Five Days in the Fall? Maybe.

Open Fairfax County Public Schools (aka “OpenFCPS”) issued the following statement today, in response to the district’s recent announcement concerning a possible return to five-days-a-week of in-person education this fall. 

Yesterday’s meeting of the FCPS School Board acknowledged an on-paper goal of allowing students the choice to return to classrooms next school year for five days a week, with a teacher in each of those classrooms. This was followed by a list of caveats with which parents have become all too familiar. We call them “Lucy’s Football.” We look forward to running towards that football yet again over the next few months to see whether Lucy yanks it away. We already know that the Superintendent takes a dim view of whether older students in the county can attend school five days a week next year, even with 3’ of distancing.  As we have learned, creative problem solving is not FCPS’s strength.

The School Board also discussed the current school year. Presently, students who are not the children of teachers are allowed only two days in person per week, and many sit in classes and schools that could clearly accommodate a doubling of those days to four per week even under the current guidelines. In the past week, school board members in town halls and newsletters have assured parents that FCPS has been looking at how to give  in-person students access to four days a week starting after Spring Break, given the availability of spaces and the number of students enrolled for in-person. Today we learned that there really is no plan for that. FCPS has not conducted any research about other school districts that are successfully running in-person educational options five days a week, or four days a week, despite the fact that approximately 50% of students in the country are currently attending school in person, full-time.  FCPS has not even created a plan for retrofitting auditoriums and large classroom spaces, or for creating outdoor classrooms, despite assuring parents, since July 2020, that these approaches were being studied.  In every meeting it’s as if these ideas–implemented in school districts nationwide–have never even occurred to FCPS.

When asked about why Fairfax County never has a plan, we are told that it is because “FCPS is just too big.”  This is a frequent excuse on the FCPS List of Excuses that gets used repeatedly to explain why FCPS cannot manage this school system. Each time “FCPS is just too big” is repeated it is a reminder to parents and families that FCPS’s unwieldy size, bureaucracy, and lack of competence has prevented it from managing a generational education crisis. Parents will not soon forget. Faced with the largest education crisis in decades in this county, the school system repeatedly says it cannot serve the best interests of students. The reasons vary; yesterday, it was because the school district is too large.

The most perplexing moment of the meeting was when the Superintendent desperately and angrily yelled over and over again that FCPS was “not behind.” This year, the only thing FCPS has not been behind on is in the race to the bottom. From the initial disastrous rollout of virtual education in the spring, to the repeated false starts and excuses about providing students a choice for in-person even as science and school districts all over the US and the world showed how it can be done, to the inability to provide five days of instruction for an entire school year (eighteen months when all is said and done next Fall–unless you are an older student and then it may  be even longer), public school children in Fairfax County have been left far behind their peers in private schools and  public schools around the state and the country. They are left to flounder by a school system that apparently has neither the critical, nor creative thinking skills to do its job. Because, as FCPS tells us, the system is just too big for them to do it. Parents will not forget, nor should they.

Open Fairfax County Schools/OpenFCPS is a volunteer-led, non-partisan, ad-hoc grassroots coalition of over 2,300 parents who came together starting in June 2020 to advocate for a choice to return to in-person education in Fairfax County Public Schools. Follow them on Twitter: @OpenFCPS2020.

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