(Updated at 12:45 p.m.) All high school students will be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to participate in school sports, Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand announced this morning (Monday).
The requirement will apply to students who plan to get involved in Virginia High School League winter and spring sports this school year, along with activities like dance team and out-of-season workouts that require a physical, but it will take effect on Nov. 8, prior to the postseason for fall sports like football and field hockey.
An FCPS spokesperson says the Nov. 8 date was chosen, because that’s when the school system will start having indoor sports.
“As FCPS students return to our school buildings, our priority must be on our academic programming,” the spokesperson said. “Our data is showing that a significant number of our cases stem from athletics and a disproportionate number of students are having their learning impacted. Therefore, we have made the decision to mandate vaccinations for students who wish to partake in a number of close contact athletic disciplines. By taking this step, we hope to limit the number of students who are being instructed to remain out of school buildings.”
The announcement comes one week after FCPS started its 2021-2022 academic year and 10 days after the district issued a vaccination mandate for employees that’s expected to take effect in October.
As recently as last Tuesday (Aug. 24), school officials had expressed uncertainty about the legality of requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for students.
“As I understand it, that’s not something we’re able to do yet in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Brabrand said at a school board work session. “…I do think, just like the staff vaccination mandate, we need to, as this pandemic evolves, continue to go back and return to these kinds of issues that can really help make our schools safe for in-person instruction now and forever.”
Mount Vernon District School Board Representative Karen Corbett-Sanders, who served on a state task force that looked at the issue, confirmed that Virginia law requires any vaccination requirements for students come from the Virginia Department of Health, which would refer the mandate to the General Assembly.
“The legislature is not meeting again until January, but this may be an area where this board, as we look at our legislative priorities, would urge that,” Corbett-Sanders said.
However, in that same meeting, some board members raised concerns about students missing class time due to sports-related COVID-19 cases and the amount of time that health officials needed to conduct contact tracing, since there was no system in place to quickly determine who had already been vaccinated.
FCPS says vaccinations can be mandated for student athletes without state approval, because sports aren’t required activities and students don’t earn grades or credit for participating in them.
According to the FCPS case dashboard, 234 people, including 164 students and 69 staff members, have reported testing positive for COVID-19 to the school system this month as of Friday (Aug. 27).
Most cases appear to be occurring in elementary schools, but Brabrand says the majority of instances where high school students need to pause instruction have been the result of exposure during athletic activities.
“While we know this is a difficult decision for some families, it is an essential step that we must take to limit the duration of a pause, getting students back to the classroom and their activities sooner, but still safely,” Brabrand said, noting that FCPS will work with the Fairfax County Health Department to ensure students have access to the vaccine before the mandate takes effect.
Brabrand’s full message to the FCPS community can be found below: Read More
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(Updated at 11:30 a.m.) Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand will step down from the position at the end of the upcoming school year, FCPS announced this morning (Thursday).
Brabrand will leave at the end of his current contract, which was extended through June 30, 2022 by the Fairfax County School Board in December.
The announcement of Brabrand’s impending departure comes as FCPS prepares to start a second phase of expanded summer school and resume five days of in-person learning for all students when the 2021-2022 school year kicks off in August.
“My colleagues and I are extremely grateful for Dr. Brabrand’s unwavering commitment to FCPS students, staff, and families,” School Board Chair Ricardy Anderson said in a statement. “We look forward to our continued collaboration toward the goal of returning all students to school safely for five days in the fall and providing every child the instructional and social emotional services they need this coming school year.”
While FCPS did not expand on Brabrand’s decision to leave next year in its press release, his departure follows a year of unprecedented challenges as school systems nationwide scrambled to adapt to closures and a massive shift to virtual learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the leader of Virginia’s largest public school system, Brabrand was tasked with balancing the sometimes competing needs of a diverse population of students and staff, drawing criticism from both parents who pushed for school buildings to reopen and faculty wary of the health risks that they would face from teaching in person.
Prior to the pandemic, Brabrand’s tenure as superintendent, which began in 2017, has been characterized by an emphasis on equity and supporting students’ social and emotional needs as well as their academic success.
The effectiveness of his efforts has been mixed so far. For instance, changes to the admissions process for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology produced the magnet school’s most diverse class in years, but conditions for students with disabilities in FCPS have drawn repeated scrutiny, prompting a federal investigation and policy changes.
