nova Labs MakerSchool is here to provide an uncommon, innovative solution to twenty-first century education,” the school’s website said.

Students in the program can either join full-time “pods” of students in their age group or take classes “a-la-carte,” the website said.

Each pod of students consists of a six to eight kid class size and allows students to learn together in a “Montessori” style setting, according to Shumway.

The program focuses on science, engineering and technology, Shumway said, but added that the curriculum offers humanities as well.

Once COVID-19 hit, parents at the maker space began talking about alternative options to online learning through Fairfax County Public Schools – which inspired her to come up with the idea for the new school in June, according to Shumway.

Classes are set to begin in September but registration is still open for certain age groups and individual classes, Shumway said.

Though creating a new curriculum in just a few months may seem daunting, Shumway said it wasn’t a problem since she had taught k-12 science before at public schools in West Virginia.

“These are courses I’m familiar with and had already built out, so all I really had to do is go into my computer and pull it up,” she added.

On the program website, Nova Labs Makerschool lists over 31 class offerings for students, each of which will be taught by 12 instructors, according to Shumway.

Since Nova Labs Makerschool offers a variety of time offerings, parents can choose a schedule that best fits their needs.

Private schools can be expensive, but a goal of the program is to keep tuition affordable for working families, according to Shumway. Though there are no scholarships yet available for low-income students, Nova Labs MakerSchool is in the process of forming corporate partnerships that would supplement cost.

“I have a couple of leads but haven’t had time to track them down yet,” she said.

Full-time tuition will cost parents $7,500 for the 2020-2021 school year, the website said, adding that semesters run for 15-weeks each.

Though not technically an accredited school option, Shumway said that she works with families to keep the kids on tack, so they would be able to test into a comparable grade if they wanted to make the transition to a public school.

Considering Fairfax County spends roughly $15,000 a year per student, according to Shumway, the school is trying to keep costs low for parents while still paying staff fairly.

Photo via Nova Labs MakerSchool/Facebook

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As families, educators and school systems grapple with how to return to school during the coronavirus pandemic, some parents are turning to “learning pods” this fall.

Learning pods — also known as “pandemic pods” — are essentially micro-schools. Small groups of kids learn together in-person either from a tutor or parents.

A New York Times survey found that most of the families who said they plan to use learning pods said that they address both concerns about health risks at school and desire for in-person education.

Some local parents say that having multiple families chip in makes hiring a tutor more affordable and that the pods will make it easier for them to go back to work than if their kids were learning virtually.

However, the concept has raised questions about the wealth disparity with education.

Fairfax County Public Schools recently brought up concerns about “tutoring pods,” saying that the school system is declining requests from parents to have FCPS teachers lead their pods.

“While FCPS doesn’t and can’t control these private tutoring groups, we do have concerns that they may widen the gap in educational access and equity for all students,” the statement said. “Many parents cannot afford private instruction. Many working families can’t provide transportation to and from a tutoring pod, even if they could afford to pay for the service.”

Let us know in the poll and comments below what you think of learning pods.

Photo by Element5 Digital/Unsplash

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Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand has no plans to furlough bus drivers and food service workers, despite the virtual start to school next month.

In a letter sent to the community last night (Monday), Brabrand said he plans to “keep our FCPS family 100 percent intact” as the school year begins. Bus drivers are set to return to work on August 25. Some will deliver meals to specific locations or along select bus routes.

In other cases, the school system may provide other work assignments like facilities maintenance, student support, and delivering books and supplies to schools.

Brabrand also said the school system is working on an alternative plan to keep all food service workers employed throughout the academic years. Funding for service food service employees, which primarily relies on the sale of food, has taken a major hit due to school closures.

Here’s more from Brabrand’s letter:

I’d like to thank our food service employees for your heroic efforts to provide grab and go meals for our families since our schools shut down in March. More than 2 million meals have been served so far. Food distribution will continue through the rest of summer break and once the school year begins.   

A community survey is underway to determine meal demand for the upcoming school year. The results will determine if changes to the food striation schedule are warranted.

Other staff — including security guards and office employees — may also be asked to shuffle their job duties to support virtual learning.

The FCPS School Board is meeting today for a day-long work session to continue formalizing plans for the return to school.

Photo via FCPS

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Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

My mom and dad had little or no formal education which was not that unusual for children in large families growing up in rural Virginia in the 1920s. What they lacked in schooling they made up in basic values of honesty and hard work. Their ambition for their three sons of which I was the youngest was to finish school which for them meant high school. Mom’s advice to me for I had obvious interests in doing more than graduating high school and working a local job was captured in the words of the country music song of Earl Scruggs and later Ricky Skaggs, “Don’t Get Above Your Raisin.'”

