Reston, VA

Construction on a renovation project at Herndon’s Fox Mill Elementary School will begin in May, Fairfax County Public Schools tells Reston Now.

The Fairfax County School Board is scheduled to open a bidding period for contractors as new business during its meeting tonight (Thursday). FCPS will receive bids on April 14 and develop recommendations before the board awards a contract at its May 6 meeting.

According to FCPS, the existing 71,718 square-foot building will be renovated and expanded by about 19,000 square feet, bringing the school’s size up to 91,123 square feet.

The addition will include a new courtyard and secondary entrance, a new basketball court, and an expanded parking lot. New electrical, plumbing, and heating, ventilation, and cooling systems will be installed.

Fox Mill will also get a new main entrance with “updated, more modern front elevation,” and the existing hallways will be redesigned to “simplify and provide easier navigation through the building,” FCPS said.

According to FCPS’s proposed capital improvement program for fiscal years 2022-2026, Fox Mill currently has a design capacity of 840 students and a program capacity of 683 students. The planned renovation will actually shrink the design capacity to 650 students.

Enrollment at Fox Mill dropped from 598 students in the 2019-2020 school year to 544 students in 2020-2021. The school has fluctuated between 81 and 92% capacity utilization over the past decade, peaking at 643 students in the 2014-2015 school year.

This will be the first time that Fox Mill has been renovated since its doors opened in 1979, though it did get an addition in 1980.

FCPS says the project carries a total estimated cost of $30 million, including a projected cost of $18.5 million for construction. Fairfax County voters approved school bonds in 2017 and 2019 that, respectively, included $2 million for planning and $27.5 million for construction, according to the CIP.

According to FCPS, construction will be completed in the spring of 2023.

Rendering via FCPS

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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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South Lakes High School’s varsity and junior varsity football teams have paused all activities through April 4 — one day before spring break ends — after 11 players tested positive for COVID-19, Fairfax County Public Schools confirmed to Reston Now.

ABC7’s Scott Abraham first reported the teams’ activities had been put on hold due to positive COVID-19 cases. The Seahawks’ March 26 home game against Washington-Liberty and April 1 game at Langley were both canceled.

South Lakes Principal Kim Retzer alerted families to the multiple positive cases of COVID-19 at the school in an emailed letter on March 25, stating that the cases appeared to be “confined to a contained group of students (such as a sports team or a club).”

“In an abundance of caution, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) will be temporarily transitioning all affected classroom cohorts to distance learning and all on-site activities involving this group have been paused as the Fairfax County Health Department (FCHD) completes contact tracing and investigation,” Retzer wrote in her letter.

She added that FCPS “will be implementing all cleaning and disinfecting protocols as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the FCHD.”

“Our school remains open to staff and all other in-person cohorts at this time,” Retzer said.

FCPS spokesperson Lucy Caldwell confirmed that 11 of the 99 student athletes in the high school’s football program reported testing positive as of March 31.

“The FCHD determined transmission of COVID-19 occurred during team activities,” she said.

Caldwell noted that the student athletes who tested positive have the ability to participate in virtual learning while in isolation.

Almost 40 additional student athletes have been moved to virtual learning to quarantine because the county health department identified those students as “close contacts to the reported COVID-19 positive cases,” according to Caldwell.

In accordance with CDC guidance, the health department defines a close contact as “persons with [more than] 15 cumulative minutes of exposure in a 24-hour period within 6 feet of an infectious COVID-19 case.”

FCHD Senior Communications Specialist Tina Dale told Reston Now that the department does not comment on outbreaks unless it needs assistance finding people to complete contact investigations.

“As is the case with facilities, such as schools, we are able to conduct a thorough investigation since everyone involved can easily be identified and contacted, which is the goal for our investigations,” Dale said.

According to Caldwell, almost 13,000 FCPS students and staff have participated in athletics activities since winter sports began on Dec. 7, and just under 2% of participants reported testing positive for COVID-19.

“FCPS paused activities as advised by the FCHD,” Caldwell said. “All teams are paused following the initial report of a positive case. Any close contacts identified by the FCHD are instructed to quarantine and the rest may resume normal activities.”

As more students have returned to school buildings for classes and other activities, FCPS has launched a Stop the Spread campaign to combat COVID-19 by promoting “layered prevention strategies,” Caldwell says.

The campaign emphasizes registering for a vaccine, wearing masks in public, practicing social distancing, washing hands while covering sneezes and coughs, cleaning and disinfecting, and answering any potential calls from the county health department.

