Return to School Plans Have Been In Flux All Year

Students looking forward to the January 25th return to school date were once again disappointed on Jan. 6th when the School Board put the whole phasing-in process on hold once again.

To be as transparent as possible in their reasoning, Fairfax County maintains a web page for the regional health statistics assembled by the Virginia Department of Health on COVID-19 Health Metrics.  The page shows two main statistics connected to coronavirus spread: the number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people and the daily number of new cases reported. Both problems are growing in Northern Virginia.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has given guidelines to help school systems understand the chance of being infected and spreading COVID-19 in schools. Today’s numbers surpass the margins for students and staff in Groups 4-8, those that are still waiting to return to school buildings.

FCPS will keep monitoring district health statistics and re-open schools for in-person learning as soon as they can guarantee the welfare of students, teachers, and other staff.

The Fairfax County School Board approved a plan that brought back some students to in-person learning in October, according to the Fairfax County website. The plan proposed by Superintendent Scott Brabrand called for about 3.5% of students and teachers to return to what the county called in-person “cohorts.” FCPS says 6,707 students and 653 teachers resumed in-person learning under the plan.

“As a teacher, I definitely want to be in the building with my students teaching because that is the most effective way for most students to learn,” said Longfellow science teacher Bindhu Zachariah. “I think that we are doing the right thing by doing a phased-in introduction of students. This will allow us to see if there is a spread of the virus as more students go back to in-person instruction.”

The Fairfax County website says students going back to schools would be those it recognizes as “in greatest need of additional support.” Students in this cohort include high school students taking Career and Technical Education courses, preschool children with autism, and students new to speaking the English language.

“I think when we all re-enter the building, there will be a period of transition. Teachers will have to learn how to teach in-person and remote students at the same time. Additionally, students will have to adjust to being back in the classroom. It is possible there will be some growing pains with a new plan, but our community has shown how resilient we are. We will get through this, and we will do so together,” said Ms. Huftalen, an 8th-grade civics teacher.

According to NBC News, school administrators say they are keeping an eye on the coronavirus infection rate in Fairfax County and have a plan to counter the potential positive cases in classrooms. Part of how the school system would work in students and teachers is to group them into cohorts that stay together throughout the school day to reduce exposure risk. Schools will use more space, including outdoor learning spaces when possible, and apply social distancing practices, including having desks six feet apart facing the same way, eating food in classrooms, and regulating the number of volunteers and visitors to the buildings.

There will also be random temperature checks throughout the school day, the school system says. FCPS says it will be mandatory that parents and guardians sign a form accepting that they will screen their child’s health every day before arriving at school. Teachers will be asked whether they have any symptoms of coronavirus or have been exposed to anyone with COVID-19 symptoms when they arrive at work.

“I feel that the changes that FCPS has implemented regarding social distancing, masks, temperature checks, and cleaning of classrooms are the best option for in-person learning. They are taking the guidelines from the CDC and doing the best they can to make sure to follow them,” said Ms. Zachariah.