Tysons, VA

After getting into a new groove of providing four days of in-person learning, Fairfax County Public Schools has officially announced its plans for the fall.

The school system will offer all students five days of in-person learning in the fall and a limited virtual program for students with documented health needs.

Roughly 109,000 students and staff have returned to school buildings this school year. According to the school division, nearly 85,400 students attend in-person instruction, and more than 80% of those go at least four days a week.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 transmission rates remain less than 1% — even after schools reduced social distancing to three feet.

“We are excited to welcome all students and staff back to our buildings for the in-person experiences that we all missed this fall,” FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand said. “We are encouraged and hopeful that learning in the fall will look as close to normal as possible.”

Families who intend to send their kids back for five days of in-person instruction this fall will not have to do anything. Those who want to use next year’s virtual option need to apply by May 21 and include a certification of need penned by a licensed medical professional.

The virtual option is an accommodation for the pandemic and will likely not be offered beyond the 2021-22 school year, according to FCPS.

“While we are busy planning for the fall, we do recognize that some students, in very limited circumstances, may have a documented health or medical need for virtual instruction,” Brabrand said. “Today’s announcement will help ensure that we are able to continue to serve all.”

A new law requires Virginia’s school divisions to provide five days of in-person learning to families who want it this fall. No school districts are not obligated to provide a virtual option.

FCPS joins several neighboring jurisdictions in offering an in-house virtual program to students, including Arlington Public Schools, Alexandria City Public Schools, and Loudoun County Public Schools.

Unlike FCPS, which sees virtual learning as a COVID-19 measure, APS intends to one day permanently incorporate this option into its offerings.

The FCPS Virtual Program will be primarily taught by county teachers and accommodate students with special education needs and those who require English language learning services, but not all specialized programs or courses will be available.

Some courses will instead be offered through the statewide Virtual Virginia platform. FCPS officials initially proposed supporting students who need to remain online by continuing to utilize concurrent learning, where teachers provide instruction to in-person and virtual students simultaneously, but the school board decisively rejected the idea, citing teachers’ frustration with the additional workload.

School officials will decide case-by-case whether virtual students can participate in activities or athletics.

“We will see you in August,” Brabrand said.

Image via FCPS/Twitter

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Visitors at the Plum Center for Lifelong Learning and Fairfax County Adult High School must scan a QR code to take a survey for contact tracing purposes upon entering the building (Staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

More than 20 schools have expressed interest in learning more about a statewide pilot to conduct on-site COVID-19 screening and testing for students and staff, Fairfax County Public Schools officials reported yesterday (Tuesday).

FCPS Department of Special Services Assistant Superintendent Michelle Boyd told the school board during a work session that administrators will meet with staff at 21 schools on Thursday (April 22) to share more details about the Virginia Department of Health programs and determine which schools will ultimately participate.

In response to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent guidance for kindergarten through 12th grade schools, VDH is working with the Virginia Department of Education to launch two pilot programs this month: one will provide schools with free antigen testing supplies that can return results within 15 minutes, and the other will support regular screenings to identify potential infections.

According to VDH, the diagnostic testing pilot is primarily intended to diagnose COVID-19 in teachers, staff, and students who are participating in-person instruction or are close contacts with someone who has been diagnosed and begin exhibiting symptoms.

The screening testing pilot, on the other hand, involves regularly screening a broad group of individuals to detect an infection before it spreads or become symptomatic. FCPS says it would conduct this pilot just with students, since staff have been able to get vaccinated.

Schools have the option to participate in one of the pilot programs, both of them, or neither. The pilots will launch this month and conclude on June 30.

“Our purpose for implementing these pilots this year is to gain information about what would be needed to stand it up next year, so this is really to get us prepared,” Boyd said.

In addition to participating in the pilot programs, FCPS is “actively pursuing” partners in the hopes of setting up targeted COVID-19 vaccine clinics for students that would be similar to the ones arranged with Inova for teachers and staff.

Since Fairfax County entered Phase 2 on Sunday (April 18), students 16 and older can now register for the vaccine, and FCPS is encouraging everyone who is eligible to find an appointment, according to a presentation that Superintendent Scott Brabrand delivered to the school board.

“We know that’s going to be critically important to returning to five days of instruction,” Boyd said of students getting vaccinated.

According to a report prepared for the school board, there were 470 reported COVID-19 cases among FCPS students and staff currently participating in in-person learning between Jan. 26 and April 13, but only 29 of those cases involved transmission within schools.