Caldwell says FCPS will not enforce any additional protocols related to travel during spring break, but all students, staff, and visitors will continue to complete a daily questionnaire about possible symptoms before arriving to school or work. Individuals who answer “yes” to any questions on the screening are directed to stay home.

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Morning Notes

(Updated at 5:05 p.m. on 4/2/2021) Fairfax County Seeks Public Input on Police Chief Search — “Next Tuesday, April 6, @SupervisorLusk and I are holding a public input session on the selection of our new Police Chief. Provide your comments on what you hope to see in our next police chief ahead of time or live.” [@JeffreyCMcKay/Twitter]

Northam Signs Free Community College Legislation — Signed in Alexandria, the bill creates a “G3” program that makes community college tuition free for low- and middle-income students who pursue jobs in high-demand fields. The initiative has $36 million to cover tuition, fees, books, and support services for eligible students who attend two-year public institutions in Virginia. [Office of the Governor]

Cornerstones Monthly Food Giveaways Draw Lines — A recent food giveaway hosted by the Reston nonprofit Cornerstones illustrates the still-urgent need for food assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic and how it is increasingly straining nonprofits and volunteers. [The Washington Post]

Advocates Raise Concerns about Training on Restraint and Seclusion Policy — “Parents were pleased that in addition to banning seclusion in all schools by 2023, the school system promised to train staff on alternative methods to physical restraint and seclusion. But several founders of the Fairfax County Special Education PTA have raised concerns that staff did not receive comprehensive training before students returned to classrooms in person earlier this month.” [Inside NoVA]

Reston Restaurant Delivery Company Integrates with DoorDashWaitbusters LLC has augmented its delivery service by adding an integration with DoorDash Drive, a move that the Reston-based company says will allow it to serve more locations, give customers and restaurants more options, and ensure drivers are available “almost 100% of the time.” [Restaurant News]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Fairfax County Public Schools students will start resuming in-person instruction on Feb. 16 under a new timeline unanimously approved by the Fairfax County School Board yesterday.

The board intended to formally vote on the latest proposal from FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand during its regular meeting on Thursday (Feb. 4), but enough members stated that they would support the plan during the board’s work session on Tuesday that they ultimately decided to not wait to give their consensus.

“While there’s no guarantee for anything in life regarding a pandemic, I think this is a strong plan with the resources we have to return to some semblance of what school was like before COVID,” Melanie Meren, who represents Hunter Mill District on the school board, said. “Of course, a lot will be different, but I think it’s needed to help people recover their learning loss.”

As with previous Return to School plans, families have a choice between all-virtual learning and a hybrid model with two days of in-person learning and two days of distance learning. All students have been learning virtually since FCPS returned from winter break.

Under the new timeline, students who opt to get some in-person learning will return to school buildings in phases, starting on Feb. 16 with about 8,000 special education and career and technical education students and concluding with third through sixth-grade students on Mar. 16.

This schedule deviates from the one that was implemented in the fall before being suspended in having elementary school students restart in-person learning at the same time or even later than their older peers in middle and high school, whose return will be staggered across Mar. 2 and 9.

Braddock District Representative Megan McLaughlin questioned the two-week gaps between groups of elementary school students, noting that Loudoun County Public Schools plans to have students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade in buildings by Feb. 16.

FCPS officials attributed the extended timeline for elementary schools primarily to staffing issues.

As of Feb. 1, FCPS has filled 74% of the 846 classroom monitor positions that it says are needed to restart in-person learning, but that still leaves 205 vacancies. The biggest gap is in grades three through six, where 94 positions – or 46% — remain vacant.

FCPS Deputy Superintendent Frances Ivey told the school board that, while some may prefer a more aggressive timeline, discussions with elementary school principals indicate that most of them support Brabrand’s proposal.

“There’s an overall positive consensus to the timeline, and recommendations were made based on that feedback,” Ivey said.

Brabrand acknowledged that not all teachers and staff will be fully vaccinated by the time in-person learning restarts, but more than 7,000 FCPS employees had received their first dose by Jan. 25, and nearly 90% of staff members had scheduled an appointment with Inova by Jan. 27.

Inova stopped scheduling first-dose appointments on Jan. 25 due to an anticipated drop in supply levels, but FCPS rescheduled approximately 5,000 appointments that had been canceled over the past weekend, and Brabrand says he is “really confident” that the remainder will be taken care of in the next week or two.

