Fauquier County schools will be opening to some students Nov. 9 on an AA/BB hybrid schedule for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools in March. Half of students who have chosen in-person learning will attend classes on Mondays and Tuesdays, half will attend Thursdays and Fridays, with Wednesday reserved for cleaning and planning. On the days they are not in school, students will complete independent learning assignments.
Students whose parents have chosen virtual learning will watch their classes online via a livestream.
The desktop cameras that will allow students to watch their teachers from home have arrived in the schools; training on the cameras became available Oct. 23. Parents and students who would like to understand how teachers will be handling hybrid learning can watch videos at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbfqCzaeb6c&feature=youtu.be for an explanation of elementary school classes and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HB-ijUVnVHg&feature=youtu.be for secondary school classes.
Louis McDonald, director of technology for the school division, said that he is still waiting for 7,400 Chromebooks that were ordered in June to arrive. The school division’s goal has been to provide every student in the county with a Chromebook, “but there is a supply chain issue. We are waiting for 7,400 Chromebooks; Fairfax might be waiting for 80,000,” said McDonald.
David Jeck, superintendent of schools said that there have been shortages of personal protective equipment, but “but we are confident we’ll be stocked appropriately by Nov. 9. Supplies continue to arrive.”
He said that details about who will be responsible for extra cleaning of high-traffic areas throughout the school day are still being worked out in each school.
Jeck said he is comfortable with the number of substitute teachers on hand — 200 as of Oct. 25 — to handle any potential teacher absences. He added that he doesn’t know yet about bus drivers. He said, “Our transportation department is still working on routing. Once that is completed, we’ll know more.”
Because buses will hold only half as many children at a time, some bus drivers may have to make double runs – pick up children, drop them at school then go back out to pick up a second group of children. Jeck said he didn’t think that would necessitate teachers remaining in buildings longer for children arriving earlier and leaving later. “I don’t think so, but under the current circumstances, anything is possible,” he said.
Because more parents than usual will be dropping off their children at school, the student drop-off area at each school could get crowded. In anticipation of the problem, Jeck said, “We may have to stagger opening bell times to accommodate for an increase in parent drop-offs.”
Another question that was left open until recently was about child care for teachers. Jeck said, “We will be providing child care. We are working with Fauquier Community Child Care re: locations and staffing.”
Hybrid model opponents
Since well before the decision was made to reopen schools with a hybrid model, two factions of community activists have been lobbying the school board and administration on one side or the other – resume in-person learning or keep the doors closed to most students.
Both sides have organized their constituencies and both have shown up in force at school board meetings to use their three minutes apiece to argue passionately for their preference. School board members have said they have received numerous emails from parents expressing their views. School board member Susan Pauling (Center District), for instance, said, “I have received a tremendous amount of emails and phone calls regarding our hybrid plan. For every email or call I receive advocating for a continued full virtual model, there is another email or call advocating for us to reopen on Nov. 9.”
The group pushing for resuming widespread in-person instruction celebrated the school board’s Oct. 12 decision to adopt the hybrid model, although many would have liked a five-day-a week option. The group advocating against widespread in-person instruction, however, is still asking that the schools remain closed to students until the beginning of the second semester in January.
FCPS1Equity, a group of parents, students, and teachers opposed to reopening schools on Nov. 9, circulated a press release on Oct. 26. The press release calls on the Fauquier County School Board “to schedule a special session before Nov. 9 with the necessary public notice and formal agenda in order to take a vote to delay in-person instruction until at least the beginning of the second semester on Jan. 5, 2021.”
The group lists “insurmountable logistical challenges facing the fast-approaching Nov. 9 planned return to in-person instruction, including: staffing issues for teachers, substitutes and bus drivers; the loss of instructional time and impact of mid-quarter schedule upheaval on students, particularly high schoolers and those with IEPs/504 plans; significant additional burdens being placed on teachers, including expecting them to be in multiple places at once during the school day, and the lack of appropriate cleaning and mitigation supplies.”
Mike Hammond, one of the leaders of the group, said in the release, “We urge the school board in the strongest possible terms to provide a public update about all of these challenges, including staffing, transportation, technology, and the implementation of mitigation measures during the day, and then schedule a special session before Nov. 9 in order to take the only appropriate action: vote to delay until Jan. 5 to give the division more time to attempt to develop a workable plan and marshal the needed resources. We are working with stakeholders in the community and the education system to develop a proposed ‘Rational Return’ plan and would be delighted to take part in this work once the artificial urgency of the self-imposed Nov. 9 deadline is removed.”
Hammond said he has met with school board members Pauling and Suzanne Sloane (Scott District). He said, “I do not get the impression from that conversation or from the lack of any communication from them or any other board members, that there will be any change to the opening date. I believe that the only things that will alter the opening date at this time is if the health region continues to have a steady increase in COVID cases and hospitalizations, or if the governor declares that schools have to close again.”
Pauling said, “We are still firm in our plan to reopen schools on Nov. 9. I met with Mike Hammond last week to discuss his petition and told him I would not be changing my vote.”
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