Four of the five outbreaks in that time period stemmed from athletic activities. Since school sports restarted in December, FCPS has documented 270 COVID-19 cases, including 61 cases likely spread through schools, and 16 outbreaks across 12 schools, all in basketball, wrestling, and football programs.

To date, there have been 1,397 reported cases among FCPS staff, students, and visitors since Sept. 8. Read More

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The Weekly Planner is a roundup of interesting events coming up over the next week in the Tysons area.

We’ve searched the web for events of note in Tysons, Vienna, Merrifield, McLean, and Falls Church. Know of any we’ve missed? Tell us!

Monday (April 19)

  • ACT/SAT and College Admission in the Time of COVID (Online) — 6:30-7:30 p.m. — The Princeton Review is hosting a free online Zoom session to discuss what it takes to get into college during the time of COVID-19. Attendees must register to receive the Zoom link. FCPS warns that students shouldn’t register with their FCPS email address.
  • Blake Lane Community Safety Meeting (Online) — 7-8:30 p.m. — As a follow-up to a community meeting in January, Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik will provide updates on safety improvements in the Blake Lane corridor. The live stream will be available via Zoom and Facebook Live. For the agenda and more information, visit the calendar event on the Fairfax County website.

Tuesday (April 20)

  • Earth Day 2021 — The Fairfax County Park Authority will celebrate Earth Day with volunteer activities from April 20-22. In addition, the agency’s social media accounts will post fun facts, tips, and programs in line with this year’s theme of “Together, We can Restore Our Earth.” For more information, contact the Public Information Office at [email protected] or call 703-324-8662.
  • A Gambling Man Launch (Online) — 7-8:30 p.m. — Author David Baldacci is kicking off the release tour for his new book “A Gambling Man” with this virtual launch event hosted by Bards Alley in Vienna with “Miracle Creek” author Angie Kim. Tickets are available for $5, or a $30.74 ticket also gets you a hardcover copy of Baldacci’s novel.

Wednesday (April 21)

Thursday (April 22)

Saturday (April 24)

  • Prescription Drug Take-Back Day — 11 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Falls Church Community Center (223 Little Falls St.) — National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day is a day when the public can return expired, unused, or unwanted pills and patches. The program is free and anonymous. Liquids and needles are not allowed. Vape pens and other e-cigarette devices will be collected without the battery in them. More information can be found on the U.S. Department of Justice website.

Sunday (April 25)

  • Spring Open Air Market — 12-5 p.m. at the Windover Building (243 Church St. NW) — The Vienna Arts Society is holding an open air market where local artisans and food retailers will sell various goods, ranging from hand-painted glass from Sovereign Treasures to pastries from Pourie-Mourie. The first 250 visitors will receive a free shopping bag.
  • Virtual Afternoon Tea: Six Degrees (Online) — 3 p.m. — Join a conversation at Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria about the theory that everyone is six or fewer social contacts apart. Learn how to find links to famous relatives. The lecture is $12 per person, and there is an optional tea box for an additional $24. Register online, and for more information, call 703-941-7987.

Photo via Tysons Partnership/Facebook

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Fairfax County Public Schools students will offer four days of in-person instruction to select students starting this week, FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand announced yesterday (Monday).

The opportunity to get four days of in-person classes has been extended first to the pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students who have been experiencing the most significant challenges in virtual and hybrid learning.

FCPS says school personnel identified these students using the school system’s Multi-Tiered Systems of Support model, which takes into account students’ behavior and social and emotional well-being as well as their academic success.

Other students may be able to receive four days of in-person classes starting the week of April 20, but only if their families opted for in-person learning in the fall and they are currently attending two days of in-person classes.

“I am thrilled to announce that FCPS is continuing to move forward with bringing back additional students to in-person learning — particularly our students who are experiencing the greatest learning challenges,” Brabrand said. “Overall, we see this as very good news for FCPS students, families, staff, and the community and will help us prepare for five days of in-person instruction this fall.”

Brabrand told the Fairfax County School Board on March 16 that FCPS could expand in-person learning to four days on a limited basis after spring break, with the goal of providing more support to students with disabilities, English-language learners, and others who have especially struggled this year.

To ensure that there would be sufficient capacity, FCPS required students who opted for some in-person learning to confirm that they were attending school regularly by March 26, the day before spring break. If they were not in class, they risked being reverted to all-virtual instruction.

FCPS spokesperson Lucy Caldwell says that the school system does not have an exact figure for how many students were sent back to virtual learning, but those decisions were handled on school-by-school basis.

