Fairfax County school board (Via FCPS)

Fairfax County Public Schools will provide additional compensation for select staff members, particularly bus drivers and special education teachers, and bolster its mental health services, thanks to a new round of federal COVID-19 relief.

The ESSER III (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) spending plan approved by the Fairfax County School Board on Thursday (Aug. 26) devotes $188.6 million to various expenses tied to keeping schools open and safe during the ongoing pandemic.

The funds will last for three years and came from the American Rescue Plan Act that Congress passed in March.

“We believe our ESSER 3 plan addresses key areas to support schools as they return to in-person instruction from the pandemic as well as increase our focus on serving students and staff in our school division with an equity lens,” Superintendent Scott Brabrand said in a statement for the board’s meeting last week.

The school board approved the measure almost unanimously. Braddock District Representative Megan McLaughlin abstained, restating concerns that the spending plan doesn’t contain the level of detail she wanted to ensure adequate oversight.

The multi-year funding covers:

  • Nearly $55 million for academic intervention
  • $46 million to pay special education teachers more for increased workloads connected with the pandemic and individualized education plans
  • $23 million for social and emotional learning needs of students
  • Nearly $14 million for after-school programming and transportation
  • $10 million for cafeteria, classroom, and outdoor monitors
  • $9 million for cybersecurity
  • $3 million to increase bus drivers’ starting pay from $19.58 per hour to $22.91

The academic and social and emotional learning categories encompass everything from tutoring support for before and after school programs to mental health materials, technical education, and transportation to school programs on Saturdays.

“Each school will receive funding allocations as well as stipends for academics and wellness,” FCPS said in a news release on Friday (Aug. 27). “The academic and wellness allocations are to be used to directly support students. The amount each school receives is based on its project enrollment and need.”

For academic and wellness-related items, which make up 82% of the allocations, elementary schools are expected to receive about $50,000 to $189,000, middle schools will get $69,000 to $298,000, and high schools can count on around $105,000 to $368,000.

Schools will get similar amounts to address social and emotional learning needs, resulting in about $37 per student.

The plan was designed to give schools flexibility in how they spend their money, while also establishing checks and balances for approving and overseeing the money, according to FCPS.

“All schools will create a plan that outlines how they will use their ESSER III funding to support students’ academics and wellness, and they will post information about their plan on the school website,” FCPS said.

The plan also calls on FCPS to fast track the addition of 10 positions for its English Language Learner programs, which already include 887 positions, 98% of which are teachers, Brabrand noted.

According to the state, $124 million was available as of April 30 for Fairfax County, and the remaining third will become available after FCPS submits a plan to the state due on Wednesday (Sept. 1).

The Commonwealth required school districts to post their plans for using the money within 90 days of receiving the funds. Districts were also required to gather public input, which FCPS did with a hearing on June 7.

The ESSER plan is separate from the year-end budget review that the school board approved during the same meeting on Thursday, which included one-time bonuses for FCPS staff.

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The Fairfax County School Board meets on Aug. 26 (via FCPS/YouTube)

The Fairfax County School Board approved bonuses for all public school employees yesterday (Thursday) in a gesture intended thank them for their work during the pandemic.

According to Fairfax County Public Schools, the district had $82.1 million available in its year-end budget review. The school board voted 10-1 to approve the measure with Braddock District Representative Megan McLaughlin opposing and Member-at-Large Abrar Omeish abstaining.

The bonuses will be paid in November and consist of $500 for temporary workers and $1,000 for both full-time and hourly contracted employees.

“$1,000 doesn’t touch the surface. I understand that. I think we all do here,” Springfield District Representative Laura Jane Cohen said at the board meeting.

During a work session on Tuesday (Aug. 24), the board considered giving the same amount to everyone, including some 2,500 substitute teachers, but FCPS staff noted that a person who only worked one day would then be eligible for the higher amount.

The total cost of the one-time bonuses is $32.7 million. The board also approved other revenue adjustments, including $12.2 million for textbooks and nearly $6.6 million in major maintenance projects.

While multiple school board members described the bonuses as “modest,” the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, a union that represents educators and other non-administrative staff, expressed appreciation for the gesture.

McLaughlin said before the vote that she supported the bonuses for staff, but she voted against the motion because of one line item involving Food and Nutrition Services computer equipment and software services.

