Superintendent's Return to School Update August 28

By Office of Communication and Community Relations
August 28, 2020

Dear Parents and Caregivers,

We are eagerly counting down to the new school year which is less than two weeks away!

On August 14, we welcomed back our teachers and school support staff. Many spent summer break preparing for a strong virtual start of school–testing new tools and technologies, creating engaging lessons, and developing plans to build strong relationships with students and families. I am sincerely grateful for our staff’s unwavering commitment to our students.

Today, I am sharing important Return to School updates to help increase your comfort in starting the school year virtually. We are doing everything within our power to help ensure that each student has the most robust, rigorous, and meaningful learning experience possible.

Technology/Support for Families

Parent Technology Help Desk

On Monday, August 24, FCPS launched a toll-free Parent Technology Help Desk to assist families with technology issues. The number is 1-833-921-3277 (833-921-FCPS). It will be answered 7 a.m.-11 p.m., seven days a week. Parents who need help in a language other than English should let help desk staff know, and an interpreter will join them on the line. (FCPS has Parent Information Phone Lines available in eight languages to assist with general questions about FCPS.)

FCPS has also created an online portal for older students and parents/guardians to request technology help.

Virtual Orientation

Teachers will conduct a virtual orientation prior to the first day of school to give students and families an opportunity to:

  • Build relationships and community.
  • Learn how virtual learning will work: logging into students’ FCPS accounts to access virtual classroom links, and using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, Google Meet, and/or Schoology.
  • Ensure students are prepared for a successful first day of school and school year.

Schools will provide the specific dates and times for the orientations.

Back to School Night

 Each school will host a virtual Back to School Night during September or October. These events will include:

  • A curriculum overview.
  • A review of attendance, schedules, procedures, and routines.
  • An explanation of grading and assessments.

Laptop Distribution

FCPS is providing all students laptops to use for online learning this school year. Schools have already started communicating on the laptop distribution dates and process.

We have received 22,000 laptops for elementary students and 32,000 for middle school students. All middle and high schools are part of our FCPSOn initiative. I made a recommendation to the School Board yesterday to waive the FCPSOn fee for the 2020-21 school year.  The Board fully supported this recommendation.  We are now working with the county to support this request.

Internet Access

Reliable internet access is critical to every student’s success during virtual learning. We are planning to replace MiFi devices with home internet access. FCPS is negotiating a partnership with Cox Communications to help qualifying families register for the Connect2Compete home internet program. FCPS will provide access at no cost to our families with free and reduced meal (FRM) status, and will begin transitioning in the fall. We’ll have more details about this exciting program soon. Parents in need of internet access should contact their schools.

Superintendent’s Technology Advisory Council

The Superintendent’s Technology Advisory Council’s mission was to elevate the school district’s technology applications to the forefront of innovation; and make sure teachers and students are equipped with the tools, connectivity, access, and security for an increasingly interconnected landscape. The Council’s final report included 67 recommendations. FCPS has responded to the 17 priority recommendations; eight have been completed. FCPS will provide an update on remaining recommendations before the end of the first semester.

Homework

As we approach the first day of virtual school, one question that has been on the minds of many is, “What will homework look like this fall?” That is an important question, considering that we are all working from home, all day long, and we know the “school day” will feel quite different from other years.  

First, Mondays have been designated as a day when some students will be participating in direct instruction with teachers, but all students will be expected to complete additional assigned tasks without teacher support, much like traditional homework. These tasks may include assignments such as practice activities, readings, projects, research papers, viewing videos, assessments, computer programs, etc. Secondly, our Tuesday through Friday schedule prioritizes maximum time for teacher-student interaction, and therefore requires students to spend a significant part of the day online. In consideration for student health and wellness, we will need to be mindful of the expectations for students to engage in additional work in the evenings. 

With this in mind, schools have been provided the following weekly guidelines for work being completed outside of scheduled class time:  

Elementary Students

  • PreK-2: 150 minutes (2.5 hours) to be completed on Mondays.
  • Grades 3-6: 180 minutes (3 hours) to be completed on Mondays.
  • Time would be reduced for students participating in Monday intervention at the discretion of the teacher.
  • Homework will not be assigned on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday.

