How Many More Weeks of Winter for FCPS Students?

Editor’s note: The following statement was issued by Open FCPS, a grassroots coalition advocating for a return to in-person education in Fairfax County.

“There is something so familiar about this. Do you ever have déjà vu?”
— Rita (Andie MacDowell) in Groundhog Day, 1993

Approaching its ironically-timed Groundhog Day “Return to School Working Session,” FCPS released on Friday a presentation that reveals yet again that the principal factor in the inability to open schools is not about metrics, or community spread of a virus, but the chronic inability of FCPS to manage its staff, and the apparent unwillingness of many staff to return to work. The presentation already sets up the game board for the inevitable “pause” for all students in grades 3-12 in Fairfax County, via repeated warnings about the inability of the school system to hire enough $15 per hour “monitors” for classes where teachers will not be returning to work in-person.

As parents brace themselves for another Groundhog Day experience during the February 2 meeting, we urge FCPS to provide the choice for all children, in all grades, of all abilities, to return to in-person education, and to immediately plan for the return of Fairfax County students to five-day-a-week in-person education. As of today, there is no evidence that FCPS has put any effort into planning for a full-time return to school option, even for school year 2021-2022. This is unacceptable.

Repeatedly, medical and public health experts including the CDC and Dr. Anthony Avula, the public health physician in charge of Virginia’s vaccine coordination, have indicated that a return to school could not be tied to the rollout of vaccinations. Some studies and experiences in U.S. school districts offering in-person education have shown that in-person education is safe and the right thing to do for the mental, emotional, social, and academic health of children in our community. The Governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, MD, agrees.

The “caution” to an immediate return to in-person education for grades 3-12 is blamed on the lack of monitors — temporary workers who babysit students while they learn from the teacher working from home. This raises the question of why the system would still be dependent on hiring all of these part-time workers to reopen for all grades if all its staff, in addition to having mitigation measures in place in schools, have prioritized access for vaccination? Staff prioritized for vaccination, with limited exception, have entered into a social contract to return to work in-person. Citing the lack of monitors at this point as a “challenge” to keep children from school buildings is inexcusable. In October 2020, FCPS noted it had already received an “8,000% increase in ADA requests versus previous years.” The total number of ADA requests has now risen to 3,111. Given this higher number, skyrocketing directly due to concerns related to contracting the virus, we question whether FCPS has even considered using its prioritized access to the vaccine as a method to resolve these staffing issues.

FCPS has significant funding from the state and federal governments. It has gotten its entire FCPS community prioritized for vaccination ahead of others. It has had 11 months to plan. There are no more excuses. Allow FCPS children in all grades the choice to attend school in-person immediately and put forward a plan for how students will be returned for five-days-a-week education in Fairfax County.

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