Family Guide for Return to School

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) is partnering with families to ensure we keep students and staff safe and healthy as we return to school buildings for learning.

Family Guide for Return to School (PDF)

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) is partnering with families to ensure we keep students and staff safe and healthy as we return to school buildings for learning. Working together, we will follow recommended health guidance that focuses on student health, safety, and emotional well-being.

The information in this guide will help families know what to expect as your children return to school. The guide includes steps families will need to take at home in preparation for the return to school. Please take time to review the information. We recommend talking to your children about how school will be different when they return. Ask them what questions they might have and share how we are all working together to prepare for a safe return. Have your children practice wearing a mask during the day. Discuss the importance of hand washing and covering coughs and sneezes.

Schools will notify families which student groups are returning to school if they selected in-person learning. In-person schedules for student groups will vary. An individual student’s schedule, including days of the week and times for in-person attendance, will be communicated directly from the school. Families who selected virtual learning for the school year will be able to remain in virtual learning. Both students participating in virtual learning and in-person learning will receive the highest quality instruction from FCPS teachers.

For details, see the sections below entitled "Student Groups" and "Concurrent Instruction." 

COVID-19 remains a fluid situation. Our core focus remains the health and safety of students and staff. FCPS is following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance for reopening schools for in-person learning. Mitigating strategies include, but are not limited to:

  • Washing hands often
  • Avoiding close contact
  • Covering mouth and nose with a mask when around others
  • Covering coughs and sneezes
  • Cleaning and disinfecting
  • Monitoring health daily

graphic showing groups
We are now at operational level 2.  Operational Level 1 is 100% virtual.  Operational Level 2 has cohort learning for Groups 1 - 6.  Operational Level 3 has hybrid learning for Groups 7-8.  Operational Level 4 has 100% in-person learning for all groups. 


FCPS will continue to monitor health data and our ability to consistently implement mitigation strategies to contain transmission of the virus within our schools prior to offering in-person instruction for additional student groups.

If and when the circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic change, this guidance may also change.


Student Groups



Concurrent Instruction

As additional grade levels return to school, we will employ concurrent instruction for in-person students, a model in which students receive two days of teacher-led instruction in the school building and two days of teacher-led instruction at home. The concurrent instruction model is currently being piloted in several schools.

Concurrent instruction maximizes teacher-led instruction (two days in person, two days virtual) by allowing in-person students to “log into” class on at-home days. Teacher-led concurrent instruction is the best instructional model for our in-person students.

Students would be assigned to Group A (In-school), Group B (in-school), or Group C (online full-time).

concurrent instruction elementary

Elementary school concurrent schedule (above): Two days of instruction in the school and two days of virtual instruction at home – both led by the teacher. 
Group A: In-school Tuesday and Wednesday and online Thursday and Friday. 
Group B: Online Tuesday and Wednesday and in-school Thursday and Friday.  
Group C: Online Monday - Thursday. 
Mondays: Teachers will use for planning. Students will have independent work day.

concurrent instruction secondary

Middle and High school concurrent schedule (above): Two days of instruction in the school and two days of virtual instruction at home – both led by the teacher. 
Group A: In-school on Tuesday for periods 1, 3, 5, 7 and Wednesday for periods 2, 4, 6, 8. They will be online  Thursday for periods 1, 3, 5, 7 and Friday for periods 2,4,6,8. 
Group B: Online Tuesday for periods 1,3,5,7 and online Wednesday for periods 2, 4, 6, 8. They will be in-school on Thursday for periods 1, 3, 5, 7 and in school on Friday for periods 2,4,6,8. 
Group C: Online for periods 1,3,5,7 on Tuesday and Thursday and online for periods 2,4,6,8 on Wednesday and Friday.  
Mondays: Teachers will use for planning. Students will have independent work day.

Full-Time Virtual

Students who prefer to continue full-time virtual learning will receive four days of teacher-led instruction while learning from home.

School Buildings / Safety Protocols


Temperature Checks

Effective January 22, 2021, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) discontinued required daily temperature checks for students, staff and visitors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not currently recommend schools conduct symptom screening for all students in grades K-12 on a routine (e.g. daily) basis.  The CDC recommends that parents, caregivers or guardians, are strongly encouraged to monitor their children for symptoms of infectious illness every day through home-based symptom screening and students who are sick should not attend in-person instruction.