The expansion of in-person learning comes even though FCPS is instructing all staff and students at middle and high schools to maintain six feet of social distancing, citing Fairfax County’s high rate of community transmission of COVID-19.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance for schools on March 19 to recommend at least three feet of social distancing in classrooms if everyone wears a face mask. However, the federal agency also said that middle and high school students should be at least six feet apart in communities with high transmission levels.

“This recommendation is because COVID-19 transmission dynamics are different in older students — that is, they are more likely to be exposed to SARS-CoV-2 and spread it than younger children,” the CDC said.

The CDC determines community transmission levels primarily based on testing positivity rates and the number of new cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days. Fairfax County has recorded 103.4 new cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days, and 5.2% of all PCR tests have been positive, as of the week of March 27, according to the Virginia Department of Health’s school metrics dashboard.

Caldwell says that the ability of schools to accommodate four days of in-person learning varies widely based on current occupancy, the size of classrooms and lunchroom spaces, furniture, and staffing.

“Some of our schools DO have open space,” she said in an email to Tysons Reporter. “Some students who were expected to come back in-person did not; school staff reached out to those families who’s students did not show up and ascertained whether or not we might have open seats through those discussions. We are addressing these open seat opportunities now.”

In-person attendance currently ranges from 20 to 80% depending on the specific school, according to Caldwell, who also noted that staffing levels could become insufficient if employees need to quarantine.

As of Monday, FCPS has recorded 1,253 COVID-19 cases since Sept. 8, including 660 cases among staff and 440 among students. Public health officials are currently investigating outbreaks at McLean High School, South Lakes High School, and the Word of Life Christian Academy, according to VDH.

The outbreak at McLean High was reported to the state on March 25. According to the dashboard, this is the second outbreak at the school after another one was reported on March 11.

“Each school is working within their own capacity to accommodate additional in-person opportunities for students whose families have already expressed a desire for them,” Caldwell said.

Photo via FCPS

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A new private school for early childhood education could open as soon as this summer in Tysons.

Owners Kate and Brian Mulcahy held a groundbreaking ceremony for the Celebree School of Tysons-Jones Branch on Wednesday (March 31). It is the first Virginia location for Celebree School, a network of early childhood education centers.

The school is located on Valo Park’s 16-acre campus at 7950 Jones Branch Drive and will serve infants through pre-kindergarten children.

“Truly, the curriculum, the program we’re going to provide to these kids…it gives me chills,” Kate Mulcahy said. “We are going to give these children the best possible start to life while giving their parents incredible piece of mind and flexibility. We are just so excited to do that.”

Celebree aims to open the school this summer, and pre-enrollment has already begun.

Celebree School announced on April 21, 2020 that it had signed a franchise agreement with the Mulcahys to open a center in Fairfax or Arlington county. The couple signed a lease with Valo Park on Nov. 10 to open the center.

Leaders of organizations representing the Tysons area, including the Tysons Partnership and Tysons Regional Chamber of Commerce, were among those in attendance at the groundbreaking ceremony.

“There is no greater opportunity right now than to serve your community through education and childcare, particularly early childhood education,” Tysons Partnership communications director Drew Sunderland said. “As my fellow parents know, the pandemic’s only amplified this need for quality schools. Childcare facilities has provided lifelines to families.”

Founded in 1994 in Lutherville, Md., Celebree School began franchising in 2019 and has now expanded to over 40 locations in 12 states that are open or under development, adding franchises in New York, Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.

“Today is a huge milestone in so many ways,” Celebree Schools founder, president, and CEO Richard Huffman said.

He called the groundbreaking a meaningful occasion for “not only expanding the brand into Virginia and bringing high quality preschool to families in McLean, Virginia, but also sitting around watching this vision and dream come true of offering this concept and this kind of business to a family like the Mulcahys.”

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This year’s graduating classes may get to celebrate their achievements with socially-distanced graduation ceremonies.

Earlier this week, Gov. Ralph Northam released preliminary guidance for graduation ceremonies at high schools and universities this spring and summer.

“We are releasing this guidance early to allow schools to begin planning for this year’s events,” Northam said Wednesday (March 17) in a statement. “While graduation and commencement ceremonies will still be different than they were in the past, this is a tremendous step forward for all of our schools, our graduates, and their families.”

Northam wants all outdoor ceremonies to be capped at 5,000 people or 30 percent of venue capacity.

Indoors events are limited to 500 people or 30 percent of the venue capacity. All attendees must wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines to the extent possible.