Going off to college as the first in my family to do so was a frightening experience but one that soon became a labor of love. I could not learn enough about the world around me and most especially about history and politics. I was a product of a public school system in Virginia, and even as a youngster I knew that the story of the state was much more complex and involved than the glorification of its history presented in the state-approved textbooks. My love of learning led me to finish an undergraduate degree in history and political history at the then Old Dominion College. I went on to the University of Virginia where I received a master’s degree in teaching the social studies in 1967. That program had an internship experience that led to me being placed in Fairfax County Public Schools from which I retired thirty years later.

I refused to use the state-approved textbook on Virginia history in my classroom because of the distortions and misinformation it contained. My school administrator supported me, and a few years later I consulted with FCPS when it produced its own edition of a more-accurate Virginia history textbook. Also about the same time, I announced my candidacy for the House of Delegates and was elected on my third try. My interest was not to change school textbooks but to help alter the course of the state’s history to remedy the many wrongs of its past and to make it a state where all people had equal opportunity. I knew about the inequality of opportunity in the state by my volunteer work with the Community Action Agency.Setting aside challenges related to the pandemic and the craziness of the current federal administration, I feel a greater sense of hope for the Commonwealth than I believe I have ever had. I have written often about the transformative General Assembly session this year and the passage of much-needed legislation on fairness and equality that had been debated and never passed for years. This month the General Assembly will take another important step in reforming our criminal justice system.

As my friend and historian Bent Tarter wrote recently in a column “Black Lives and Confederate Monuments,” (www.virginiaforum.org) “We all have much to learn, or we will continue to repeat the sorry sequences of violence that exacerbate rather than solve problems. Learning, one of my college teachers explained, should involve a change in behavior.” As a native Virginian I sense that now more than ever we will at long last be seeing changes in behavior in the Commonwealth.

File photo

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Fairfax’s Edge in Flagging Office Market — Microsoft’s 400,000-square-foot-deal at Reston Town Center was one fo the biggest leasing wins for this region this year. But county business leaders see more deals coming, despite a slowdown created by the coronavirus pandemic. [Bisnow]

Reservations for Ridge Heights Pool Open Tomorrow — Reston Association is now offering members and non-members a chance to reserve a spot at the pool. The updated pool schedule is also available online. [Reston Association]

Herndon-based Company Offers Virtual Learning for Students — “Herndon-based online education provider K12 Inc. announced Wednesday it plans to hire more than 1,300 educators for the 2020 through 2021 school year, in light of a massive push to move education online during the pandemic. Across Virginia, schools have been making decisions regarding reopening in the fall, with some already opting for full online learning.” [Virginia Business Monthly]

Photo via Marjorie Copson

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The Fairfax County School Board voted to start the school year virtually late today (Tuesday), reversing its previous plans for virtual and in-person instruction.

Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand pitched the proposal at a school board meeting today. The change was primarily motivated by a surge in new coronavirus cases. Brabrand also noted that he was concerned many of the school system’s staff would not return for in-person instruction.

Here’s more from Brabrand’s letter, which was sent to parents and the school community last night:

The online school year will begin, as scheduled, September 8.   Should health conditions improve, we would first bring back students for intervention supports on a limited basis.   Following that, we would work to bring students back to school as soon as possible starting with elementary school students, select PreK-12 special education students and English Learners.

This was not an easy decision, but after reviewing the best available health data and continuing to gather input from teachers, staff, students, and families, we have determined that full-time online instruction is the only safe option at this time.  The pandemic looks much different now than it did even three weeks ago.  Although infection rates in Fairfax County have declined and are relatively stable, 33 percent of our employees live outside the county. The threat posed by the virus does not recognize borders or boundaries. 

We know this is very disappointing news for the families who chose the two-day-a-week in-person learning option in our recent preference questionnaire. We all want in-person learning to resume as quickly as possible. We will reassess health conditions regularly to determine when students can begin in-person instruction, if science and data suggest it is safe to do so.

Initially, parents were instructed to choose between an online-only approach or a mix of virtual and in-person instruction.

Schools are expected to start virtually. After the first quarter, the school system’s leadership will reassess the situation.

“Should health conditions improve, we would first bring back students for intervention support on a limited basis,” according to the presentation.

The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers lauded Brabrand’s proposal and the school board’s decision.

Everyone, but nobody more than our educators, want to open schools and get all kids back as quickly as possible, but we must open schools as safely as possible. Unfortunately, the health crisis doesn’t make in-person classes possible right now,” Tina Williams, the FCFT’s president, wrote in a statement.

Brabrand said the school system is improving its digital learning model.

We will dedicate ourselves to spending the weeks before September 8 preparing resources and help for parents and students.  We will provide additional training for our teachers to better meet the needs of our students and provide distance learning supports and guidance for our families,” he said.

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A virtual town hall next week will tackle systemic racism and equity issues that students face in public schools.

Fairfax County NAACP and Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand are hosting the event.

“From academic achievement, enrollment at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, to the School Resource Officer program and the school-to-prison pipeline, systemic racism affects our children’s lives every day,” the event description says, noting the town hall will focus on students’ experiences.

Previously, FCPS officials and Fairfax NAACP hosted an event in May, where Brabrand said he is committed to seeing the school system work faster to address racism within the public schools, WUSA9 reported.

FCPS plans to announce a new anti-racism curriculum which could start as soon as this fall, Fox5 reported. A recent petition is asking the school system to improve its Black history curricula.

The upcoming town hall is set to take place at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, July 21.

People interested in watching via Zoom are asked to RSVP. The town hall will also be available on Facebook Live.

Photo via Sam Balye/Unsplash

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 Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Passing by the elementary and high schools I attended as a youngster was a small yellow bus carrying about six children to a school 12 miles away in Luray. They were black children who by the constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia were prohibited from attending school with white children. I was reminded of that experience this past Sunday which was the 66th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, decision by the United States Supreme Court. In this landmark 1954 Supreme Court case, the justices ruled unanimously that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. They ruled that separate facilities were inherently unequal in public education. Among the cases that were heard along with the Brown case was a case coming out of Prince Edward County, Virginia, challenging racial segregation of public schools that I had seen as a young person.

It took more than a decade for black and white children to start attending school together in Virginia and throughout the Nation as state and local government actions and numerous lawsuits sought to reverse the Brown decision. Massive Resistance was the term applied in Virginia to the efforts over a decade of state legislation and court challenges to keep schools segregated.

The Brown decision 66 years ago was as critically important a step in moving towards equality in access to public educational opportunities as it was in helping to ignite the civil rights movement in the United States. Clearly it was a beginning and not a conclusion to the challenges of combating racial inequities in public schools. The concept it helped to foster was that there should be equality in funding among public schools regardless of the zip code in which they might be located.

Performance outcomes by minority students over decades demonstrate that equality of funding is not sufficient. Equal funding suggests that all students start at the same point and given the same support will progress equally. There are many social and economic factors as well as individual differences that affect student performance.

A depiction that has become popular recently demonstrates the differences among equality, equity and justice. Three children of different heights are shown looking over a fence at a sports game. With equality, the three children are given the same height box on which to stand; two children can see the game, but the shortest child cannot see over the fence. With equity the children are given the height box each needs to see over the fence. With justice, the fence barrier to seeing the game is removed.

More than six decades after the Brown decision there are real efforts to move forward on equity funding of our schools. The most recent General Assembly session did more in introducing equity concepts into school funding than ever before. School funding is to be divided along principles that more schools would get the funding they need and not the same as every other school. We cannot let the current economic depression take away that important step in supporting our schools. We have come too far in seeking to achieve equity to let it slip away. With equity in place we can move on to justice!

File photo

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Although schools are closed, Aldrin Elementary School Principal Shane Wolfe said he is trying to help his students regain a sense of normalcy by bringing people together through a shared love for storytime and feeling of community.

Wolfe began hosting Facebook Live events on March 18, which he said quickly attracted the attraction of hundreds of kids from Aldrin Elementary and across the country.

During these half-hour sessions, Wolfe typically reads a short storybook that is hand-selected by Wolfe.

At 2 p.m. today, Wolfe announced he will be reading “And Heres to You” by David Elliott. Anyone interested can join the Facebook Live event to listen along.

“I was trying to find a way I could create a connection with the kids back to the school,” Wolfe said, adding that he thinks a sense of community is important to the digital learning environment.

Wolfe says that he does his best to ensure that he can respond to questions from kids that log on.

“The kids have a lot of really good questions that come in too,” he said, adding that they often ask about when the school may reopen and even inquire about their friends.

One of the major questions that Wolfe gets is kids asking when they will be able to return to school and play on the playground. Though Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam canceled all in-person school activities through the end of the semester, Wolfe told Reston Now that Fairfax County is in the midst of creating a distance learning plan for students.

When it comes to recreation, Wolfe said that kids should listen to their parents and respect county guidelines but are still able to enjoy things like soccer fields that allow students to practice the six-feet social distancing rule.

Although the Aldrin Elementary’s Facebook page only has about 250 followers, Wolfe said that sometimes his Facebook Live videos will sometimes end up with upwards of 1,000 views. Once, he even saw that kids from Tennessee and Phoenix, Arizona were following along with the story as well.

In the near future, students and community members can expect an upcoming “virtual teacher parade” that will replace the car parade, which was previously canceled, according to Wolfe.

“We are recording it now and teachers will record themselves singing, being silly and saying hello to the kids,” he said.

The final product will be sent out electronically to the community once complete, Wolfe said.

Photo via Aldrin Elementary/Facebook

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