On Tuesday (Mar. 2), about 25,000 middle and high school students in Fairfax County entered school buildings to learn for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic closed them last March.
The latest cluster of students to start in-person learning under Fairfax County Public School’s Return to School plan included children in eighth, ninth, and 12th grades. For most freshmen, it was their first time setting foot inside their new school.
FCPS first restarted in-person classes on Feb. 16 for some special education and career and technical education students before phasing in kindergarten, preschool, and more students with disabilities on Feb. 23. Except for special education students, everyone who opted for hybrid in-person learning is still getting two days of virtual instruction on top of two days of in-person instruction.
At James Madison High School in Vienna, students arrived to the sight of an inflatable air dancer, while McLean High School students were greeted by clapping, cheering, and mask-wearing administrators who handed out gift bags to seniors.
Returning students at McLean High encountered some jarring changes, from teachers’ desks outfitted with plexiglas shields to a cafeteria transformed into a giant, socially distanced classroom. Other parts of the building seemed to have “frozen in time,” as McLean High School Principal Ellen Reilly put it.
For instance, a board listing upcoming events had not been changed since Mar. 12, 2020 — the day before schools closed.
“We know it’s not going to be perfect,” Reilly said of resuming in-person classes. “We know that we’re going to have some problems this week as we learn another new way of teaching. We’re doing concurrent [instruction] now, but we’ve prepared as best we can, and we’re going to get it right.”
Reilly isn’t sure how many faculty members have received the COVID-19 vaccine. FCPS worked with the Fairfax County Health Department and Inova Health Systems to get staff vaccinated as they prepared to restart in-person classes.
“That’s their personal business. They can opt to have it or not to have it, and it’s not for me to know if they have or not,” she told Tysons Reporter.
As of Mar. 2, FCPS has reported 1,027 COVID-19 cases, including 617 among staff and 276 among students.
McLean High School senior Nathan Legg says he “hung out with friends” throughout the year, but he still missed the experience of being in school from a social perspective as well as an academic one.
While the past 12 months have been far from how he pictured concluding his high school tenure, he is determined to make the best out of his remaining time as a Highlander.
“It’s really exciting,” Legg said. “I’m glad to finally get in and try and make something of my senior year.”
Jay Westcott contributed to this report.