Seating areas should be reconfigured to accommodate social distancing, among other recommendations pitched by Northam.

Updated guidance is expected to be released as part of a forthcoming executive order.

The guidance comes as Fairfax County Public Schools prepares for a return to five days of in-person classes in the fall. Since Feb. 16, more than 98,000 students and staff members have resumed in-person classes.

More than two-thirds of the state’s public school teachers and staff have received at least one dose of the vaccine. The statewide positivity rate for COVID-19 also continues to fall, currently standing at 5.4 percent.

Last year, some Fairfax County students celebrated with car parades, while other schools returned to virtual celebrations or graduate photo opportunities. FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand told the school board on Tuesday (March 16) that he was “confident” there will be in-person ceremonies for the senior Class of 2021.

With this in mind, we’d love to know what you think about how and if in-person graduation ceremonies should resume this year. Let us know in the poll below.

Photo via Andre Hunter on Unsplash

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Morning Notes

Voting for McLean Community Center Board Begins — Residents of Small District 1A-Dranesville can now request a ballot to vote in the McLean Community Center’s 2021 governing board election. 13 candidates — five adults and eight teenagers — qualified to run for three adult and two teen vacancies. Ballots and affidavits verifying voters’ residency must be returned to MCC by mail or in-person by 5 p.m. on May 15. [McLean Community Center]

Metro Orders New Fleet of Railcars — “Metro has selected Hitachi Rail Washington LLC (“Hitachi Rail”) to build the system’s 8000-series railcars in the U.S. The contract, valued up to an estimated $2.2 billion, includes a base order of 256 railcars, with options to build up to 800 in the fleet. The project is expected to create direct and indirect jobs in the region.” [WMATA]

Vienna Leaders Skeptical of November Municipal Elections — Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill last week that moves all municipal elections to November. Elected officials in the Town of Vienna, which traditionally holds elections in May, argue that having separate local elections makes them less partisan and prevents them from getting overshadowed by state and national races. Supporters of the change say it will save money and ensure better voter turnout. [Sun Gazette]

Virginia Issues Preliminary Guidance for Graduation Ceremonies — Virginia plans to allow in-person graduation ceremonies for high schools and colleges this year. Draft guidelines from the Department of Education state that masks and social distancing will be required, and attendance will be capped at 30% capacity, with a maximum of 5,000 people for outdoor events and 500 people for indoor events. [Patch]

140 Anti-Asian Hate Incidents Reported in D.C. Area in Past Year — “140 hate incidents have been reported against Asian Americans across Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. since March 2020, according to a new report by Stop AAPI Hate…The report comes as eight people, including six Asian American women, were killed in a shooting rampage in the Atlanta area.” [DCist]

McLean Depression Treatment Company Joins NASDAQ — “Greenbrook TMS Inc., the McLean mental health company that first went public two years ago in Canada, is now trading in the U.S. markets. The local depression therapy provider made its debut Tuesday on the Nasdaq under ticker symbol ‘GBNH.'” [Washington Business Journal]

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Fairfax County Public School students will attend in-person classes five days a week when the new academic year starts this fall, FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand pledged yesterday (Tuesday) at a school board work session.

The commitment came on the same day that FCPS welcomed third and sixth-grade students back into classrooms. This was the final cohort to be phased into hybrid learning, where students who choose to can receive two days of in-person instruction and two days of virtual instruction.

Since FCPS initiated its Return to School plan on Feb. 16, more than 98,000 students and staff members have resumed in-person classes. That number will exceed 109,000 students when the transition finishes this Thursday (March 19), according to Brabrand.

Brabrand told the school board that a combination of low levels of reported COVID-19 transmission in schools, declining case rates in the county as a whole, accelerating vaccination efforts, and new research on social distancing in schools gave FCPS officials the confidence to plan to begin the upcoming 2021-2022 school year with full-time in-person classes.

“We have shown that we can return our students and staff to our buildings in a way that is safe and steady,” Brabrand said. “We are confident that we can deliver on a five-day return for all students in the fall, knowing that, while we can adapt to any situation, in-person learning really is the best option for our students and staff.”

According to a presentation by FCPS staff, 0.2% of 86,526 students and staff expected to return to in-person classes have tested positive for COVID-19 since Jan. 26, and only 0.02% reported being infected due to transmission in schools.

As of Tuesday, FCPS had recorded 1,107 cases among students, staff, and visitors since Sept. 8.

FCPS Department of Special Services Assistant Superintendent Michelle Boyd reported that the “overwhelming majority” of employees have now been vaccinated, and the school system is working with partners like the Fairfax County Health Department and Inova to get the vaccine to the remaining individuals.

