Tysons, VA

Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand says that the decision for a virtual start to school on Sept. 8 was largely motivated by the health risks associated with COVID-19.

In a letter sent to parents Tuesday, Brabrand said that while cases are relatively stable in Fairfax County, precautionary steps are necessary to ensure the safety of staff and students. FCPS initially planned a hybrid approach of in-person and virtual instruction — a decision that was reversed in late July.

“As educators, there is nothing we want more than to have all students back in school. This school year will be a challenge for us all, but we are doing everything possible to ensure a high-quality education through virtual learning to start the year,” Brabrand said.

Brabrand also said staffing challenges complicated the transition to in-person learning, including the limited availability of substitutes and more leave of absence requests by teachers and other staff.

FCPS staff are developing metrics to determine when and if schools can reopen. Factors under consideration include the trajectory of cases, access to testing and impact on staff and operations. More details are expected to be revealed in mid-August, he said.

The school system also plans to provide laptops to all students for online learning. Schools will provide information on laptop distribution if a student does not already have an FCPS laptop.

Brabrand said his staff is also exploring ways to boost technical support for families and students, including a help desk for parents.

Students who play sports will have to wait at least a few months. All athletic seasons are delayed until December, Brabrand said.

The entire letter, which includes more details on class schedules and a commitment to more communication, is posted online.

Image via Fairfax County Public Schools

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Fairfax County confirmed it is still mandatory for all students enrolling in Fairfax County Public Schools to receive their required immunizations, despite the school year starting virtually. 

The county’s health department is providing nine additional community childhood vaccination clinics and encouraging families to take advantage of free vaccination opportunities before the start of the school year, according to the Fairfax County Emergency Information website

Required vaccinations protect against life-threatening illnesses such as polio, measles, whooping cough and chickenpox, according to the website. Additionally, incoming seventh-graders need a booster dose of the Tdap vaccine, and preteens need vaccines to protect against diseases such as HPV. 

Only a select number of appointments will be available at community vaccination clinics to ensure safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

To schedule an appointment, call 703-246-6010, TTY 711. Clinics encourage families to send a picture of their child’s vaccination records to decrease face-to-face time at the clinic.

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

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Late Tuesday night, the Fairfax County School Board voted to start the school year virtually, reversing its previous plans for virtual and in-person instruction.

Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand pitched the proposal at the school board meeting. The change was primarily motivated by a surge in new coronavirus cases. Brabrand also noted that he was concerned that many of the school system’s staff would not return for in-person instruction.

Here’s more from Brabrand’s letter, which was sent to parents and the school community last night:

The online school year will begin, as scheduled, September 8.   Should health conditions improve, we would first bring back students for intervention supports on a limited basis.   Following that, we would work to bring students back to school as soon as possible starting with elementary school students, select PreK-12 special education students and English Learners.

This was not an easy decision, but after reviewing the best available health data and continuing to gather input from teachers, staff, students, and families, we have determined that full-time online instruction is the only safe option at this time.  The pandemic looks much different now than it did even three weeks ago.  Although infection rates in Fairfax County have declined and are relatively stable, 33 percent of our employees live outside the county. The threat posed by the virus does not recognize borders or boundaries. 

We know this is very disappointing news for the families who chose the two-day-a-week in-person learning option in our recent preference questionnaire. We all want in-person learning to resume as quickly as possible. We will reassess health conditions regularly to determine when students can begin in-person instruction, if science and data suggest it is safe to do so.

Initially, parents were instructed to choose between an online-only approach or a mix of virtual and in-person instruction.

Schools are expected to start virtually. After the first quarter, the school system’s leadership will reassess the situation.

“Should health conditions improve, we would first bring back students for intervention support on a limited basis,” according to the presentation.

The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers lauded Brabrand’s proposal and the school board’s decision.