Brabrand’s career with FCPS has spanned almost 30 years, starting in 1994 when he was a social studies teacher, according to the news release.
Dr. Brabrand, a career changer who was inspired by doing volunteer work in the schools, began his career in FCPS as a social studies teacher in 1994. He also served as an assistant principal at Herndon High School and an associate principal at Lake Braddock Secondary School before becoming principal at Fairfax High School in 2005. In 2009, he was promoted to cluster assistant superintendent, where he was responsible for 29 schools and more than 22,000 students, and provided collaborative leadership for 27 principals and administrators. Prior to being named superintendent at FCPS in 2017, Dr. Brabrand spent five years as superintendent of Lynchburg City Schools.
“I pledge to continue to serve with the same love and passion for FCPS that I had when I started,” Brabrand said. “In the best of times and in the worst of times, I have always strived to lead with a steady hand and a full heart.”
FCPS says Brabrand will work with the school board “to lay the groundwork for a smooth transition in leadership at the end of his term.”
The school system plans to hire a search firm to identify and recruit potential candidates, according to a new webpage on the search process.
“The School Board will immediately begin the process of finding a new division superintendent,” FCPS said. “Community members will have opportunities to participate in the process.”
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Photo via vantagehill/Flickr
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
Inundated with messages from staff and community members on proposed changes to the 2021-22 calendar, Fairfax County School Board members directed Superintendent Scott Brabrand to redraft it.
During a work session on Tuesday (Mar. 2), the board told staff to consider ways to add flexibility through floating holidays. They said the calendar should take into account legal considerations, instruction, student wellness and pay for support staff, as well as survey preferences, absenteeism data, transparency and equity.
The school board will vote on a final calendar on Mar. 18.
FCPS announced last June that the school board will consider two ways to add in four religious holidays: Rosh Hashanah (Sept. 7, 2021), Yom Kippur (Sept. 16, 2021), Diwali (Nov. 4, 2021), and Eid al Fitr (May 3, 2022).
“Support staff have been very vocal in terms of what the impact on their work will be,” School Board Chair Ricardy Anderson, who represents the Mason District, said on Tuesday. “I’m very mindful of what this means for our families who rely on schools for breakfast and lunch. We also know that we’re coming out of the pandemic, and we have had a lot of impact in terms of continuity of learning.”
Anderson reported receiving 269 messages from support staff, estimating at least 100 more. Member-at-large Karen Keys-Gamarra also said she received more than 700 written responses on the calendar.
Meanwhile, 286 students have signed a petition, and 76 clergy and faith organizations have signed a letter initiated by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington (JCRC) urging the board to add the holidays.
Responding to the news that FCPS would be developing a new calendar, the Pozez Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia said in a statement that it was heartened to see the board reject the calendar that did not include the new holidays.
“We are optimistic that the next option proposed will be one that is forward-thinking — acknowledging and respecting the cultural and religious diversity of the staff and students of faith in the county, as well as the community at large,” Pozez JCC Executive Director Jeff Dannick and President Susan Kristol said.
Member organizations of a Religious Observances Task Force, which FCPS formed to advise the school system on supporting religious minorities, had “strenuously” objected to the third calendar draft, saying its proposal lacked transparency.
“Given where the community has been at, where the process is so far, what data has revealed, it goes without saying that we need to give this a deliberate look,” member-at-large Abrar Omeish said.
During the work session, FCPS staff presented data from the past five years indicating that the number of absent students and staff rises on days of religious or cultural significance that are not observed in the calendar. But some board members said it is not high enough to provide secular justification for closing schools.
“Such data is a flawed indicator in this situation. It is well-known that public school students and employees very often feel forced to attend work and classes on even their most sacred holidays, for fear of being penalized or academically disadvantaged,” the Religious Observances Task Force argued in its February letter.
The school system has not “done a good job honoring religious holidays for students and employees,” Braddock District Representative Megan McLaughlin said. She told Brabrand that he and his team need to do better, and the board needs formal language to would hold him accountable.
Brabrand said FCPS can “do a better job” communicating what the division expects of children and staff on days of religious and cultural significance.
