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At Height of Pandemic, FCPS Mitigation Strategies Show Red Flags

Fairfax County Federation of Teachers

December 10, 2020

While the Fairfax County School Board meets Thursday December 10th to determine the immediate future of the FCPS Return to School plan, the Leadership Team has repeated the common refrain that it is possible for schools to return safely, even while the COVID-19 pandemic spreads uncontrollably, as long as school mitigation measures are properly implemented. FCFT, the union for all non-administrative FCPS employees, has put together multiple methods of gathering data on the true effectiveness of these mitigation measures. The data show significant red flags with implementation of FCPS' COVID mitigation strategies.

Top Line Findings from FCFT COVID Safety Violation Tracker:

Since October 23rd 2020, using an online safety violation tracker, FCFT has compiled 72 safety violation reports from 35 schools across all five FCPS regions. These violations were compared against the building safety checklist developed by FCFT members.

A majority of reports (56.9%) cited failures of mask wearing, with other major mitigation failures including failures to adhere to social distancing, positive COVID cases, failures of cleaning supplies and procedures, and general safety failings (25%). In the majority of cases reviewed by FCFT staff, these failures occurred alongside positive COVID cases before or after the violation report. Staff regularly report difficulty achieving student compliance with safety measures including social distancing and mask-wearing. In particularly egregious cases, staff have reported that administrators model improper safety behavior by neglecting to wear masks properly. FCFT has followed up with the Fairfax County Health Department directly regarding the most egregious of these safety violations. However, mask wearing and social distancing remain intransigent problems that have not been addressed in many schools.

Since November 10th, even with a return to in-person instruction that has been limited to Groups 1 through 4, FCPS has reported 274 positive COVID cases in its schools. In a pandemic now reaching its apex, with thousands dying daily, these failures are massive red flags against the idea that the school system can maintain mitigation while the disease spreads rampantly throughout our communities.

Top Line Findings from FCFT Survey about Mitigation Strategies

FCFT conducted a survey of staff to gather information on the implementation of the 5 key mitigation strategies and staff experience with the safety team visits. The findings were broadly disappointing for what they say about FCPS’ ability to implement safety measures, with majorities reporting that social distancing, mask wearing, and contact tracing with staff and students have not met the standard of safeguarding public health.

Safety Teams

  • Only 10.8% of respondents could confirm that the safety team visiting their school observed at a time when students were present.

Mitigation Measures

  • While 73.3% report that staff are wearing masks consistently and correctly, only 27.5% can say the same for students.

  • Only 15.7% of staff reported that students usually maintain 6 feet distancing from other students.

  • 82% report that staff always or usually exhibit proper respiratory etiquette (coughing/sneezing/etc), only 1 in 4 can say the same of students.

  • Only half of those who observed school cleanings (52.2%) can report that their school practices proper cleaning and disinfection. The majority of staff (66.5%) are unsure whether their staff responsible for cleaning and disinfection have been properly trained.

Contact Tracing in Collaboration with the Local Health Department

  • In 11.4% of positive COVID cases, the school community never received notification of the positive case.

  • Only about one in ten respondents who experienced a positive COVID case at their worksite were personally contact traced by the health department, with a third of those calls coming over 3 days after administrators were notified of the positive test. A majority of those who were contact traced (54.5%) rated the process insufficient or below average.

  • 52.4% of those identified as close contacts of a positive case were not allowed by their school to quarantine or were only allowed to quarantine for less than 14 days.

Questions and Concerns about Safety Teams

FCFT has started to receive reports from our members on safety team visits to their buildings. We have compiled a list of questions and concerns that we hope the School Board will address with Dr. Brabrand and the Leadership Team at the December 10th work session. We expect that there will be a report from the safety teams on their observations thus far that will suggest that mitigation strategies are being followed with fidelity in all schools.

  1. How many safety teams are there and what are the roles of the people serving on these teams? FCFT has communicated to leadership that safety teams should be independently run and include members of all stakeholder groups.

  2. What background do members of the safety team have in public health and what training have they received that qualifies them to assess the safety of schools?

  3. When did safety teams start visiting buildings?

  4. How many visits have the safety teams made to each building thus far?

  5. We are receiving reports that safety teams are visiting schools on Mondays when no in-person students are in the building. How many visits have been made at times when no in-person students are present? Observing only adults in the building is not an accurate assessment of implementation and results from these audits should only be considered alongside data on community spread metrics.

  6. How long do the safety teams spend in each building? Reports we have received share that the team spends less than a minute observing each room. We are concerned that the approach of visiting every building each week is “a mile wide and an inch deep” and does not allow the teams to truly assess the extent to which a school is implementing the mitigation strategies.

  7. The ActionGram to principals states “Every week you will receive the weekly observations schedule so you will know when to expect observers.” Are results valid if the visits are not unannounced?

  8. Will the checklist that the safety teams use be made available to the public?

  9. What guidance has the safety team been given on feedback to share with school staff? Many of our members are reporting that the only guidance they have received is to close their door in response to any safety concern e.g. a student refusing to wear their mask or teacher concerns when all students are eating unmasked in the classroom.

  10. Why are buses not included in the safety checks?

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