Secondary Students 

  • Standard/Honors: Total of 60 minutes per course per week. 
  • Advanced Placement, Dual Enrollment, and International Baccalaureate: Total 75 minutes per course per week.
  • To be completed on each Monday or other times on a limited basis.

Of course, not all elementary and secondary students work at the same speed. Therefore, teachers will use these guidelines and their professional judgement to make reasonable assignments that prioritize the most essential learnings for our students. If you are finding that your child is experiencing difficulties with completing assignments, please do not hesitate to contact the teacher or encourage your child to talk with the teacher. 

As we make each decision about the coming school year, we strive to balance student academic and social-emotional needs.

Attendance

In Virginia, public school students ages 5-18 are required to attend school regularly. Teachers will take attendance during learning sessions and ensure that all students are counted. Parents can assist with this process by:

  • Ensuring students log in to classes on time and throughout the day.
  • Calling or emailing the school attendance line if students are unable to participate.
  • Communicating any concerns to the school, such as difficulty logging in or accessing classes.
  • Reporting any hardship, such as student illness, or concern that might prevent the student from participating regularly.
  • Returning phone calls or emails when notified that students did not participate that day.
  • Ensuring that students submit activity logs as directed.

If your child is unable to log in to online instruction with a teacher, the teacher will be recording the class and posting the video within Blackboard or Google Classroom, so it can be viewed later. Videos can also be viewed multiple times to help students retain new information, as needed.

We understand that not every student will be able to participate in online instruction at the scheduled time. Our schools will be flexible in recording attendance and absences. We do not want to punish a student for missing an online class due to the extenuating circumstances of virtual learning. We want to partner with our families to ensure the success of each child.

Update Your Contact Information

Current contact information is essential. Schools will need to regularly notify parents about program changes and opportunities, such as laptop distributions, school supply lists, and other essentials, as well as student absences, academics, and other concerns. Please update your information through FCPS 24-7.

SRS Program

Fairfax County is offering a new program for school-age care. Supporting Return to School (SRS) reflects Fairfax County’s and FCPS’ joint commitment to One Fairfax, and ensuring that all families have equitable access to the services they need to support children’s virtual learning.

Beginning September 8, SRS will provide full-day, on-site programming for children in kindergarten through sixth grade residing in Fairfax County and the City of Fairfax, Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m. The program will serve approximately 2,000 children in 37 of our schools. It will offer support and assistance for children's online learning experiences as well as implement a curriculum to engage children and support their growth and development. Visit the Supporting Return to School webpage.

Special Education Resources

The Special Education Return to School webpage has been updated and includes the latest information for families. Additional supports for our special education community can be accessed through these resources:

Food Distribution

FCPS will continue to provide “grab-and-go” meals during the upcoming school year. Our goal is to provide every FCPS student daily access to a healthy breakfast and lunch during this pandemic. Visit our Food Resources for Families page for more information.

Bell Schedules

We have received inquiries regarding the Tuesday through Friday bell schedule for middle school students. The middle school day begins at 7:30 a.m., the same start time as when students were attending class in person.

Many have asked if we would push back the start time for middle school students. We understand the rationale for this request, but we believe it best to keep the middle school bell schedule unchanged, for the following reasons:

  • We set up the bell schedules for the different grade levels in a way that provides as much of a sense of normalcy as possible. We expect our students to return to the buildings as soon as it is safe to do so. Changing the schedule now, then changing it back for in-person instruction would be too disruptive for our families.
  • Many families have already planned their day around the bell schedule as previously announced.
  • Many itinerant teachers (music, language, etc.) who support more than one school could not provide online instruction for all their scheduled classes if the start time were changed.

We appreciate your understanding that there are no perfect solutions to the many challenges of distance learning.

Town Halls 

We are fortunate to have had such strong community participation in our Virtual Town Halls. The next Town Hall will be held September 2, from 6-7 p.m., with a focus on technology and parent supports. We also have a Spanish-language Town Hall scheduled for September 1, from 6:30-7:30 p.m. These forums are one of multiple platforms we are using to provide timely information to the FCPS community.

I realize this is a lot of information. Thank you for reading it! I am very excited about where we are and what we will accomplish, together, in the days and months ahead.

We will be ready for your children on September 8. Thank you for your continued support.

Sincerely,

Scott Brabrand

Superintendent