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Falls Church City Schools students return to school full-time

For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic started, most Falls Church City Public Schools students are attending school in person five days a week.

Yesterday (Tuesday), 99% of elementary and 92% of secondary students went back to school full-time, fulfilling plans FCCPS had made to return students to pre-pandemic schedules on April 6.

Only 125 of the school division’s 2,500 students remain entirely virtual, according to FCCPS spokesperson John Wesley Brett.

“They came on foot, by car, bike, scooter, and bus to fill classrooms for the first time this year,” FCCPS said this morning. “It was a successful launch of in-person learning. The students’ experience with hybrid learning familiarized them with spacing protocols and mask-wearing, so they stepped smoothly into the new routines.”

A small cohort of students have been in-person since last fall, and beginning in February, elementary and secondary students came back for a hybrid schedule, with two days in-person and two days of virtual learning each week.

“With that success, and with nearly all of our staff and faculty fully vaccinated since mid-February, we feel confident in moving forward toward opening fully,” Brett said. “Despite the CDC’s recent update to its social distancing guidelines — lowering the 6-foot distance recommendation to 3 feet — we will still be adhering to the 6-feet distancing when possible.”

Mount Daniel and Thomas Jefferson Elementary School students now attend school from 8:50 a.m. to 3:50 p.m., with early release at 1:15 p.m. on Wednesdays.

Meanwhile, middle and high school students are now attending in-person classes four days a week, with Wednesdays as a virtual day.

“That will continue through the end of the year,” Brett said, adding that there will be no more changes to the schedule.

“As a parent, the full return of our elementary age children and the vastly expanded four-day access to in-person learning for our middle and high school kids is celebrated this week,” said parent Courtney Mooney, who is the president of a return-to-school parent group, Falls Church City Parents For Schools. “Parents know how much hard work has gone into getting us to this point the past few months and we couldn’t be more thankful to each person who has helped make this return happen.”

Since FCCPS announced it would return to a full five days a week of in-person instruction, 21 students who left the system and opted for private school or homeschooling options have now returned, Brett said.

Parents were given a deadline of March 15 to tell FCCPS their students’ learning preferences, but since then, FCCPS has continued “accomodating all requests for changes through [Monday] and will continue to do so,” Brett said.

He said enrollment has increased with the move to in-person learning five days a week but did not have precise numbers on-hand.

FCCPS has outpaced the rest of Northern Virginia in returning students to in-person classes, which Superintendent Peter Noonan attributed to the school division’s independence and relatively small student population.

“Because we are small and we are independent, we do have some opportunities to do some things differently than other large school divisions,” he told WJLA.

Both Fairfax County Public Schools and Arlington Public Schools pledged in March to return to five-day, full-time instruction this fall.

FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand announced on Monday (April 5) that the district is expanding opportunities for in-person learning this week and next week to certain pre-K through 12th grade students who have been identified as experiencing the greatest learning challenges.

Starting April 20, depending on school capacity, students attending hybrid instruction with a preference for full-time instruction may be able to start four days of in-person learning per week.

FCPS said that the expansion is based on the CDC’s new guidance permitting three feet of social distancing in classrooms depending on community transmission rates. The availability of space and staff will also affect how many students can get additional in-person instruction at each school.

Virginia Department of Health data shows that, based on CDC metrics, Fairfax County and Falls Church City currently have “substantial” transmission as of the week of April 3. They both had “high” transmission during the week of March 27, but Falls Church City was “moderate” the week before that.

The CDC says middle and high school students should maintain at least six feet of social distancing in areas with high community transmission, but that could be reduced to three feet when transmission is low, moderate, or substantial, as long as mask use is universal.

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