Tysons, VA

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As Fairfax County Public Schools prepare to transition to online learning now that the school buildings are closed, the school board wants to make sure the plan is realistic.

“Launching a distance learning plan to reach 189,000 students that engages nearly 16,000 classroom teachers is a complex challenge,” FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand wrote in a letter to parents yesterday.

Ahead of plans for FCPS to kick off distance learning on April 14, the Fairfax County School Board held a meeting today to share questions and concerns about realistic expectations around the new education model.

“Distance learning does not equal classroom instruction,” Sloan Presidio with the Instructional Services Department said at the meeting today.

Proposal for Distance Learning 

Beginning next week, teachers will receive virtual training to begin the transition. Last week, elementary and middle school principals met with the school system’s leadership to receive updates on the overall plan for resuming instruction.

The draft proposal includes closing all third-quarter grades as of March 13 and assigning a “no mark” for the fourth quarter to “allow students’ work in the 4th quarter to positively influence their final grades” for high school and middle school students.

For elementary school students, no fourth-quarter grades will be assigned “due to equity issues of access to technology and limited student ability to submit work.”

The Virginia Department of Education says it will ensure seniors who are on-track to graduate as of the school systems’ closure will graduate on time.

High school students will participate in teacher-led instruction and independent learning. Teachers are expected to contact students beginning next week.

Middle school students will receive learning packets for language arts, math, science, and social studies. Virtual, teacher-led instruction will be conducted for these four classes. Teachers for electives will post learning activities to Blackboard.

Elementary school students will also distribute learning packets to students beginning this week. Teacher-student engagement online will be emphasized, as well as teacher check-ins, phone calls and emails with students. Parents will also receive a published schedule of instruction from school principals.

Students enrolled in special education programs will have access to resources online as well. More information about other programs, including guidance for English to Speakers of Others Languages, is available online.

Draft proposals before the board on learning schedules are below.

Presidio said that FCPS will work to identify students who are not engaged in the learning activities during the distance learning plan and contact them individually to get them engaged.

“Maximum flexibility will be our approach on all these issues,” Presidio said about the overall approach.

Getting Students The Tools They Need

The distribution of 15,000 wireless hotspots and laptops for students in need has already begun.

Currently, staff are pulling laptops out of classrooms and reconfiguring them so that they can be given to students, Maribeth Luftglass with the Department of Information Technology said at the meeting.

“We do feel like we have enough for students in need,” she said about the computers.

Starting next week, laptop distribution for grades three-six will be able to pick up their computers by appointment only.

As for personal wi-fi hot spots, Luftglass said that there FCPS is prioritizing high school students. Each device can be used by five devices, she said.

While FCPS recently ordered more devices, she said that the nationwide supply is starting to dwindle due to demand.

FCPS is working to update its internet access maps for each school pyramid since some of the wi-fi hot spots in the county — like public libraries — aren’t available at the moment due to closures.

To reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus, Luftglass said that students will be issued laptops one by one by staff who will wear gloves and disinfect the tables between appointments.

When families arrive, they will go through a health screening station before staff help the students log in to their newly-wiped down laptops, she said.

School Board Members Urge Flexibility 

Concerns raised by board members included privacy for teachers’ contact information, different levels of outreach to families from schools, how to best support special student populations and the availability of the technology.

Braddock District Representative Megan McLaughlin said that the proposal might exacerbate the equity issues and achievement gap and urged FCPS to compare how their plan compares to ones for other jurisdictions.

Several board members, like Hunter Mill District Representative Melenie Meren, said that it’s crucial that FCPS remain flexible about student learning as the pandemic continues.

“I hope we can adjust expectations of staff and parents,” she said, adding that she is wary of creating events where students and teachers have to be available at a specific time.

Overall, Meren praised the work that has been done so far to prepare for distance learning.

“I’m relieved we’re not taking in-person learning and taking it to digital,” she said. “I can’t overstate enough how savvy I think this approach is.”

She added that she’s glad that teachers and students will be able to maintain relationships.

“I think there is an understanding that students won’t be able to receive the level of service that they did in the school buildings,” Meren said.

Fatimah Waseem and Catherine Douglas Moran reported this story

Two images in story via FCPS

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Noticed normally busy public spaces that are now empty or store closures in the Tysons area? Send them to Tysons Reporter.

We’re looking for your photos of what it’s like to live or work in Tysons, Vienna, McLean, Falls Church or Merrifield during the coronavirus. What does it look like to social distance in an urban area?

Whether you snap pictures on a professional camera or your smartphone, we are always interested in sharing your photos (with credit to you!) in our Morning Notes on weekdays or on social media.

The best way to send photos is to email us at [email protected] or tag/direct message us on our social media accounts (InstagramTwitter and Facebook).

