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FCFT's 11 Pillars for a Safe Reopening

Updated: Jul 28, 2020

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Fairfax wants and needs to go back to school. But there is a right way and a wrong way--we owe it to our children, our families, our educators, and our communities to do it right. This can only be done when there is not substantial community spread of COVID-19 regionally, and only with the proper safeguards, practices and procedures to protect all human lives. First and foremost, we must take every precaution to ensure students, teachers and support staff have, through district plans, the best public health strategies in place for controlling the spread of COVID-19. This will require robust measures detailing protocols on physical distancing, face coverings, cleaning and sanitizing of surfaces, hand washing and ventilation in addition to screening and testing, contact tracing, and isolation and quarantine measures.

#1: Communication: Reopening plans are going to be living documents that will need to be reviewed and revised on a regular basis as new information comes out about COVID-19, as protective measures are implemented and outcomes measured, and as local outbreaks occur. It’s vital that FCPS work with key stakeholders, including local affiliates, parents, and local health agencies to develop and modify these plans.The alignment of logistics, educational strategies and public health tools really matter, which is why our members and leaders, and families and community partners must be at the table together envisioning and implementing plans to reopen our schools.

There must be a detailed, clearly written, widely publicized and step-by-step written communication and training program to inform and educate the school community on all aspects of COVID and the program to protect the school community. It should be available to all staff students, and families upon request. The program should be communicated and shared with staff first so they can adequately respond to student and family questions and concerns. The plan must ensure language, culture, and reading-level appropriateness. Communications must be available in the most common languages spoken at home by families for whom English is not their first language throughout FCPS. The return to school plan must test platforms to test the return to school plan to discover gaps in its implementation so the plan can be regularly improved.

#2: A virtual work option for all staff: Staff who are at high risk for serious health problems or death if they contract COVID-19 or have family members that are at risk, should have access to special circumstances or workplace adjustments. Federal laws, like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), can obligate employers to provide a reasonable accommodation to employees who have certain health conditions or substantially limiting impairments so long as the employee can still provide the essential functions of the job. In addition to the ADA, federal and state family leave laws are critical for addressing the needs for employees who require job-protected leave to care for themselves or a family member.

CDC guidance designed to reduce infection in workplaces underscores the importance of supporting school employees who are at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19. ( Accommodation measures like remote learning and flexible leave policies not only help preserve the health of employees; these actions also avoid the brain drain that comes with high turnover--we can’t afford the loss of crucial knowledge and experience needed to innovate and cultivate new, effective learning strategies in a time of uncertainty.

Provide all FCPS employees with the option to work remotely that isn’t punitive. FCPS should provide an alternative ADA application for accommodation that is COVID-19 specific that recognizes all CDC recognized risk categories for personal and family reasons and personal discomfort.

#3: Physical distancing: The CDC recommends a physical distance of a minimum of six feet at all times by students and staff. This includes, but is not limited to: waiting for the school bus, entering/exiting/sitting on the school bus, school entrance and exit procedures, between classes, during meals, during recess and other physical activities, and in the classroom. Student and staff schedules must be designed to ensure small, stable groups where classroom set ups and movement within the building allows for a minimum of at least 6-feet between all people at all times and scheduling must be done that accommodates this standard throughout the day.

#4: Cleaning and disinfecting protocols: FCPS needs to establish protocols for routine cleaning and disinfecting of all high touch surfaces in buildings and on school transportation vehicles including door knobs, supplies, bathrooms and student desks, throughout the day and replenish supplies. Rigorous cleaning and disinfection with the least toxic EPA-approved disinfectants that meet the requirements for SARS-CoV-2. Custodians and staff should be properly trained on how to properly use and protect themselves while using these products. At a minimum, FCPS should comply with the Reopening Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting Public Spaces, Workplaces, Businesses, Schools and Homes from the Centers for Disease Control. Disinfectants based on hydrogen peroxide or alcohol are safer and should be prioritized over other products.

Every instructional and common space must be equipped with hand sanitizer and appropriate cleaning materials and each school building must be equipped with upgraded cleaning equipment, including electrostatic sprayers found to be more effective in distributing disinfectant sprays. There must be a daily public record of when school cleaning occurred.