“There really isn’t a perfect Return to School timeline. We’re trying to balance so many competing factors, and that’s what’s been hard,” Brabrand said. “…I am proud of what Inova and the county health department did. They brought us in with open arms and worked through the glitches.”

Even with vaccinations, implementing mitigation protocols like face masks, social distancing, and good hygiene and cleaning practices will be “paramount” to enabling safe in-person learning, according to Brabrand’s presentation.

Individual schools or classes could revert to virtual learning based on COVID-19 transmission levels and staff capacity within those schools, as well as community spread as indicated by the 14-day case rate per 100,000 people and 14-day testing positivity rates.

The inability to create six feet of distance between students on buses will be a challenge, but FCPS officials say they are working with transportation staff to address those concerns, and adequate personal protective equipment will be available for all workers.

“We have certainly enough PPE on hand, and the quality for which we’re purchasing is based on health department guidelines,” FCPS Chief Operating Officer Marty Smith said. “…We certainly wouldn’t want to undercut the safety of our staff or students.”

Now that the school board has settled on a Return to School plan, Brabrand said he is committed to ensuring teachers, staff, administrators, and students get what they need to safely and successfully transition back to in-person learning.

“We’ve got to stay on the data,” Springfield District Representative Laura Jane Cohen said. “We’ve got to be as transparent as humanly possible and a lot more transparent than we have been able to be up to this point. Our staff and families deserve to know what they’re walking into.”

Images via FCPS

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Vaping has reversed years of incremental progress in Fairfax County Public Schools in the number of students who report being drug-free, according to a report from the school system.

“The slow improvement FCPS had shown over the last several years on the drug-free youth metric ended during SY 2019-20 due to increased numbers of students who reported vaping,” the report said.

Over the last couple of years, vaping has emerged as the drug of choice among students in schools across the United States. Experts and school leaders have labeled it an “epidemic,” and studies have found that it is easy to access, targeted toward teens, and highly addictive.

In FCPS, one-third of middle and high school students reported alcohol and drug usage for the 2019-20 school year. The drug-free metric FCPS uses has not moved too much in recent years, but the uptick in vaping led to a “dramatic dip” for the 2019-20 school year, when 11% of students reported that they vaped, but did not use other drugs or drink alcohol.

The rapid downward trend due to vaping “requires direct and swift action to counteract, especially given the negative health impacts that have been associated with vaping,” the report said. It concluded that more funding may be needed to address the root causes of vaping.

FCPS included vaping in its drug-free metric for the first time for the 2018-19 reporting year. At the time, the report said, vaping did not have much of an impact — students who reported vaping also reported drinking or using other drugs.

Last year, the 11% of students who vape moved the needle 2 percentage points. When vaping is added in, the percentage of students who are drug-free drops from 79% to about 77%.

During the 2020 school year, 11.2% of students reported vaping while not using alcohol or other drugs. Broken down by grade level, 9% of eighth-graders, slightly more than 12% of sophomores and 12.5% of seniors reported vaping only.

Vaping appears to have also led to an increase in drug-related suspensions. Through March 2020, the number of students with suspensions for drug and alcohol offenses was 448, an increase of 6 percentage points when compared to the 2018-19 school year — 424 offenses through March 2019.

The report found that Asian and Black students were more likely to be alcohol and drug-free than Hispanic or white students.

In its report, FCPS concluded that its current interventions may not be enough to lessen vaping and other kinds of drug and alcohol use among students overall. The report said it is unclear whether any of FCPS’s traditional interventions would have specifically impacted vaping rates.

For example, substance abuse specialists were “likely managing students with more serious drug abuse issues,” the report said. Further, the “enhanced access to middle school health lessons would likely have had only an indirect or low-level impact on vaping.”

Photo via Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

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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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Fairfax County Public School administrators are looking to write a new policy that will ban secluding children across the division by 2023.

The new policy governing when and how children can be restrained or secluded would also require administrators to contact parents the day of an incident and to review data every quarter. After being restrained or put in a room alone, students would meet with a trusted staff member who could provide positive supports.

“We are delighted that FCPS recognizes that they were in shocking non-compliance with federal regulations,” Fairfax County Special Education Parent-Teacher Association President Michelle Cades told Tysons Reporter. “We are really optimistic that reporting is going to improve and that there is going to be more transparency.”

According to the policy, starting in 2021, seclusion will only be allowed at Burke School and Key and Kilmer Centers.

