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School Board Urges Flexibility as FCPS Gears Up for Online Learning

As Fairfax County Public Schools prepare to transition to online learning now that the school buildings are closed, the school board wants to make sure the plan is realistic.

“Launching a distance learning plan to reach 189,000 students that engages nearly 16,000 classroom teachers is a complex challenge,” FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand wrote in a letter to parents yesterday.

Ahead of plans for FCPS to kick off distance learning on April 14, the Fairfax County School Board held a meeting today to share questions and concerns about realistic expectations around the new education model.

“Distance learning does not equal classroom instruction,” Sloan Presidio with the Instructional Services Department said at the meeting today.

Proposal for Distance Learning 

Beginning next week, teachers will receive virtual training to begin the transition. Last week, elementary and middle school principals met with the school system’s leadership to receive updates on the overall plan for resuming instruction.

The draft proposal includes closing all third-quarter grades as of March 13 and assigning a “no mark” for the fourth quarter to “allow students’ work in the 4th quarter to positively influence their final grades” for high school and middle school students.

For elementary school students, no fourth-quarter grades will be assigned “due to equity issues of access to technology and limited student ability to submit work.”

The Virginia Department of Education says it will ensure seniors who are on-track to graduate as of the school systems’ closure will graduate on time.

High school students will participate in teacher-led instruction and independent learning. Teachers are expected to contact students beginning next week.

Middle school students will receive learning packets for language arts, math, science, and social studies. Virtual, teacher-led instruction will be conducted for these four classes. Teachers for electives will post learning activities to Blackboard.

Elementary school students will also distribute learning packets to students beginning this week. Teacher-student engagement online will be emphasized, as well as teacher check-ins, phone calls and emails with students. Parents will also receive a published schedule of instruction from school principals.

Students enrolled in special education programs will have access to resources online as well. More information about other programs, including guidance for English to Speakers of Others Languages, is available online.

Draft proposals before the board on learning schedules are below.

Presidio said that FCPS will work to identify students who are not engaged in the learning activities during the distance learning plan and contact them individually to get them engaged.

“Maximum flexibility will be our approach on all these issues,” Presidio said about the overall approach.

Getting Students The Tools They Need

The distribution of 15,000 wireless hotspots and laptops for students in need has already begun.

Currently, staff are pulling laptops out of classrooms and reconfiguring them so that they can be given to students, Maribeth Luftglass with the Department of Information Technology said at the meeting.

“We do feel like we have enough for students in need,” she said about the computers.

Starting next week, laptop distribution for grades three-six will be able to pick up their computers by appointment only.

As for personal wi-fi hot spots, Luftglass said that there FCPS is prioritizing high school students. Each device can be used by five devices, she said.

While FCPS recently ordered more devices, she said that the nationwide supply is starting to dwindle due to demand.

FCPS is working to update its internet access maps for each school pyramid since some of the wi-fi hot spots in the county — like public libraries — aren’t available at the moment due to closures.

To reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus, Luftglass said that students will be issued laptops one by one by staff who will wear gloves and disinfect the tables between appointments.

When families arrive, they will go through a health screening station before staff help the students log in to their newly-wiped down laptops, she said.

School Board Members Urge Flexibility 

Concerns raised by board members included privacy for teachers’ contact information, different levels of outreach to families from schools, how to best support special student populations and the availability of the technology.

Braddock District Representative Megan McLaughlin said that the proposal might exacerbate the equity issues and achievement gap and urged FCPS to compare how their plan compares to ones for other jurisdictions.

Several board members, like Hunter Mill District Representative Melenie Meren, said that it’s crucial that FCPS remain flexible about student learning as the pandemic continues.

“I hope we can adjust expectations of staff and parents,” she said, adding that she is wary of creating events where students and teachers have to be available at a specific time.

Overall, Meren praised the work that has been done so far to prepare for distance learning.

“I’m relieved we’re not taking in-person learning and taking it to digital,” she said. “I can’t overstate enough how savvy I think this approach is.”

She added that she’s glad that teachers and students will be able to maintain relationships.

“I think there is an understanding that students won’t be able to receive the level of service that they did in the school buildings,” Meren said.

Fatimah Waseem and Catherine Douglas Moran reported this story

Two images in story via FCPS

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