Dr. Noonan's Friday Reopening Update - December 11, 2020

Dear FCCPS Families,

It has been a long couple of weeks for all of us. I hope you were able to take some time to read my message regarding the Board’s decision to rename both George Mason High School and Thomas Jefferson Elementary. The choices faced by school leaders are not easy whether returning to virtual/hybrid/face-to-face learning, renaming schools, or getting a new high school open on time and on budget (which it is!).

While decisions are not easy, they are always meant to be for the greater good of our school community. During this time, we all face hard choices. There is one easy decision: be kind to each other. We appreciate your support and will continue to work together to navigate this path no matter what lies ahead. We are always #bettertogether and need each other as a community now more than ever.

Health Metrics Update

One of our struggles has been the surge of the virus in our regional and local community. We continue to remain in a high rate of burden with substantial transmission for the Northern Region. There are increases in the number of cases per 100K that are in the highest range, and our percent positivity for Falls Church City based on the CDC Thresholds for K-12 schools continues to increase. Find our data at https://www.fccps.org/o/fccps/page/reopening-metrics. We are committed to the safety of our staff, students, and their families. 

Our decisions will continue to be conditions bound, not time-bound. We are facing uncertainty as we move into the winter months. It is hard to predict the future with the virus’s path, but we know that the increases we see now due to Thanksgiving will continue as we move into the new year. We are still hopeful that we will use our operational strength to bring back our students in a thoughtful manner continuing to use our data and science to drive our decisions. There is great hope with the vaccine efforts and a faint light at the end of the tunnel, but we still must remain vigilant in our mitigation efforts.

We are working with a group of teacher leaders and other staff to look at the data and operational/instructional metrics. We are developing a plan that leverages mitigation strategies to reduce risk to provide in-person instruction and move forward with our reopening efforts, even as the data becomes more challenging. This work includes developing stratified metrics for different groups based on their needs, especially our Special Populations students (ESOL, Special Education, Preschool) and Kindergarten - 3rd grade to bring them back as soon as possible, safely, and consistently as possible. We will do this by looking at the metrics via a different lens using the CDC K-12 Indicators and Thresholds for our most vulnerable learners. We all want students in our buildings to move into the new year, but we have to ensure everyone remains safe--staff, students, and families alike.

Governor Northam Updated Restrictions

Yesterday Governor Northam held a press conference where he shared new restrictions for the state in response to the increasing disease rates. The executive order can be found here: (https://www.governor.virginia.gov/media/governorvirginiagov/executive-actions/EO-72-and-Order-of-Public-Health-Emergency-Nine-Common-Sense-Surge-Restrictions-Certain-Temporary-Restrictions-Due-to-Novel-Coronavirus-(COVID-19).pdf ) Those restrictions had minimal impact on our school community, and the choices regarding school division responses to COVID-19 are remain a local decision. 

One change is the requirement of masks for all students and employees, even outside when social distancing is not possible. The new group size restrictions put in place do not impact school settings. However, we continue to focus on keeping healthy social distancing practices and small groups to support our efforts.

Holiday Travel Guidance

As a school system, we need your support, especially as the holiday season continues. Our community’s decisions now impact our ability to reopen after the winter break like it has following Thanksgiving. As you plan your holiday activities, please do so with caution and vigilance. This is especially true for travel.  The CDC has updated its Domestic Travel During the COVID-19 Pandemic guidance to address the concerns developed given the increase in COVID-19 cases across the country.  Everyone should understand ways to help reduce the spread of the virus. It’s our collective responsibility to each other in our school community. 

As a school division, we cannot prevent families from traveling. We cannot mandate that families quarantine after travel unless required based on the destination’s CDC guidelines. However, we do ask families who decide to travel for the holidays to quarantine upon returning home to FCCPS voluntarily. The reality is that travel has proven to increase the spread of the virus. Positive cases in our school community increase the risk to others and place our ability to reopen and stay open after the holidays in jeopardy. 

Travel is simply a high-risk activity. Travel can increase your chance of spreading and getting COVID-19. Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. You and your travel companions (including children) may feel well and not have any symptoms, but you can still spread COVID-19 to family, friends, and the community after travel. This is a significant risk for our school community.

If you must travel, please be sure to follow the guidelines for domestic travel and know the rates of COVID-19 spread in your destination. When there are more cases in your home community or at your destination, you are more likely to get and spread COVID-19 due to your door-to-door travel.  Before you travel within the United States,  Check Each State’s Cases in the Last 7 Days. If you travel internationally, please check the CDC’s COVID-19 Travel Recommendations by Destination before planning your trip. 

When traveling, please consider avoiding large groups, people who don’t live in your household, and any gatherings where mitigation practices are not in place. Please consider getting tested with a viral test 3–5 days after your trip and reduce non-essential activities for a full seven (7) days after travel, even if your test is negative. If you don’t get tested, consider reducing non-essential activities for at least ten (10) days upon returning.

In closing…

Finally, the next few weeks are critical and will test us. Despite the challenges we are all navigating, we all have the opportunity to focus on what really matters: being with those we love at home, getting back to school, and focusing on the hope for the future and a wonderful spring. As you engage with your family in the coming weeks please remember that there are families who are experiencing economic hardship, the loss of loved ones to this virus, struggles with the stress and depression, etc... Consider taking a moment to reach out, check in, and just be there for someone who may be in a different situation than you are. Also, if you need support please let us know as we can also broker resources to help families and children who may be struggling that we are unaware of.

Have a great weekend and look for one more message from me before the holiday season truly begins in earnest. We also wish a Happy Hanukkah to our families and friends who celebrate!

Warmly,

Peter