School board approves return to school

Feb. 2 school board meeting votes unanimously to return in February and March


Scheduling school —Superintendent Scott Brabrand presents his finalized return-to-school plan to the FCPS school board on Feb. 2. As the scheduled dates approach, Brabrand and the school board are working to ensure the safest return-to-school possible.

As COVID-19 cases decrease in Fairfax County, FCPS prepares to return students for in-person instruction. On Feb. 2, the FCPS school board gave unanimous consensus to go forth with reopening school buildings during their monthly return-to-school work session.

FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand proposed his return-to-school timeline, which would allow for all students who wish to return to be back in-person by March 16. The plan has seniors and freshmen returning on March 2; juniors and sophomores will return on March 9.

“Fairfax County Public Schools is ready to bring back students to in-person instruction. We have a return to in-person learning plan developed with multiple stakeholders, and it’s consistent with CDC/VDH/VDOE and Fairfax County Health Department guidance,” Brabrand said in the meeting. “We’ll continue to update this plan to make sure it continues to align with the recommendations of our health officials. This is a robust plan that makes sure that we implement mitigation measures in our schools, including education monitoring feedback to make sure that schools remain a safe place for learning.”

Postponing the return to school gave FCPS ample time to hire classroom monitors to accommodate teachers who wish to remain online. As of Feb. 2, 80% of classroom monitor positions were filled for middle and high schools, compared to 53% on Jan. 4, and it is expected that all will be hired before March. Hiring enough classroom monitors is essential, as all classrooms must either have a teacher or monitor in order for students to be able to return.

There has also been a county-wide decline in COVID-19 cases. On Feb. 3, there has been a downward trend of COVID-19 cases in FCPS, with a 22.0% decrease in cases per 100,000 in the past seven days. Within FCPS buildings, there have been 888 total cases between Sept. 8 and Jan. 30, 7% of the in-person population.

Conversely, there has been an increase in COVID-19 cases among athletes, most of which occurred in basketball. During the winter season, there were 144 COVID-19 cases across the county, 66.6% were from boys and girls basketball. Though alarming, athletes are starting to transition into outdoor fall sports, so COVID-19 cases are expected to decrease during the fall season.

“The basketball team was really great with limiting exposure to COVID-19 for a sport that’s played indoors and in a closed environment. I know a couple of other teams got shut down and had games cancelled because of cases, but our team did a really good job and we didn’t have a single positive case over the season,” senior varsity basketball player Andy Min said. “Everyone on the team wore a mask, our bench was socially distanced, we sanitized the equipment and there wasn’t anybody else in the gym except for our team and our opponent to really limit the possibility of spreading anything.”

As fall sports begin, fall athletes are especially expected to follow all mitigation protocols in place. Given the overlap between fall sports and the return to school, Brabrand emphasized that FCPS is prepared to stop athletics if they affect the return-to-school plan.

“When we return to school in person, in-person instruction, not athletics, will be the priority. If we find that outbreaks in our athletics programs are influencing our operations, then we will pause or suspend our athletic programming so that in-person instruction can continue. That’s got to be the focus,” Brabrand said. “We are hopeful that we will have the benefit of outdoor sports and warmer weather, but we will not let athletic issues around COVID-19 impact our classroom in-person operations.”

During the meeting, Brabrand discussed the status of teacher vaccination and explained that 90% of FCPS staff is registered to receive the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Though there have been disruptions to the distribution of vaccines, 65% of staff indicated that they already received their first dose. The COVID-19 vaccine plays no role in the return-to-school timeline, but its distribution provides additional comfort to everyone as they begin to return to the building.

“With the number of vaccinated people increasing, I take comfort in knowing that I can return to in-person learning without the stress of a COVID-19 outbreak at McLean that would affect me and the people I see,” senior Julia Bodet said.

The prospect of returning to school is finally here. After postponing the return numerous times, the FCPS school board and superintendent are finally able to agree on a realistic return-to-school plan, one that considers students, teachers and staff. Now, it’s time for students and teachers to do their share of work to ensure a successful return to school.

“We’re confident; [principals are] confident they can make this timeline work. We acknowledge that no situation is risk-free, but the risks are far greater in not returning students at this time. The data is becoming clear everyday that our students need to return to in-person instruction,” Brabrand said. “Now’s the time to unify and move forward with this plan to return students back to in-person instruction.”

Read Superintendent Scott Brabrand’s message here:

COVID-19 database: