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'There are two choices': Fairfax County Public Schools unveils return to school plan

Heather Graf/ABC7
Heather Graf/ABC7
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After a nearly four-hour work session with the school board, the superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools sent a new letter to parents on Tuesday evening. In it, Dr. Scott Brabrand outlines the details of what he called "a general plan to reopen schools" this fall.

FCPS leaders have spent the last few weeks discussing and debating exactly what the return to school will look like amid the ongoing risk of COVID-19. The plan was not expected to be announced until Friday, June 26.

"There are two choices," Dr. Brabrand wrote in the letter to parents. "Both choices will offer all students new instructional content and student work will be graded."

The choices are:

  • A. Full-time online instruction. Virtual, interactive instruction will be provided four days a week.


  • B. Part-time in-school instruction. At least two full days of instruction in your child’s school each week with students engaged in independent study and work on the days they are not in the school building.

Brabrand said it's possible FCPS will be able to provide more than two days of in-school instruction each week, depending on the number of students who choose to go virtual, full time.

FCPS will now send families an enrollment letter, asking them to state their return to school preference. Parents will have until July 10 to let FCPS know whether their child is choosing full-time online instruction or part-time in-school instruction. Staff also have until July 10 to decide whether they prefer to teach online only.

One day each week would be set aside for teacher planning and intervention support for some students in either scenario. The plan also includes increased instruction for Special Education students and English Language Learners.

Brabrand said additional details about the plan will be shared with the community in the weeks ahead as they are developed.

"We want to get this right, we need to get this right, we have to get this right," Brabrand said earlier in the day, during a work session with school board members.

Brabrand had updated his recommendations since last week, as he worked to provide more options for both families and staff members. The plan revealed Tuesday reflects those updated recommendations.

RELATED: Families submit more than 5,000 questions for FCPS 'Return to School' town hall

"Our first preference, of course, remains 100 percent in-person learning. However, based on current health data, that seems unlikely by Tuesday, August 25, the first day of the 2020-21 school year," Brabrand wrote in the letter to families. "Even as Virginia moves into Phase 3 of its reopening plan, we will want to comply with the guidance provided by the state and the CDC for the safe reopening of schools. In developing this plan, our first priority is the health and well-being of our students and staff."

You can learn much more about FCPS' return to school plan by clicking here.

"At some point in the future, we expect to move beyond Phase 3 which may allow us to bring everyone back into the school buildings on a full-time, pre-COVID basis," Brabrand wrote. "But until that time, we believe the back to school model described in this letter – while not a perfect solution - best addresses the concerns and desires we have heard in surveys, town halls, online comments, and other feedback from our families, students, community members, teachers, and staff about reopening schools in a safe and responsible manner."

On Tuesday, ABC7 spoke to FCPS teacher David Walrod, who is also serving on Governor Ralph Northam's COVID-19 Education Work Group that's helping develop statewide guidelines on how schools can safely reopen this fall.

"We have weekly meetings, we meet every Friday," Walrod said. "The ultimate goal is that by the end of July or beginning of August, we'll have a long report we'll give to the governor with some of our long term recommendations and what sort of things need to happen to ensure our students stay safe."

Walrod has also been closely following the conversations happening in Fairfax County, including Tuesday's virtual worksession with the school board.

"Speaking as a special education teacher, I'm really concerned about only seeing students one or two days a week," he said. "Because a lot of my students need that repetition, they need to hear things on a daily basis."

Walrod told ABC7 he was glad to see the superintendent and the school board update the district's plan so that both students and staff are able to choose which option is best for their family.

"Knowing that no matter what option there is, it's going to be hard for everyone. So being able to make the decision of what will work best for you is going to be important," he said. "There are a lot of teachers that have young children or have health concerns, and it's really important those people have an option of staying home."

The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers also expressed support for the district's decision to provide choices for students and staff.

"All students and staff need the option to learn/work in the environment where they feel most safe," the teacher's union said in a tweet.

Walrod says there's still a lot more questions to be answered when it comes to the safe reopening of schools in Fairfax County and throughout the Commonwealth.

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"It's unfortunately not going to look the way it did last September," he said. "Just because the science isn't there to support that."

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