Late Tuesday night, the Fairfax County School Board voted to start the school year virtually, reversing its previous plans for virtual and in-person instruction.
Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand pitched the proposal at the school board meeting. The change was primarily motivated by a surge in new coronavirus cases. Brabrand also noted that he was concerned that many of the school system’s staff would not return for in-person instruction.
Here’s more from Brabrand’s letter, which was sent to parents and the school community last night:
The online school year will begin, as scheduled, September 8. Should health conditions improve, we would first bring back students for intervention supports on a limited basis. Following that, we would work to bring students back to school as soon as possible starting with elementary school students, select PreK-12 special education students and English Learners.
This was not an easy decision, but after reviewing the best available health data and continuing to gather input from teachers, staff, students, and families, we have determined that full-time online instruction is the only safe option at this time. The pandemic looks much different now than it did even three weeks ago. Although infection rates in Fairfax County have declined and are relatively stable, 33 percent of our employees live outside the county. The threat posed by the virus does not recognize borders or boundaries.
We know this is very disappointing news for the families who chose the two-day-a-week in-person learning option in our recent preference questionnaire. We all want in-person learning to resume as quickly as possible. We will reassess health conditions regularly to determine when students can begin in-person instruction, if science and data suggest it is safe to do so.
Initially, parents were instructed to choose between an online-only approach or a mix of virtual and in-person instruction.
Schools are expected to start virtually. After the first quarter, the school system’s leadership will reassess the situation.
“Should health conditions improve, we would first bring back students for intervention support on a limited basis,” according to the presentation.
The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers lauded Brabrand’s proposal and the school board’s decision.
“Everyone, but nobody more than our educators, want to open schools and get all kids back as quickly as possible, but we must open schools as safely as possible,” Tina Williams, the FCFT’s president, wrote in a statement. “Unfortunately, the health crisis doesn’t make in-person classes possible right now.”
Brabrand said the school system is improving its digital learning model.
“We will dedicate ourselves to spending the weeks before September 8 preparing resources and help for parents and students. We will provide additional training for our teachers to better meet the needs of our students and provide distance learning supports and guidance for our families,” he said.