Return to School Update for March 16

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) has successfully completed the month-long return of students and staff to in-person learning, and will be returning to five days a week of in-person learning in Fall 2021.

Returning Strong: Return to School Update (March 16, 2021)

FCPS Plans Five Days of In-Person Learning for Fall 2021

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) has successfully completed the month-long return of students and staff to in-person learning, and we are thrilled to announce that we will be returning to five days a week of in-person learning in Fall 2021.

Thanks to the diligent work of our staff, students, and families – along with the work of our Safety Teams – we are seeing very low numbers of COVID cases in our schools. We appreciate the close collaboration with the Fairfax County Health Department, and we encourage everyone to continue to remain diligent by following all Centers for Disease Control mitigation strategies to stay safe and healthy. 

We used our “safe, steady, ready” approach to successfully transition eight cohorts of students and staff across all grade levels to in-person instruction. By March 19, more than 109,000 students will have returned for in-person learning.

We have shown that we can return our students and staff to our buildings in a way that is safe and steady. FCPS mitigation efforts were extremely effective in limiting COVID transmission in schools with just 19 cases of transmission in Fairfax County public schools and offices between January 26 and March 15, impacting .02% of students and staff in buildings at that time. 

We are confident that we can deliver on a five-day return for all students in the fall, knowing that, while we can adapt to any situation, in-person learning really is the best option for our students and staff.

Preparations for a five-day return include:

  • Monitoring updated health guidance. 
  • Investigating additional PPE resources and safety protocols.
  • Analyzing potential COVID-19 testing.
  • Preparing schools for changing social distancing mandates as social distancing is reduced from 6 feet to 3 feet.

FCPS maintains that students learn better when they are in-person. It is critically important to:

  • Reunite our school communities.
  • Re-engage our students and families.
  • Support our youngest and most vulnerable learners who struggled with virtual learning.


Return to School By the Numbers

FCPS safely and successfully returned 109,000 students and staff to FCPS buildings between February 16 and March 16. 

FCPS participated in the Virginia High School League (VHSL) winter sports season (December 7, 2020 through February 20, 2021), with athletes following VHSL guidelines for mitigation protocols:

  • Six high schools won team championships.
  • 13 high schools had individual student/event champions.
  • 17 high schools had individual student/event runners up.

Many of the 25 high schools have begun to conduct student activities in-person, including band, dance, and theatre. Twelve high school bands, seven choirs, 12 dance programs, 12 theater programs, and seven yearbook clubs are among the many programs that have been offered in-person.

Several schools are planning to phase-in more activities as students return to the building throughout March. 


Prioritizing Students

FCPS’ approach to transitioning students back to in-person learning will ensure all students receive the necessary supports to achieve success. A caring culture and student success are vitally important as we continue our return to school buildings.

Since the fall, there has been a shift in family preference from in-person learning to online learning:

  • In October 2020, 56% of families indicated a preference for in-person instruction, as compared to 47% of families indicating a preference for in-person instruction in March 2021. 
  • FCPS will focus its efforts on ensuring families feel prepared, supported, and safe returning their children to in-person learning while also determining how to support those families whose students have a health need to continue to access virtual learning.

FCPS will focus on:

  • Student and staff social-emotional and wellness – morning meetings/staff wellness opportunities/student voice encouragement and opportunities.
  • Attendance and engagement – proactive family communications and attendance monitoring.
  • Academics – focus on the essential standards, increased interventions, and tutoring opportunities. 

FCPS has developed a series of strategies focused on social and emotional wellness, attendance and engagement, and academics to address the impacts COVID has had on some students. 

  • We have adopted a series of secondary grading policy changes to help our students finish strong. 
  • We are adjusting our grading policy for the 2020-21 school year to ensure students are not penalized by the challenges brought to us by pandemic learning. 


Grading Policy Changes for Middle and High School courses

In response to family feedback and student check-in results, FCPS will be seeking to lessen the stress and anxiety posed for some students who have been challenged by the virtual learning environment during the past (and ongoing) pandemic year. 