While FCPS will no longer be requiring daily temperature checks at bus stops and upon arrival in FCPS facilities, students, staff and visitors will still be required to continue to compete a daily health screening form.


Cleaning Protocols

FCPS cleaning personnel clean and sanitize the school building regularly.

Custodians use effective disinfectant and sanitizing products every day. The following steps are performed to maximize our sanitizing efforts:

Sanitizing and disinfecting restrooms more frequently, including thoroughly disinfecting and sanitizing all surfaces, doors, toilets, and handles, and ensuring that all supplies are always fully stocked.

Increased cleaning to high-touch surfaces/points such as door handles, glass, elevator buttons, doors, tables, chairs, and light switches. Daytime custodians have been instructed to continuously disinfect and sanitize all touch points throughout the day.

FCPS has updated health and safety guidance for air ventilation in schools. A comprehensive review of school ventilation systems was performed to ensure facilities are operated in accordance with CDC and American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers guidance and the manufacturer’s recommendations. Assessments and improvements include:

  • Ensured all schools and offices have sufficient air ventilation
  • Purchased initial allocation of MERV 13 filters (based on availability) and upgrading school HVAC systems where possible
  • Purchased HEPA filters and air purifiers for use in select areas
  • Continued review of the use of UV-C lighting in classrooms and ventilation systems and its best application
  • Third-party health and safety verification for all buildings



Students will eat meals in classrooms in small groups whenever possible. FCPS will offer grab and go lunches for all students. If students use the cafeteria, seating will be assigned. Masks will be required when students wait in the cafeteria line, but not required when eating. For students participating in virtual learning, grab and go meals are still available to all FCPS students at school sites and on bus routes.



FCPS cleaning personnel will be sanitizing and disinfecting restrooms more frequently. Their cleaning protocol will include thoroughly disinfecting and sanitizing all surfaces, doors, toilets, and handles, and ensuring that all supplies are always fully stocked.



School librarians will provide library services and instruction for students virtually, in their classrooms, or in the library following social distancing and safety guidelines. Library staff will assist students in PreK through grade 2 with book checkout.

Students in grades 3 through 12 will use self-checkout stations that limit contact. Schools have the option to provide curbside checkout to students not attending school in person. Books that are returned to the library will have a 7-day isolation period before they are available again to students. School staff will communicate how virtual students can check out books.


School Health Room

Support to students in the health room will continue to be provided by the School Health Aide. FCPS personnel will staff the isolation room.

Students with Individualized Health or Action Plans who require specialized care, medication administration and emergency care will be seen in the health room. Parents will be required to bring in medications needed to support their student during the school day prior to or on the first day of school.



Shared equipment, such as playground equipment, balls, ropes, and other items will not be used during recess. School staff will encourage students to play games or activities that minimize close physical contact and allow for social distancing unless otherwise directed by an FCPS staff member. Face coverings may be temporarily removed during recess, while under the supervision of school staff, as long as social distancing can be maintained at a distance of 10 feet or more at all times. Students will wash their hands with soap for at least 20 seconds before returning to class.


Student and Family | Safety Protocols


Parents/guardians who chose in-school instruction for their child will be required to complete a Parent/Guardian Health Screening Commitment form as students are phased back into in-person learning. The document indicates the parental/ guardian’s agreement and commitment to completing a daily health screening prior to sending the student to school and also to keep ill students at home. These health screenings will be done on an honor basis and will not be required to be submitted to the school each day.



Bus Transportation

Schools will be sending bus transportation information to parents before the start of in-person learning. Seating capacity will be reduced to allow for social distancing.  