Everyone, but nobody more than our educators, want to open schools and get all kids back as quickly as possible, but we must open schools as safely as possible,” Tina Williams, the FCFT’s president, wrote in a statement. “Unfortunately, the health crisis doesn’t make in-person classes possible right now.” 

Brabrand said the school system is improving its digital learning model.

We will dedicate ourselves to spending the weeks before September 8 preparing resources and help for parents and students.  We will provide additional training for our teachers to better meet the needs of our students and provide distance learning supports and guidance for our families,” he said.

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Students in Fairfax County public schools will get two more weeks of summer vacation.

The Fairfax County School Board approved the superintendent’s proposal to wait to start school after Labor Day.

The school board voted yesterday (Thursday) to push the return date for students from Tuesday, Aug. 25, to Tuesday, Sept. 8, according to a press release from Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS).

The two-week delay will give staff more time to prepare for online and hybrid learning — especially since the deadline was extended for parents to pick which learning option they want.

Parents have until Wednesday, July 15, to indicate whether they want their kids to take classes fully online or a combination of in-person and online learning for the entire upcoming school year.

In a newsletter today, Melanie Meren, who represents the Hunter Mill District on the school board, said that she was originally not in favor of the pushed start date, but changed her mind.

“I reconsidered after I learned that school principals and directors of student services expressed concerns about the time that they will need to turn around the enrollment data from parents and build the master schedules associated with the two options,” Meren said in the newsletter.

Now, Meren said that the new plan will help support “the quality of the learning experience.”

The school board’s vote only affects students’ return — staff will still follow the original schedule, allowing additional days to prepare. Meren noted that staff will receive professional development opportunities, like socio-emotional supports, along with training for the new curriculum and technology during the two weeks before school starts.

In response to queries about why online learning can’t start in August, Meren said that having the two school systems on different schedules “is not feasible.”

Photo via Element5 Digital/Unsplash

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Superintendent Scott Brabrand said during a town hall last night that he plans to ask the Fairfax County School Board this week to delay the start of the school year to after Labor Day.

Brabrand kicked off the town hall by saying that families will now have until Wednesday, July 15, instead of Friday, July 10, to pick whether they prefer four days of synchronous online learning or two days of in-person learning with asynchronous online learning.

Brabrand said that he wants to extend the start date to Tuesday, Sept. 8, to give principals more time to prepare, because the survey deadline is getting extended. The pushed back start date this fall would not lengthen the school year, Brabrand said, adding that he wants teachers and staff to return at the normally scheduled times to get a head start on planning and reaching out to families.

During the town hall, audience members called and emailed in questions asking about what the two learning options will look like, COVID-19 safety measures and what to do about childcare. Here’s what the superintendent said.

Safety Measures for Students and Staff

Brabrand said that more health and safety protocols, including recess and playground equipment, are expected to get released later this week. Currently, he knows students and staff will be asked to wear face coverings in schools.

The schools will not check every child’s temperature, but will check if a kid shows up without a mask, he said, adding that parents will be expected to complete a form daily about whether or not their kids have COVID-19 symptoms.

Students who show COVID-19 symptoms in class will be sent to the clinic and then possibly have to wait in an isolation room before their parents come to pick them up, he said. For COVID-19 cases, schools would decide on a case by case basis what to do after the contract tracing investigation, he said.

Brabrand urged families are struggling to decide between the two options to see how their kids respond to wearing masks for six hours.

What School Will Look Like 

Brabrand stressed that FCPS will remain flexible if the pandemic dramatically worsens or improves, but he said that he wants to curb parents going back and forth on in-person vs. online learning during the school year.

“We’ve never had to create two separate school systems before, ever,” Brabrand said.

While he wants parents to stick to their choice for the entire school year, he said that the schools will consider emergency situations on a case by cases and school by school basis.

Depending on how many families select in-person vs. online learning, Brabrand said that additional in-person days might be offered. Even if FCPS increases in-person learning, teachers would have Mondays reserved for planning and additional time to work with students who are struggling.

