Fairfax County Public Schools is creating “Safety Teams” of staff members and retirees to monitor adherence to COVID-19 safety protocols at schools that have reopened to students.
Charged with enforcing the implementation of mitigation strategies recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the teams will conduct random on-site spot checks, provide education and resources, and report data to administrators, according to a news release that FCPS published yesterday (Monday).
“The role of these teams is to help protect staff and students, and to make sure we all know what we can do to ensure safe, clean, healthy spaces,” FCPS Assistant Superintendent of Facilities and Transportation Services Jeff Platenberg said. “We’ve been training teams and conducting checks in recent weeks across FCPS.”
To limit the transmission of COVID-19, the CDC says schools should, at a minimum, ensure that students and staff consistently and correctly use masks, maintain social distancing to the extent possible, practice hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, clean and disinfect facilities, and collaborate on contact tracing with local health officials.
The announcement that FCPS has deployed safety teams comes as school officials face dueling pressures from reports indicating that virtual learning has hampered many students’ educational experience and from teachers’ unions who argue that in-person classes are unsafe.
FCPS currently has approximately 5,500 students receiving in-person instruction, all of them in special education, career preparation, and other specialized programs.
FCPS returned 2,900 students to distance learning and suspended plans to bring more students into school buildings on Nov. 16, when the COVID-19 transmission rate in Fairfax County surpassed 200 new cases per 100,000 people.
The percentage of positive COVID-19 tests over the last 14 days also has to be lower than 10% for students to start or remain in class.
As of Dec. 7, Fairfax County’s COVID-19 case rate is now more than double the 200-case threshold at 431.4 new cases per 100,000 people within the past 14 days. The test positivity rate is currently at 9.4%.
The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers and Fairfax Education Association, two unions that represent faculty and staff in FCPS, have urged FCPS to return all students to virtual learning.
“In schools that are already open, COVID-19 cases are increasing and employees report unsafe working conditions,” the FCFT said as part of a letter-writing campaign. “Fairfax County must transition everyone to virtual learning until it is safe.”
FCPS has recorded 387 COVID-19 cases since Sept. 8, including 300 staff members and 58 students. 21 cases involved staff at multiple sites, according to the school system’s COVID-19 dashboard.
Platenberg says the data that FCPS collects through its new safety teams will help officials determine where to devote additional education or resources in their effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 in schools.
“We want to make sure we are consistently implementing the CDC’s strategies,” Platenberg said. “This is new for all of us, and so far, we are encouraged by what we see.”
Photo via FCPS