 Thank you to the photographers who have already sent us photos!
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Tysons Reporter reports local news for Tysons, McLean, Vienna, Falls Church and Merrifield.

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Updated at 4:10 p.m. — All Fairfax County public schools will be closed through school break until April 10, FCPS announced today (Friday).

While the staff development day scheduled for Monday, March 16, is postponed, school offices and central offices will be open that day to let students and staff get their things.

“We will promote digital and online resources to FCPS students that will help student learning continue,” FCPS said. “This work will not be required nor graded. Additionally, FCPS cable channels with learning activities are now available.”

Food distribution will also continue throughout the closures, FCPS said.

Earlier: Fairfax County Public Schools will be closed for two weeks as the state scrambles to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The move was mandated by Gov. Ralph Northam for all state schools earlier this afternoon. Northam ordered all K-12 schools in Virginia to close for a minimum of two weeks in response to the spread to the respiratory disease.

A spokesperson for FCPS said that more details on the closure are forthcoming, Reston Now reported.

As of Friday afternoon, Virginia has 30 cases of coronavirus with six in Fairfax County, according to the Virginia Department of Health. Test results have been sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for confirmation.

Here’s more from Northam’s office:

“We are taking this action to keep Virginians as safe and healthy as possible, and to minimize exposure to COVID-19,” said Governor Northam.

“I recognize this will pose a hardship on many families, but closing our schools for two weeks will not only give our staff time to clean and disinfect school facilities, it will help slow the spread of this virus. This is a fluid and fast-changing situation. We will do everything possible to ensure that students who rely on school nutrition programs continue to have access to meals, and that the disruption to academics is as minimal as possible.”

Virginia Department of Education officials are working closely with school divisions and the Department of Social Services to ensure students who qualify for free or reduced lunch programs are able to access those programs while schools are closed.

The Department of Education will issue guidance and memos to superintendents across the Commonwealth to provide specifics about the continuity of education, school nutrition, and updated public health guidelines.

Alexandria, the City of Falls Church and Arlington County announced places to remain closed beginning today (Friday) through spring break.

This story was written by Fatimah Waseem and appeared on our sister site Reston Now.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

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Updated 3/5/2020 — Corrects date in second graph.

The new annual report from Tysons Partnership expects Tysons to surpass 110 million square feet of development by 2050.

Tysons Partnership, which is made up of organizations and major employers in the area that want to boost Tysons’ prominence in Northern Virginia, unveiled its new report at an event today to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the region’s Comprehensive Plan.

Barry Mark, the vice president of workplace solutions at Capital One, kicked off the event by saying that Tysons is becoming a vibrant, urban center.

“Tysons is become a hub for top talent, especially in tech and continually provides us with the skilled workforce that we need to succeed,” he said.

Since 2012, 8.9 million square feet of new development and 4,500 new residential units have been added in Tysons, the report notes.

Wit major projects underway, like Capital One’s campus and Scotts Run, Tysons is projected to have roughly 113 million square feet of development by 2050.

“We have over 40 million square feet of approved unbuilt construction still left in the pipeline,” Jeff Tarae, the chair of the Tysons Partnership Board of Directors, said at the event.

What Tysons will be like several decades from now has dominated several recent events.

Tysons is expected to quadruple its population from 27,000 to 100,000 and boost its employment by 80,000 jobs when 2050 arrives, the annual report and Comprehensive Plan note.

To prepare for 2050, Tarae said that the Tysons Partnership board teamed up with Fairfax County for an “exploratory process” over the next few years that aims to “elevate the Partnership to a more robust, sustainable organization.”

Tysons Partnership has also been working closely with the county on a rebranding effort for the area and also on finding a different business model.

Calling Tysons the “economic engine of the county,” Jeff McKay, the chair of the county’s Board of Supervisors, said at the event that the county approaches Tysons with a focus on long-term results.

“When you make a commitment to do what we’ve done, you can’t stop midway,” McKay said, adding that “scattered high-density, no sense of place” is his worst case scenario for Tysons.

McKay also pointed to concerns that Fairfax County is working to address: the “affordable housing crisis,” climate change, timing infrastructure work with developments and trying to get young people to move to Tysons.

“We’re in this for the long haul,” McKay said. “We’ve stuck to the long term vision, and ultimately we’re in this now to complete it.”

This story was reported by Catherine Douglas Moran and Ashley Hopko. 

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Fairfax County’s public schools are preparing for a potential outbreak of the coronavirus.

In a message sent to parents and staff Wednesday evening, FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand said the school system is reviewing and revising its existing flu response plan to respond to the coronavirus. Currently, there are no confirmed cases in the county.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention directed school officials, childcare centers and workplaces to prepare for a possible outbreak.

