Fairfax County Teachers Push for Virtual Start to School Year

Union says it is unrealistic to open school with a hybrid plan.

Two days after the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) July 15, 11:59 p.m. deadline passed for students, teachers and school based technology specialists (SBTS) to respond to two Instruction Options for the 2020-21 school year, the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers (FCFT, AFT 2401) sent a letter to FCPS officials urging them to switch to 100 percent virtual learning.

In the letter, dated July 17, the FCFT Executive Board said: "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.” The Fairfax Co. Federation of Teachers represents all non-administrative certified and classified Fairfax County public school employees, including teachers, counselors, librarians, teaching assistants, clerical employees, and other Staff.

According to Fairfax County Public Schools, it automatically defaulted 31,289 students to in-person instruction this fall since they did not respond to the enrollment form. Results as of July 16, 9 a.m. showed the following data:

83 percent of Students responded (157,711/189,000)

In-person: 81,423 (52 percent)

Online: 76,288 (48 percent)

92 percent of Staff (teachers and school based technology specialists (SBTS) responded (13,412/14,505)

In-person: 5905 (44 percent)

Online: 7,456 (56 percent)

"If we are serious about returning to in-person instruction, we first must prioritize lowering rates of community spread," the FCFT Executive Board added, referencing a statement by the National Association of School Psychologists. With that in mind, FCFT cited three key metrics necessary to be met for in-person instruction: "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."

THE FCFT called attention to its 11 Pillars for a Safe Reopening. The plan underscored the right way and a wrong way to go back to in-person learning. "This can only be done when there is not substantial community spread of COVID-19 regionally, and only with the proper safeguards, practices and procedures to protect all human lives...(with) the best public health strategies in place for controlling the spread of COVID-19. This will require robust measures detailing protocols on physical distancing, face coverings, cleaning and sanitizing of surfaces, hand washing and ventilation in addition to screening and testing, contact tracing, and isolation and quarantine measures."

The FCFT noted, regardless of the instructional model, such could not happen successfully without the support of all school employees. Schools only gave the option to express "a preference for supporting students virtually or in person" to teacher-scale and school-based technology specialists.

"The majority of Staff felt left out of the reopening conversation. ... "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. ... 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."

The FCFT acknowledged and thanked the school district's Leadership Team and School Board for the "tremendous amount of time and effort into designing the hybrid model." Ultimately critical safety questions remained unanswered. That led the FCFT to say, "The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers believes that a safe in-person reopening will not be possible by September 8....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."

The FCFT Executive Board included Tina Williams, 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 and David Walrod, Special Education and Math Teacher, member of the Governor's Return to School Task Force.

FOR INFORMATION on the enrollment choices, including the data broken down by school, visit https://www.fcps.edu/enroll2020 and for a copy of the Fairfax Federation of Teacher's letter, visit https://www.fcft.org/post/fcft-urges-fcps-to-reconsider-reopening-in-person

Teachers Speak Out

After Fairfax County Federation of Teachers released its statement, teachers spoke out.

“We all want to be back in school with our kids, but at this point, we don't feel like we can do it safely by Sept. 8.” (Emily VanDerhoff of Springfield, FCFT executive board member)

“There's got to be very specific guidelines, expectations and specific metrics...The positivity rate to stay steady on or below the 5 percent spread...I have faith that Virginians in Northern Virginia, specifically will continue to do what we need to do to get our numbers where they need to be and keep them there so that we can be in school.” (Dan Hale of Springfield, FCFT executive board member)

“Families were given their choices and told you pick what you want... that's what you'll get... Teachers were given the same two choices, but we were told, pick what you want, and we'll give it to you if we can. But what families and students choose is going to be the deciding factor... FCPS said that they would recognize (in priority), number one, the teachers own individual health circumstances (ADA Request Form), number two, the health circumstances of the rest of the family, household or close dependent (a high-risk based on CDC guidelines), and the third category personal preference. Here's my reaction to that. I don't prioritize my health over that of my family. My family's health is every bit as important to me... I think it's unconscionable to separate the two.” (Larry Little of Fairfax, FCFT executive board member)

“A tremendous amount of newsworthy attention has been given to the FCPS survey results submitted by parents and teacher-scale employees on July 15... Support Staff members (Office Staff, IA's, PHA's, PHTA's, Bus Drivers, and Custodians), however, were never surveyed to express their preferences. The exclusion from this conversation has support staff members equally concerned about a variety of issues, including the safety and well-being of their families and themselves. Support Staff members would have appreciated having their concerns and preferences validated.” (Sheryl Fisher, FCFT executive board member, Kindergarten Instructional Assistant)

“My biggest concern is the district is trying to set up two separate school systems...We know that students would be better off if they could be in school five days a week... That's where we want to be when the science says for us to be there. But until that's a reasonable option for all students, I feel it would be better to use the district's resources to make distance learning effective, strong and based on educational best practices.” (David Walrod of Fairfax, FCFT executive board member who serves on Governor Ralph Northam’s COVID-19 Education Work Group)

“I do not want to be in the classroom...I have a family member who is actively dying of cancer... If I went into the classroom...I would jeopardize my ability to see him. I also don't think we should be asked to put our lives on the line. I want any parent I've had to say yes, I'll put my life on the line for your child... Or, let me possibly expose myself to COVID so that your child can be educated face-to-face...When I spoke to the [School] Board, one of the things I said was how many teacher deaths and children's deaths would we have to have before closing the schools? Because if you're going to open the schools, you've got to set that number now.” (Jeanmarie Nagle of Alexandria, teacher in Lorton)

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