McLaughlin cited concerns over FCPS spending $1.8 million on Food and Nutrition Services, saying it’s meant to be a self-sustaining grant fund that had previously been allocated $10 million.

Omeish said she would abstain from the vote to urge FCPS to adjust how it considers spending money at the end of each budget year.

“What’s left at year-end is not a trivial amount,” she said. “I’m hopeful that in this coming cycle, we can…have a process that is more thorough at the end of the year, one that involves community input or at least more justification around the monies allocated to prevent the rubber-stamping problem.”

Omeish also said that the FCPS equity team should lead from the beginning to address disproportionate needs and properly prioritize such spending.

The board also passed a $188.6 million plan for spending federal COVID-19 stimulus money from its ESSER III (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) fund. McLaughlin abstained.

The multi-year plan includes funds to pay special education teachers more for increased workloads, to support students’ social and emotional learning needs, for cybersecurity, to increase bus drivers’ starting pay, and to hire cafeteria, classroom, and outdoor monitors, among other expenses.

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Fairfax County Public Schools children will continue to get free meals amid uncertainty with the pandemic.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture extended schools’ abilities to provide the food — traditionally for low-income families through free and reduced meal programs — by giving them special exemptions last year when schools were shut down due to COVID-19.

For FCPS, it means all students, regardless of their families’ incomes, can get free breakfast and lunch through June 2022.

“Pivot was the key word of success to the FCPS response to the pandemic and meals,” FCPS Food and Nutrition Services Director Maria Perrone said in a statement. “On March 13, 2020 — the day that schools closed — our FNS team opened 5 meal distribution sites” and continue to open more.

She says that by the close of this past school year, FCPS had 75 locations and over 400 bus stops distributing meals to students.

“By March of 2021 — one year after the start of the pandemic — the FNS team had served over 15 million meals,” Perrone noted.

The extension is funded by federal relief money from the Families First Coronavirus Response Act that Congress first passed in March 2020 and extended in September, according to the USDA. The USDA has provided waivers to school districts to allow them to operate programs outside their normal parameters.

Buses with food drove through neighborhoods across Fairfax County yesterday (Wednesday) as part of a meal kit distribution effort, where children 18 and younger can get a week’s worth of food for free. FCPS will also provide meal kits at several schools through Aug. 16 as part of the USDA Summer Food Service Program.

A mother who teaches in FCPS picked up food for her kids and remarked how she wished more people would have been there.

FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand said the continued outreach comes as officials recognize the uncertainty that the pandemic has created for families.

After remote learning filled much of 2020, FCPS gradually shifted students back into classrooms throughout the school year, finally moving to four days a week in April. The district will return to five days a week for almost all students when it starts the school year on Aug. 23.

FCPS announced on July 28 that masks will be required in school buildings when students are present, regardless of an individual’s vaccination status.

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A group of parents submitted over 5,000 signatures yesterday (Monday) to the Fairfax County Clerk of Court in a petition to recall Fairfax County School Board member Elaine Tholen, who represents the Dranesville District, over school closings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Open FCPS Coalition formed in the fall to protest Fairfax County Public Schools going virtual during the pandemic and has been campaigning to recall Tholen and two other school board members, Member-at-Large Abrar Omeish and Springfield District Representative Laura Jane Cohen.

“I look forward to continuing to earn my constituents’ trust and support as we prepare to welcome all students in person five days per week,” Tholen said in a statement. “As a former classroom educator and now a school board member, I have always worked for my students’ well-being and to help them reach their utmost potential. I will continue to put our students’ best interests first.”

Recall supporters have a different perspective.

The petitions that citizens signed argue that, in supporting an all-virtual start to the most recent school year, the school board was not acting in children’s best interests. The petitions also allege the school board violated state and local laws and regulations guaranteeing students with disabilities a free, appropriate education.

“Just how far behind are our students? How will these deficits be met?” Zia Tompkins, a coalition board member and former school board candidate, said, raising questions about staffing and other issues. “Parents have been left in the dark about these issues and…as such have real doubts as to whether the Fairfax County school system is even serious about opening full-time in-person for the fall.”

The group met outside the Fairfax County Courthouse before a dozen supporters and leaders went inside to deliver the signatures.