“We know that for families who want in-person, they want as much in person as possible,” Brabrand said.

Brabrand said that capacity is the key reason FCPS won’t offer five days of in-person learning.

The schedules for the two days of in-person learning would work alphabetically by last name so that families with kids in multiple grades would go to school on the same days, Sloan Presidio, the assistant superintendent for instructional services, said last night.

Currently, the school system is trying to figure out to maximize learning space for students. Brabrand said that he’s working with principals to consider temporary learning space outside. The weather, though, could pose obstacles, he added. School cafeterias are also places that might turn into classrooms this fall, Brabrand said.

As for online learning, families can expect FCPS teachers to use Blackboard Collaborate Ultra and Google Classroom for video conferencing, Brabrand said, adding that FCPS has plans to use a new platform called Schoology.

Childcare Concerns

Several callers raised concerns about childcare when deciding which learning option to pick, saying that their childcare centers don’t have plans yet for the fall and that they don’t know how the synchronous online learning would work if both parents work during the day.

Presidio said that FCPS is planning to have several hours of learning for kindergarten students in the morning, but that families should check with their schools’ principals to find out what the schedules would look like.

While FCPS is working with the county and private childcare providers, Brabrand said that childcare challenges are outside the scope of what the school system can accomplish in a few months.

“I know childcare remains one of the critical issues,” Brabrand said, adding he would like to see faith communities offer more support.

Brabrand said that people can expect future town halls — including Spanish language, Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) and Special Education PTA ones — and more information on health and safety guidelines.

Image via Fairfax County Public Schools

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McLean High School plans to have its new modular ready by mid-December.

Ellen Reilly, the school’s principal, wrote in a newsletter to families today that the school’s tennis courts will close next Monday, July 13, so that the trailers can occupy the space.

Until the new modular is ready later this year, the trailers will need to stay on the tennis courts, she said.

Plans to address the school’s overcrowding with a proposed boundary adjustment have stalled as the Fairfax County School Board grapples with COVID-19 challenges.

The modular will replace 14 trailers at the school in an effort to alleviate some of the overcrowding issues, Elaine Tholen, the school board member who represents the Dranesville District, previously said.

Reilly said that she will keep families updated on the construction progress

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Updated at 10:45 a.m. — Corrects reference to Lake Braddock Secondary School.

As the Fairfax County public school system prepares for the fall, some teachers’ unions are expressing concern about how safe in-person learning might be during the pandemic.

To accommodate both families and teachers, FCPS asked both groups to fill out a form by July 10, stating whether they would prefer to stick with a distance learning plan or return to the classroom. After this date, many teachers will find out if they will be required to return or stay at home.

The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers and Fairfax Education Association released a press release calling for increased transparency and a clearly outlined health plan for reopening.

Though teachers are allowed to request a full-time remote-learning position, this cannot be guaranteed according to the current plan.

“Teacher placements will be contingent upon student enrollment numbers in the online program; teacher placement decisions will be tiered by individual teacher’s medical need, family medical need, and preference,” FCPS documents said.

Additionally, teachers with medical conditions that increase the risk of COVID-19 will be given “flexible leave and telework assignments,” the plan said.

David Walrod, who teaches 7th grade at Lake Braddock Secondary School, said as a member of the teacher’s union that he wishes teachers would get of choice of whether or not they work remotely.

“Personally I’m hoping that I get a remote position because personally I don’t feel that they will be able to keep schools as safe as they think they are,” he said, adding that he is also concerned for his own young daughter.

“Our educators are overwhelmingly not comfortable returning to schools. They fear for their lives, the lives of their students and the lives of their families,” Tina Williams, the president of Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, said in the press release.

At the school board meeting last Tuesday (June 23), the board members discussed various concerns and options for reopening.

Melanie Meren, the Hunter Mill District representative on the board, spoke on behalf of teachers during the meeting. “We cannot skimp on [personal protective equipment],” she said. “We need to advocate for that if we don’t have the funds.”