FCPS also anticipates having in-person graduation ceremonies for this year’s high school seniors, though rules for prom, all-night graduation parties, and other social gatherings will likely be more stringent.

Brabrand said Gov. Ralph Northam and the Virginia Department of Health are expected to issue guidance for school districts before April.

With all grade levels now in hybrid learning, FCPS has started to plan for summer school, which will take place in person from late June to early August at all schools for over 40,000 students — 10 times the usual summer school attendance, according to FCPS Chief Academic Officer Sloan Presidio. Read More

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Smoke Detected in Building at Inova Fairfax Medical Campus — Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department units reported to the 3300 block of Gallows Road in Falls Church yesterday. Smoke in a building was determined to be from “an arching light fixture in a data center. Most units returned to service shortly after the situation was controlled. [FCFRD/Twitter]

Virginia Surpasses COVID-19 Vaccine Goal — “In early January we set a goal of administering at least 50,000 doses of #COVID19 vaccine per day. Today, our daily average is over 51,300 shots and nearly 16% of Virginians have received at least one dose. While we still have a lot of work ahead of us, this is great progress.” [Gov. Ralph Northam/Twitter]

Falls Church City School Board Member to Resign — Shawna Russell announced last week that she will resign from her seat at the end of the month. She is the second member to step down in the past two months after Lawrence Webb, whose temporary replacement Sonia Ruiz-Bolanos joined the board for the first time on Feb. 23. [Falls Church News-Press]

McLean Private School Students Earn Place in Science Olympiad State Championships — “The BASIS Independent McLean Middle School Science Olympiad team is headed to this year’s virtual state championships! The team has placed well in many competitions throughout the season, and the team’s overall second place the February’s Regional Tournament secured their advancement to states.” [BASIS Independent McLean]

McLean High School Students Curate Women’s History Month Art Show — “Members of the McLean Student Art Projectare sponsoring the show that portrays gender equality, celebrates women, and bring awareness to gender stereotypes and the objectification of women that still exists today. The virtual art show is available online.” [Fairfax County Public Schools]

Photo via Elvert Barnes/Flickr

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On Tuesday (Mar. 2), about 25,000 middle and high school students in Fairfax County entered school buildings to learn for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic closed them last March.

The latest cluster of students to start in-person learning under Fairfax County Public School’s Return to School plan included children in eighth, ninth, and 12th grades. For most freshmen, it was their first time setting foot inside their new school.

FCPS first restarted in-person classes on Feb. 16 for some special education and career and technical education students before phasing in kindergarten, preschool, and more students with disabilities on Feb. 23. Except for special education students, everyone who opted for hybrid in-person learning is still getting two days of virtual instruction on top of two days of in-person instruction.

At James Madison High School in Vienna, students arrived to the sight of an inflatable air dancer, while McLean High School students were greeted by clapping, cheering, and mask-wearing administrators who handed out gift bags to seniors.

https://twitter.com/JamesMadisonHS/status/1366722090297143297

Returning students at McLean High encountered some jarring changes, from teachers’ desks outfitted with plexiglas shields to a cafeteria transformed into a giant, socially distanced classroom. Other parts of the building seemed to have “frozen in time,” as McLean High School Principal Ellen Reilly put it.

For instance, a board listing upcoming events had not been changed since Mar. 12, 2020 — the day before schools closed.

“We know it’s not going to be perfect,” Reilly said of resuming in-person classes. “We know that we’re going to have some problems this week as we learn another new way of teaching. We’re doing concurrent [instruction] now, but we’ve prepared as best we can, and we’re going to get it right.”

Reilly isn’t sure how many faculty members have received the COVID-19 vaccine. FCPS worked with the Fairfax County Health Department and Inova Health Systems to get staff vaccinated as they prepared to restart in-person classes.

“That’s their personal business. They can opt to have it or not to have it, and it’s not for me to know if they have or not,” she told Tysons Reporter.

As of Mar. 2, FCPS has reported 1,027 COVID-19 cases, including 617 among staff and 276 among students.

McLean High School senior Nathan Legg says he “hung out with friends” throughout the year, but he still missed the experience of being in school from a social perspective as well as an academic one.

While the past 12 months have been far from how he pictured concluding his high school tenure, he is determined to make the best out of his remaining time as a Highlander.

“It’s really exciting,” Legg said. “I’m glad to finally get in and try and make something of my senior year.”

Jay Westcott contributed to this report.

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