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With the Delta variant raging across the nation, and children under the age of 12 ineligible for vaccines, many Fairfax County Public Schools parents are worried about sending their children back to in-person school August 23. A Change.org petition called “FCPS Virtual School Option” is now gaining traction in wake of parents’ worry.

Created by Ritika Anand with a goal of 5,000 signatures, the petition states what the parents want to see from the school board. “With schools opening in less than three weeks, there is tremendous concern about how things will be handled when kids go back to school, especially since the SARS-CoV-2 vaccines are still not available to children under 2 and vaccinated kids can carry as much viral load, as the unvaccinated, if infected,” Anand wrote. “With the original variant, students were less likely to be seriously impacted, but in the case of the Delta variant, children’s hospitals across the country have seen a surge in symptomatic infections and based on recent CDC comments, children can easily contract the virus and carry it home to younger or older family members, which in-turn is potentially a matter of life and death.”

The petition is asking the school board to implement a hybrid model and allow parents to have some say in if their child will be physically in the classroom. As of August 17, the petition had received 3,340 signatures. Many parents took to the comments of the petition to share their worries and why they decided to sign. “My family has lost 10 family members to COVID and my child is very traumatized from such loss and is in so much fear of contracting the delta variant and dying from it, all because he is 11 years old and can not get the vaccine until October,” commented Mayra Martinez. “Please give the parents the option to opt in virtual.”

“While we were hoping to return our son to in-person learning after spending most of his early education virtually…we are still in a raging pandemic and not much about what it will look like feels safe enough for our unvaccinated children,” commented FCPS parent Michael Roop. “Please offer virtual & hybrid options to allow for distancing until the youngest have a chance to be vaccinated!”

Jennifer Sellers, a spokeswoman for FCPS, told Fox 5 that the FCPS application process for online schooling closed May 28, and that the schools will be adhering to medical guidance. “We believe that in-person learning is the best approach to instruction, and are focused on providing a safe and positive learning experience for all students,” she said. “We are aware that COVID-19 case numbers are rising in Fairfax County, driven by the highly-contagious Delta variant and slowing vaccination rates. We have put layered prevention strategies in place to counter this rise. The American Academy of Pediatrics guidance recommends a continued focus on layered prevention strategies, including universal mask wearing for all students and staff. We will be starting the school year on August 23 with universal masking in school buildings, along with other layered prevention strategies. We are confident these strategies will support a safe and healthy environment in our schools for our students and staff-- especially those who are not yet able to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Eligibility for the Virtual Program was limited and based on a documented COVID-19 related health/medical need of the student. Please note that the application window for enrollment in FCPS’ limited Virtual Program closed May 28.”

WUSA 9 reported that the FCPS virtual program accommodates a small number of students, only about 400, and only students with underlying risks which make them more vulnerable to the virus.

Christy Hudson, the communications director of the Fairfax County Parents Association, had another suggestion for parents who are looking for a virtual option. “Fairfax County Parents Association supports parents’ rights to advocate for the best learning environment for their children.  We believe parents are best equipped to decide whether that be homeschool, in-person education, or virtual learning,” she said. “That said, the 2021-2022 school year begins on Monday for Fairfax County Public School students, and FCPS has made no plans to offer virtual learning to a broad base of students. Fortunately, the Commonwealth of Virginia has long offered a virtual public-school option to its residents. Virtual Virginia and other online education options are well-established virtual schooling programs that may be a viable alternative for families wishing to learn virtually for the upcoming school year.”

The Virginia Department of Health website is continually updated as they review CDC guidelines and update the Commonwealth on the status of the pandemic. Their website page about K-12 education reads; “On August 12, 2021, State Health Commissioner Dr. M. Norman Oliver issued a Public Health Order requiring all students, teachers, staff, and visitors in K-12 schools aged two years and older to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status. All Virginia public and private K-12 schools (including Pre-K classrooms) must implement a requirement that students, teachers, and staff wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status. Schools should follow Interim Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in Virginia PreK-12 Schools. This guidance emphasizes several key prevention strategies, including vaccination, masking, physical distancing, screening testing, ventilation, hand hygiene, cleaning, staying home when sick, and prompt contact tracing once any cases are identified. Of all available prevention strategies, vaccination, masking, and physical distancing should be prioritized.”

“We cannot go in and get them vaccinated. This does not stop or impede any family that wants to send their kids for in-person training,” Anand told WUSA9. “We’re just asking for that option to be able to save our kids.” The petition has seen more parents signing as it gains media attention and cases rise across the nation.

For the return to school August 23, FCPS is requiring all students, staff and faculty to wear masks upon their return to school regardless of their vaccination status. Masks are to be worn at all times, excluding during lunch, recess and PE. 

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