Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) Superintendent Scott S. Brabrand presented a plan to the Fairfax County School Board to begin in-person instruction in a phased plan for small groups—or cohorts—of students who are likely to experience the greatest challenges with distance learning. The cohorts include select special education programs, English language learners and newcomers, and select career and technical education courses. The Board approved a motion in support of the Superintendent’s Operational Level 2 plan to bring in small cohorts of students in October for in-person instruction.
“All phase-in decisions will be made with student and staff safety as the highest priority,” said Brabrand. “We have had a very successful virtual start to our school year but all of us recognize that the ideal setting for education is delivered in the classroom through in-person instruction. The return to in-person instruction of any kind is dependent on the operational and health metrics being met.”
The Superintendent shared that the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) will publish health data for all school divisions in the near future.
“FCPS is committed to using quantifiable metrics in making our decisions on the safe return to school for our students and staff. This data will guide our plan to bring back students for in-person learning in our school buildings. It is a goal we have for all students this year,” said Brabrand. “The School Board shares our commitment and is actively engaged and providing oversight of this process.”
Four types of metrics shared with the community in August will be used:
• VDH community transmission and disease trends will be used to determine if the level of community transmission will allow for face-to-face instruction. This includes new cases, positive tests, outbreaks, cases of COVID-19 among healthcare workers, and emergency room visits and hospitalizations. Data is shared with FCPS weekly.
• FCPS operational metrics includes the capacity of the district to support face-to-face instruction. Included will be the ability to staff a public health nurse or student health aide; classroom and substitute teachers; administrators; and transportation, food and nutrition services, and custodial employees. Also included is the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff and students, and adequate cleaning and sanitizing supplies.
• School-based health metrics determine when individual classrooms or schools switch to distance learning in the event of a confirmed case of COVID-19.
• School and staff readiness will include instructional and operational components such as preparation of classrooms, technology readiness, students access to meals while at school, opportunity for teachers to shift to in-person instruction, creating and communicating schedules, and monitoring and care for the stress and workload of staff.
Current community-wide health conditions support in-person cohort instruction for FCPS Operational Level 2. Based on VDH data, Northern Virginia is currently experiencing low disease burden and a fluctuating trend. The overall calculated COVID-19 community transmission extent is low. System operational metrics are also being met to support in-person cohort instruction including available staff; procedures in place for safe bus travel and entrance into school; procedures for social distancing and hygiene practices including a face covering requirement; and available PPE for staff and students.
The successful launch of virtual learning included distributing more than 162,000 laptops and 5,900 WiFi devices to students, providing streamlined curriculum and enhanced resources for teachers, and continuing to provide breakfast and lunch for all FCPS students throughout the county at school sites and along bus routes.
“FCPS has started to bring students in for individual assessments, senior photos, athletic conditioning and laptop distribution,” added Brabrand. “The SAT test was administered to thousands of seniors at our high schools this week. We are ready to take the next step in this process to begin in-person instruction in a very gradual manner that minimizes the risks for students and staff.”
Under the Return to School plan, the first group of students would return in early October with other small groups phased in during the month of October. As presented to the Board, the initial cohorts would include 3.5 percent of the total FCPS student population.
The Operational Level 2 plan would return targeted groups of students having the greatest difficulty with distance learning in four groups:
Included in Group 1 would be students enrolled in select high school CTE courses.
Group 2 would bring back preschool autism and preschool class-based students, SLIFE students (English learners with limited or interrupted formal education), and students enrolled in select high school CTE courses.
Group 3 includes students who attend Key Center and Kilmer Center, secondary and elementary students who access the adapted curriculum, elementary Comprehensive Services Sites, SLIFE students in grades 3-12, English learner newcomers who entered FCPS after July 2019, and students enrolled in select high school CTE courses.
Group 4 would include elementary age students attending Burke School and high school students enrolled in select CTE courses.
Parents and caregivers in the initial groups that would return for in-person instruction will be provided the opportunity to confirm their preference for either in-person instruction or virtual learning based on choices made in a July county-wide survey.
In the event that a case of COVID-19 is confirmed in a classroom, those students would revert to virtual learning for a 14-day period, pending follow up from the Fairfax County Health Department (FCHD). If two or more classrooms in a school have transitioned back to virtual learning, the school would revert to virtual learning, pending follow up from the FCHD.
The school system is preparing for students’ safe return to school. FCPS will utilize a one-time parent-guardian health screening commitment form requiring parents and guardians to screen their child’s health daily before coming to school and require face coverings be used by students and staff. FCPS will perform intensified cleaning and disinfection practices as outlined in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Mitigation Guidelines.
The superintendent will provide additional return to school details next month, prioritizing early learners and transitioning students for in-person instruction.