While the Open FCPS Coalition describes itself as a grassroots, bipartisan group concerned with keeping politics out of schools, its largest funding contributions have come from former Republican gubernatorial candidate Pete Snyder and N2 America, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing center-right policies in the suburbs.

The coalition’s largest expenditure has been for signature collection services from a center-right door-to-door voter contact firm, Blitz Canvassing LLC, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.

The group hopes a judge will review the signatures as part of a trial that could ultimately lead to Tholen being removed from her position.

Open FCPS Coalition says only one school board member, Megan McLaughlin, advocated for reopening in a way it felt was consistent and a priority. But only three school board members were chosen for recall efforts because of the group’s limited resources.

Coalition board member Nellie Rhodes said Monday that work to recall Cohen and Omeish continues.

The coalition’s website says it has over two-thirds of the 4,000 signatures needed to recall Cohen, which if obtained, would represent over 10% of the total number of people who voted in her election — the threshold required for a recall to be considered in Virginia.

After shifting entirely to virtual learning on March 13, 2020, FCPS began phasing in some in-person learning in October, but the process was put on hold when COVID-19 cases started to surge around Thanksgiving.

Students began 2021 in remote settings before the school board approved the return of a hybrid model — where students could opt for two days of in-person classes or to remain all-virtual — starting on Feb. 16. FCPS expanded its in-person offerings to four days for some students in April.

Open FCPS Coalition board member and Vienna resident Hemang Nagar says he ended up taking his daughter, who is on the autism spectrum, out of school in the fall because of the distress virtual classes caused her. He said she used to love school but would cry whenever he opened the computer.

“Virtual learning was an utter disaster for her and so many like her,” he said.

His daughter, who is now 10, returned to her elementary school when in-person classes restarted in February.

“They pretend to care but never put their words into action that does any good for any students,” Nagar said of the school board members that the coalition is targeting for recalls.

FCPS plans to resume a five-day in-person week for students this fall.

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A Fairfax County Public Schools employee and parent speaks in favor of new rules related to transgender and gender-expansive students (via FCPS)

Cheers and applause came after the Fairfax County Public Schools board updated its student handbook to better document harmful and suspension-worthy conduct and protect different gender identities and expressions.

The updates that the school board approved Thursday (July 15) ensure that the handbook conforms with FCPS policies supporting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, gender-expansive, and other students (LGBTQ+).

Cementing established protections for students from being intentionally outed or misgendered, the move comes amid intensifying discrimination against transgender people in particular across much of the U.S.

The advocacy group Human Rights Campaign said in May that state legislatures have introduced — and in some cases, adopted — “unprecendented” amount of anti-LGBTQ+ measures, including many that specifically target young people and deal with schools.

Efforts in Loudoun County to adopt a policy ensuring students will be identified by their correct names and pronouns and use bathrooms that match their gender identity led to an ongoing lawsuit and a contentious school board meeting that resulted in an arrest and an injury.

While FCPS added gender identity to its nondiscrimination policy in 2015, the furor in Loudoun unnerved many Fairfax County LGBTQ+ students and staff.

“To the gender-expansive and transgender students and their families who have witnessed these attacks on their simple human dignity, I am sorry,” Providence District Representative Karl Frisch, Fairfax County’s first openly gay school board member, said on Thursday. “You deserve much, much more.”

Frisch detailed many of the approved changes to the Student Rights and Responsibilities (SR&R) book in a blog post:

For the first time ever, as an extension of the school board’s nondiscrimination policy, FCPS regulations, and Virginia code, this document specifically identifies several rights of particular interest to gender-expansive and transgender students. Among them are the right to use facilities that align with their gender identity, the right to be called by their chosen name and pronoun, the right to nondisclosure of their gender identity or sexual orientation, and the right to receive supports that ensure equitable access.

Other updates include a more detailed definition of hate speech, more specific language around the role of school resource officers, and an alignment of the school system’s policies on marijuana with its alcohol policies after Virginia legalized small amounts of the drug for adults 21 and older, effective July 1.

The Fairfax County School Board adopted a regulation stating that students should be called by their chosen name and pronouns, can use locker rooms and restrooms consistent with their gender identity, and can wear any clothing as long as it complies with the dress code in October.

The regulation also banned deadnaming, which has now been prohibited in the SR&R handbook, along with malicious misgendering.

