Virtual school is the opposuite of an ideal situation. Parents are struggling. Teachers are struggling. Students are falling behind. But COVID cases are surging. In October, Fairfax County Public Schools announced that “Group 5” (kindergarteners, students in the Head Start program and pre K program, and select special education students) would return to in-person instruction, joining the four preceding groups which includes students in the preschool autism class, Early Childhood Special Education, some special education students, and specialized career prep programs. Parents of kindergartners braced themselves for a difficult transition, but many were ultimately relieved. Virtual learning wasn’t working in their home.
“My oldest has written 8 sentences since the start of the year. My youngest just...disappears. Gets up from her desk and I have to constantly redirect her,” says Fairfax mom of two Tracy Compton.
For parents of kindergartners, however, there was an end in sight. The return of “group five” meant that they could relax a bit.
Then, on November 16th, one day before kindergarteners were supposed to begin in-person instruction, the district announced that there would be more delays. Because the number of positive cases per one hundred thousand people was above two hundred, Group 5 was unable to return. The following day announced that students would return on November 30th at the earliest.
“That was a rough day in the Fairfax County community. It was a backbreaking, soul-crushing day. It really hurt those kids, as if there hadn’t been enough hurt already,” said Greg Kinney, a Falls Church parent with an eighth and fourth grader.
The decision to push back in-person learning was based on two health metrics, which superintendent Dr. Scott Braband laid out in a virtual town hall on Friday. Those include the number of cases as well as percent positivity. Moving forward, the district will also consider how well mitigation strategies are being implemented when strategizing about sending students back.
Greg Kinney is one of the members of the #OpenFCPS Coalition, which argues that the district is being overly cautious to the detriment of their children.
“We’re in a liberal area, and therefore some people are a little reluctant to speak out against the unions. I understand that we need to watch the metrics, and as a community, we need to do what we can to slow the spread of covid. But to me, not at the cost of our children’s education. We should be back in school yesterday,” he told Fairfax Times.
Karyn Sever, an Annandale mother who decided to keep ehr children learning online for the school year, worries that the proposed concurrent instruction model poses a lose-lose situation.
“The concurrent teaching model is my biggest concern. The teacher’s time will be divided. They will have to prepare two types of lesson plans. It will cause further disruption to their learning,” she said.
Fairfax County Special Education Parent Teacher association (SEPTA) Vice President Amanda Campbell says she recognizes that there are kids who need to be back in the building, but an unmeasured approach would further delay in person education for medically fragile students like her daughter. She also states that the current organization of the cohorts is not appropriately meeting the needs of special education students who also receive general education. Finally, and and the rest of SEPTA worry about potential inequities from a lack of centralized leadership.
As it stands now, the districts plan is to continue the five mitigation strategies for cohorts who are already back in school. According to Dr. Braband, the county will be bringing in teams of individuals to monitor the implementation of the meditation strategies. There are also many schools with pilot programs, which Dr. Braband said were doing “really really well.”
All data on the indicated health metrics upon which the return of subsequent groups depends can be viewed at https://www.fcps.edu/return-school/fcps-confirmed-covid-19-case-reporting