On top of concerns about pay, meals, and special education services, the proposed changes also carry legal ramifications. Schools can’t close for religious reasons unless it can be justified for secular reasons, such as absenteeism being too high for them to operate.
School board members suggested adding flexibility and protections without closing schools, such as “blackout days” — when students who choose to be absent would not be penalized — and “floating holidays” allowing staff to cash in a paid day off at any time. Some said the unenforceable guidelines for homework and test guidance around holy days should be turned into regulations.
Members also spelled out multiple areas where the calendar development process broke down, including the treatment of the Religious Observances Task Force.
For instance, the task force’s work was only included in a year-end ombudsman report, rather than being presented to the board on its own, which Mount Vernon District Representative Karen Corbett-Sanders says resulted in the findings becoming lost in the frenzy of Return to School planning.
The task force and other participants in the calendar development process had certain expectations for the calendar because of their advocacy, Hunter Mill District Representative Melanie K. Meren said.
Prince William and Arlington counties recently approved calendars with school closures on Eid, Diwali, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Loudoun County approved a calendar with closures on Eid, Diwali and Yom Kippur.
Photo via Sandeep Kr Yadav on Unsplash
The Fairfax County School Board’s proposed Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for Fairfax County Public Schools will not include any major adjustments or immediate big-ticket spending.
Released on Dec. 17, the proposed CIP – which sets short-term priorities for school renovations, capacity enhancements, and other infrastructure projects – remains largely the same as last year’s plan, as the uncertainty resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic made FCPS officials wary of making any significant new commitments.
A virtual public hearing is planned for 7 p.m. today.
FCPS Assistant Superintendent for Facilities and Transportation Services Jeff Platenberg said described the current times as “daunting.”
“We don’t want to do anything that’ll impact our facilities or our staffing, especially with the inoculation coming, the vaccines, and then, next year, [we want to] put ourselves in a position to get back to whatever the new normal might be.”
The ongoing renovation at Langstone Hughes Middle School, which was fully funded by voter-approved bonds in 2015 and 2017, is expected to be completed in $FY2022. Once completed, the school, which first opened in 1980, will include modern amenities and an addition of 53,900 square feet. The project is expected to cost roughly $52 million.
The CIP includes $39 million for a school to manage additional growth expected to be brought on by phase two of the Silver Line. A location has not yet been determined, but the project is fully funded for planning-related costs.
Roughly $42 million is proposed for Herndon Elementary School, 52 million for Hughes Elementary School, and 106 million for the ongoing renovation of and Herndon High School, which will be completed this year.
Because students have mostly been learning virtually, FCPS staff were unable to include data on the capacity utilization of individual facilities for this school year in the CIP. Fluctuating attendance also precluded staff from making five-year projections for future student enrollment.
According to a presentation that Platenberg gave to the school board on Tuesday (Jan. 5), FCPS shed 8,338 students between the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years. The losses predominately came at the elementary school level, which saw a drop in membership of 7,729 students.
Because FCPS is not adding any new projects with the proposed CIP, the school system will be able to focus on the many needs that it has already identified, Platenberg says.
Overall, the proposed CIP carries a five-year requirement of $1.1 billion. While only $314.8 million of that is currently covered, Platenberg says the unfunded commitment should be addressed by future bond referendums.
The school board is scheduled to vote on the CIP on Feb. 4.
Images via FCPS
Fairfax County Public Schools students will not start returning to in-person learning next week as planned.
After getting an update on local COVID-19 trends last night (Tuesday), the Fairfax County School Board gave its support to FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand’s suggestion that the school system delay bringing students back into buildings until February at the earliest.
“We can take some of the feedback today…and take a pause right now and come back with some more information about vaccinations and a revised timeline with input from our principals and our teachers,” Brabrand said.
All students are currently learning virtually after a two-week winter break, but FCPS had hoped to restart in-person instruction for some students in special education and career and technical programs on Jan. 12.
Other students were scheduled to follow in phases over the next month, with the last group of middle and high school students starting hybrid in-person learning on Feb. 9.
However, with COVID-19 surging in Fairfax County and vaccines not yet rolling out to school employees, school board members, principals, and teachers’ unions expressed concern that it would be unsafe for both students and workers to restart in-person learning.