The school board previously approved a regulation addressing many of these issues in July 2016, but FCPS decided to wait on officially implementing it to see the outcome of various court cases and legal issues. Read More

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Morning Notes

Wind Advisory In Effect Today — The National Weather Service has issued a wind advisory from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. today. Gusty windows could blow around unsecured objects and some power outages may be expected. [NWS]

Work on Lake Anne Garden Plot Begins — Reston Association is installing a 10-foot black vinyl fence around the perimeter of the garden. The project is expected to be completed within two weeks. [RA]

Fairfax County Jobless Rates Dip — The county’s unemployment rate fell nearly half a half-percent from December to January as part of an ongoing but slow trend toward recovery. [Sun Gazette]

Brabrand to Host Town Hall — Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand will host a virtual town hall meeting from 6-7 p.m. on Monday, April 12. He plans to discuss Gov. Ralph Northam’s latest guidance of graduations and other school events. [FCPS]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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In a divisive decision, the Fairfax County School Board voted late last week to recognize some religious holidays in the next school year, but fell short of giving students a day off on those days.

Next year’s academic year will not give students a day off on 15 religious observances, including Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Eid, and Diwali. In what proponents described as a middle-ground option, the holidays would be recognized as special days during which tests, quizzes, field trips, and other events would not be scheduled.

Overall, students would receive an allowance of 16 hours to make up for any religious or cultural reasons.

The following religious and cultural observance will be observed; Eid al-Adha, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Día de los Muertos, Diwali, Bodhi Day, Three Kings Day/Epiphany, Orthodox Christmas, Orthodox Epiphany, Lunar New Year, Ramadan, Good Friday, Theravada, Orthodox Good Friday/Last Night of Passover and Eid al-Fitr. The days were selected based on absentee rates over the last five years.

Employees will also be given up to 16 hours of any time missed for religious and cultural observances.

School board chair Ricardy Anderson touted the move as one that favors “equity and inclusivity.”

“It aims to center equity by elevating our systems’ respect for religious and cultural observances. While this final calendar for 2021-22 may not align with the goals of everyone in Fairfax County, it recognizes all religious and cultural observances where Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) has seen above-average absences over the last five years,” Anderson wrote in a statement.

In a letter to the FCPS community, Superintendent Scott Brabrand recognized that the discussion surrounding this issue was divisive and riled by faith organizations and parents.

“We acknowledge that while this has been a challenging discussion, FCPS is committed to equity for all of its students and staff. Moving forward, FCPS will establish a calendar development process that allows the School Board to identify clear criteria and priorities for the calendar; defines the roles of staff, Board, and community members; and creates a robust community engagement process that outlines how and where feedback will be solicited and shared with the Board,” Brabrand said.

But the decision drew concern from many local and area religious groups. In a joint statement, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Association of United Hindu and Jain Temples of Metropolitan Washington, Durga Temple of Virginia, Hindu American Foundation, Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, McLean Islamic Center, Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation, and Temple Rodef Shalom wrote that the school board’s attempt to divide religious groups backfired.

“While the school board has sought to divide us further, we have coalesced around this issue, strengthening our commitment to one another and to the equity of religious minority groups in Fairfax County. We will continue to hold the FCPS School Board and Administration accountable to ensure that our communities are not disadvantaged by the decisions taken today,” the statement reads. 

The new rules will go into effect when the school year begins on July 1. The board also voted to decouple Good Friday from Spring Break.

Photo via FCPS

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This year’s graduating classes may get to celebrate their achievements with socially-distanced graduation ceremonies.

Earlier this week, Gov. Ralph Northam released preliminary guidance for graduation ceremonies at high schools and universities this spring and summer.

“We are releasing this guidance early to allow schools to begin planning for this year’s events,” Northam said Wednesday in a statement. “While graduation and commencement ceremonies will still be different than they were in the past, this is a tremendous step forward for all of our schools, our graduates, and their families.”

Northam wants all outdoor ceremonies to be capped at 5,000 people or 30 percent of venue capacity.

Indoors events are limited to 500 people or 30 percent of the venue capacity. All attendees must wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines to the extent possible.

Seating areas should be reconfigured to accommodate social distancing, among other recommendations pitched by Northam.

Updated guidance is expected to be released as part of a forthcoming executive order.