Not everyone will be satisfied with whatever is ultimately decided, Karl Frisch, who represents the Providence District, told his fellow board members.

Frisch said that he’s spent almost 100 hours with local families, community members and stakeholders discussing options for the upcoming school year. “There is no perfect solution to this problem,” he said. “We must consider any contingency that may come and meet us.”

FCPS officials have said that input from local health and state health officials will inform reopening plans.

Superintendent Scott Brabrand told the school board earlier this month that he is worried about the realities of social distancing in schools and wants to prevent staff from resigning over safety concerns.

FCFT’s press release called for teachers and educators in the county to speak up about their concerns.

Walrod said that he hopes Fairfax County will adopt a new model like the one for a school district in Pennsylvania where all students and staff will be working and learning remotely for 75 days into the school year until the school board members have a clearer understanding of COVID-19.

Walrod said that there is a chance parents will overwhelmingly want their kids to take advantage of distance learning so there will be less of a demand for in-person lessons.

Kimberly Adams, the president of the Fairfax Education Association, said in a press release that the group is advocating for remote learning until a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 is available.

“All staff should be provided the ability to continue virtual instruction as long as there is community spread of this virus,” Adams said. “We will continue to make every possible effort to assist FCPS in developing a plan that keeps health and safety first.”

Photo courtesy Dan Dennis on Unsplash

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Due to the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) has three scenarios for reopening schools this fall.

In May, a task force was created to prepare recommendations for FCPS reopening. On June 9, Gov. Ralph Northam unveiled his phased reopening plan, which provides flexibility for schools in Virginia.

The school board discussed the proposed Return to School plan, which includes three reopening scenarios, Monday afternoon.

The three scenarios are:

  1. virtual learning for all students
  2. in-school learning with health and social distancing
  3. online learning for students with a high risker of severe illness

In the first scenario, students would not be allowed in buildings but the staff would be. Students would have four days of synchronous learning per week and one day of asynchronous learning.

Meanwhile, the second scenario has two proposals for attendance in the buildings at any one time — 50% and 25%.

In-school learning would include cleaning of high-touch areas, daily health screening forms, social distancing in classrooms and on buses and restricting buildings to visitors.

Finally, the third scenario would make groups of students and teachers for online instruction. With the online model, students would receive four days of synchronous learning per week and one day of asynchronous learning.

Additionally, FCPS has proposals for what would happen if the pandemic prompted another shutdown. The plan also mentions shared elements of the three scenarios — middle and high school students having access to laptops via FCPSOn — and how they address equity.

Discussion during the meeting today noted that FCPS needs to prepare for the possibility that more than one scenario might happen, especially if there’s a resurgence of COVID-19.

How to keep students and staff dominated the school board’s discussion.

Gloria Addo-Ayensu, the director of the Fairfax County Health Department, said that there aren’t plans to test students prior to them coming back to school. Addo-Ayensu noted that screening forms are a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Addo-Ayensu and Benjamin Schwartz, a medical epidemiologist with Fairfax County, said that data on the impact of COVID-19 on kids is limited.

They said that the infection rate is unknown for kids and added that information is emerging on Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome of Children (MIS-C) — a rare but serious COVID-19 complication.

Input from local health data and the Fairfax County Department of Health will inform the final decisions, according to the plan.

“You’re talking hundreds and hundreds of kids coming in at once,” Superintendent Scott Brabrand said, adding that social distancing cannot be guaranteed in schools.

Brabrand said that safety procedures are also important for retaining staff: “We don’t want folks resigning.”

FCPS is looking to get face shields for bus drivers and special education teachers, Brabrand noted. Ricardy Anderson, the representative for the Mason District, called for teachers to receive face shields as well.

If FCPS decides to go with an in-person reopening that alternates days for students, childcare could become an issue for families.