#5: Adequate school ventilation and building systems. School ventilation and building systems must be inspected, repaired and maintained in accordance with ASHRAE and other consensus standards to allow for maximum outside air intake and installation of high efficiency filters (at minimum MERV 13) when possible. Protocols should be developed for frequency of filter replacement and type of filters to be utilized.These maintenance checks must be done before buildings are re-populated. All bathrooms and sinks should be inspected for correct operation and ensure soap dispensers are functional and an adequate supply of soap is available to allow for proper hand washing. Water systems should be flushed to remove potential contaminants from stagnant equipment, piping, fixtures, etc.

FCPS needs to establish protocols on inspecting, repairing, and providing maintenance on ventilation systems within their buildings. Having proper air circulation and filtration in indoor environments is necessary for the control of the spread of viruses, including SARS-CoV-2. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has developed proactive guidance in their document, “Reopening of Schools and Universities” to help address coronavirus disease concerns with respect to the operation and maintenance of heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems. In general, they recommend establishing enhanced inspection and maintenance of the systems in addition to increased ventilation and filtration measures.

In addition, the National Energy Management Institute (NEMI) and the University of California at Davis Energy and Efficiency Institute issued a White Paper on “Proposed Ventilation and Energy Efficiency Verification and Repair Program for Buildings” on June 30th, 2020 which presents a proposal for a Building Reopening Ventilation and Energy Efficiency Verification and Repair Program that would certify that building ventilation and filtration systems meet recommendations to protect against the spread of COVID-19.

Considerations for buildings without centralized systems include keeping windows opened to allow for some minimum level of fresh air exchange into occupied spaces. If there are window air conditioning units they should be adjusted to maximize fresh air intake into the system and blower fans should be set at low speed and pointed away from room occupants to the extent possible.

#6: Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Face Coverings: There must be a clear facial cover protocol that among other things describes training for staff and students on proper use and disposal and procedures if students or staff do not wear a mask.

The district must develop a written PPE and face covering policy that spells out:

  • Requirements for student, staff and faculty masking and the protocol if the policy is not adhered to;

  • Who is responsible for providing PPE and masks;

  • Methods to support students and staff who must remove their masks for specific health reasons – sneezing, coughing, dermal irritation etc.;

  • Cleaning and maintenance methods for reusable masks;

  • Staff and students should be trained on, at a minimum, how to properly wear face coverings and the role hand hygiene plays in preventing the spread of disease; and

  • Those staff who, by the nature of their job cannot be 6 feet from their students (for example those who work with students that have certain disabilities, speech pathologists, etc), or their students cannot wear face-coverings in the classroom must be provided the same personal protective equipment (PPE) a healthcare worker would be provided, such as N95s, surgical masks, face shields, gloves, etc.

Students and staff must also have access to handwashing facilities throughout the day. Hand sanitizer should be available for when access to handwashing facilities isn’t immediately available. This should include directly prior to entering the school bus, entering and exiting the school, before and after eating, after using the bathroom, blowing nose, or touching something that has been handled by someone else.

#7 Rigorous tracking and tracing: Widespread, accessible, and frequent screening of students and staff and appropriate, testing and identification, tracing, and isolation of new cases. Detailed procedures must include a transparent reporting process to school staff, students and families when positive cases have been identified or a member of the school community has come into contact with a confirmed case.

#8 Controlled community transmission: A demonstrated decline in new cases and hospitalizations for at least 14 days, a positive test rate of less than five percent, a transmission rate of under 1.0, and testing, contact tracing and isolation capacity in a given public health jurisdiction is necessary to move from remote instruction to in-person. A policy must be adopted that provides sick leave for educators and staff.

#9 Comprehensive student and staff supports: All schools are staffed with at least one nurse or other health care provider per 750 students (1:225 for medically fragile students) and one counselor per 250 students, to train, teach, and implement public health protocols and trauma-informed practices. This also includes social and emotional support for all students and staff.

#10 Compliance: Compliance strategies with clear enforcement mechanisms must be clearly defined so all students, families and staff understand how non-compliance with risk management strategies including PPE, testing and tracing and social distancing will be handled.

#11 Proactive school closures: Plans to close schools and implement equitable remote learning if there are increased cases in the local area, or a newly diagnosed case among staff, students, or their families.

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