FCPS moves forward with return-to-school plans

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IMAGE COURTESY OF PIXABAY

Sonia Samantaroy, Features Editor

Due to the high number of COVID-19 cases regionally and nationally, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) decided to alter the in-person learning plans that originally planned on having students return after winter break. 

As of Jan. 24, the tentative schedule to return is as follows:

  • VHSL Activities and HS Co-Curriculars, Intervention Cohorts (ES, MS, HS) will return on Jan. 26.
  • Group 1-4 (Select CTW and Special Education) will return on Feb. 16, new bell schedule. 
  • Group 5 (Early Head Start, PreK, Kindergarten and Special Education) will return on Feb. 23.
  • Group 6 (Grades 1-2) will return on March 9.
  • Group 7 (Grades 3-6) will return on March 16.
  • Group 8 (Grades 8, 9, 12) will return on March 2. 
  • Group 8 (Grades 7, 10, 11) will return on March 9.

On Feb. 2, Superintendent Scott Brabrand and Assistant Superintendent of Special Services Department Michelle Boyl proposed the updated return-to-school plan to the School Board. 

“The risks are far greater in not returning students at this time,” Brabrand said. 

In the meeting, some school board members expressed concerns about the health and safety of staff who have not yet been vaccinated. 

In response, Brabrand said that FCPS will deploy temporary staff to support while teachers and staff wait to be vaccinated. However, as of Feb. 1, 74% of the classroom monitors have been filled.  

In addition, board members raised questions about outbreaks in athletics, the effectiveness of the hybrid model, and ensuring that the student voice wasn’t lost during the transition period. 

At the end of the meeting, unanimous consent was reached to approve the return-to-school plan and timeline.

COVID-19 cases are decreasing after the holiday rush, during which Virginia faced the biggest spike yet; 6,616 new cases on a single day in January. According to the CDC health metrics, there is a -31.8% change in COVID-19 cases over a seven day period compared to the previous seven days in Northern Virginia, as of Feb. 11. Even though cases are decreasing, there are still roughly 370 cases per 100,000 persons over the last 14 days in Fairfax County, as of Feb. 11, a metric the CDC deems the “highest risk” for infection in schools.

In addition, Madison will be implementing the new virtual bell schedule from Feb. 16 to Feb. 26 in order to prepare for the return to school and to accommodate bus schedules. Following that, Madison will be using a different bell schedule starting on March 2 as students come back to the building for hybrid instruction. 

A question was asked on the Madison teacher’s FAQs for return to school concerning why athletics are not considered school spread.

According to Madison FAQs, “FCPS is following the guidance of the Health Department and tracking the data for these [school athletics] separately. Elementary and middle schools don’t have athletics and this allows for comparable data for in-school outbreaks.”

At Madison, five major mitigation strategies will be implemented to reduce spread of the virus: 

  • Masks are required. Cloth masks must have two layers.
  • Cleaning supplies will be used and available. 
  • Social distancing will be implemented. There are desks instead of tables in the cafeteria and  some one-way traffic in hallways and stairwells. 
  • Hand-washing and sanitizer dispensers are in the hallways. 
  • Contact tracing: students will have to sign out and back in using a QR code when going to the restroom. 

As of Friday, Feb. 19, 1,345 (60.8%) of Madison students will be in-person while 865 (39.2%) will be staying completely virtual. Fifteen Madison teachers will be teaching virtually, and 9 classroom monitors have been hired.