Dranesville District Representative Elaine Tholen suggested that FCPS coordinate with the Fairfax County Park Authority so that families and staff have childcare options.

Tholen proposed a “creative idea” to turn outdoor space at the schools and nearby parks into childcare centers contained in tents, adding that kids could access WiFi outside the schools.

Brabrand and Hunter Mill District Representative Melanie Meren agreed that more childcare is needed, with Brabrand calling it a “great idea.”

As FCPS moves forward with plans for the fall, the school board is aware that the botched rollout of online learning this spring puts more pressure on the school system to get the reopening right.

“We can’t risk another failure like we did before,” Providence District Representative Karl Frisch said.

Brabrand addressed the criticism of the distance learning attempts, saying it’s important that FCPS does not overpromise and under-deliver: “We did that before.”

Families will have several opportunities to provide feedback on the recommendations ahead of the deadline for FCPS to announce a reopening decision on June 26.

FCPS plans to host a town hall on Tuesday, June 16, that will talk about the Return to School plans. The town hall is set to run from 6:30-7:30 p.m. and will include Brabrand, the assistant superintendent of Facilities and Transportation Services and the manager of School Health Services.

People can also submit feedback by emailing the superintendent at [email protected] and fill out a survey.

FCPS also plans to hold a virtual public hearing on the Return to School plans at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 18. People can register online to speak.

Photo via Element5 Digital/Unsplash, infographics via FCPS

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As the Louise Archer Elementary School gears up for a renovation, the Vienna Planning Commission supports keeping temporary facilities at the school for a few more years.

Currently, there are two trailers and one 66-foot by 180-foot modular at the public school (324 Nutley Street NW).

The permits for the facilities are expected to expire later this year unless town officials grant an extension. Last night’s votes were a step in the direction for the temporary facilities to stay in place for the short-term.

The school used to have eight trailers before the modular replaced five of them.

“[The modular] provides additional capacity to alleviate the overcrowding at the school,” according to town documents, adding that the modular houses 10 classrooms, restrooms and storage and maintenance space.

The school is now poised for a renovation that will get rid of the two trailers and modular entirely.

John McGranahan, a lawyer representing Fairfax County Public Schools, told the Planning Commission last night that the planning and design for the renovation are in progress.

Permitting is slated to begin in 2021, followed by three years of construction from 2022-2025, McGranahan said, noting that the school will remain open while the work is underway and that most of the construction will happen during the summers.

The renovation is expected to be completed by August 2025. The trailers and modular would get removed once the work is finished, McGranahan said.

The Planning Commission voted in support of permits continuing the use of the modular for five years and the trailers for two years.

Image via Town of Vienna

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While seniors at public schools in Fairfax County may have to wait until the fall for ceremonies, they will have opportunities this spring to celebrate finishing high school.

In a message to families yesterday, Superintendent Scott Brabrand shared that the school board has agreed to his proposals on how to recognize graduating seniors.

“We are committed to celebrating our seniors in the safest and most personalized manner possible,” Brabrand said. “We share the disappointment that the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent school closure placed on our senior class.”

Instead of in-person ceremonies this spring, the high schools will schedule individual graduate photo opportunities starting in June where the student and a small group of family members can watch the student get their diploma and have their photo taken.

Fairfax County Public Schools also plans to produce a celebration video with videos submitted by students. Brabrand said that the video will be available for free to everyone in the class of 2020.

If COVID-19 does not pose a health risk in the fall, each school may schedule an in-person ceremony, Brabrand said.

He noted that state health department data indicates that summer ceremonies would “pose too many health risks and too much uncertainty with regard to social distancing requirements and restrictions on large gatherings.” More details will be announced around Labor Day.

“If a fall in-person ceremony cannot be held for health and safety reasons, then we will consider scheduling the face to face ceremony in the winter or next spring,” Brabrand said.

Photo via Tai’s Captures/Unsplash

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