The guidance comes as Fairfax County Public Schools prepares for a return to five days of in-person classes in the fall. Since Feb. 16, more than 98,000 students and staff members have resumed in-person classes.

More than two-thirds of the state’s public school teachers and staff have received at least one dose of the vaccine. The statewide positivity rate for COVID-19 also continues to fall, currently standing at 5.4 percent.

Last year, some students celebrated with car parades, while other schools returned to virtual celebrations or graduate photo opportunities.

With this in mind, we’d love to know what you think about how and if in-person graduation ceremonies should resume this year. Let us know in the poll below.

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Fairfax County Public School students will attend in-person classes five days a week when the new academic year starts this fall, FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand pledged yesterday (Tuesday) at a school board work session.

The commitment came on the same day that FCPS welcomed third and sixth-grade students back into classrooms. This was the final cohort to be phased into hybrid learning, where students who choose to can receive two days of in-person instruction and two days of virtual instruction.

Since FCPS initiated its Return to School plan on Feb. 16, more than 98,000 students and staff members have resumed in-person classes. That number will exceed 109,000 students when the transition finishes this Thursday (March 19), according to Brabrand.

Brabrand told the school board that a combination of low levels of reported COVID-19 transmission in schools, declining case rates in the county as a whole, accelerating vaccination efforts, and new research on social distancing in schools gave FCPS officials the confidence to plan to begin the upcoming 2021-2022 school year with full-time in-person classes.

“We have shown that we can return our students and staff to our buildings in a way that is safe and steady,” Brabrand said. “We are confident that we can deliver on a five-day return for all students in the fall, knowing that, while we can adapt to any situation, in-person learning really is the best option for our students and staff.”

According to a presentation by FCPS staff, 0.2% of 86,526 students and staff expected to return to in-person classes have tested positive for COVID-19 since Jan. 26, and only 0.02% reported being infected due to transmission in schools.

As of Tuesday, FCPS had recorded 1,107 cases among students, staff, and visitors since Sept. 8.

FCPS Department of Special Services Assistant Superintendent Michelle Boyd reported that the “overwhelming majority” of employees have now been vaccinated, and the school system is working with partners like the Fairfax County Health Department and Inova to get the vaccine to the remaining individuals.

FCPS also anticipates having in-person graduation ceremonies for this year’s high school seniors, though rules for prom, all-night graduation parties, and other social gatherings will likely be more stringent.

Brabrand said Gov. Ralph Northam and the Virginia Department of Health are expected to issue guidance for school districts before April.

With all grade levels now in hybrid learning, FCPS has started to plan for summer school, which will take place in person from late June to early August at all schools for over 40,000 students — 10 times the usual summer school attendance, according to FCPS Chief Academic Officer Sloan Presidio.

Presidio says schools will coordinate enrollment in summer programs with individual families “based on identified student need” in terms of both academic and social-emotional factors.

FCPS also plans to provide up to four days of in-person classes starting after spring break to students who have been struggling the most this year, particularly students with disabilities and English-language learners.

To ensure there is room for those students, anyone who opted for hybrid learning must be in attendance by March 26, the day before spring break begins, or they could be reverted to all-virtual classes.

“If students have registered to attend in-person, we need them to do so on a regular basis,” Presidio said. “It’s really important, because those seats and the capacity in our buildings really is at a premium.”

Even if social distancing guidelines shrink from six feet to three feet, as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering, Brabrand cautioned that expanding in-person learning will carry challenges, from ensuring there is adequate space and staffing to convincing skeptical families that schools can operate safely with mitigation measures in place.

He told the school board that limited virtual learning will still be available on a more case-by-case basis, but FCPS believes that most students need in-person classes to have the best chance at being successful in school.