“We’re requesting that it be prohibited in 99% of schools now, but 100% is our desire, 100% is our goal,” Assistant Superintendent of the Special Services Department Michelle Boyd said in a work session last week.

The policy would go into effect Jan. 1, 2021, and includes some clauses that respond to feedback from parents and other stakeholders. FCPS will hold a public hearing on the new policy on Friday.

These changes come one year after a 2019 WAMU investigation found hundreds of instances of restraint and seclusion in FCPS, even though the school division had not reported a single incident to the U.S. Office of Civil Rights for 10 years.

“We have to make sure that people feel confident, not just in the new policy, but that we are implementing the data collection with fidelity,” Superintendent Scott Brabrand said during a Dec. 1 work session. “We have to acknowledge that for too many years, we reported no information, as did other school districts, and it was wrong.”

At-Large School Board Representative Abrar Omeish questioned what data FCPS is relying on to be confident that a new restraint and seclusion policy will be implemented properly.

“I worry about relying on this information, when we have reason to believe that it is not reliable,” she said. “We should imagine the worst-case scenario and put in place the checks that are going to hold us accountable to make sure we’re not wronging kids in the process.”

The school board and community members both raised concerns about an initial draft of the policy that was released prior to the Dec. 1 work session. That version gave a window for notifying parents of two school days, did not prohibit supine restraints (where the child is lying face-up on the ground), and had no explicit mention of eventually banning seclusion at all schools.

SEPTA criticized the initial proposal as failing to meet state regulations and best practices, saying that it “appears to discriminate against students with disabilities.”

“Given [the county’s] history, the public and the special education community of Fairfax County do not have faith that FCPS will act with integrity and transparency in any use of restraint or seclusion,” SEPTA said in a statement.

School board members argued that same-day notification in particular should be a priority.

“I can’t find that it is tenable that this school system is capable of notifying parents when there is a discipline issue or a health issue, but we’re not going to notify if their child has been restrained or secluded,” Braddock District School Board Member McLaughlin said.

The most recent draft of the proposed policy was released on Dec. 4 and incorporates some of the school board’s requested changes, including the same-day notification requirement and a ban on supine and prone restraints.

“They went back and, it looks like, put a lot more thought and consideration into how the regulations will be implemented here in Fairfax,” Cades said. “[Supine and prone restraints], where you have multiple people forcibly holding a child down on the floor, are more dangerous. You have a much greater likelihood of injury or death.”

Omeish said during the school board’s Dec. 3 meeting that she will likely be bringing a motion to “ban seclusion and to replace the rooms with sensory rooms.”

SEPTA is encouraging the community to register to speak at the public hearing. The group is facilitating anonymous participation ahead of the public meeting, where volunteers could read testimonies from parents.

Photo via FCPS

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As a tumultuous year of school closures and virtual learning inches toward a close, students in Fairfax County Public Schools say they are exhausted and feel forgotten by the administration and school board.

Their frustrations bubbled over during a school board meeting on Dec. 3. Two students took issue with recent headlines about upticks in failing grades and the board’s focus on how to resume in-person classes over how to improve the distance-learning experience.

John R. Lewis High School student Kimberly Boateng, who previously served as the school board’s student representative, chastised the board, saying its members have not demonstrated that they have turned the comments and criticisms she has submitted by letter, email and tweet into action.

She urged the county to do better, saying that she is tired of “aspirational goals” and wants the board and FCPS administrators to take concrete actions.

“I’m tired of the ‘we see you’ emails, the ‘we hear you’ tweets,” she said. “…Students are surrounded by so much grief, trauma, and death, and we are expected to continue on as if this is normal. This is not normal.”

As the board’s current student representative, South County High School student Nathan Onibudo said he is caught between knowing the extent of the county’s efforts to address the challenges caused by COVID-19 and experiencing the reality of student life.

“I see what’s possible and I see the hard work being put in,” he said. “[Many students] feel like somehow, they’re being forgotten even though all the conversations are about them.”

He told the school board that, for many students, the debate over whether they should learn virtually or in-person has become secondary to the struggle to survive each day.

“Students are simply suffering,” he said.

Boateng echoed that sentiment, saying that she feels unable to take a mental health day because it would bury her deeper under tasks.

“Students are sitting in front of their computer screens wondering when they’re going to catch a break, and the break never comes,” she said.

During an open comment period later in the school board meeting, FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand and a handful of board members promised to take action.