Here’s more from Brabrand’s letter:

The plan is dynamic and sections will be revised and updated as new information becomes available. FCPS’s response plan addresses the specific activities necessary to keep schools open and operating while providing a clean and safe environment during an outbreak and the essential functions that must be performed by FCPS, if schools are closed.

Other variations of these scenarios could also be considered.  While the full impact of an outbreak cannot be predicted, planning for operations under such conditions can mitigate the impact of the event on our staff, facilities and mission. 

We recognize the growing concern about the possible spread of coronavirus to our region. To date, we have cancelled international field trips and short-term visitations to and from some countries, based on CDC guidelines. We have also updated our web page and will continue to work closely with health officials and monitor this evolving situation. Additional information is available at this link: https://www.fcps.edu/news/coronavirus-update. This link will be updated as we receive new information.

As a reminder, common cold and flu viruses are not unusual during the winter season. Precautions are recommended. We ask that everyone do their part to stay healthy. Wash hands frequently, monitor your health, and stay home when ill.

FCPS recently suspended international field trips and short-term visits to and from countries flagged by the CDC. The temporary suspension is valid through June 30.

Governments around the world are ramping up measures to battle what could be a looming global pandemic. So far, the virus has infected more than 80,000 people and killed nearly 2,800 individuals.

“FCPS will continue to monitor recommendations and information from the CDC and make any necessary changes based on updated information,” according to FCPS.

Additionally, the Fairfax County Health Department is working with FCPS, along with federal, state and local public health and safety partners, FCPS said.

This story was written by Fatimah Waseem and Catherine Douglas Moran. It also appeared on our sister site Reston Now.

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Editor’s Note — This is a guest post written by Saira Uttamchandani, an eighth-grader and Falls Church resident, that was submitted by her mom Komal Mohindra. The story has been lightly edited.  

My dad has never been an overly emotional type. But the day that he found he’d be on the trivia show “Jeopardy!,” he let out an uncharacteristic whoop of joy.

My dad, Mahesh Uttamchandani, was introduced to the trivia show in 10th grade when his teacher didn’t feel like instructing one day and had no lesson plans, so he played an episode of “Jeopardy!” instead. That day, he fell in love and he has held that torch ever since.

In December, my dad received a thrilling call that invited him to Los Angeles for the taping of the show. He went through a rigorous testing process in the lead up.

Our family flew out to L.A. on a Saturday, so we had a few days before my dad was scheduled to tape his show on Tuesday to do some sightseeing. I had never been to L.A. before, so I enjoyed eating In-N-Out and seeing the Walk of Fame and the Santa Monica Pier.

Then, Tuesday arrived, and we could not have been more excited. My dad had to get up at 5 a.m. to get to the studio on time, to get his makeup done, fill out paperwork and be prepped on the rules and protocol. My mom, sister, uncle and I instead got to sleep in and be there at 10:15 a.m. instead.

The guides led us into the studio and my breath caught in my throat. The studio smelled and was very cold. There are two sections — one for the audience — and one for production guests and friends and family of the contestants.

During the commercial break between the first round of questions and Double Jeopardy!, Alex Trebeck, the host of the show, let the audience ask him questions, which was amazing. For example, we got to ask about his favorite pizza toppings, his back up career plans and his most memorable contestants.

One interesting thing about “Jeopardy!” is that they tape all of their episodes for a week in one day. The contestant match-ups for each episode are completely random, so some contestants, like my dad, were at the studio all day.

Each episode takes around 30 minutes to film, provided there are no malfunctions or retakes needed — like if Alex reads a question incorrectly. In addition, the episodes are filmed months in advance, so my dad’s show will air on March 6, but was shot on Jan. 7.

There was a small break for lunch after the third episode and the contestants were taken to the Sony cafeteria on set, but we were not allowed to dine there because the contestants had to stay sequestered in case we somehow got the answers to the questions.

My dad was in the last episode filming that day. One thing I noticed was that there is a very tiny window where contestants can buzz in and have a chance to be called on. You’re supposed to buzz in during that perfect window after Alex finishes reading a clue, but before lights on the side of the game board flash — otherwise, you miss your chance.

My dad struggled with the buzzer in the first round but managed to answer a few questions correctly.

I won’t spoil the ending for you but I invite you to watch on the episode on Friday, March 6, and cheer on one of your Tysons neighbors!

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Tysons Reporter reports local news for Tysons, McLean, Vienna, Falls Church and Merrifield.

Thank you to everyone who has likedfollowed and bookmarked us.

Unfortunately, for people who only get our stories via social media, you’re missing out. Algorithms decide what you see on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and oftentimes that means important local stories don’t make it to your feed.

So how can you make sure you’re seeing all Tysons Reporter headlines? Sign up for our email newsletter, which delivers local headlines to your inbox once a day.

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Founded in late 2018, Tysons Reporter covers Merrifield, Falls Church, McLean, Vienna and, of course, Tysons.

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