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Fairfax County parents, teachers question feasibility of plan to reopen schools

Fairfax County Public Schools hosted a virtual town hall Tuesday night to address parent and teacher questions about its plan for returning students to classrooms.

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — As Fairfax County Public Schools works on the district's reopening plan, parents and teachers are raising concerns about the safety precautions.

The superintendent hosted a virtual town hall Tuesday night to give the FCPS community an opportunity to ask questions about the draft reopening plan he presented to the School Board Monday.

Superintendent Dr. Scott Brabrand said they received 5,000 comments and questions ahead of the town hall, and addressed as many as they could in the hour allotted. 

He emphasized that in all their plans, safety is the top priority.

The draft plan outlines three possible scenarios:

  1. Entirely virtual learning, which would operate on a relatively standard bell schedule, but would require teachers and students to interact from home.
  2. In-person learning, where students would attend classes at school on alternating days, either two days a week, or one day a week. In both cases, Friday would be set aside as an intervention day for certain students to meet with teachers, or for individual/group projects.
  3. Online instruction for medical needs, which would allow students and staff at higher risk to opt for virtual learning.

RELATED: Fairfax County Public Schools releases plan for reopening in the fall

These are some of the questions that were either submitted by email, or asked over the phone, and the district's answers:

Question: "Why isn't there an option for a full-time return to in-person instruction?"

Answer: Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has not released guidelines for Phase Four, so full-time in-person instruction is not yet on the table.

Question (from parent): "If we have someone in our family who's at high risk, would they also be able to access that online full-time option? For example, I have a kindergartner who is high-risk, and a second-grader who is not, so my second grader could get my kindergartner sick. Will my second-grader also be able to access the full-time virtual option?"

Answer: That will have to be on a case-by-case basis, but the district will work with each family to figure out a viable option.

Question (from teacher): "I’m a Fairfax County teacher, and I’d like to know what exactly the enhanced cleaning means? All Clorox wipes, hand sanitizer, everything I have been provided in my seven years of teaching has come from families. Are we going to see a change in the supplies that we are given?"

Answer: Assistant Superintendent Jeff Platenberg admitted that those supplies have not been provided to teachers in the past, but said that the district has ordered 45,000 bottles of hand sanitizer to distribute to teachers. He also said that they will pay custodians overtime to accommodate the enhanced cleaning measures.

“We’ve altered our custodial cleaning within the buildings to make sure they do the high-touch areas -- the doorknobs, the cross bars walking in and out," the assistant superintendent said.

RELATED: ‘We need to have a radical transformation’ | FCPS plans for fall take equity, anti-racist curriculum into account

Question: "Will staff be checking kids' temperatures before they get onto a bus or enter a school?"

Answer: The science shows that children do not always exhibit a fever when they have COVID-19, so they are looking at alternative ways to screen kids. The district has purchased extra thermometers, though, as part of their increased safety measures.

Question (from parent):  "If we know that students are unlikely to constantly maintain that six feet in distance, and that teachers will be required to wear masks, why won't students be required to wear masks in the classroom?” 

Answer: "We are going to strongly encourage kids to wear masks throughout their time in the classroom," Dr. Brabrand said. He added that the district is trying to be realistic about mandates. He said for younger children, who are especially likely to remove their masks periodically, they will encourage other precautions, like washing hands constantly and strict social distancing. He said they are also looking into procuring PPE like gowns and face shields for teachers working with special education students, who require more high-touch learning.

RELATED: This is Fairfax County's plan if classes must remain virtual come fall

Question: "How will virtual learning be different in the fall than it was at the end of this school year (which, for context, was fraught with problems)?"

Answer: The superintendent apologized again for the issues that the district experienced with remote instruction and said they have learned from them. He said there will be more face-to-face virtual learning, more teacher training than a week, and principals will continue to monitor its success throughout the process.

Question: "If a child gets sick at school, how does the district plan to ensure a timely pickup?"

Answer: The district will request parents retrieve children who feel sick within 60 minutes. However, they admitted that that timeline may not be possible and said they will request all families fully complete their emergency care cards and list a contact who has permission to pick up their student if need be.

Question: "Has the district considered year-round schooling?"

Answer: The calendar is approved a year in advance, so for the 2020-2021 school year, it's not feasible.

Question: "When will students be allowed to rejoin activities?"

Answer: The district is working on its return-to-play scenario. At the moment, physical conditioning will be allowed starting June 22. FCPS is also working closely with the Virginia High School League to figure out the rest of the year.

The superintendent ended with a plea to parents to help change the culture of bringing kids to school when they're sick. 

"My expectation as superintendent, to every parent and as a parent myself, if your child does not feel well this coming school year, that child should not come to school," Dr. Brabrand said. "We have to create a new culture this school year and moving forward that if your child does not feel well and is presenting symptoms, flu-like, COVID19-like, they need to stay home. It truly is a serious matter for the health and safety of our students and staff, and we need parents to be partners with us in making sure that happens." 

The FCPS School Board is holding a public hearing on the reopening plan Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. The district hopes to have a completed plan by June 26.

RELATED: Virginia releases plan for phased reopening of schools

RELATED: Return to class: Fairfax County lays out plan for students to safely return to school this fall

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