Virginia Department of Health data shows that Fairfax County has exceeded multiple thresholds established by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for determining the risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools.
As of today, the county is averaging 520.6 new cases per 100,000 people over the past 14 days, and the 14-day testing positivity rate is at 13%. The number of new cases per 100,000 people in the past week is up 26.2% compared with the previous week.
In addition, FCPS has recorded 649 COVID-19 cases among employees, students, and visitors since Sept. 8. Brabrand told the school board that there have been 20 outbreaks in school facilities, even though only 11,810 students and staff have participated in in-person instruction this school year.
The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, which represents FCPS educators and staff, has pointed to those case rates as evidence that the school system has not adequately implemented mitigation measures like social distancing and face masks that would reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
“We are deeply concerned that FCPS is rushing to reopen schools while COVID-19 cases are surging like never before,” FCFT President Tina Williams said in a statement issued prior to last night’s school board meeting. “We all want nothing more than for students and staff to return to school for face-to-face instruction, but right now, it just is not safe.”
Brabrand told the school board that he will bring a presentation reevaluating how FCPS should proceed with its Return to School plan on Feb. 2.
More students and teachers in the Fairfax County County Public Schools system have been identified as victims of a ransomware attack that took place in September.
In a letter to parents, FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand said his staff has identified more people who may have been impacted by the attack.
”In line with our commitment to providing credit monitoring and identity restoration services to those who may need them, we have distributed additional individualized notices to ensure all eligible members of our community who wish to utilize these services have access to them,” Brabrand wrote in a letter to parents and students last night.
On Sept. 11 — just a few days after virtual learning resumed — hackers posted personal information of some students and staff on the dark web. Maze, a group of cybercriminals, claimed responsibility for the attack, which uses ransomware to prevent users from accessing files. In some cases, data is extracted and held hostage until a ransom is paid.
While the incident remains under investigation, Brabrand said that the school system is working with the FBI and Virginia State Police to investigate the attack.
Brabrand’s complete letter is below, after the jump.
Fairfax County Public Schools could start expanding in-person learning to more students again in January.
Under a draft timeline that FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand presented to the county school board last night (Thursday), all students will learn virtually for the first week after winter break, which lasts from Dec. 21 through Jan. 3.
Students who opt for hybrid in-person/virtual learning would then begin returning to school buildings on Jan. 12, starting with five cohorts that encompass pre-K and kindergarten students, as well as students in special education, English learners, and other specialized programs.
Elementary school students will be phased in, two grades at a time, between Jan. 19 and Feb. 2. Middle and high school students have been split in two groups, with seventh, ninth, and 12th graders returning on Jan. 26, and eighth, 10th, and 11th graders returning on Feb. 2.
“This plan is contingent on health and operational metrics being met,” Brabrand emphasized. “We’ll provide the board an update on this plan on Jan. 5 at our next monthly return-to-school work session and as needed as we get closer to the target dates for the groups.”
During the school board work session, Brabrand also laid out plans for a revised bell schedule to accommodate the increased time and reduced capacity needed to transport students to school by bus, a change that he acknowledged will present challenges for some families and employees.
“However, it is the only way we can return all of our grade levels back to in-person following health and safety guidance,” he said.
To address concerns about students falling behind academically while learning online, FCPS will loosen its grading policies and implement a system of interventions to give more individualized support to students who are struggling. English learners and special education students will also receive targeted support, including teacher-family conferences and regular check-ins.
Brabrand’s Dec. 10 presentation represents represent FCPS’s first concrete effort to resume a process that began on Oct. 5 but was suspended on Nov. 16 after Fairfax County’s COVID-19 caseload exceeded established thresholds for phasing students back into in-person learning.
Whether the new Return to School plan will actually come to fruition as proposed remains to be seen, as the Fairfax Health District continues to report record levels of COVID-19 transmission.
Brabrand alerted the school board that about 4,100 students are on track to revert back to all-virtual learning on Dec. 14, because tomorrow could mark the seventh day in a row where the county averages more than 200 new cases per 100,000 people and has more than 10% COVID-19 tests come back positive over a two-week span.
The superintendent said that FCPS has already sent letters to families whose students will be affected letting them know that a return to virtual learning could happen, though it will be confirmed on Saturday.
