At present, students in this suburban school system, one of the largest in the country, will only return to school to a limited extent: two days a week in the classroom. The rest will be virtual and parents will also have the option to leave their children completely at home.
Scott Brabrand, the Superintendent of Fairfax County Schools, says this is the best option to comply with the guidelines of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We will have PSA for all of our teachers and students and we will return to school in a new normal for Fairfax County and for school districts across the country,” said Brabrand during an interview in a classroom amid desks 6 feet apart.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos repeatedly calls Fairfax County, Virginia, and criticizes the current school system plan for just two days a week in the classroom as insufficient. Devos has found that it is well funded in one of the richest parts of America.
“I would call it an elite public school system in America ̵
“Covid hits us all, and the 6-foot social distancing guidelines simply mean that you can’t take every child back to school with the space they need. It’s just that simple,” Brabrand replied flatly to DeVos.
He argues that they may have a lot of resources, but that doesn’t make it more practical to pack students in schools and still follow socially distant guidelines.
“This is the American dream, American public education. We are here to offer it to all of our students and families, and I don’t think those who would criticize it have the best interests of public education and the United States at heart.” he said with a not so subtle argument with DeVos, whose goal is to bring more public money to students in private schools.
Fairfax County is one of the largest school districts in the country with more than 188,000 pre-K-12 students.
Brabrand said that students are about 18 inches apart on average in normal times, and expects that they would need almost another school system with 200 locations to have enough space for all of his students to be socially distant.
To put it another way, he said that the school system was the size of “five pentagons”.
“It would take another five pentagons of space to safely accommodate all of Fairfax County’s public schools,” he said. This would not only be expensive, but would also not be possible in the next six weeks before school starts.
“What we do is the best we can do under the conditions of Covid-19,” he said.
Parents hope for better
Miriam Aguila, parent of Fairfax County, hopes that the best the school system can do for her daughter, an up-and-coming kindergarten teacher, and her third-grade son looks much better than in the spring.
She was frustrated with the virtual learning process and found that there were too many platforms that often did not work properly.
“My son had about 200 emails that I just didn’t have time for,” said Aguila of her second grader at the time.
“Logging in to him, the technical difficulties of just being there. Afterwards I felt like an IT person, IT is not my area of expertise. So it was crazy,” she said, repeating the frustration and experience of parents across the country.
“There have been many times where, thank God, my job has been very understanding, where I was not available in the morning, and I either postponed my work schedule in the afternoon, sometimes even when they were in bed because it was quiet was, “she recalled.
Aguila is a single mother, but feels happy. She can work from home and has help, including from her own mother who lives with them.
“Even my mother is here, even with this help, sometimes you have to say, ‘Quiet. I’ve got a call!'” She said.
“Sometimes I’m up to 2 or 3 in the morning just because I can concentrate when the house is quiet. And then you have to get up in the morning and try to do the best you can,” she added.
Despite all of this, Aguila plans to opt for virtual full-time learning in the fall. She worries about exposing her 71-year-old mother, and also says that her children will at least have constancy if there is an increase in the area and personal learning stops two days a week.
Knowing that CNN was also speaking to her school’s superintendent, she made a plea to optimize virtual learning for the fall.
“We had two weeks of problems,” admitted Brabrand, but also insisted that they “went up” afterwards.
“I wish we could do that from the start. We have learned lessons and we are using these lessons to prepare ourselves for a successful fall,” he said.
Some of the problems they had in the spring – such as securing the systems – have been resolved. However, other challenges identified by Aguila, such as using more than one platform, will not change. You continue to plan to use both “Blackboard” and “Google Classroom”.
But Brabrand insists that teachers receive better education and that any student with connection problems or the need for a computer or I-Pad can get one.
So far, most parents have opted for personal learning.
By late Friday, about half of the school district’s students had registered their preference, and Brabrand said that about two-thirds ask for a personal experience and about a third ask for a virtual experience.
“Many of our families and communities want to get back to normal, but we have to be normal in the context of Covid-19. We have to be able to open schools in a responsible and safe manner for our students and for our staff and for ours Community, “he said.
Everyone on site must wear masks, including the youngest students, which is a challenge for the younger children.
“One of the things I have already said to the parents when you are considering your virtual choice or returning to school is that you put a mask on your child for a few hours a day in the summer. See how it is It is a new experience for children I still believe in the resilience of children, we know that some children are struggling with the mask again very early and we have to find out how we work with these individual children or our teachers provide additional protection where there are some situations. “
He said there would be other student accommodations, including those with special needs that cannot wear masks.
“In some situations, we’ll have PPE, gloves, robes, and face shields that provide protection when masks aren’t the way we can go,” he said.
Concerns of teachers
Although some data indicate that children with Covid-19 do not get as sick as the elderly, experts like Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator at the White House, said there weren’t enough tests to know enough about children, especially when it came to transmitting the virus. This unknown makes teachers across the country nervous about the prospect of spending the whole day indoors.
In Fairfax County, teachers also have to wear masks, even in front of the classroom, and students who come to school without a mask are subjected to temperature control.
Brabrand said he wished they could go a step further and offer tests for the virus, but it is not yet reliable or available.
“One of the things about learning with our health department is that you are testing for the moment. Do we have enough tests in this country to test children regularly on that basis or at our faculty? I know that is something that colleges look for But then our conversations here, one of the questions is that really just hold on a moment in time, “he said.
“I think none of us are still in the United States,” he added flatly.
President Donald Trump aggressively pushed the week to reopen schools, which is not only important for children’s development but also vital for boosting the economy by allowing parents to leave home and work again.
Both Trump and DeVos even threaten to hold back federal dollars for schools that aren’t fully reopened.
The reality is that 90% of American schools receive their local funding.
In Fairfax County, Brabrand said that only 2% of the budget came from federal dollars.
“It’s not about political games. It’s not about budget struggles. It’s about what’s best for America in a crisis, and we need clear, concise, and supportive leadership that says, ‘Do it and do it well, and we are. ” Here to support you. Tell us what you need so that we can make you successful. ‘We need public education fans to stand up and say, “Superintendents across the country, school boards across the country are all trying to do the right thing, and we’re here to help. Tell us how we can help.” This is the recipe for success this fall, “he said.