FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — A day after the Fairfax County Public Schools superintendent hosted a town hall detailing return to classroom plans, a teachers' union sent a letter requesting the district remain 100% virtual for the rest of the school year.
The Fairfax Education Association said health data does not support in-person learning.
“Our number one priority is the health and safety of our students and our staff, and ultimately our community, and our union feels very strongly that right now virtual learning is the safest way to provide some instruction for our community," Carla Okouchi, VP of FEA, said.
Part of the letter outlines specific action-step requests from the union:
1. All buildings should be equipped with HVAC Merv-13 filters, changed on
2. All staff should be provided Medical Grade PPE (N95 masks, goggles, face
shields, gowns, gloves, foot coverings, laundry service at each site).
3. All staff should be provided COVID testing.
4. NO Employees who feel unsafe whether Tier 1- Tier 4 should be forced to
return before the safe reopening metric of 14 days is met.
5. All staff and families should be granted the option of teleworking/distance
Per the School Board's approved plan, pre-K, kindergarten, intensive support needs, and special education students are tentatively scheduled to go back to school on Nov. 16 -- barring a major change in COVID metrics.
Some parents, like mom of three Jema Russo, want the district to push forward with re-opening -- with a clear plan.
“I just don’t think we’re ever going to have 14 days without community spread," Russo said. "Can we just try it? Can we just do our best for the teachers that want to go back and the students who want to go back?”
She has students in fourth, fifth and seventh grade. Russo is worried about their social and emotional well-being if they don't go back to their classrooms soon.
“The longer it goes, I see my kids being like I don’t want to do this anymore," she said.
Russo said she doesn't dismiss anyone's fears, and truly understands teachers' perspectives. She said both of her sisters are teachers -- one in New Jersey, and the other in New York.
“My sister was telling me 'they’re discounting me, what if I bring it home to my family?' Russo said. "And she was either going to lose her job or go and she had to go... and now she’s like 'I love it.'"
Many teachers said they, too, want to be back in the classroom. The FEA just doesn't believe now is the safest time.
“We want to return safely," Okouchi said. "We want to make sure everyone goes back home to their families at the end of the day and that we do not end up on an 'In Memorium' page in our yearbooks…We know that there are solutions, but it’s going to take a greater investment in our public schools to do that.”
Superintendent Dr. Scott Brabrand said they plan to send out information at the end of the week into the beginning of next week asking parents to confirm their summer selection of distance or hybrid learning. He said if they don't receive a response, they'll assume the choice hasn't changed.
A spokesperson shared the following statement from FCPS:
"Dr. Brabrand is working with FCPS staff and partners to ensure a safe, measured student in-person return to our classrooms and buildings. We firmly believe that while virtual environments are necessary at the current time, students learn best in-person. That experience cannot fully be duplicated on a screen. Many thousands of FCPS teachers, families, businesses, and the community at large, have expressed their strong support for students to return to in-person learning and we are working diligently to make this a reality as swiftly and safely as possible.
Our superintendent will continue to collaborate and engage with teacher organizations as he has been doing for the entirety of the pandemic planning, to help ensure safe, effective plans.
More information on FCPS return to school plans is posted online and continues to be updated as plans evolve."