School officials have stressed the importance of mitigation strategies, such as social distancing and face mask requirements, to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread and avoid the need to return all students to distance learning. FCPS announced earlier this week that it is assembling safety teams to monitor adherence to public health protocols at schools that have reopened.
However, the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers reported yesterday that it had recorded 72 safety violations since Oct. 23 through an online safety violation tracker. Members also reported in a survey conducted by the labor union that they have not seen consistent use of masks, social distancing, respiratory etiquette, and proper cleaning and disinfecting practices.
Since Sept. 8, FCPS has recorded 454 COVID-19 cases out of 12,104 in-person students and staff, a more than 3% positivity rate.
The FCFT argues that FCPS should transition all students and staff to virtual instruction until Fairfax County’s COVID-19 positivity rate drops below 5% and all of its standards for a safe reopening are met.
“FCPS’ introduction of a ‘mitigation strategies’ metric is important, but should not be prioritized over community spread of COVID-19,” FCFT President Tina Williams said in a statement. “…Our schools are part of our community and if COVID is spreading in our community, that means it is spreading in our schools.”
An ongoing local surge in COVID-19 cases has forced some Fairfax County Public Schools students to revert to online learning for the first time since FCPS started phasing in-person learning back in on Oct. 5.
FCPS announced on Monday (Nov. 23) that administrators had notified families that students in Group 4 would return to all-virtual instruction that day after Fairfax County’s health metrics surpassed the threshold that determines whether they should continue learning in person.
“The health metrics that guide our return to school in person reached a threshold yesterday that indicated we must dial back our Group 4 cohort in order to comply with the metrics we had stated to our community,” FCPS Director of News and Information Lucy Caldwell said in a statement.
Group 4 consists of 2,900 students, including elementary students at Burke School and students in specialized high school career preparatory programs. Affected classes range from culinary arts and musical theater to robotics, veterinary sciences, and the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC).
These students had been permitted to learn either virtually or through a hybrid model with two days of in-person instruction and two days of online instruction since Oct. 26.
Based on metrics recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, FCPS determined that Group 4 could continue in-person learning as long as Fairfax County’s COVID-19 caseload did not exceed 200 cases per 100,000 people for seven consecutive days.
The county’s positivity rate for novel coronavirus testing also had to stay at or under 10%.
Fairfax County officially passed the 200-case threshold on Sunday (Nov. 22). At 289.8 cases per 100,000 people, Monday marked eight consecutive days of the county exceeding that limit.
The county’s cases-per-100,000-people and testing positivity rates must both fall under the established thresholds for seven consecutive days for students to resume in-person learning.
“As soon as these metrics indicate that it is safe to return to in-person instruction, Group 4 students will be phased back into schools,” FCPS said on Monday.
This is the second consecutive week that Fairfax County’s COVID-19 spread has required FCPS to revise its Return to School timeline.
Superintendent Scott Brabrand announced on Nov. 16 that FCPS would pause plans to welcome back an additional 6,800 kindergarten, preschool, and special education students that had been scheduled to return to classrooms on Nov. 17.
FCPS has set Dec. 1 as a possible new day for those students to start in-person learning, but with health experts anticipating the pandemic to worsen over Thanksgiving break, that date looks extremely tentative.
“As far as Group 5, we had indicated we would be communicating their in-person return closer to the December 1 date,” Caldwell said. “The numbers right now have not decreased as we have been hoping.”
With FCPS closed for the week starting on Wednesday, Caldwell says the school system will share more information on what Group 5 students can expect either today (Tuesday) or at the end of the break on Nov. 30.
Roughly 5,500 FCPS students are still attending in-person classes. Most of them are in special education, English Learners, career preparation, and other specialized programs.
Though their established thresholds are looser, those cohorts could potentially join Group 4 students in transitioning back to learning exclusively online.
“Given the COVID-19 infection rates in our community, we do anticipate that it may be necessary to dial up and dial back our in-person cohorts,” Caldwell said.
Photo via FCPS
Fairfax County Public Schools administrators reaffirmed their commitment to bringing more students back for in-person learning during a Fairfax County School Board work session last night (Thursday), despite increasing levels of COVID-19 transmission in Northern Virginia.
