FAIRFAX, Va. - As some school districts prepare to start in-person learning, parents will still have the option to keep their student all virtual. But many teachers won't have the choice to stay home and it's prompting worries about the future and potential impacts to reopening plans.
On Tuesday, Fairfax County Public Schools decided to bring back over 6000 students in October, primarily students with special needs.
School board members spoke about wanting to follow that by expanding to kindergarten first and second grade. Superintendent Scott Braband said as schools reopen, the majority of teachers would have to return.
For now, it's not clear if that will happen, and teachers with family members who have increased health risks will face a difficult choice. According to information provided at the meeting, there are about 1,500 teachers, or 10 percent of total teachers, in that category.
Carla Okouchi, an elementary music teacher, said she's among them. She doesn't want to risk exposing her mother who helps her with childcare.
"I have no intention of returning at this point in time," said Okouchi. "So it is our hope that our superintendent as well as our school board members stick to what we were told. That we were given a choice to remain online. We are hopeful we will stay that way for 2021."
She said those returning should have access to medical grade personal protective equipment.
Braband said teachers with their own health issues who have been ADA designated would be able to take a leave of absence. Others may be faced with resignation.
"We would ask them and we would need them to return to work," he said Tuesday. "And we would not have other options available."
Some teachers who would prefer not to return are reluctantly doing so, including Susan Riedinger, a special education teacher.
She says it's been difficult virtually teaching students with disabilities and understands that some parents are desperate to get their kids back in school.
"I really do get how they feel especially for some of the special needs kids," said Riedinger. "It's really hard for those families, for the students. But I don't know. I feel like the school system needs to show teachers that we're going to be safe and I think we need to feel like we're part of it. It's not us against parents."
Part of her concern is the school district still does not have any metrics establishing thresholdss for when it's safe to reopen or when there's a need to pull back.
"I don't feel prepared, I don't feel like I've been given enough information," said Riedinger. "I want the metrics, that's what I want!"
Since Tuesday, FOX 5 has been trying to find out more about those metrics that are supposed to be issued by the state.
Braband indicated he had them, but was told not to make them public.
He said the state was expected to share the information later in the week, though that didn't happen.
On Thursday a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Health said via email: "Throughout the COVID-19, VDH has been modifying the metrics on our public-facing dashboard as needed. When we release new information, VDH will notify the media and the general public in a timely manner."