“Nathan, I heard you. Our leadership team heard you, our principals heard you, our staff heard you,” Brabrand said. “Kimberly, I sat with you here last year. I heard you. We want your voice and your input as we continue through this year, and we will use your recommendations to make the changes necessary to be sure students are heard, listened to, respected, valued.”

Mount Vernon District Representative Karen Corbett Sanders noted the board is also hearing about the impact of the pandemic on the county’s school children from parents, parent-teacher associations, neighbors, and relatives.

Springfield District School Board Member Laura Jane Cohen told the students that the board is “trying to get better answers.”

“I know sometimes it rings hollow, but please, hang in there and just know that we’re trying to make things better right now,” Cohen said.

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Fairfax County Public Schools has decided to delay bringing more students back into in-person learning due to rising COVID-19 cases — a decision made after previously stating they would prepare to bring back 6,800 students on Nov. 17.

A Return To School Town Hall will be taking place on Thursday, Nov. 19 to discuss the decision and next steps. The town hall will take place virtually on the FCPS website from 6-7 p.m. Participants can submit questions to [email protected] or call in to 1-800-231-6359.

The Fairfax Education Association, alongside other Northern Virginia education associations, has urged Gov. Ralph Northam to fully return to virtual learning. The association also wrote a letter to FCPS on Nov. 12 demanding virtual learning. 

Gov. Northam, however, exempted educational settings from his new 25-person limit on social gatherings in his tightening of restrictions on Nov. 13. 

Do you believe trying to maintain the current hybrid learning is the right decision? Or do you believe FCPS should return to a virtual model? Was delaying the return of students the wrong call?

Photo via the FCPS website 

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Young readers now have virtual access to the Fairfax County Public Library through a new program created in partnership with Fairfax County Public Schools.

LEAP, or Library Equity Access Pass, started on Oct. 1. The program was initially piloted in 2019 and was created to ensure student access to library materials, even without a library card or an account with the library, according to the program website.

Now, the program has been adapted to a virtual platform, making access even easier in the midst of the pandemic.

Through LEAP, students grades PreK-12 only need their name to check out materials. Additionally, the program will never charge fines or fees. Each account will allow students to check out up to three items at a time for six weeks each.

The program has been running for about three weeks and has already served students at each of the county’s branches. While the program hasn’t run long enough to collect specific usage data, LEAP customers and staff have reported questions about the program from across the community.

“Word is spreading, our marketing efforts are reaching people, and the community seems enthusiastic about LEAP,” said Ted Kavich, the administrative services division director of the FCPL.

In particular, on Oct. 20, the staff at Reston Regional Library worked with staff from Dogwood Elementary School to check out books to local families using the LEAP accounts, according to Kavich. According to the school, more than 15 families were provided with books.

For more information, students and parents can ask a teacher or librarian at their school, or call any FCPL location.

Photo via Dogwood Elementary School/Twitter

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As kids return to the classroom, Reston Now wants to know how parents and the community feel about this current school year.

The Fairfax County Public School Board debated the best practices for the start of the school year and ultimately decided to begin with a primarily virtual classroom — incorporating varied in-person learning opportunities for certain ages.

FCPS released a portal to help families work out technical issues that caused confusion in the spring.

Despite attempts to confront potential issues, Fairfax County officials previously expressed concern about the lack of childcare opportunities for parents who work full-time jobs while their kids are in school.

To fix this, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a motion to allow county staff to work with FCPS on ways to improve resources and support systems for working families.

Do you feel that these measures are enough?

Please fill out the poll below and then expand on your opinion in the comments.

Additionally, if you’d like to share your experience with us personally or share a news tip, please send our editorial team an email.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

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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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With the start of the new school year quickly approaching, the latest Fairfax County Public Schools town hall will focus how staff will support students with disabilities in a virtual learning environment.

Tomorrow (Wednesday), FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand will talk to some of the school system’s special education staff.

“Staff members will explain what they do to support students with disabilities in Fairfax County and will talk about student engagement in the virtual environment, family partnerships, student support, and specialized instruction,” according to FCPS.

The town hall is set to run from 6-7 p.m. and will be livestreamed. People can  submit questions in advance by emailing [email protected] or calling 1-800-231-6359 during the town hall.

Recently, Brabrand has held town halls on Wednesdays to talk about the plans for the virtual return to school and answer community members’ questions.

FCPS has a town hall about the return to school in Spanish scheduled for next  Tuesday, Sept. 1, from 6:30-7:30 p.m., followed by a town hall on Wednesday, Sept. 2, on resources for parents.

Image via Fairfax County Public Schools

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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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