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Teachers push for virtual start after two Fauquier schools employees test positive for COVID

"It's a ticking time bomb for all of us, really, going back into the buildings."

FAUQUIER COUNTY, Va. — The week before teachers at Fauquier County Public Schools are set to go back to the classroom, the district confirmed that two employees have tested positive for coronavirus.

Both staff members work at Bradley Elementary School, Tara Helkowski, a spokesperson for the district, said. She did not say whether or not the employees had been in the building.

Helkowski sent this statement from the school system:

"We are aware of two cases of COVID-19. However, due to HIPAA, we cannot disclose any information associated with our employees' health. FCPS has an established protocol to work with the local health department to manage COVID-19 cases. We continue to follow all procedures established by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC). Once we were made aware of the first case on July 27, we contacted the VDH, worked with the Fauquier County Employee Wellness Center, and notified anyone who was potentially exposed."

Kindergarten teacher and the president of the Fauquier Education Association, Lauren Brill, said she was surprised when she got the news.

“But I wasn’t exactly shocked, because we know it’s coming," she said. "We know it’s bound to happen. It’s a ticking time bomb for all of us, really, going back into the buildings.”

Brill also has a daughter entering first grade in August.

Credit: Lauren Brill
Lauren's soon-to-be first grade daughter finished kindergarten online.

Fauquier Schools is the only public school system in Northern Virginia that is still offering an in-person option. The district gave parents a choice between a hybrid model with two days in the classroom and 100% virtual.

Jennifer Messler chose the hybrid option for her rising kindergartener. 

“He needs structure," Messler said. "At this age, being five, there’s no way being homeschooled he’s going to learn anything, so that’s the only reason I’m really adamant about going to school.”

Messler isn't fazed by the coronavirus cases.

“It doesn’t really bother me, because I feel like just going to the grocery store we’re at risk of getting it, so I feel like there’s no difference of him going to school versus going to the grocery store with me," she said.

Brill said the grocery store isn't an even comparison to what teachers and students will experience at school.

“You’re not going to shop for eight hours at a grocery store with 30 people near you in one section," Brill said. "So I understand where they’re coming from with that philosophy, but they’re not going to also be asked to clean, they’re not also going to be asked to eat around those people.”

Brill said it's been tough trying to prepare her classroom, as she is currently planning on going back to school.

“I can only laugh, otherwise I would be crying," she said. "It’s an enormous task heading back to the classroom.”

The FEA is now requesting the district change its mind and switch to a 100% virtual start.

Brill said she and her FEA VP will be meeting with the superintendent Thursday to discuss the district's preparedness and push the virtual start.

School begins for students on Aug.24.

Credit: Jennifer Messler
Jennifer Messler's five-year-old son doing schoolwork at home.

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