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Online petition calls for FCPS to extend online learning due to COVID-19

An online petition calling for Fairfax County Public Schools to provide a virtual learning option when the new school year starts on Aug. 23 has garnered some support.

Citing concerns about kids returning in person amid increases in COVID-19 cases, the Change.org petition asks FCPS to shift to a hybrid model to let families choose between in-person and virtual instruction, a setup that the district adopted for the 2020-2021 academic year due to the pandemic.

“While we understand that in-person school is the best option for our kids to learn and grow, safeguarding our kids during a pandemic is equally important to their wellbeing,” the petition says.

As of yesterday afternoon (Wednesday), the petition had garnered more than 2,000 signatures, with people continuing to sign it and post comments.

Parents voiced numerous concerns through the petition. One mother noted she’s concerned about her unvaccinated sons with asthma, while another parent shared that their family would send their children to school if they’re fully vaccinated.

Though some community members have been vocally opposed to virtual learning, including a group that has been campaigning to recall Fairfax County School Board members, some petition signers said there’s no reason why virtual schooling must be discontinued.

FCPS will have a limited virtual program for this upcoming school year for some students. Families had to complete an eligibility form that required a health or medical certification of need from a licensed physician, nurse practitioner, psychiatrist, or a licensed psychologist.

The application window for the program closed May 28.

FCPS says 99.5% of its students will attend school in person five days a week this upcoming school year.

“We believe that in-person learning is the best approach to instruction, and are focused on providing a safe and positive learning experience for all students,” FCPS spokesperson Jennifer Sellers said in a statement.

State legislators passed a law this spring requiring public schools to provide in-person instruction for the 2021-2022 school year, though school boards can shift to entirely remote or hybrid learning “only for as long as it is necessary to address and ameliorate the level of transmission of COVID-19 in the school building.”

With the Delta variant fueling a resurgence in COVID-19 transmission in Virginia and the U.S., FCPS announced at the end of July that all students, teachers, staff, and visitors will be required to wear masks inside school buildings.

The policy initially exempted vaccinated staff when students aren’t present, but FCPS said in a newsletter released yesterday that the mask requirement has been expanded to include everyone, regardless of vaccination status or location.

“We are aware that COVID-19 case numbers are rising in Fairfax County, driven by the highly contagious Delta variant and slowing vaccination rates,” Sellers said. “We have put layered prevention  strategies in place to counter this rise. The American Academy of Pediatrics Guidance recommends a continued focus on layered prevention strategies, including universal mask wearing for all students and staff.”

FCPS says it’s confident that its strategies will “support a safe and healthy environment in our schools for our students and staff — especially those who are not yet able to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.”

While visiting a vaccine clinic last week, Superintendent Scott Brabrand said FCPS is preparing to have vaccines administered to students in schools once the Food and Drug Administration approves its use for younger kids.

Virginia health officials said earlier this week that they anticipate the FDA will approve vaccines for children aged 5 to 11 in September, when the federal agency is also expected to give full approval to the vaccines that have been authorized for use in the U.S.

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