During the Fairfax County Public Schools School Board Work Session July 13, the school board discussed how students will be going back to school in person five days a week, and that elementary students are not vaccinated. This brought up the question of what the county’s need for personal protective equipment (PPE) looks like for the fall. The response was that there is plenty of PPE available in a warehouse.
“We have got plenty of PPE. I can give you some examples. We have 206,000 large cloth masks in the warehouse. And we distributed 200,000 out to the schools and many of the schools have called us and asked if we can take them back because they do not have anywhere to store them,” said Leigh Burden, the assistant superintendent Department of Financial Services. “We also have 100,000 of the youth size masks, we have disposable masks.”
The school board’s warehouse also contains plexiglass shields, floor decals, hand sanitizer and gloves. The revelation of PPE in the warehouse has outraged some parents who feel that the money spent on PPE could have gone elsewhere.
One FCPS parent and a classroom monitor, who asked to remain anonymous, is upset by the situation. “As a classroom monitor, I saw most of the time that a lot of PPE went unused. It felt like the intent was good, to protect teachers and students, but I am not sure it was managed very well,” she said. “In the spring kids all had multiple masks in their backpacks with them and PPE was not a big need. It may have been a bigger need if the school was opened earlier.”
What the classroom monitor witnessed led her to feel the school system was over prepared for reopening the schools. “The need for PPE was not a big deal when the schools opened, it ended up being a big waste of money,” she said. “It could have been spent on Extended School Year services or teacher raises. And who knows if it may or may not be needed in the fall.”
While some parents are concerned about the amount of PPE the county purchased, FCPS stands by the amount of PPE they have as the fate of the pandemic is unknown and could change in colder weather. “FCPS has sufficient PPE to last it through the coming school year. This includes masks and gloves for students and staff. The school division always needs to have PPE available should students need it while the pandemic continues,” said a FCPS spokesperson.
But Tom Goudreau, a father of a special education student in FCPS, disagrees. “This situation is a good example of FCPS’s size being a disadvantage,” he said. “It is one more data point that the school system lacks the ability to do the right thing. It is unfortunate that all this material will not be used. They have shortages on other things that they do need, and parents need to fill the gap on those things.”
With the future of the pandemic being unclear, there is no way of knowing how much PPE will be needed by students, particularly those under the age of 12 who are not eligible for the vaccine and are still at risk. But many parents still wish the school board had acted differently. “They hoard resources and lack communication about the resources,” said Goudreau. “There were a number of cases where special education teachers got PPE, but other things went unfunded. It took the school system six months to make a plan and then six months to buy everything, they have a lack of agility. They could consider breaking the system up.”
FCPS will start classes August 23 and will be following CDC and state and local guidelines for social distancing and mask-wearing policies.