Updated: Oct 18, 2021
As Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) approaches its scheduled start date for the upcoming school year, it has provided families the option to choose between in-person and distance learning for the year, announced on June 26. There is no hybrid option. After initially being required to make their decision by July 10, families now have until July 15 to choose.
Students who choose in-person learning would attend school two days a week in socially distanced classrooms and would be required to wear face coverings, whereas those participating in distancing learning would partake in virtual lessons four days a week.
The decision comes as COVID-19 continues to surge throughout the country, with many states reaching record highs for cases of the virus. As a result, health experts and families alike have raised doubts about whether schools are completely safe for children to return to in the fall even with appropriate precautionary measures.
However, with FCPS admitting that “full-time online instruction may not be able to support some student experiences, such as immersion, magnet, and Advanced Placement” courses and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos deeming the county’s distance learning in the spring a “disaster,” many students have chosen to learn in classrooms despite the withstanding risks of the coronavirus. “I [have] chose[n] to go in-person because I [am] looking forward to an enriching senior lab opportunity that is hands-on with robotics, which I would be void of if [school] was entirely virtual,” Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST) senior Sean Nguyen said. “[But] I have family members that are immuno-compromised, so [the dangers of COVID-19 are] absolutely something I am conscious of every time I am in the public sphere.”
To alleviate fears regarding COVID-19 in FCPS schools, county administrators have promised that they will be taking sufficient measures to keep students from contracting the coronavirus, including FCPS School Health Services Manager Lorraine Trout at a virtual town hall on June 16. “We looked at whether we were prepared to provide PPE for our students and staff at risk, and we are prepared to do that. Also, we are prepared to move ahead with making sure that our students have plenty of soap and water breaks to wash their hands, are social distancing, and wear masks,” Trout said.
Nonetheless, a significant number of families remain skeptical of FCPS’s ability to keep COVID-19 from spreading within county schools. As a result, they have chosen to keep their students at home for 2020-21 year in spite of the perceived shortcomings of distance learning. Swati Chandna is a parent to a rising eight grader at Robert Frost Middle School (VA) and a rising sophomore at TJHSST. “[COVID-19] is very infectious, and even though so far it hasn’t affected young people that much, our kids could end up bringing the virus home to us. Although, the virus has started affecting young people more [too],” Chandna said.
With drawbacks to both of the reopening options, many families have expressed concern with the fact that their decision would be binding for the entire school year. That being said, FCPS has maintained that that particular stipulation cannot be revoked.
“Families are not able to continue to change their mind as we go through the year about returning to school, because once we have a safe environment, we just may not have the space to accommodate and put another student in,” TJHSST principal Dr. Ann Bonitatibus said in an address to students on June 30.
As families begin to finalize their decisions, other counties in northern Virginia have followed in FCPS’s footsteps with their reopening plan.
Loudoun County Public Schools and Arlington County Public Schools, in particular, have both implemented reopening plans almost identical to that of FCPS, with the major difference being that students who choose in-person learning would have online classes on days that they are not in school.
How would you evaluate FCPS’s reopening plan? Do you think they have provided sufficient options and information for each one?
“I know that the rate they’re providing information is slightly frustrating to everyone, myself included. However, they’re doing the best that they can. They have to make plans according to guidelines made at the state and national levels that are changing every day. Even under normal circumstances, it takes some time for information to fall down the pipeline so to speak. Our situation as a county, state, and nation regarding coronavirus changes almost daily, which in turn changes the guidelines everyone needs to follow and it takes a while for that information to get all the way down the pipeline. I think FCPS is doing the best they can to make smart, thoughtful choices with the information they have at any given moment, but I also understand why their best may not be perfect in such an uncertain world.” Claire Wilson, 16, Rising Junior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
“FCPS is doing the best they can with the limited time table they have before they reopen schools. However, I do feel many students are feeding into media fear-mongering about how dangerous COVID-19 really is. A prominent study done by John Ioannidis, one of the leading and reliable researchers on COVID-19 (he was one of the first researchers who looked into antibodies), found that the COVID-19 fatality rate for those under 70 was between 99.3-99.8%. And if the infection is as infectious as the media says, we’ll all eventually contract it and these measures are useless. I feel that point is not emphasized enough by the country and is misleading for the general public. I believe those who have family members over 70, those with respiratory illnesses, or those with compromised immune systems should stay home while everybody else goes back to school.” Ameen Alejali, 17, Rising Senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
“I’m personally not a big fan of what they did. FCPS has shown us that they lack any competence to deal with sudden events, such as the time right now. Now I’m expected to put the lives of my family and I in their hands? On the other hand I do want an education, and a good one. FCPS has shown they have zero clue on what to do online and now they want to do some combination of the two? At this point I think their plan is just another way to show us how bad FCPS is at adapting.” Jawand Singh, 15, Rising Sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology