Superintendent lays out new COVID protocol for FCPS

Dr. Brabrand discusses quarantine procedures, vaccine mandates and more at community meeting


Dr. Scott Brabrand speaks before parents, community members and school board members. He introduced various new plans for handling COVID-19 transmission and cases in FCPS.

Following the lengthy community discourse at the Sept 9 school board meeting, Dr. Scott Brabrand, Superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools, stepped in to announce new plans for dealing with COVID-19 in schools. He began with a brief rundown of the numbers in Fairfax County.
“As [of] September eighth, we’ve had a total of 501 positive cases, which represents about 0.24% of our total number of students and staff,” Brabrand said. “This is an extremely low case rate.”
Despite these seemingly promising numbers, Brabrand recognized the need for more effective COVID procedures.
“We have heard clearly from a number of families about significant delays in contact tracing delays that cannot and will not persist,” Brabrand said. “We have a collaborative relationship with the [Fairfax County] Health Department, and we will continue to hold ourselves and our colleagues mutually accountable to improve and expedite the process.”
The Superintendent promised that changes would be discussed and implemented in a timely manner. Before he outlined the new procedures, Brabrand clarified the difference between a “pause” and a “quarantine” — two words he used consistently throughout the night.
​​”Isolation [or] pause [takes place when] FCPS is directed by the local health department to pause a student’s in-person instruction while contact tracing is implemented,” Brabrand said, “Quarantine [takes place when] a student who was in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 remains at home.”
When students have been asked to stay at home, they will be able to access a digital portal through which they can submit proof of vaccination status and a survey from the Health Department.
“The Health Department will review this and if the child is asymptomatic, a clearance letter will be provided no later than the next business day,” Brabrand said. “This new process will not only speed up the return of our fully vaccinated asymptomatic students, but it should cut down on overall contact tracing timelines.”
For those students who are denied reentry to in-person learning, Brabrand proposed a potential plan.
“The idea behind this proposal would be no later than the third day of a pause, quarantine, or isolation, the school would provide limited live streaming to classes,” Brabrand said.
He clarified that the live streaming would not function like the concurrent learning program implemented last year. Students would be able to watch important lessons but would not have the ability to participate, ask questions, or take part in class discussions.
In addition to these revised procedures, the Superintendent promised to remain transparent and provide community members with regularly updated statistics, weekly community messages and outbreak letters.
“We are developing a database to capture information for the number of students who are asked to pause so that we can [sync] our database to the Fairfax County Health Department’s database,” Brabrand said.
As the night went on, Brabrand addressed the points brought up in the community discussion. He first defended FCPS’ decision not to offer a virtual school option for students, citing Senate Bill 1303, which requires in-person instruction in Virginia schools. He also commented on the difficulties of implementing a virtual program.
“We simply can’t staff an in-person [program], while simultaneously trying to staff a full virtual program,” Brabrand said. “Those districts that are trying to do it right now have opened with almost half of the teachers being substitutes. That’s not the high quality instruction that we have to deliver and need to deliver to our kids.”
The Superintendent also provided more information about vaccine requirements for student-athletes, which was touched on earlier in the night by a community member.
“The highest number of pauses affecting the largest number of kids was not in an elementary school, but it was in our high school athletic programs,” Brabrand said. “Athletics are high-contact activities with increased risk of spread and vaccinating student athletes adds another layer of protection against the virus.”
Defending the county’s initial decision to implement vaccine requirements, Brabrand clarified certain minor details.
“We are only going to require the vaccine for students 16 and older, [but] it will be highly recommended that our students aged 12 to 15 get vaccinated,” Brabrand said. “Student-athletes who remain unvaccinated will be required to show proof of a negative COVID test every week.”
Though new COVID procedures continue to be implemented, there is still a fair amount of confusion within the community as certain plans still remain unclear. Despite this uncertainty, Brabrand assured the audience of the Board’s desire to put health and safety first.
“[COVID] is still in our country and community, and it will remain so for the foreseeable future,” Brabrand said. “We all have had to adapt and adjust to changing conditions, and we’ll need to continue to do that [by] prioritizing health, safety and personal learning.”