We are adjusting our grading policy for SY2020-21 to ensure students are not penalized by the challenges brought to us by pandemic learning. 

Key options for high school students are:

  • Use of No Mark (NM) instead of F grades for all courses
  • Final Exam flexibility that ensures an exam can only serve to improve a student’s grade for the year
  • Allowing students/families  to choose a mark of “P”  (pass) instead of passing letter grades (C’s or D’s, for example) as their final mark in up to two courses 

Key options for  middle school students are:

  • Use of No Mark (NM) instead of F grades for all courses
  • Students receiving a final mark of D / D+ in any course will be assigned a mark assigned  a mark of  “P” (pass) on the report card  
  • Allowing students/families  to choose a mark of “P” (pass) instead of passing letter grades (C’s, for example) for any course

FCPS is providing 4th Quarter testing flexibility:

  • Advanced Placement testing options include virtual and in-person exams depending on the course. 
  • FCPS progress monitoring assessments are being offered virtually.
  • While the Virginia Department of Education required that SOLs must be offered, a virtual testing option is being developed, and families are being provided with expanded SOL refusal options for COVID-related concerns.

Fourth Quarter Supports to Finish Strong:

  • FCPS is working to identify any open seats for in-person instruction. 
  • Schools will invite students for new/additional in-person opportunities based on demonstrated student learning needs. 


Expanding In-Person Instruction Opportunities

Attendance data shows that some students registered to attend school in-person have not yet done so. This has left some seats empty in our schools and classrooms. Our staff members are actively calling families to assess the number of seats, so that we may be able to offer additional seats in classrooms to students who would benefit most from in-person instruction. 

Additionally, FCPS is offering robust in-person summer learning opportunities. We are excited to offer credit recovery, recovery services, as well as extended year opportunities to students identified by staff as being able to benefit the most. 

Summer Learning Opportunities

Opportunities will be offered at every level and will include extended learning from the school year as well as credit recovery. 

The plan is for as many of the opportunities as possible to be in-person. These include:

  • Elementary: Math and literacy, Bridge to K, and 1st grade; serving 18,000 students (July 12-30).
    Middle and High: Math and literacy acceleration at ALL schools; serving 4,000 students (July 20-August 6).
  • Special Education: Extended School Year program; serving 4,000 students; 20 days (June 28-July 23).
    Recovery Services: 30 days; serving 6,000 students (June 28-July 23).
  • High School Credit Recovery: All schools; serving 11,000 students; 15/30 days (June 28-July 16; July 20-August 6).

Research and Updates Continue

The pandemic has required extensive changes in all our lives–professionally and personally. We have had to pivot, research, and update multiple times and communicate these changes to you in multiple ways. You have been flexible, and together we have adapted and worked to keep the focus on the health and safety of our students and staff. We will continue to provide you with updates as they occur.

Results from the second interim study report, compiled as part of the FCPS Study of Teaching and Learning during the COVID-19 Pandemic by the Office of Research and Strategic Improvement (ORSI), analyzed year-on-year and Quarter 1/Quarter 2 comparison of academic progress and collected student self-reports of stress levels in a way that allowed for a comparison of student self-reports in previous years when students were attending school through in-person instruction. 

This second interim report also analyzed elementary grades compared with the quarters in the previous school year. The first report, released in November 2020, only analyzed middle and high school marks during Quarter 1 (Q1) compared with the current school year. 

The report found:

  • 22% of students improved their marks from Quarter 1 to Quarter 2 in a specific course. 
  • This positive trend was seen across every student group (racial/ethnic subgroups, economically disadvantaged students, English learners, students with disabilities).
  • The percentage of students improving was consistently larger than the percentage of students receiving a lower mark in Quarter 2, reflecting improved performance across all student groups.
  • Although English learner students improved in comparison to Quarter 1, they performed less well than in previous years.
  • Students at all three school levels reported elevated stress levels this year compared to last year. The biggest increase in reported stress levels was among high school students.

Read the full the report