The City of Falls Church’s plan to reopen school buildings remains on track, and some students could be learning in-person full-time after spring break, which runs from March 29 to April 2.
Like their Fairfax County peers, Falls Church City Public Schools students currently have the option of going into school twice a week or taking all-virtual classes. Students getting special education services and children in the Virginia Preschool Initiative are in-person four days a week.
“It’s been quite a couple of weeks,” FCCPS Superintendent Peter Noonan said during a school board meeting Tuesday night (March 9).
Unlike Fairfax County, though, Falls Church has announced plans to potentially let some students attend in-person classes five days a week in the near future.
Staff at Jessie Thackrey Preschool and Thomas Jefferson and Mount Daniel elementary schools have started planning for a return to full-time, in-person instruction on April 6. Classes will be led by teaching staff members who have been fully vaccinated.
FCCPS spokesman John Wesley Brett said, on that day, both elementary schools will return to the “pre-pandemic” schedule of 8:50 a.m. to 3:50 p.m., including the usual early release at 1:15 p.m. on Wednesdays.
“Each school will implement mitigation procedures and work to ensure that continuity of instruction is provided,” he said. “Parents may opt to have their child remain in a virtual model and have until March 15 to make their choice known.”
FCCPS also hopes to eventually expand full-time, in-person learning to secondary students, but planning is more complex, Noonan said.
“There is a growing chorus from VDH and VDOE to get our students back in school sooner rather than later,” he said. “That’s something I think we can all agree with, and it’s something we all want.”
The VDOE advises schools to weigh the risks of not opening schools over concerns that 100% of COVID-19 risks cannot be mitigated.
“Long-term school closures as a mitigation strategy for COVID-19 transmission may cause inadvertent harm to children,” the guidance said. “For example, children who do not have in-person instruction may suffer learning loss with long-term effects, mental health issues, or a regression in social skills.”
FCCPS could move forward more quickly if it follows the lead of other school systems across the nation that have reduced social distancing requirements from six feet to three feet, argues Courtney Mooney, a parent who has been advocating for five days a week of in-person instruction as part of the group Falls Church City Parents for Schools.
Mooney noted that the six-feet rule is not universally agreed upon by scientists and health experts. For instance, the World Health Organization recommends physical distancing of at least one meter — or three feet — after a study it funded found that would be sufficient to significantly reduce the risk of infection by the novel coronavirus.
“I think Superintendent Noonan wants our kids to be back,” Mooney said. “FCCPS needs to continue actively engaging parents and providing the level of detail they’ve provided the last two weeks.”
She credited FCCPS for responding to what she described as mounting frustration and declining trust among parents. As more details are released, parents are trusting the planning process more, she said.
Noonan has also incorporated parents, teachers, staff and community representatives into a newly formed Reopening Advisory Group that met for the first time this week, Mooney said.