  • Parents and guardians of elementary students in grades PreK-6 and students identified as Must Be Met will be required to accompany their child at the bus stop each day. Must Be Met students include those students whose IEP indicates they must be accompanied to the bus stop (and school if they walk or parent transports) in both the morning and afternoon.
  • Students are reminded to wear a face coverings when riding the school bus
  • Students will be required to sit in seats as marked on the school bus.
  • Bus stop information will be available at the school and in ParentVUE.
  • Here Comes the Bus app is available and provides school bus arrival information.
  • As students return to the school building for face to face instruction, schools will operate on the 2020-21 bell schedule (check your school website for the bell schedule) until such time it is necessary to transition to the hybrid bell schedule (anticipated by second semester). We do not expect changes to the bell schedules for students in Group 5 or Group 6 as they return to school throughout November. As larger groups of students return for in-person learning, we do anticipate changes to the bell schedule, as shared during the School Board Work Session on June 15, 2020. We do not know the exact date when bell schedules will change as it is dependent on how many families select in-person learning for students. The bell schedule adjustment will also be necessary due to social distancing requirements which limit capacity on school buses. A bell schedule change will impact both in-person learning as well as students who are doing full-time virtual learning. Schools will update families as decisions are made.



School Arrival and Dismissal

Each school has an updated arrival and dismissal process. Bus transportation students will not arrive and depart from the same areas as walking students, carpool-kiss and ride and before/after school private provider Some schools have two arrival and departure areas, check with your school to see their practice for arrival and dismissal.



Face Coverings/Masks

All students who are two years of age and older are required to wear face coverings (cloth or disposable) while on school property (including inside FCPS facilities, during FCPS-provided transportation and school sponsored activities). Face coverings will be provided to students unable to provide their own. Any student requesting an exemption to wearing a face covering due to a medical exemption will provide the school a written statement from his or her physician confirming that not wearing a face covering is medically necessary. As a matter of public health, an exemption from the face covering requirement may alter or preclude access to face-to-face instructional programming. Regulation 2109




Social Distancing at School

Social distancing should be maintained as much as possible. In limited cases, exceptions may occur when a student requires support for activities of daily living that may make staff unable to maintain a distance of six feet or caring for infants. In all other cases, six feet of social distancing should be maintained as much as possible.

  • Six foot separation wherever possible; limited mixing among student groups.
  • Social distancing on buses in accordance with health and safety protocols.
  • Desks/seats will be separated by up to a six feet distance, facing same direction.
  • Students will eat meals in classrooms whenever possible. Each school will determine their best meal distribution process.
  • Student traffic patterns in hallways will be set up to maintain social distancing, including during arrival and dismissal.
  • Students transitioning to after school care will also follow traffic patterns in the hallways to maintain social distance.

Please discuss the importance of maintaining social distance with your child. It is important for children to understand that common interactions (holding hands, hugs, high-fives, sitting close to other students) are not allowed when social distancing. School officials also will do their best to remind students  of the need to maintain social distancing. That said, parents should recognize that maintaining social distancing will be challenging for many students  and that mishaps are likely to occur among students when school officials are not present.





Students will wash their hands with soap for at least 20 seconds after blowing their nose, coughing, or sneezing; before eating, and upon entering classrooms. There will be breaks provided during the day for handwashing. Automatic hand sanitizer dispensing stands have been placed at school entrances and 1-gallon pump containers of hand sanitizer are available in all classrooms.



School Supplies and Communal Classroom Items

Students will be required to label and maintain their own personal set of required classroom supplies, keep them in their backpack and take them to and from school each day.  Electronic devices, toys, books, games or learning aids are not to be shared unless they can be cleaned or disinfected. Students should bring their own water bottle for use during the day. Water fountains can be used to refill water bottles if practical, but students and staff should not be drinking directly from any water fixtures; individual water bottles should be used instead. Whenever possible, and when developmentally appropriate, supplies/school materials should be placed directly into backpacks by students.



Student Laptop

Students returning for in-person school should plan to bring their FCPS-assigned laptops with them to school and take that laptop home each day to support digital learning activities in school as assigned by their teacher. Extra laptops may not be available in all classrooms. The laptop should be fully charged each morning to ensure it is ready to use when the students get into the classroom. This helps limit the number of shared surfaces among students. Parents should not spray disinfectant spray on the device or apply hand sanitizer directly on the device as it may damage the electronics. Parents may use an alcohol wipe or disinfectant wipe to gently wipe down the laptop and keyboard if necessary.



Visitors to FCPS Facilities

When possible (unless an emergency) visitors must schedule appointments prior to visiting a school by contacting the main office. All visitors will be required to complete a health screening questionnaire prior to entering the building. All visitors are required to wear a face covering (cloth or disposable) while on school property and inside FCPS facilities Visitors who do not have face coverings will be provided a disposable mask upon entering a school. Visitor access should be limited to essential activities.



