The Falls Church School Board unanimously approved an all-virtual start to the 2020-21 school year on the recommendation of Superintendent Peter Noonan.
During a virtual meeting of the Board, Dr. Noonan outlined recent changes that are causing the division to pause its plans for a hybrid school opening - a combination of in-person and virtual instruction - and move to all online instruction. The reasons include guidance Tuesday from the director of the Fairfax County Health District that if schools reopen there will be clusters of viral outbreaks. That coupled with current lengthy delays in getting COVID-19 test results, the rate of FCCPS employee illness over the summer, and less than forthcoming answers to health check surveys during the summer daycare program are forcing a pause in an in-person return this fall.
"I am not in a position where I feel comfortable planning for clusters of viral outbreaks knowing what those viral outbreaks could mean for our students, our staff, or for some of our older teachers and staff that maybe at high risk," Dr. Noonan told the Board.
In addition, FCHD officials said Thursday they would need a month's notice of a return-to-school model because "all of (our) public health nurses have been redeployed. Some are doing contact tracing others are doing intake evaluations" as part of the local COVID-19 response, Dr. Noonan said.
Reopening Update 2020-21 Presentation
- What Has Changed? - Why pivot from a Hybrid model to Full-Online Instruction?
- Risks vs. Benefits
- Next Steps and Final Thoughts
Dr. Noonan further addressed the changes in a letter to staff and families prior to making the recommendation to the board.
So much is unknown about this virus and its transmission. FCCPS does not want to put anyone at risk through in-person instruction. This virtual approach will begin on August 24th and continue for at least the first nine weeks of school. We will remain online until we are confident of everyone’s safety in our classrooms, buses, and office spaces. Conditions will drive our decision making, not a timeline. Our commitment has always been to safety first, and we stand by that.
While a change of this significance can seem daunting, FCCPS staff members are working hard to make this format mirror a true-school experience as much as possible. The virtual learning will differ from the “emergency learning model” adopted after the March closure. The 2020-21 virtual format will be rich, structured, and robust, including new learning and graded. It will be a well-articulated and coherent school program, with a well-defined schedule for every student.
We pledge to keep you informed as we work together to engage all our children during this health crisis. We are grateful for your ongoing support. Our schools are working to provide the details you need. Everyone has lots of questions, but we are asking for your patience. We will be working on a new parent FAQ document to provide information about various topics related to the 100% online/virtual opening plan. Please help our principals and teachers/staff with their work by sending all questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org, not to your schools. We will be responsive and ensure those questions are answered in a timely fashion and forwarded to the staff who can support you with your inquiry.
On Friday, following the School Board meeting, we will publish our routine Friday edition of the “Road to Reopening.” This will be designed to help parents understand more fully what our models will look like at each level and give further information about the impacts this change has on online instruction generally. Thank you again for your dedication to our schools and your students during this unprecedented time in history. This is not where we imagined we would be a few weeks ago and recognize this is not the ideal situation for anyone, but the health and safety of all is paramount. We need your support now more than ever.
Note: This article was updated on July 24, 2020 to include the School Board's vote and meeting content.