FCFT Urges FCPS to Reconsider Reopening In Person
FCFT Executive Board
July 17, 2020
This week, as the July 15 deadline passed for Fairfax County Public Schools, families had to choose either a full virtual or partial in-person instructional model for their children. Many families struggled with their decision in the face of so many questions that remain unanswered about both options. Likewise, FCPS teacher-scale employees were asked to indicate their preference despite uncertainties regarding the safety protocols and practices that will be in place when the new school year begins, and were told that their preference may not be honored, as it depends on enrollment.
In any school reopening plan, the safety of students and the staff who serve them must be the first priority. FCPS leadership has affirmed this point in every communication shared with the community about our evolving reopening plan. Recognizing the importance of safety, the Virginia Department of Education’s Recover, Redesign, Restart plan includes guidance from Governor Northam for school systems to “slowly [reopen] buildings for in-person instruction [...] as public health conditions improve.”
We are FCPS educators and support staff. There are few things we want more than to be in our schools and buses with our students. But the one thing we believe to be more important than that is the safety of Fairfax County children, FCPS staff members, and their families in the face of an ongoing deadly pandemic. COVID-19 cases are still increasing in Fairfax County and the surrounding areas, and the rate of increase continues to soar across the country. Additionally, the reopening plans do not yet provide safe learning and working conditions for the FCPS community. For these reasons, we have concluded that implementing a hybrid plan on September 8 is unrealistic. Under the circumstances, it would be prudent to adopt the approach of most surrounding school districts and begin the year with 100 percent virtual instruction and revisit returning to in-person instruction at a later date.
We commend the FCPS Leadership Team and School Board for the thoughtful consideration that has already gone into planning for a hybrid model. We appreciate that this is a huge undertaking and see that the Leadership Team has invested a tremendous amount of time and effort into designing the hybrid model. That work will not be wasted. We believe that this model will be able to serve our school community as we transition back into in-person learning at a future date. With many critical safety questions still unanswered at this time, the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers believes that a safe in-person reopening will not be possible by September 8.
In order to support FCPS in reopening our schools in the safest manner possible, FCFT has developed 11 Pillars for a Safe Reopening. These pillars set out a clear plan for what should be in place before returning to in-person instruction. We stand behind the National Association of School Psychologists in their statement: “If we are serious about returning to in-person instruction, we first must prioritize lowering rates of community spread.” With this in mind, the approach we articulate calls for controlled community spread, which includes “a demonstrated decline in new cases and hospitalizations for at least 14 days, a positive test rate of less than five percent, [and] a transmission rate of under 1.0.” Our pillars also outline expectations for other safety measures, including PPE, cleaning protocols, and clear policies and communication regarding COVID-19 cases and school closures.
In the past few days, many of our neighboring school systems have chosen a virtual start to the school year, citing student and staff safety. When explaining the choice for a full virtual start to the year, Dr. Kevin Newman, Superintendent of Manassas City Public Schools said, “The School Board did not take this decision lightly. Although there is a strong desire to have everyone back on campus, the health and well-being of students and staff remain the Board’s top priorities.” Dr. Francisco Durán, Superintendent of Arlington Public Schools announced a virtual start to the school year, stating, “Throughout our planning, the health and safety of our staff and students has been our top priority, and beginning the year with a virtual model allows us to continue to monitor the situation until we are confident it is safe to return.” From the beginning, FCPS has repeatedly stated that the health and safety of students and staff is the number one priority in all decisions concerning the reopening of schools. This leads us to wonder why Fairfax has chosen a different path than our neighboring school systems.
Reopening schools, whether in a virtual or hybrid model, cannot happen successfully without the support of all employees, and at this point, many are very concerned about FCPS’ ability to create a safe workplace. The majority of staff have felt left out of the reopening conversation. This has been felt the most strongly by our support staff, who have not yet been given the option to express a preference for supporting students virtually or in person. These employees are crucial to the success of any reopening plan and deserve a voice in how we reopen. FCFT hosted a virtual town hall with over 300 FCPS support staff members. The overwhelming response from participants is that they don’t feel safe returning in person. They haven’t been surveyed about their preference, and they feel completely excluded from decisions about their safety and well-being.
As a solution-driven union, we used part of the town hall to reimagine how each support staff position might assist students in a virtual setting. Our members were able to come up with many innovative ideas. Instructional Assistants and office staff suggested they could provide small-group instruction and support whole-group sessions by managing the chat box and giving feedback to students. They also suggested they could contact families to problem-solve when a student isn’t participating in online sessions and coursework. Bus drivers and attendants suggested they can deliver food and supplies to each bus stop to expand upon the food delivery FCPS provided in the spring. We believe all staff play a vital role in supporting students in a 100 percent virtual setting.
We want to work collaboratively with FCPS leadership on a solution that will ensure a safe start to the school year for our students and staff. Our members have plenty of ideas about how all staff can contribute to meeting students’ needs without exposing the FCPS community to the health risks associated with an in-person opening. As Superintendent Scott Brabrand said recently, “Superintendents across the country, School Boards across the country are all trying to do the right thing.” The right thing is not to put students and staff in harm’s way. We hope to work with the FCPS Leadership Team and School Board on a plan that truly puts student and staff safety first by starting the year 100 percent virtually.
The FCFT Executive Board
Tina Williams, FCFT President
Marguerite O’Connor, Retired Teacher
Dan Hale, 3rd Grade Teacher
Larry Little, PE Teacher
LaMonica Brevard, Special Education Teacher
Emily VanDerhoff, 1st Grade Teacher
Sheryl Fisher, Kindergarten Instructional Assistant
David Walrod, Special Education and Math Teacher, Governor’s Return to School Task Force