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The Road to Reopening - Aug 14, 2020
The Road to Reopening - Aug 14, 2020
Dr. Peter J. Noonan
Friday, August 14, 2020

Dear FCCPS Families,

Happy Friday, everyone. This was a big week for us in FCCPS as we welcomed our new staff and faculty to our system and began the onboarding process. Yesterday was the first official day back for all of our teachers and staff, and we are working diligently to make the best of a situation none of us had hoped for. This week’s version of the Road to Reopening addresses questions related to the structure of the day for students, “Pandemic Flight,” return to school metrics and measures, meal distribution while virtual, and a few more supports for parents around instruction. 

Flexibility in the Structure of the Day

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve had a number of questions raised about the structure of our online instruction as we move into the school year. I want to assure everyone that we are focused on ensuring that what we do is developmentally and age-appropriate for the respective levels of students we serve and is as family-friendly as possible. We know from the research that sitting in front of a computer all day is not appropriate for any aged student. For example, at the PK-2 level, the direct instruction will be done in short spurts throughout the day, and then we work our way through the grade levels as each affords a unique and different developmental approach. 

Further, and in an effort to be as family-friendly as possible in instruction, the live lessons will be recorded. So, if the timing doesn’t work with your work schedule or family, you can always come back later and view the daily recorded lessons with your child. We desire that as many kids as possible log into the live instruction as we are also trying to develop a sense of community and support the social and emotional health of students through those connections, but we also recognize the unique realities of our families.

“Pandemic Flight” - Impact on FCCPS

FCCPS has seen a rise in families deciding to leave the system until we are either back in person or there is a vaccine to fight the virus. I respect each family's decision and also want to share some information and thinking. At our recent School Board meeting, I used the term “pandemic flight” in reference to families deciding to homeschool, pod and hire a face-to-face private instructor for homeschooled children, attend private schools, and/or look for other private solutions to make it all work. My family -- two full-time working parents and two school-aged children -- is facing many of the same challenges and empathize with the dilemmas you find yourself in. However, it is important that our community understands that these actions -- that is, disenrolling from FCCPS -- have consequences.  

FCCPS receives funding from the local Government, the State Government, and the Federal Government based on the numbers of students we have enrolled. If there is an exodus of students from FCCPS, the funding for our schools will decrease. As a consequence of the decrease in funding, we will need to make hard decisions with respect to our budget. A concrete example of the immediate impact is that we have frozen the hires of several teaching positions (vacated due to resignation or retirement) because we now don’t have the student population to support those positions. 

When we can come back to school face-to-face, if those who left (i.e., de-enrolled) decide to return to FCCPS, our class sizes will likely be larger than the community expectation because we won’t have the staff for the additional students. It isn’t as easy as just hiring an additional teacher. For example, if eight de-enrolled fourth-grade students re-enroll in FCCPS, we won’t hire another teacher for 8 students -- those students would be placed in classrooms with existing teachers who are at their max. The alternative would be to hire a new teacher and move a segment of students to new classrooms, which would be very disruptive. Lastly, once the budget has been reduced by a certain number of teachers, it is very difficult to get those positions back through the budget process. It becomes a competing priority with staff compensation, growth of programs, etc.

So what is the solution? I would highly recommend that FCCPS families stick with us and take up the online services we have to offer as the primary form of instruction for your school-aged children. This provides families flexibility and keeps students engaged with FCCPS, our content, IB, and our teachers. Further, students enrolled in FCCPS will have access to clubs and activities virtually that will continue to build our educational community. If you need childcare, please connect with the Community Center as they are attempting to put together services for those who have the greatest need. We continue to work with our community partners to generate creative solutions to the problems confronting so many families during this pandemic. We know these are extraordinarily difficult times. The work-school-family dilemmas are profound, but I am hopeful that, staying connected through FCCPS, we can work together, support our students and their families, and recover quickly when it is safe to return to in-person learning. Thank you for your consideration and commitment to FCCPS.

Returning Metrics and Measures

FCCPS wants nothing more than to return to school and to see our students. We are committed to making it happen in a virtual environment, and when the time is right for us to open, we will. Questions have come up about how we will make that decision as a division. We continue to be in discussion with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), the local health district, the State Department of Education, our teachers, our parents and our community. 

The use of acceptable metrics and measures is an important factor when considering next steps. Our plan is to look at both health metrics and operational systems metrics. The Virginia Department of Health is developing a tool that will provide our region with eight different weighted factors that go into a composite rating that the Commonwealth is using for reopening the economy...not schools. We are reviewing this dashboard as it develops and may serve as a tool that can help us with a general understanding about regional transmission of the virus. 

The metrics we are studying from our local health department, the VDH, and from other resources include: the percent positive cases in the region; the number new of cases per 100,000 residents; the number of new cases; testing availability and result turnaround time; disease burden; and the 7 and 14-day trends for health conditions. We are also looking at these same metrics for the region, not just the Fairfax County health district of which Falls Church is a part. The communities that make up our Northern Region include the health districts of Fairfax, Arlington, Alexandria, Prince William County, and Loudoun. 

The following table shows the weighted metrics the VDH is using in their composite that will ultimately provide a rating of “Low, Moderate, or High” with respect to viral transmission, community burden, and trends in the region) and several measure (illustrative) of operational readiness that must be in place as well as meeting a particular transmission risk level.

As this tool from VDH continues to develop we will share more information. However, school divisions do not currently have access to the data within the dashboard and are required to work through our local health districts for the analysis of the risk of transmission.

We hope we can have a core set of measures and metrics to share with the community in the coming weeks that will be transparent, accessible, and provide for a safe return to school. For now, we wanted to share with you what is in development.

Meals While School Is Virtual

Since school closed last spring, FCCPS has been providing breakfast and lunch for children of all ages for seven days each week.  These meals were part of the Federal Summer School Nutrition Program, and this program continues until school opens.  

On August 24th, FCCPS will resume participating in the National School Breakfast and Lunch Programs at the elementary level. This year we are adding both Henderson and Mason to the program providing Federal meal funding for FCCPS students at all schools.  For students to receive breakfast and lunch Monday-Friday each week beginning on August 24th, parents must complete a Free and Reduced-Prices Meals application which is available on www.fccps.org website.  

The form can be submitted electronically, so there’s no requirement to come to school to complete an application.  With the start of the school year, we will continue to have families pick up their food each week on Fridays from 9 am to 12 pm only at Thomas Jefferson Elementary or George Mason High School.  To receive food, in addition to submitting an meals application for the program, families will need to order food using our Nutrislice application each week. You will need to provide each student’s school id number to place an order. 

Documents to Support Instruction

Below you will find a list of links to additional resources that parents, families, and caregivers may find helpful as virtual/distance learning begins at home on August 24th:

While this year’s opening will be quite different from prior years, I can assure you that the enthusiasm I felt from our new teachers on the first day of onboarding was as palpable as ever. On Tuesday, I will host all of our teachers for our annual Convocation where we come together as a full staff and discuss the goals and expectations for the year. It is always a great day, and I look forward to it very much.

Have a great weekend.

Sincerely,

Peter