Fairfax County Public Schools delays in-person instruction

On Tuesday, the Fairfax County Public County school board listened to Superintendent Dr. Scott Brabrand’s Return To School Plan.

The school district’s leadership wants teachers and students to get back to face to face learning as soon as possible. However, during the discussion, school board members voiced this process was moving along too fast. Some even stated they rather wait until teachers and students can get vaccinated before anyone returns to the classroom.

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The meeting ended with the decision to pause the in-person plan for one month. On Tuesday, February 2nd, the school board will reconvene. In the meantime, the superintendent will create a new presentation and work with officials to take a closer look at data on COVID-19 transmission.

Fairfax County Public Schools mother, Heidi Lamont, does not understand the urgency to return to the classroom.

"I think it’s crazy and I don’t understand why they’re doing it. I think that they should just be safe and keep everyone at home and be safe," said Heidi Lamont, Fairfax County Resident.

College student, Andrew Hafer, said while virtual learning is difficult, students going back to school in the middle of the pandemic does not sit well with him.

"It’s obvious the pandemic is still an issue and it’s just getting worse so I think the fact that they’re pushing for that is more of look what we can do and not what we should do," said Hafer.

The in-person plan the superintendent presented included bringing some students back for hybrid learning – a mix of in-person and virtual – on Tuesday, January 12th.

By February 9th, the school district was hoping for all students to be back for in-person instruction.

In the Return to School Plan, the school district cites recent research that shows schools can be open even at high levels of community spread when guidelines are consistently being followed. That evidence indicates students are not at a greater risk of contracting the virus from schools reopening. According to the study, teachers face no greater risk than other low-risk frontline workers like grocery store and retail employees, and far less than healthcare workers.

At the end of the meeting, school board members said they need to take a closer look at data before moving forward.

Creating a Return to School Plan doesn’t come without challenges. The school district said they have settled 90% of ADA disability settlements among staff. For example – those with health risks have been given permission to work from home.

Also, Fairfax County Public Schools is looking to hire more classroom monitors to help provide that temporary coverage and enforce COVID-19 safety protocols. At this time, they have only hired a little over half of the amount they will need.

However, hearing about these extreme efforts is not changing the minds of teacher unions; They want Fairfax County Public Schools to stick with virtual learning.

Ahead of the meeting, Tina Williams, President of Fairfax County Federation of Teachers issued the following statement to Fox 5:

"We are deeply concerned that FCPS is rushing to reopen schools while COVID-19 cases are surging like never before. We all want nothing more than for students and staff to return to school for face-to-face instruction, but right now, it just is not safe. As of today, the COVID-19 positivity rate in Fairfax County is 12.5%, there are 510.1 cases per 100,000 and there have been 638 COVID-19 cases in FCPS. We urge FCPS to continue with full virtual instruction for all students and staff until the district fully adopts FCFT’s 11 Pillars of a Safe Reopening. Under our pillars, the COVID-19 positivity rate must be below 5 percent, there should be a demonstrated decline in new cases for 14 days and the transmission rate must be below 1.0."

In an interview with FOX 5, Fairfax Education Association President, Kimberly Adams said, "We are definitely concerned right now that this plan puts us back into in-person schools while our COVID numbers are extraordinarily high and continue to rise each day."

People in the community FOX 5 spoke to have mixed feelings on teachers and students returning to the classroom.

"I think the kids need the social action. I think after a year they’re ready to get out of the house, good for the parents, it’s good for them, but again if it can be done safely," said Susan Quinn, Fairfax County Resident.