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Fairfax and Loudoun County parents push for virtual school option as COVID-19 cases rise

FCPS has reported an increasing number of daily student COVID cases since the school year began.

HERNDON, Va. — As COVID cases continue to rise in Fairfax and Loudoun counties, hundreds of parents are pushing for a virtual learning option.

Mallikarjun Vurugu has a first and fourth-grader at Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) -- both too young to be vaccinated. He sent them to school the first couple of days, then pulled them out for fear of the delta variant.

“I'm not comfortable sending kids. I'm very frightened," Vurugu explained.

Both Fairfax and Loudoun counties are experiencing high COVID transmission, according to the CDC's tracker. And, FCPS has reported an increasing number of daily student COVID cases since the start of school.

This combination of factors prompted Vurugu to start a coalition of parents from FCPS and LCPS who are pushing for a virtual learning option -- at least until elementary school-age students can get vaccinated.

"We are not telling that we do not want in-person," he said. "There are many thousands of parents in Fairfax County, who are, like, interested in the in-person option... We want like a simple thing -- like just continue what we did yesterday until like probably October or November because we are hoping, according to CDC, by then vaccine will come for kids [with emergency approval.]"

The group staged a silent protest outside of Vurugu's kids' school -- McNair -- on Monday and plans to head to LCPS Tuesday morning.

RELATED: 'We need to implement effective safety measures at lunch' | Fairfax parents express confusion, concern over COVID protocols

Jenn Carlson has two daughters in elementary school -- who she said thrived with virtual learning.

"But now I have to put my disabled child who's somewhat immunosuppressed, but doesn't fall into the category that Fairfax has deemed eligible to take virtual learning," Carlson said. "And now I have to rely on everyone else to protect her."

She said it's also confusing and stressful for kids to deal with mask mandates and COVID threats amid required in-person learning.

"They're aware that as much as they want to be with their friends that there's COVID. And so that sets up this very strange, stressful dichotomy in their brains. Like I want to play I know I can't," she said. "And that's hard on an 11-year-old, who's just entering that, you know, their preteen socialization world, and it's, it becomes just a really cognitively dissonant dissonance in their own heads."

Other parents, like Olivia Tuggle, have already had to keep their kids at home because of COVID exposure.

“I got a call on Friday that my daughter was in close contact with someone that tested positive for COVID," Tuggle said. "So of course, I had a little bit of panic.”

She said her daughter now has to quarantine at home until the health department calls. She doesn't know how she'll keep up with all the work she'll be forced to miss.

An FCPS spokesperson sent WUSA9 the following statement:

“FCPS believes that students learn best in-person and are focused on providing a safe and positive learning experience for all students.

Eligibility for the Virtual Program is LIMITED and is based on a documented COVID-19 related health/medical need of the student. Family health/medical conditions will not be considered for this program. This eligibility is not extended to siblings or other students in a household.

Virginia public schools are required under SB 1303 to provide five days a week of in-person instruction, as directed by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. FCPS is committed to continuity of learning during the 2021-22 school year and the school division is using layered prevention strategies to do everything possible to ensure our schools remain safe, healthy and open. Our plan is to remain open using these strategies unless directed otherwise by health officials or Executive Order.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics also urged in-person learning with masking and other safety precautions over the summer to prevent mental health issues and developmental delays.

Still, these parents say they're not advocating for a 100% return to virtual -- just the option for worried parents.

“If you're unvaccinated and you're a child, you're a vulnerable population to this delta variant," Calson said. And I think that requires extraordinary protection.”

LCPS also announced it's launching a new COVID dashboard Tuesday to track cases once school resumes on Thursday.

The school shared the following statement: 

"Following this guidance and using layered mitigation practices to the fullest extent possible means we will be doing everything we can to help prevent the further spread of the COVID-19 virus. The safety, health and well-being of students, staff members, their families and the broader Loudoun community remains a top priority at Loudoun County Public Schools."

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