The following email from the Falls Church City Public Schools offers a really convincing case for not re-opening schools yet. In particular, check out the stats on their summer program of 50 students – “Since we opened two weeks ago, we’ve sent five children home because they either arrived with a fever or developed one during the day.” Again, that’s out of 50 students…so 10% in two weeks. Also note: “25% of our custodial staff have either been positive or quarantined this summer due to COVID 19. This is before we introduce students and staff.” And, of course, “If we don’t have the capacity to clean our buildings – especially during a pandemic, drive our buses, serve our food we can’t operate effectively.” As if all that’s not bad enough, “We have seen a spike in teachers and staff applying for a year-long leave of absence and resigning their teaching position.” In sum, how on earth would reopening schools work, exactly, given stats like those?!?
Dear FCCPS Families,
Over the past weeks, we have collectively put our best thinking, creativity, and small division focus on our reopening plans. All along, we’ve said we would be prepared for whatever the conditions presented us and make the appropriate adjustments to keep our students, staff, and families safe. Circumstances have changed in the last two weeks, and that has led us to a different decision point than where we started from the start of the summer. The following provides further context and other data points we can’t ignore. I am hopeful that having this deeper understanding will help with your support of our shift.
What Has Changed – Context and Experience
With health and safety as our first priority, the virus data we take into account is broader than just the City of Falls Church. As a reminder, the vast majority of our faculty and staff don’t live in the City of Falls Church. Therefore, we must look at the health picture’s entirety to include all of Northern Virginia, Maryland, and DC…not just 22046. Numbers need to be declining everywhere, so we aren’t inadvertently importing the virus.
The stability of a workforce in a large organization is vital to its success. 25% of our custodial staff have either been positive or quarantined this summer due to COVID 19. This is before we introduce students and staff. If we don’t have the capacity to clean our buildings – especially during a pandemic, drive our buses, serve our food we can’t operate effectively.
This past week we have seen a spike in teachers and staff applying for a year-long leave of absence and resigning their teaching position. In the midst of all of the pandemic, there is also a national teacher shortage. If we can’t keep the staff we have, we can’t hold classes. Substitute teachers have already indicated they will not report as they have in the past because they do not get health care benefits, and the risk is too great.
Virginia’s largest school insurer, VACORP, says worker’s compensation is unlikely for teachers and staff who contract COVID-19, indicating a further lack of protection for our workforce.
Our summer daycare has been a good proxy for opening schools more fully. Since we opened two weeks ago, we’ve sent five children home because they either arrived with a fever or developed one during the day. Additionally, families were asked a daily health screening questionnaire. Unfortunately, we’ve had some struggle with the screening, and at least one family sent children to school while other members of the household were home sick, awaiting the results of a COVID 19 test. Just yesterday, two faculty members were out due to illness with COVID-like symptoms and are seeking treatment. Given the small size of the program (50) and the strictest adherence to mitigation procedures for safety as defined by the CDC and FCHD, when you extrapolate out this circumstance to a full division of 2800 students, it is daunting.
To be sure, the Fairfax County Health Department was contacted appropriately and contacts with families were made as needed. We have all read and reviewed the information from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control. However, there is no substitute for actually implementing and doing the work as we have in FCCPS. Taking theory to practice is not easy because the human variable isn’t always accounted for in the theory.
The publication of the research from South Korean drove home that children above the age of 10 transmit the virus at the same rate as adults. This is NEW information as we have always been under the impression from our Health Department that kids are minimally impacted and not significant carriers of the virus.
Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu, M.D., M.P.H., the Director of the Fairfax County Health District, announced Tuesday that if schools opened, “there will be clusters of viral outbreaks and the schools should plan for them appropriately.” Yet, clear guidance from the FCHD for schools is lacking. I want to plan for safe instruction, not clusters of outbreaks – going online allows us to do both – be safe and get quality instruction.
The Fairfax County Health Department will require significant notice to provide schools with Public Health Nursing support. Public Health Nurses are critical in developing health plans, 504s, and IEPs for any face-to-face instruction. This is an issue given 50% of our students with disabilities have a health plan and an IEP or a 504 Plan. The FCHD is not prepared to support any face to face instruction at the beginning of the year.
Starting online let us work more fully with staff and faculty to prepare for opening in a hybrid. They have been great advisors over the summer but have also been on summer break and not had the intended influence over how it will work best. We need to build plan ownership as a team. By bringing people back in online, we can more adequately plan forward.
We’ve had many questions about the metrics necessary to reopen. We need help from the Virginia Health Department. There is a multivariable “dashboard” currently under development to help communities and schools, but it is not ready yet. When complete, we will work to review it and see how we can implement a process going forward.