Superintendent Return to School Update
Dear Parents and Caregivers,
Welcome and Return to School Update
I hope this letter finds you and your family well. I’d like to update you on our plans for return to school virtually on September 8.
Context and Rationale for the Virtual Decision
The primary factor in deciding to go 100% virtual is the continuing health risks associated with COVID-19. The seven day moving average for new cases in Virginia as of August 1 was 1,027— up from 527 on July 1. The same trend has occurred in Maryland. Although infection rates in Fairfax County are relatively stable, there were approximately 615 new COVID cases reported since last Monday in the Fairfax Health District, bringing the total to more than 16,000 since March. The safety of those entering our school buildings must be our prime consideration as we do everything we can to protect students and staff.
The pandemic has also created operational and staffing challenges that would impact the ability to offer high-quality, in-person instruction. These include decreases in substitute teacher availability, increases in staff leaves of absence, and more teachers requesting ADA accommodations because they are considered high risk for the COVID-19 virus. Courses that make our learning special such as language immersion, advanced academics, IB and AP courses and some electives, would not have been consistently available across our schools due to in-person staffing shortages.
Should health conditions improve, FCPS would first bring back students for intervention supports on a limited basis. Following that, we would bring students back to school as soon as possible starting with elementary school students, select PreK-12 special education students and English learners.
All the decisions made due to the COVID-19 pandemic are difficult ones, with no obvious answers to address the many needs of our students, staff and families. As of this week, all major school divisions in the region are starting the year 100% online. As educators, there is nothing we want more than to have all students back in school. This school year will be a challenge for us all, but we are doing everything possible to ensure a high-quality education through virtual learning to start the year.
Developing Metrics for Reopening in Person
As directed by the School Board, FCPS staff is developing metrics to guide when schools may reopen or if a school needs to be closed once it reopens. Among the potential metrics are trends in COVID-19 cases, access to testing, and operational and staffing impacts. I will share more details on metrics by mid-August.
Our Goal: A Strong, Virtual Opening on September 8
Planning is in high gear to develop a strong academic, social, and emotional support structure for our students in a virtual setting when school resumes September 8th.
This letter includes important updates on:
Full-time, Online Instruction
Bell Schedule Update: Returning to Pre-closure Schedules
The bell schedule for virtual learning will more closely resemble the start and end times our schools were using in 2019-20 before the school closure:
- That means the virtual high school day will be from 8:10 a.m. – 2:55 p.m.
- Secondary schools will follow the high school schedule.
- Middle school day will be from 7:30 a.m. – 2:15 p.m.
- The bell schedule for elementary schools varies, and this week individual schools will share the specific start and end times of instruction for their elementary students.
The goal is to provide as much of a sense of normalcy in our daily schedule as possible in this most unusual of circumstances. We are able to follow these schedules in a virtual environment because transportation arrangements are not needed.
Technology Access for Every Student
FCPS will provide all students laptops to use for online learning this school year. If a student does not already have an FCPS laptop, your school will send information on the laptop distribution process. Parents and caregivers will be able to pick up computers with minimal contact and without having to access FCPS buildings.
Technology Supports for Parents and Students
FCPS is also increasing technical support to families and students.
- Providing technology access to students and families
- Launching a help desk for parents
- Developing a portal to allow students to request technology help directly
- Developing methods for students to manage their Blackboard Collaborate/Google Meet class links in their Google Calendar
Special Education: Enhanced Virtual Programming
During August, special education case managers will work with parents and IEP teams to amend the student IEPs, if necessary, to reflect services each student will receive in the all virtual setting. Teachers working in the virtual option will be conducting real-time face to face instruction four days a week. FCPS plans to enhance virtual instructional programming for students by purchasing additional materials for use in the home for our preschoolers, students on the adapted curriculum, and students receiving related services, and also to purchase additional technology for students with hearing and vision impairments.
Instruction will be different than what was offered in the spring. We have plans for a more robust experience for those students who have a more difficult time accessing online instruction. Our instructional assistants will be supporting students in virtual classrooms and in breakout rooms; creating materials; prompting parents when needed during lessons; and developing virtual activities under the guidance of the teacher.
Special education teachers and related service providers will be providing instruction in groups and one-on-one as appropriate for students’ goals and scheduling. Direct instruction may be supplemented with activities students may complete in addition to the synchronous instruction. More detailed information will be available related to instructional programming for students with disabilities in the near future. Read more Special Education updates here.