After introducing more than 8,000 students to hybrid learning – which consists of two days of in-person instruction and two days of virtual instruction – over the past month, FCPS is preparing to welcome an additional 6,800 students back into classrooms on Nov. 17, Superintendent Scott Brabrand told the school board.
Under a newly revised timeline, another cohort of approximately 13,500 students, including first and second-graders as well as students with disabilities, will start hybrid learning on Dec. 8, a week later than previously proposed.
Students in grades three to six will now be phased in on Jan. 12 instead of Jan. 4. Middle and high school students are still scheduled to return on Jan. 26.
“As we make preparations for additional students and staff to return, we are very mindful of the national, state, and local COVID trends,” Brabrand said. “COVID remains a fluid situation, and I want to emphasize these are my recommendations as of today, this evening.”
For now, FCPS will forge ahead with its Return to School plan even as COVID-19 cases rise in Fairfax County at a rate not seen since early June and the public school system reports its first outbreaks of the pandemic.
According to FCPS, Justice High School in Falls Church and Woodson High School in Fairfax had outbreaks on Nov. 10 that involved staff members, but no students. An outbreak is defined as more than two cases of COVID-19 that are epidemiologically linked.
FCPS sent out letters reporting the outbreaks to the affected school communities and is working with the Fairfax County Health Department to support its contact tracing investigations.
“Those outbreaks are concerning to us, and we take that seriously,” FCPS Department of Special Services Assistant Superintendent Michelle Boyd said. “We’re following up on what may have contributed to the transmission in our schools.”
As of this morning, FCPS has recorded 192 COVID-19 cases since Sept. 8, including 28 cases involving students, though the vast majority of infected individuals have been employees. 40 cases have been reported just this week starting on Nov. 8.
The unions that represent FCPS educators have argued that the school system should halt its plans for bringing in more students.
“We do not believe we should continue to send our most vulnerable students into the buildings,” the Fairfax Education Association board of directors said in a statement. “…It is unacceptable for FCPS to disregard the advice of scientists and medical professionals during a global pandemic, thereby placing our students, staff, and families at risk.”
FCPS is using metrics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to guide its reopening strategy. The established thresholds that Fairfax County must meet for the next cohort of students to begin in-person instruction are 200 or fewer cases per 100,000 people and less than 8% test positivity for seven consecutive calendar days.
As of Nov. 13, Fairfax County had 190.8 new cases per 100,000 people within the past 14 days and a 6.4% positivity rate for COVID-19 tests, putting it just barely within those thresholds, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
While resuming in-person instruction raises public health risks, FCPS is also grappling with the consequences of limiting students to virtual learning.
Brabrand confirmed on Thursday that more students than usual received D and F grades in the 2020-2021 academic year’s first quarter, which ended on Nov. 2. A formal analysis of the impact of distance learning on students’ grades is still being conducted.
“I do think that in-person is much easier for us to assess student progress and engagement and be able to evaluate student progress,” Bush Hill Elementary School Principal Mary Duffy told the school board.
Whether hybrid learning will impart the same academic benefits as full-time in-person learning remains to be seen, however, as families and some employees remain skeptical of the concurrent learning model that FCPS has been piloting since October.
A Fairfax County Federation of Teachers survey of 475 FCPS employees found that 92.4% of the respondents participating in the pilot program feel virtual and in-person students are not receiving an equitable education, and 76.9% say they can provide higher quality instruction through full distance learning.
FCPS Director of News and Information Lucy Caldwell says the school system is doing its best to balance the needs of students and instructional staff, stating that many teachers have said they want to return to the classroom.
“Our return-to-school plan, in which gradually certain cohorts of students and their teachers return to in-person instruction, prioritizes the safety of students and staff,” Caldwell said. “We have protocols in place, robust health and safety metrics, a transparent dashboard, and a phased-in approach that will allow us to closely monitor conditions and to make any necessary adjustments.”
Fairfax County Public Schools could expand in-person learning to more students starting next week based on current health data, FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand says in a presentation that he will deliver to the county school board at its work session tonight (Thursday).
Virginia Department of Health data indicates that Northern Virginia has started seeing a slight uptick in reported COVID-19 cases in October, with 314 cases reported on Oct. 15 for a seven-day moving average of 248 cases. However, the burden and extent of community transmission in the region is still considered low as of the week that ended on Oct. 10.
Coupled with efforts to implement mitigation strategies recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and prepare staff for instructional and operational changes, Fairfax County’s current health metrics supportFCPS continuing to phase in in-person learning, Brabrand’s presentation says.
After introducing in-person instruction for select specialized career preparation classes on Oct. 5, FCPS is planning to expand in-person learning to some of its early childhood special education services, including its preschool autism class, on Oct. 19.
Under Brabrand’s tentative timeline, FCPS will continue phasing cohorts of students – mostly younger students and students with special education needs – into in-person classes throughout the rest of the year before introducing hybrid learning for all students in early 2021.
For hybrid learning, students can choose to remain completely online or to receive two days of in-person instruction and two days of virtual instruction. This phase will start on Jan. 4 for grades three to six and on Feb. 1 for grades seven through 12.
“We believe in-person instruction is best to meet our students’ academic, social, and emotional needs,” Brabrand’s presentation says. “We want to phase students back to in-person instruction as safely, efficiently, and as early as possible. All phase-in decisions will be made with student and staff safety as the highest priority.”
FCPS is also proposing a pilot to test a concurrent instructional model where teachers would work simultaneously with students in the classroom and online. The pilot would start next week with first-grade students at Kings Park Elementary School in Springfield and English, math, and science classes at West Springfield High School.
The number of pilot sites will scale up later in October, according to Brabrand’s presentation.
FCPS says a concurrent instructional model would provide scheduling flexibility, save teachers from having to plan separate activities for in-person and virtual students, and allow students to continue receiving instruction whether they are online or physically in their school building.
Possible challenges include the additional burden on teachers as they transition to a concurrent model, the difficulty of managing a classroom with both in-person and online students, and the potential for video and audio issues to affect students’ learning experience.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle facing FCPS as it attempts to resume in-person learning after the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools in March is the availability of teachers and support staff, who have expressed concerns about returning to the classroom due to the possible health risks.
An FCPS survey of teachers and instructional support staff found that 84 percent of respondents have a desire to return to support in-person instruction, but the school system only heard back from 56 percent of the individuals that were surveyed. People who did not respond are assigned to in-person instruction by default.
Of the respondents who suggested they would not return for in-person instruction, 259 people said they would request Americans with Disabilities Act accommodations for health concerns. 47 people cited childcare responsibilities, while 41 people would take a leave of absence and 11 people said they would resign or retire.
After conducting its own survey, the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers reported on Oct. 6 that almost 53 percent of its members would consider taking a leave of absence or resigning if asked to return to work in person, with only 9.7 percent of respondents saying they feel safe returning.
The federation, which serves as a labor union for FCPS educators and staff, has criticized the county’s return-to-school plan as lacking in transparency and detail.
While some of the metrics sought by the federation are in Brabrand’s presentation for tonight, including the availability of personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, FCFT says it has still not gotten a commitment from FCPS to provide clear metrics for determining school closures, train all staff on protocols before everyone returns to school buildings, maintain a daily public record of cleanings, or explain how its new mask regulation will be enforced, among other demands.
“We are pleased to see that FCPS is providing some additional details to the School Board tonight,” FCFT organizer Tiffany Finck-Haynes said in a statement. “We do continue to have unanswered questions regarding the plan, have significant concerns with the concurrent teaching model proposed, and continue to urge FCPS to adopt our 11 Pillars of a Safe Reopening.”
The Fairfax County School Board’s work session is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. The board will not formally vote on Brabrand’s proposed return-to-school plan, but FCPS staff recommends that the board give a consensus to support the plan.
Photo courtesy FCFT
In a presentation to the School Board earlier this week, Superintendent Scott Brabrand announced that some students could begin returning to classes in schools in late October.
By late October, administrators estimate that 653 teachers can teach 6,707 students in school buildings for anywhere between one half-day to four full days a week.
The district is targeting students who receive special education services, attend preschool, are English-language learners, newcomers to U.S. schools or have limited formal education. High school students can also come for certain technical-education courses.
The move was heavily criticized by members of the School Board, who said Brabrand’s plan lacked important data that parents and teachers need when planning to start heading back to school.
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Photo via vantagehill/Flickr