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Fairfax County teachers push for district to change its mind and choose a 100% virtual start

The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers sent FCPS officials a letter requesting the change, in light of nearby districts opting for distance learning.

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — As the new school year fast approaches, some Fairfax County teachers hope to convince their district to switch to a 100% virtual start.

“I feel like it would be much more beneficial to a lot of students if we’re able to start virtual and make sure we have everything in place for in-person teaching," FCPS teacher Robyn Mejia said. "There are still a lot of unanswered questions.”

  • Some of her lingering questions include:
  • How are things going to be cleaned?
  • How often are things going to be cleaned?
  • Who is responsible for that? 
  • Making sure teachers have the PPE they need
  • What happens when a teacher is exposed outside of school? 
  • What happens when a child is exposed?

"It’s a lot for teachers to go out and buy all these extra things," Mejia said. "I spent easily $500 a year for my students on things they don’t have and this year there is no sharing of supplies, and that makes it especially hard on students who can’t afford supplies."

The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers sent FCPS officials a letter Friday. It requested the change and added that neighboring districts have already decided to start with distance learning for their start to the school year.

“We all want to be back in school with our kids, but at this point, we don’t feel like we can do it safely by September 8," FCFT Executive Board Member, Emily VanDerhoff said. "I feel like there’s going to be a lot of inconsistencies.”

In response, FCPS sent WUSA 9 the following statement:

“FCPS is deeply appreciative of the efforts, the work, the collaboration and the commitment of FCPS teachers and support personnel. Their roles are crucial to the success and well-being of students across the division and their voices are being heard. We will continue to prioritize the health and safety of our students, staff, and community in developing our return to school plans.”

Parents and teachers had to submit their preferences to the district last Wednesday, choosing between a hybrid of in-person and virtual learning and 100% distance learning.

In total, the district lists 60% of its 189,000 students as having chosen the in-person option. However, it also reports that 17% of families did not submit a choice.

FCPS also listed that 48% of the 14,505 staff included selected in-person, with the caveat that about 1,000 teachers also did not respond and were grouped with the in-person responses by default.

So, of the students who responded — 52% selected in-person — as opposed to 44% of teachers who submitted a choice. 

“Fairfax consistently says we’re putting safety of students and staff first, but we’re seeing that these other school districts are making these other decisions than we’re making, and so we’re hoping that Fairfax will go the way of these other school districts," VanDerhoff said.

Both Arlington Public and Manassas City Schools have announced they will start solely with distance learning.

RELATED: Arlington Public Schools moves to full-time distance learning this fall

RELATED: Manassas City Public School back-to-school plans include 100% digital learning to start academic year

Loudoun County Public Schools, however, are also planning to offer a mix of in-person and virtual learning.

RELATED: Loudoun teachers hold 'solidarity for safety rally' in response to reopening plan

Mejia said the differences in district responses make it difficult for families like hers. She works as a teacher for FCPS but lives in Frederick, Maryland, which is where her two children go to school.

Frederick Schools has yet to release its reopening plan.

“What about my kids? Are they virtual or in person, and how does that affect my day care?” Mejia asked.

She said she hopes the school board answers her and other teachers' lingering questions this week.

The board is scheduled to conduct a work session on reopening schools this Tuesday, July 21.

You can learn more about Fairfax County Public Schools here

RELATED: Scientist warns this is only the beginning of pandemic, students should not go back to school

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