Since schools were closed, our food services team has provided more than 2 million grab-and-go meals to families. FCPS will continue to provide grab-and-go meals through the remainder of the summer and once the school year begins. Food and Nutrition Services is currently researching how to best meet the needs of families this upcoming school year, while exploring meal service options. We will announce food distribution information as soon as possible.
We are aware that families of high school students, especially our rising seniors, are concerned about access to ACT and SAT testing in FCPS and surrounding areas. We will proceed with the scheduled August 29 SAT testing at several FCPS high schools. In addition, we will work with the College Board to offer FCPS seniors an opportunity to take the SAT at their schools on September 23, through the SAT School Day testing program. We will share registration information for the September 23 test date in mid-August.
Any additional changes for weekend testing sites for the ACT or SAT in FCPS throughout the 2020-21 school year will depend on health conditions along with health and safety guidelines. Changes will be communicated directly to registered students by ACT or by the College Board for the SAT.
Free online test preparation is available at the following links: Khan Academy Official SAT Practice and ACT Academy. We encourage our rising seniors to carefully review the admissions criterion for the colleges on their lists, as many colleges are adjusting requirements for ACT or SAT. School counselors and career center specialists will be available in mid-August to discuss postsecondary planning with students and their families.
Athletic Seasons delayed until December
The Virginia High School League (VHSL) decided to delay all VHSL sports and activities until December 14. The plan for condensed interscholastic sport seasons is:
Season 1 (Winter sports) December 14 – February 20 (First Contest Date – December 28)
- Basketball, gymnastics, indoor track, swim/dive, wrestling
Season 2 (Fall sports) February 15 – May 1 (First Contest Date – March 1)
- Cheer, cross country, field hockey, football, golf, volleyball
Season 3 (Spring sports) April 12 – June 26 (First Contest Date – April 26)
- Baseball, lacrosse, soccer, softball, tennis, track and field
Marching band season has been postponed. If students are able to return to school this fall or winter, we will consider possible marching band performance opportunities that do not conflict with the concert band assessments.
Full-time, Online Instruction – How it is different from the spring
We will open schools virtually with a schedule that is as close to “normal” as possible. Schools throughout the division will follow a consistent instructional schedule and provide more live, face-to-face online (synchronous) student learning.
Students will receive virtual instruction 5 days per week. The week will include 4 days of live, face-to-face online instruction with teachers Tuesday through Friday. Mondays will be used for independent learning (asynchronous). Some students will receive additional teacher assistance or intervention as needed on Mondays. Sample schedules are available at the links above.
- Elementary students will receive real-time, interactive instruction Tuesday through Friday. The elementary day will include additional small group instruction, intervention supports, and independent learning activities assigned to students. Significant investment in new digital resources will provide a more personalized approach to learning in mathematics and language arts.
- Middle and high school students will follow an A/B block schedule. Each class will be 80 minutes in length with 15-minute screen time breaks between classes.
Student attendance is required and all students will receive assignments that will be graded.
Students and parents will notice a more rigorous and engaging virtual-learning program with greater connections for all students at all grade levels. Parents and caregivers will be supported with additional resources to assist their children’s online learning.
The staff at each school will continue to work together to ensure that each student has consistent, reliable technology to access instruction each and every day. Laptops, MiFis, and other resources will be available to support every student.
The two-week delay in the start of the school year will allow teachers and other school-based staff members to engage in professional development to prepare them for teaching and learning in a virtual environment. Additionally, school teams will use the days leading up to the first day of school on September 8 to connect with families and ensure that students have access to the necessary links and can practice using the links for class. A large portion of time will be spent training teachers on how to support their students’ social and emotional well-being to address anxiety students may be feeling at this difficult time.
Commitment to Further Communication
I will send you updates in the weeks ahead on how we can work together to prepare students as we start off the school year virtually. I encourage you to visit the FCPS website for Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). Weekly town halls will resume August 12; more details about the town halls will be forthcoming.
These are incredibly challenging times for families and educators. We are all concerned about the well-being and achievement of our students. I look forward to partnering with you this year and ensuring a successful school year for every child.
Scott Brabrand, Superintendent
Fairfax County Public Schools