Pressure Mounts on Return to School in Fairfax County

School Board members face sensitive voting items.

The week of Oct. 19 held important information for Fairfax County Public Schools families. Superintendent Scott Brabrand held a virtual town hall Monday during which he gave updates to his Return to School proposal. In a continued phased-in process, Brabrand presented that pre-K and kindergarten students are tentatively scheduled to go to school on Nov. 16. First and second-grade students are expected to return on Nov. 30. Grades 3-6 will tentatively return on Jan. 4, and grades 7-12 are scheduled to return on Feb. 1.

On Thursday, Oct. 22, eleven of the twelve Fairfax County School Board members met virtually for a regular meeting and took action on multiple agenda items. First, the Board approved in part the school reassignment appeal of a student who possessed a firearm during the virtual instructional program in which other students were participating. The Board also approved modifying the Division Superintendent's disciplinary decision.

Next, School Board members addressed systemic issues that impact student diversity at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. According to U.S News and World Reports, the school is ranked first in National and Virginia rankings, yet Black and Hispanic youth are poorly represented, each at 2 percent. The Board voted unanimously, directing Superintendent Brabrand to "establish a plan for student talent development and put into action means for student potential identification and outreach."

According to Schools online voting records, the plan might include but not be limited to: "1. Strengthening the equity of access to advanced academic curriculum and strategies for all students regardless of AAP (Advanced Academic Programs) ... 2. Establishing a plan to have full-time Advanced Academic resource teachers in all remaining ES (elementary schools) and a .5 in each middle school; 3. Increasing administrator and teacher awareness of our Young Scholars program in FCPS and strive to ensure it is administered uniformly and with fidelity with the goal of expanding it to all schools; 4. Developing a communications plan to help parents understand how their children can benefit from participation in AAP and invest in family engagement to facilitate participation of historically underrepresented students in advanced academic programs;(and) 5. Providing an analysis of math and science curriculum offering in all elementary and middle schools; Providing an analysis of extracurricular STEM opportunities in all elementary and middle schools."

THE BOARD approved the FY2021 Revised Budget acting on Gov. Northam's Oct. 8 announcement of new allocations of the CARES Act dollars, allotting $32.2 million to Fairfax County Public Schools. The total is based on a formula of $175 per pupil for fall enrolment. Fairfax City's allocation of $0.52 million will run through FCPS. The figure for Fairfax County, the highest in the Commonwealth, is just under 1 percent of the County's school budget of $3.2 billion for this year. According to the release by the Office of the Governor, "The funding will support COVID-19 preparedness and response measures for the 2020–2021 school year, including testing supplies, personal protective equipment, sanitization, and technology for distance learning." Tamara D. Kaufax, Lee District Representative, said, "Time is of the essence," referencing that funds must be spent by Dec. 30. The Board unanimously approved the funding and allocated it toward the Corona Relief Fund (CRF) with proposed expenditures to be determined.

The Board also approved the purchase of teacher replacement laptops and expansion of FCPSOn with student laptop purchases for grades 3, 4, and remaining to 5 up to the dollar amounts noted in the agenda item.

On the Return to School Timeline, motion on the final resolution carried. Still, Laura Jane H. Cohen, Springfield District Representative, Tamara D. Kaufax, Lee District Representative and Karl V. Frisch, Providence District Representative voted no, with Elaine V. Tholen abstaining. Cohen said, "We must get this right, and when our principals tell us it cannot be implemented properly, especially with the new concurrent model if we try to speed this timeline up, I think we have to listen...I will be voting against this."

The resolution read: "Consider bringing group 7 (ES 3-6, Secondary Public Day Programs-Spec. Ed; Burke MS, Cedar Lane, Quander Road, and students with targeted learner profiles at the Davis & Pulley Center) and group 8 (Middle and High School Students in Grades 6-12 and remaining students at the Davis & Pulley Career Centers) back earlier than the Superintendent's proposed schedule presented to the Board on Oct. 15.The Superintendent will provide a recommendation to the Board on Nov. 12 to see if there is a way to bring back 3-6th graders earlier than Jan. 4 (including 6h graders from the Mason district) and bringing High School students back earlier than Feb. 1."

The Board approved a second Return to School motion, directing the Superintendent to develop a clearly defined metric related to COVID positivity rates in the community. This metric would help dictate when schools would open or close. It needed to be easily understood and published regularly.

DURING THE PUBLIC HEARING portion of the meeting, more than a dozen speakers addressed the Board that evening. Harry Jackson, a member of the Coalition for TJ, said, "We encourage and embrace diversity. We want to see more black and Hispanic children at TJ but this half-baked plan by the Superintendent, school board, and the school principal is not going to work. It will simply make TJ white again."

Vern Williams said, "The school board would never select a superintendent, or any other administrator based on a lottery...The aforementioned groups would expect their accomplishments (to be) considered as well as being able to demonstrate a passion for doing the job. Students demand the same consideration when applying to TJ."

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