FCFT Specialists Speak Out About Unsafe Conditions
Updated: Nov 16
On Friday, November 13th 2020, FCFT President Tina Williams sent the following letter to the Fairfax County School Board regarding unsafe conditions faced by specialist employees, including school counselors, librarians, technology specialists, instructional assistants, and teachers for subjects including art, computer, music, PE, Spanish, and more. Specialist employees are being tasked with additional duties outside their subject matter, potentially coming into contact with hundreds of students and school staff a day. This creates the risk that they will not only contract COVID-19 but also act as "super-spreaders" within and between schools, compromising the safety of the school environment.
To ensure safety, we urge that FCPS rework school scheduling per the 'cohort' model, allow virtual work for specialists, hire classroom monitors for in-person student management, provide each student with safety supplies, and increase transition time between classes.
Click the link to download the letter in PDF form, or read below.
November 13, 2020
Fairfax County School Board
8115 Gatehouse Road
Falls Church, VA 22042
Dear Chairwoman Anderson, Superintendent Brabrand and Honorable Members of the Board,
On behalf of our thousands of members who work tirelessly for Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), we write to follow-up on our previous requests and restate our urgent request to pause in-person instruction until all conditions of our 11 Pillars of a Safe Reopening are met. We are deeply concerned about unsafe working and learning conditions for FCPS employees and students and would like to highlight specific concerns regarding the demands FCPS is placing on our specialist employees. These employees are scheduled to return to school buildings the week of November 16th.
Elementary specialist teachers include school counselors, librarians, SBTS, and instructional assistants, as well as Kindergarten, art, computer, music, physical education, Spanish, STEM, science resource, and advanced academic resource teachers. In addition to teaching their subject content classes concurrently, many elementary specialist educators are being asked to do the following additional tasks, which increases risk for these staff and students:
Enter and exit three to eight “cohort” classes per day.
Manage arrival and dismissal duties.
Take student temperatures before they enter the building, which makes it challenging for employees to maintain the 6 feet of social distancing that the CDC recommends.
Monitor cafeterias and cover multiple lunch periods, where students will be unmasked for extended periods of time.
Serve as general coverage for grade-level teachers' breaks, meetings and absences during language arts and math (subjects they are not trained to teach).
Some specialists are being asked to teach their specialty as well as general education classes such as language arts and math without any support from FCPS with lesson planning, course development and instruction.
The Cohort Safety Model is Compromised: Elementary specialists will be travelling between multiple classrooms a day and not stick with one “cohort” in their school building. Elementary specialists estimate they will be in contact with hundreds of students and school staff a day, not to mention specialists who teach at multiple schools. This will provide numerous opportunities to transmit COVID-19 between “cohorts” and to the local community. This puts specialists at a higher risk to contract COVID-19 and act as super-spreaders. The result of these actions significantly increases the chances of school closures, because if one specialist contracts COVID-19, the entire school should be quarantining for two weeks. Additionally, with the current model, if a specialist contracts COVID-19 or needs to quarantine, it will be challenging for schools to provide planning coverage for general education teachers.
In addition, some specialists are being asked to be in school buildings even if they are not teaching in the building to take on the additional tasks outlined above. Specialists are not involved in the decision-making process to set-up classrooms to ensure they are safe. In addition, some special classes are increasing to 45 minutes with five minute transition periods. Many specialists have a significant number of materials and shared spaces that they need to wipe down between classes, but this five minute window does not give teachers adequate time to thoroughly clean materials and classrooms to keep everyone safe. FCPS hasn’t provided guidance about how this should be done or built adequate time into specialist schedules to complete necessary cleaning to keep everyone safe. This course load has led to an unsustainable workload for many specialists.
Every FCPS employee wants to be back in school and help with this transition, but not at the expense of employee and student health and safety. These conditions make specialists feel that they are being treated like expendable chess pieces instead of valued employees.
COVID-19 Positivity Rate is Rising Rapidly: We would like to reiterate our significant concern that FCPS changed the Fairfax County positivity rate benchmark from 5% to 10%. This is a significant change and puts FCPS students and staff at serious risk. As of today, Northern Virginia has a 6.9% positivity rate and Fairfax County has a 6.4% positivity rate. As part of our 11 Pillars of a Safe Reopening, we urge FCPS to bring students and staff back to buildings only when there is controlled community transmission of COVID-19. We define this as a demonstrated decline in new cases and hospitalizations for at least 14 days, a positivity test rate of less than 5%, a transmission rate of under 1.0, and when testing, contact tracing, and isolation capacity in a given public health jurisdiction is sufficient to support moving from remote to in-person instruction.
Many Educators Feel Unsafe in Our Schools: Many of our members currently working in FCPS buildings report unsafe conditions, including some staff not being provided with PPE, staff and students not following social distancing protocols or wearing masks, and staff not receiving training on cleaning procedures or health and safety protocols. We have shared these conditions with FCPS and the Fairfax County Health Department and continue to urge FCPS to adopt FCFT’s 11 Pillars of a Safe Reopening.
Pathway to Safe Reopening: To improve these conditions, in addition to delaying a return to in person learning and adopting FCFT’s 11 Pillars of a Safe Reopening, we urge FCPS to take the following steps immediately to improve conditions for FCPS specialists.
Urgent, and most important, is to rework school scheduling so specialists stay in one room or with one “cohort” throughout the school day to help limit their exposure and potential spread of COVID-19.
Urgent that FCPS protect specialists that are scheduled to teach more than 20/30 students in person a week by letting them work remotely from their classrooms and be assigned to help only one or two teachers.
Hire classroom monitors to stay in classrooms with students while specialists teach virtually from home. This will limit movement of specialists throughout the building and help reduce the potential spread of COVID-19. This would also help create safer class transitions, keep students in their “cohorts”, and increase FCPS’ ability to continue with face-to-face instruction.
Provide one set of supplies for each student to help eliminate spread of germs and potential COVID-19 exposure.
Provide teachers with more than 5 minutes of transition time between classes so they can adequately clean classrooms and materials for students.
We urge FCPS to take these critical steps immediately to protect the health and safety of FCPS students, employees, and community.
Fairfax County Federation of Teachers
Karen Keys-Gamarra, Member-at-Large
Abrar Omeish, Member-at-Large
Rachna Sizemore Heizer, Member-at-Large
Tamara Derenak Kaufax, Vice Chair, Lee District Representative
Megan McLaughlin, Braddock District Representative
Elaine Tholen, Dranesville District Representative
Melanie Meren, Hunter Mill District Representative
Karen Corbett Sanders, Mount Vernon District Representative
Karl Frisch, Providence District Representative
Laura Jane Cohen, Springfield District Representative
Stella Pekarsky, Sully District Representative
Nathan Onibudo, Student Representative