FCPS Pauses Return to School Plans as COVID-19 Cases Exceed Threshold

Fairfax County Public Schools will no longer bring additional students back into the classroom this week for in-person learning, FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand announced today (Monday).

6,800 kindergarten, preschool, and special education students had been set to resume in-person instruction tomorrow under the timeline that FCPS established with its Return to School plan, which gives students the option to remain virtual or to enter a hybrid model that combines in-person and virtual learning.

However, the Virginia Department of Health reported today that Fairfax County has recorded 211.2 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people within the past 14 days, exceeding the 200-case threshold that FCPS set as a metric for determining whether a new group of students can begin in-person instruction.

At 7.4%, Fairfax County’s current seven-day positivity rate for PCR-RT tests remains below the 8% limit required by FCPS to start in-person instruction.

The students who were scheduled to go back into the classroom on Nov. 17 will now remain all virtual until at least Nov. 30, and all new concurrent learning pilot programs that were supposed to start then have been put on hold.

“We made this decision as soon as new health metrics were released and are communicating it to you immediately as promised,” Brabrand said in a letter to the FCPS community. “We always anticipated the need to potentially adjust our return to school plans as necessary during this ongoing pandemic.”

The 8,000-plus students that have already returned to physical classrooms since students started getting phased in on Oct. 5 will continue with hybrid learning, though that could change in the future if COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the county.

The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers called FCPS’s decision to pause its return-to-school plans “a good step in the right direction” but expressed concern that the school system has moved the possible resumption date to Nov. 30, immediately after the Thanksgiving holidays.

“Experts have said this period will be a hot bed for new cases because of expected small group gatherings,” FCFT President Tina Williams said. “We need real metrics from FCPS. We urge FCPS to transition all students and staff to virtual learning immediately until there is controlled community spread of COVID-19.”

The Fairfax Education Association joined other teachers’ unions in Northern Virginia for a press conference this morning to urge Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to dial the entire Commonwealth back to Phase Two of his reopening strategy and recommend that public schools return to virtual learning.

Northam tightened restrictions on social gatherings, mask-wearing, and alcohol service in restaurants starting Nov. 15, but educational settings were explicitly exempted from the new 25-person limit on gatherings.

FEA President Kimberly Adams says the union was “very happy” to see FCPS pause its return-to-school plans in accordance with its established metrics, but the association will continue pushing for Virginia to issue stronger restrictions and provide additional support for school districts that return to all-virtual learning.

Adams says the FEA is still hearing from staff members who say they have not received the personal protective equipment that they need to work in-person, but district-level administrators have stepped in to address many concerns, including ensuring that face shields are available at a school where the principal had initially declined to provide them.

Of the 214 COVID-19 cases that FCPS has recorded since Sept. 8 based on self-reporting, 177 of the people infected have been employees.

“Educators want to be with their students,” Adams said. “Right now, they’re very torn between wanting to be there for their kids but having to protect their own health and that of their families. This unfortunately is setting us up for a clash between those two feelings.”

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