“We have an equity imperative to have all of our students back in person in the 2021-22 school year who don’t otherwise have specific health conditions that would prevent them from returning in the fall,” Brabrand said.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott, slides via FCPS

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Monday Morning Notes

Silver Line Extension Could Open Early Next Year — Phase two of the Silver Line is expected to open in early 2022, according to Metro’s general manager. The announcement comes after the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority said it will be ready to turn the project over to Metro by Labor Day weekend. [WJLA]

County Hires Health Care Support — The county is hiring substitute and relief counselors as part of its efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and administer vaccines. [Fairfax County Government]

More Solar Panels Coming to County Schools — The Fairfax County School Board voted to install solar panels on a number of school buildings in order to limit greenhouse gas emissions and improve efficiency. The school system plans to begin the project at three schools and eventually phase out to 87 sites. [Fairfax County Public Schools]

Public Hearings on Metro Budget Begin — A number of budget hearings begins this week. Metro is facing a major budget shortfall due to a dip in ridership. [Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority]

Northam Reflects on One Year of COVID-19Families, friends and neighbors are mourning the more than 9,000 Virginians who died in the coronavirus pandemic over the past year, Gov. Ralph Northam said Sunday in a video. Many others have lost jobs, income, a sense of security and knowing what would happen next as lockdowns and the virus turned life upside down. [Reston Patch]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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The Fairfax County School Board unanimously adopted an advertised Fiscal Year 2022 budget for the county public school system when it met last Thursday (Feb. 18).

The $3.2 billion budget includes a $60.3 million increase in Fairfax County Public Schools’ request for funding from the county board of supervisors to increase employee compensation rates by 3%, a significant change from what FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand proposed in January.

Anticipating a tough financial year due to the continued impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brabrand had originally proposed freezing staff salaries aside from $3 million to complete a three-year push to bring the salaries of instructional assistants and public health training assistants up to 50% of the salary scale for teachers who have bachelor’s degrees.

Improving employee compensation has been a priority of the school board in recent years, as the board seeks to restore over $70 million and nearly 2,700 positions that have been cut since 2008, according to Lee District Representative Tamara Derenak-Kaufax.

“As a board, we must be committed to making certain we are hiring and retaining the best and brightest employees to teach our children, to counsel our children, to transport our children, to feed our children, and to ensure that their social and emotional needs are being met,” Derenak-Kaufax said. “In order to do so, we must be competitive with our surrounding jurisdictions.”

On top of the requested county transfer funds, FCPS projects that it could receive an additional $13.4 million in state revenue to cover the compensation increases based on a proposed budget from the Virginia State Senate that would provide a 3% salary bump for public school educators.

When approving the advertised budget, the school board also amended Brabrand’s proposed budget to include an additional $1.4 million to hire instructional coaches at six Title I elementary schools and create pay parity for elementary school principals and assistant principals.

Overall, the FY 2022 advertised budget seeks to increase FCPS funding by 2.4%, or $75.5 million, compared to the school system’s approved FY 2021 budget.

In addition to employee compensation, the increase provides for expanded preschool special education classes, retirement rate increases and rising health care costs, and support for student needs related to the pandemic, according to FCPS.

The budget also includes $4.9 million and 50 staff positions for English as a Second Language programs at the elementary school level, along with $500,000 and three positions for a collective bargaining team after the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation in 2020 allowing localities to recognize collective bargaining rights for public employees starting on May 1.

Karen Corbett-Sanders, who represents Mount Vernon District on the Fairfax County School Board, noted that the advertised FY 2022 budget does not include money for possible summer school programming, which will instead come from federal COVID-19 relief funds that Congress approved in December.

“We recognize that the past year has been incredibly difficult for our community,” Brabrand said. “This budget is designed to bring hope to students, their families and our staff by providing the resources each of them needs to help recognize and support all their extraordinary contributions during this pandemic.”

While not included in the advertised budget, the school board also directed Brabrand to identify funds to create positions for a neuro-diversity specialist and a trauma-informed social emotional learning specialist, roles that are, respectively, intended to provide support for students with disabilities and address students’ mental health needs.

At-large member Rachna Sizemore Heizer, who was a disability rights advocate before being elected to the school board in 2019, says having a neuro-diversity specialist could be “transformative” in helping eliminate disparities in academic achievement and discipline for students with disabilities.

“A neurodiversity-oriented approach, with its focus on student strengths, positive teacher expectations, and inclusion of the lived norms of students with disabilities within the norms of classrooms, can improve outcomes for students with disabilities and set them up for success after they leave FCPS,” Sizemore Heizer said.

County Executive Bryan Hill is scheduled to present his proposed FY 2022 budget to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors tomorrow (Tuesday). The school board will present its advertised budget to the Board of Supervisors on Apr. 13 and adopt an approved FY 2022 budget on May 20.

