Fairfax County Public Schools will be closed through Apr. 10 in response to the ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak, Superintendent Scott Brabrand announced on Mar. 13.
Schools will be closed to students for four weeks until the end of spring break, which was set to run from Apr. 6 through 10, and to less-than-12-month staff for at least two weeks.
FCPS will reassess the situation for staff after two weeks and make another decision by Mar. 27, Brabrand says.
The school district had previously designated Mar. 16 as a student holiday where staff would come to work to undergo training for distance learning in the event of a school closure, but that staff development day has now been postponed.
Instead, schools will be open that day so that students and staff can pick up personal belongings, and students in grades 3 through 8 will receive laptops or other digital devices if they do not have access to that technology at home.
“We have been working with our staff to prepare for school closures and have been developing numerous resources for families,” Brabrand said in a letter to parents, staff, and the community. “Resources and updates to our current operating status will continue to be posted on the FCPS website and shared on social media and other outlets.”
Following recommendations from the Virginia Department of Education that all public school systems provide continuity of learning programming for the next three weeks, FCPS will provide digital and online resources for students to continue their learning, but the work will not be graded or required.
The school division is also developing and recording instructional videos that will be available on FCPS cable channels with Channel 21 devoted to elementary school programming, Channel 25 to middle schools, and Channel 99 to high schools. The videos will also be available online at FCPS’s website.
FCPS will continue serving meals throughout the closures in coordination with community partners that will assist in communicating with families about the locations and timing of food centers and pantries.
Breakfast will be available from 8:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., and lunch will be provided from 10:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Monday through Friday at designated locations:
• Hybla Valley Elementary School, 3415 Lockheed Boulevard, Alexandria
• Bailey’s Elementary School, 6111 Knollwood Drive, Falls Church
• Hutchinson Elementary School, 13209 Parcher Avenue, Herndon
• London Towne Elementary School, 6100 Stone Road, Centreville
• and Burke Center, 9645 Burke Lake Road, Burke
Those are the same schools used as pick-up locations when FCPS closed on Mar. 13 after parents and faculty voiced concerns about the district’s initial plans to continue classes that day.
There are plans to expand to additional schools in the coming week, according to Brabrand.
Meals will be free for students and available for adults to purchase for $2.
As the superintendent announced on Mar. 12, all extracurricular activities, field trips, after-school programs, interscholastic contests, and community activities by groups not affiliated with FCPS have been canceled until Apr. 12.
“We are grateful for your support and understanding during this difficult time,” Brabrand said. “Our first priority remains the safety and well-being of our students, staff, families, and community.”
The announcement that Fairfax County schools would close for the next month came two hours after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam ordered all schools for students from kindergarten through 12th grade in Virginia to close for at least two weeks starting Mar. 16.
The governor declared a state of emergency in Virginia on Mar. 12 as the novel coronavirus has upended daily life across the U.S.
The state-of-emergency declaration gives the Commonwealth more flexibility to ease regulatory requirements and ensure continued access to critical social services for vulnerable populations, according to the governor’s office.
All schools in the state will be closed at least through Mar. 27 with localities retaining authority over specific staffing decisions and how they will provide education and other services to students while closed.
The closure is intended to give staff time to clean and disinfect school facilities and to slow the spread of the virus, which is officially named COVID-19 and primarily transmitted through close physical contact and respiratory droplets from coughing and sneezing.
Since confirming Virginia’s first presumptive positive COVID-19 case of a U.S. Marine at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital on Mar. 7, the Virginia Department of Health has reported 30 cases of the disease in the Commonwealth, including six Fairfax County residents.
“We are taking this action to keep Virginians as safe and healthy as possible, and to minimize exposure to COVID-19,” Northam said. “…This is a fluid and fast-changing situation. We will do everything possible to ensure that students who rely on school nutrition programs continue to have access to meals, and that disruption to academics is as minimal as possible.”
According to the governor’s office, the Virginia Department of Education is working with school divisions and the Virginia Department of Social Services to ensure students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches can access those programs while schools are closed.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced on Mar. 10 that states may get waivers to deliver meals while schools are closed through the agency’s child nutrition assistance programs, which normally require meals to be served in a group setting. Virginia is among the states with a waiver.
“Virginia will continue to explore and implement innovative approaches to provide meals to students who qualify for free and reduced lunch during this closure,” Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni said.
The Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services and the Department of Social Services are preparing options to ensure vulnerable populations have access to critical services, including in-home care and food support, according to the Virginia governor’s office.
With various social services preparing for an influx of requests for assistance, the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia launched a COVID-19 Response Fund on Mar. 13 for grants that will be used to support nonprofits that work with the elderly, low-income families, people without medical insurance or who are underinsured, and other groups expected to face challenges due to the disruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
On top of the school closures, the D.C. region is grappling with limits on transportation after the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Agency announced on Mar. 13 that it will reduce Metro bus service starting on Mar. 16.
While Metrorail will maintain normal hours with trains operating every 12 minutes on each line, except on Sundays when they will run every 15 minutes, Metrobus will operate on a Saturday schedule on weekdays.
The service reductions are intended to protect employees and customers and to provide time for additional disinfecting of Metro’s fleet of 1,200 railcars and 1,500 buses, including the use of electrostatic fogging on a weekly basis, WMATA says.
The transit agency is instructing people to not take public transportation if they are not feeling well and to not use its MetroAccess service, which provides rides for people with disabilities, to travel to healthcare appointments if they are showing signs of illness.
“If you are ill, call your healthcare provider and make transportation arrangements that do not involve public transportation,” WMATA said.
Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld told the agency’s board of directors on Mar. 12 that the regional transit system had seen 100,000 fewer riders on its trains over the past week, according to ABC7.
All of the COVID-19 cases reported in Fairfax County so far have been linked to international travel or contact with an individual already known to be infected with the virus.
In addition to a couple in Fairfax City and a pair of Fairfax residents who had been in contact with a woman diagnosed with the coronavirus in North Carolina, the Fairfax County Health Department announced on Mar. 13 that an individual in her 40s and an individual in his 60s were the county’s latest presumptive positive cases.
The patient in her 40s has been linked to Christ Church in Georgetown, whose rector was the first person in Washington, D.C., to test positive for the coronavirus. She developed respiratory symptoms on Mar. 3 and sought medical care on Mar. 11 but was not hospitalized.
The woman is currently “doing well” and has been isolated at home, according to the Fairfax County Health Department.
The individual in his 60s developed respiratory symptoms on Mar. 5 after coming in contact with a positive COVID-19 case reported by the U.S. Department of Defense. He has been hospitalized since Mar. 11.
Positive test results are considered presumptive until confirmed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which Fairfax County says has not yet occurred for any of its cases.