If Sick at School


Becoming Ill While at School

Students demonstrating fever greater than or equal to 100.4 Fahrenheit, new chills, new cough, new sore throat, new muscle aches, new loss of taste or smell, nausea, or diarrhea will be sent home from school. Parents/guardians will be notified and are expected to pick up their child within one hour of notification. Parents are to check in with the front office.

If a student becomes ill during the school day, FCPS follows protocols provided by the FCHD. Each case will be handled individually in accordance with the FCHD established communicable disease and contact tracing protocols. FCPS will follow health department guidelines for communicating information to parents/guardians. For more information visit



Student Illness at Home

If a student becomes ill at home, the student should stay home from school. Parents need to contact the school and report the reason for their child’s absence. Parents will need to follow established procedures when contacting the school regarding student illness. Parents/guardians will be required to complete and return the Permission to Return to School/Child Care Form when the student returns. The form will be completed by the health care provider and will indicate to the school when the student may safely return.



Returning to School After Illness

Families will receive guidance from the FCHD Public Health Nurses (PHNs) and School Health Aides (SHAs), identified as the school health team as to when their student can return to in-person learning.

Students who are showing signs of COVID Like Illness may not return to school until:

  • Student has tested negative for COVID-19 OR
  • A healthcare provider has seen the student and documented a reason for the symptoms other than COVID-19 OR
  • All of these are true:
    1. at least 10 days since the start of symptoms AND
    2. fever free off anti-fever medicines for 24 hours AND
    3. symptoms are getting better

Students who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, may not return until:

  • At least 10 days have passed since symptoms started AND
  • The student has had no fever or anti-fever medicines (ex: Tylenol, Ibuprofen) for 24 hours AND
  • The student’s symptoms are getting better

Students who have been exposed to COVID-19:

If someone in the household has been diagnosed with COVID-19, or the student is exposed, the student must remain home for 14 days after their last exposure to the household member.



Response to COVID Case in a Classroom

With one confirmed case of COVID, the classroom will transition to 100% virtual learning for up to 14 days from the date of onset. FCHD Public Health Nurses (PHNs) and School Health Aides (SHAs), identified as the school health team, will support the contact tracing process in our schools during this time. School staff, students and additional staff, such as transportation staff and related services providers, that are identified by the PHN will be transitioned to distance learning or teleworking as part of this cohort. These individuals will receive notification, as directed by the FCHD. The community will also be notified that a COVID case has occurred in a cohort and the contact tracing process has been initiated.

Upon the conclusion of contact tracing, cleaning and disinfecting, students and staff in the cohort will be notified as to when they will return to in-person learning. The length of time for this process may be shorter than 14 days based on results of contact investigation and tracing by the FCHD. The community will also be notified that the contacting tracing has been completed and of any further recommendations.

Response to Two or More COVID Cases in a School

As related to school closure, FCPS will work closely with the FCHD to make the determination as to whether or not an entire school will be required to transition to distance learning based on contact tracing. Should multiple linked cases occur, the community will receive immediate communication of an outbreak and all students would be transitioned to distance learning for a period of time. A follow up communication will go out to the community when in-person learning may resume, as recommended by the FCHD.




Mental Health and Wellness

All children and youth face challenges from time to time managing emotions such as feeling depressed, anxious, or worried. As students prepare to return to in-person learning, these emotions may be heightened. School counselors, school psychologists, and school social workers are available to support all students as they transition back to their school buildings. Every school in FCPS has at least one counselor, psychologist, and social worker. These professionals can provide guidance for families and support for students who may be struggling with anxiety, mood, behavior, or peer or family interactions. They can also connect students and families with available community resources.

Contact information for your child’s school counselor, school social worker, and school psychologist can be found by visiting your school’s website.

If you or someone you care about is experiencing a mental health crisis, or if you believe there may be a mental health emergency, call 911. Additional resources are available.

Helpful Links

Many resources have been developed to support students and families with learning this year. 

Instruction Update for Small Groups

Mental Health Resources and Emergency Services Information

Parent/Guardian Health Screening Commitment form

Return to School

Student Health and Safety Guidance Document

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Permission to Return to School/Child Care Form