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Local closures are in effect today as snow continues to fall in the Reston area today.

A Winter Storm Warning is in effect through early Friday morning, with the possibility of three to six inches o of snow and one-tenth t one-quarter inch of ice is also expected.

Fairfax County government offices and courts are closed today and all employees have been given emergency leave.

The Fairfax Connector will operate a on holiday weekend service schedule. If road conditions get worse, service may be reduced further.

All Fairfax County Public Schools and central officers are also closed today. In-person and virtual learning is also canceled.

Today’s school board meeting will take place virtually at 7 p.m.

Here’s more from the Fairfax County Department of Transportation on recent changes.

Routes 231232335351393394395396 422432461494495556585599624634697698699722724 and 985, which will not operate 

Route 980 will run every 12-15 minutes instead of every 6-8 minutes.

Passengers are encouraged to check the status of routes online before heading to a bus stop. If a bus is on detour, the county’s BusTracker will not reflect real-time estimated arrival information.

The county has also cancelled all COVID-19 vaccine clinics administered directly the Fairfax County Health Department for today. Residents will receive an email with a re-registration link for the upcoming week.

Reston Association’s member services office is also closed for appointments today. Members can call or email RA for more information.

Photo by Marjorie Copson

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Tuesday Morning Notes

FCPS to Host Annual Special Education Conference — The school system’s sixteenth annual special education conference will be held virtually on Saturday, April 17th. [FCPS]

Local Town Halls Set for This Week — Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn is hosting a town hall tonight and Thursday. The first meeting is with the Reston district police station commanders and the second is with Alcorn. [Fairfax County Government]

Northern Virginia Returns to In-person Schooling — ”The case numbers of the new variants in Virginia are increasing as some school systems in Northern Virginia prepare to resume in-person instruction this week. The counties are returning to in-classroom learning before all teachers have received their COVID-19 vaccine.” [Reston Patch]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Barring an abrupt change in plans, Fairfax County Public Schools students will start returning to school buildings next week for the first time since classes resumed after winter break in January.

The Fairfax County School Board approved a new Return to School timeline last Tuesday (Feb. 2) that lets 8,000 students in special education and career and technical education programs get two days of in-person instruction and two days of virtual instruction per week starting on Feb. 16. All FCPS students will be phased into the hybrid learning model by Mar. 16, though students who choose to stay all-virtual can do so.

The school board’s decision came three days before Gov. Ralph Northam announced on Friday (Feb. 5) that all school divisions in Virginia must offer families some form of in-person learning option by Mar. 16, citing the need to prevent learning losses.

An FCPS report released in November found an uptick in failing grades during the first quarter of the 2020-2021 school year, particularly for students with disabilities and English-language learners, and research from the CDC suggests schools can deliver in-person instruction safely as long as mitigation protocols are followed, including mask-wearing and social distancing.

With COVID-19 cases declining in Fairfax County recently and FCPS staff prioritized for vaccinations, FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand expressed confidence last week that the division can pull of a successful return to in-person learning.

However, FCPS officials also said that transporting students will be a challenge due to the inability to ensure enough spacing on buses, and employees raised concerns in the past through the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers about inadequate implementation and enforcement of mitigation measures. FCPS has recorded 939 COVID-19 cases among staff, students, and visitors since Sept. 8.

Do you think FCPS is ready to restart in-person learning? Should the district move faster to expand in-person learning, or should it take a more cautious approach? Should schools be looking to resume in-person instruction at all?

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Tuesday Morning Notes

Local Police Conduct Mock Travel Stops — The Fairfax County Police Department conducted mock traffic stops for drivers with disabilities. Police and community members came together to learn how to safely interact with one another during traffic stops. The goal was to ensure that drivers with disabilities are well-versed in what happens during traffic stops. [Local DVM]

Health Department Hires Staff to Help with Pandemic Response — The county’s health department is looking for nurse practitioners, physician assistants, registered nurses and licensed practical nurses to join its vaccination team on a part-time, temporary basis. The plan is to hire 100 people. [Fairfax County Government]

In-school Learning to Resume Next Week — Fairfax County Public Schools will bring back its first group of students for in-person instruction on Feb. 16. Students who have already selected to return to in-person instruction will still be able to do so two days a week. [FCPS]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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