Dear FCCPS Family,
As your Superintendent, I am responsible for ensuring the health and wellness of those under my care while fulfilling our commitment to a high-quality educational program for our community. It is an extremely heavy burden to carry in a pandemic that has taken the lives of 400,000 people and deprived so many of so much. It has taken a high toll on all of us.
Throughout the 1000’s of pages of guidance from various experts for reopening schools, the common thread is that it is a “local decision.” As your Superintendent, I have tried to make informed, thoughtful decisions and have sometimes missed the mark. These are complex and challenging times that have tested each of us in unique ways in this journey. My commitment is and will continue to be to do right by everyone, students, staff, our community in my role as Superintendent. Today, I am making the “local decision” based on what is needed to remain safe and healthy--and provide consistency and stability for our students, our staff, and for you.
Therefore the FCCPS decision-making process and reopening plan for the coming weeks are being altered, and moving forward will be:
Cohort 1 (Special Populations) will continue in hybrid instruction with our Special Populations given the very small nature of the programs working to a gradual increase over the next couple of weeks to 4 full days per week as appropriate for each program.
Cohort 2 (Grades K-5) will remain in virtual instruction until February 22, when they will all return to hybrid instruction with a teaching force of staff who are fully vaccinated.
Cohort 3 (Grades 6-12) will remain in virtual instruction until February 22, when they will all return to hybrid instruction with a teaching force of staff who are fully vaccinated.
Upon our return to hybrid instruction, all cohorts will remain in hybrid. Any moves to virtual will be based on the need to “pause” isolated groups to allow for contact tracing or other similar issues. FCCPS will make these decisions in collaboration with the Fairfax Health Department.
This decision is based on Health Metrics, the COVID variant, the Wednesday/Friday decision cycle, instructional/operational issues, and the newest tool in our toolbox - the vaccine!
Vaccines: This week, we vaccinated over 400 staff members with their first dose. The introduction and administration of the vaccine so soon have been important steps that impact our approach. Quite simply - the vaccine is a game-changer. It affords us the ability to analyze our reopening plan through a new lens. After receiving their second dose on or around February 16th and waiting the additional 7-days for immunity to build, on February 22nd, close to 90% of our staff will have a very high level of protection for them, their families, and our school community. Over 145 teachers expressed the desire to hold on reopening to hybrid until after the second dose.
Our staff must feel safe in order to educate our students in person. The vaccine offers that. We must hear them and respect their voice.
Health Metrics: While one of the indicators is in the “yellow,” it is only in the moderate range by a very minimal margin. There has been a significant increase in cases per 100K despite some plateauing, and it remains in the very highest risk category.
The NOVA region, the Fairfax health district, and our local FCC community are continuing to experience high burdens of disease and substantial transmission.
COVID Virus Variant: New information from the CDC and other health experts regarding the rapidly spreading and highly contagious (for both children and adults) variant of the COVID virus is not a good picture. This is especially true when thinking of the over 1700 students and staff across our buildings each day. Our new federal administration and national health leaders clearly said that it would worsen, much worse before it gets better.
We cannot ignore the risks posed by the variant and its surges.
Wednesday/Friday Decisions: We have tried to be responsive to the data, but that means some type of decision cycle. However, the Wednesday/Friday process is not providing stability. These are just too many changes for staff, students, and families. Parents are struggling with the back and forth. Teachers are struggling with quick turnarounds and meeting students’ instructional needs effectively, despite everyone’s best efforts.
We must have stability.
Operational Issues: There has been an increase in contact tracing investigations, positive cases, and exposures, impacting both our staff and the services that we receive from our General Government partners. Our Public Health Nurses are deployed for vaccine support by the health department, and we have had to reschedule essential training because of their limited availability. In addition to the instructional staff members who expressed concerns about returning before receiving their second vaccination, we have staff who are currently quarantining. Together, these present human resource/staffing challenges as we work to provide hybrid instruction.
FCCPS’ instruction and operations are complex and impacted in several areas.
I implore everyone to understand this is a short-term extension of virtual instruction that positions us for a final permanent move to hybrid through the end of the 2020-21 school year. Further, it provides stability needed by our staff and families. This decision is not going to be embraced by everyone. I recognize that some of you will not agree with this decision. But I hope you will continue to support our teachers, building leaders, central office leaders, and myself as we remain committed to doing our best under these challenging circumstances.
We look forward to our staff receiving their 2nd vaccine in the upcoming weeks and transitioning to a full hybrid reopening for Cohorts 2 and 3. Each school will be sharing specifics in the coming weeks regarding the details specific to Elementary and Secondary.
The last ten months have not been easy. There has been so much loss in so many ways, but we have hope and a path forward--together.