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'I feel it falls very short' | New Fairfax County Schools return to school plan for October leaves many people unhappy

Special needs parents want a firmer date. Teachers worry they'll have to choose between their families' health and their careers.

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — Fairfax County Schools are out with a plan to bring more than 6,000 students back for in-person learning next month — but it's left a lot of people unhappy.

Career and tech education students, children with special needs and youngsters still learning English, would be among the first to return to school buildings, according to a plan tentatively approved by the school board.

Eileen Chollet is among the Fairfax parents who said the tentative plan to return small cohorts of students to school buildings next month just isn't good enough. Her 7-year-old daughter, Caroline — who takes special needs classes — would be among the third group of students to go back to in-person learning.

"It's good to hear that they're at least trying to make sure kids like Caroline can get the assistance they need. But the plan is so superficial, it's hard to tell what actually is going to be implemented," she said.

In early October, the superintendent wants to bring back just five teachers and 62 high school career and tech students. Mid-October would see more high schoolers and some preschoolers return. Late October, all schools would see another nearly 4,000 students, including English learners and children with an adapted curriculum like Caroline.

RELATED: Fairfax Co. Schools will have in-person learning for kids with special needs

Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Little boy going to school with protective mask

"I feel it falls very short," said Megan McLaughlin, a Fairfax County School Board member. She is among three school board members who said the health metrics for a return to school are still too vague. "Not enough answers," said Tamara Derwak Kaufax at the end of a five-and-a-half-hour school board meeting Tuesday night. "I just don't understand how teachers and parents are supposed to make the decision about going back or not," said Laura Jane Cohen, another school board member.

Nearly 600 teachers are slated to return to classrooms with children.
Under the plan, teachers with their own underlying health conditions could decline to come back. But teachers worried about a vulnerable loved one might be forced to resign.

"Staff members should not have to decide between protecting their family and keeping their jobs," said Emily Vanderhoff, a first-grade teacher and union leader.

Abrar Omeish, an at-large school board member said she is also worried about losing teachers.

The board resolution called for the superintendent to give data on the number of teachers who might resign if they're forced to return to school buildings — and suggested teachers with vulnerable family members might be able to take a leave of absence.

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