Dear Editor, 

We are the concerned the parents of students enrolled in Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), many of us with elementary school children who cannot be vaccinated because they are under the age of 12.

We know the value of in-person learning, and we support those parents who want their children in school. But we urge FCPS officials to offer a virtual option – for the wellbeing and safety of our young students. For days, we have been imploring FCPS officials to allow us a virtual option, but our pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

Last week, our group organized totally organically and unplanned. Most of our parents don’t know each other. By word of mouth and shares on social media, we came together. Last week, we started an online petition seeking a virtual or distance-learning option for FCPS, and we’ve already collected more than 5,000 signatures. There are other parallel petitions circulating. In the best interest of students and the community’s health and wellbeing, we ask FCPS to reinstate a virtual or distance learning option for families.

We are asking FCPS school board members and officials to support our families through these difficult times -- for staff, parents and students.

 In recent days, we have become extremely concerned about the steep increase of COVID-19 cases at schools across our region. From August 26 through August 27, for example, the numbers on the FCPS COVID dashboard rapidly increased. Already, in the first week of school, we lost a precious young life, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

 Given this situation and the rise of the highly transmissible Delta variant, in-person learning is not safe for all students. While we recognize in-person schooling is the best option for children to learn and grow, safeguarding our kids during a pandemic is equally important to their wellbeing.

We understand that FCPS has put many precautions in place about masking, social distancing and other guidelines. However, the cases have continued to rise due to the severity of the Delta variant. With cases increasing daily in the FCPS, we, parents, are highly hesitant to send our children to school for in-person learning. Without a county-sponsored virtual or distance learning option, parents will be forced to unenroll their children and look at alternate options, such as homeschooling and private schooling. This sub-par option is a significant burden to our communities and students, particularly vulnerable families with socioeconomic challenges.

These first days of school, as we pick up and drop off our children, we have been able to observe that it is very difficult for schools to control social distancing and masking. Many children wear their masks out of place, as they emerge from school. In chaotic scenes repeated across the school district, students jostle each other without social distancing, trying to get on school buses in the limited time that they have before buses leave. In schools, students are seated close together without any social distancing even though the school board insists they are trying hard to keep students three feet apart. It’s not physically possible where tables allow children to sit closer together. Most students don’t sanitize their hands, because children are children.

Don’t get us wrong. We support in-person education for the many parents who want that option. But we want the school district to return to the hybrid model we had last year when teachers taught students in-person and virtually. It is difficult but this situation will not last forever. Younger kids will get a vaccination shortly and older kids will get booster shots, giving them more protection.  

Until then, allow those of us who want virtual learning to pick that option. It works. It’s not ideal, but it’s a better alternative than forcing parents to remove their children from public schools or – worst yet – not being able to kiss them goodnight. Like all parents, we are simply seeking to be able to raise healthy, happy children.

Mallikarjun Burugu

Niranjana Harikrishnan

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