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Fairfax County School Board Member: “I Want Kids to Learn and I Don’t Want People to Die” During COVID-19 Pandemic

"Trying to figure that out means that I lay awake at night trying to see every angle."

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See below for a superb Facebook post by Fairfax County School Board member Laura Jane Cohen. I’d just add a few points: 1) school board members in general work very hard/very long hours (from the members I’ve talked to over the years, it can be far more than a “full-time” job…upwards of 40 or even up to 80 hours per week!), for generally VERY low salaries ($32k per year in Fairfax County, the 11th-largest school system in the country); 2) the folks who do this are overwhelmingly in it for the right reasons, because they care deeply about kids, because they have relevant/valuable educational backgrounds, because they’re good people, etc.; 3) unfortunately, being a School Board member – from everything I’ve heard over the years – can be (and often is) *very* stressful, and that’s not even counting the COVID-19 pandemic, which is basically a no-good-answers, only-“less-bad”-answers, super-high-stress situation; 4) that includes serious nastiness by some (hopefully a VERY small minority of) parents, as well as the fact that school boards ultimately don’t control how much money they’re allocated by the county, etc. Anyway…of course, these folks signed up for the job, but instead of being berated, they should be *thanked profusely* for trying to do the best they can in difficult, even near-impossible/no-win, situations (e.g., the current one with COVID-19). They also should be paid accordingly; Senior Executive Service-level sounds about right in school districts as large as Fairfax County (189,000 students, plus teachers, staff, etc. and a $3 billion annual budget). With that, here’s Fairfax County School Board member Laura Jane Cohen‘s heartfelt, powerful post. Thank you, Laura Jane, for everything you do! – Lowell

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Tips for writing to me, your friendly school board member:

1) do not ask me where we will be sending your direct deposit because now that you are expected to “teach” your child at home, you expect FCPS to give you 3/5 of a teacher’s salary

2) do not compare teachers to grocery store clerks, doctors, or nurses. Full stop. That shows me you have never spent time in a classroom and have no clue what a teacher’s day looks like

3) please know that I read with a slightly different lens when you begin by calling me a liberal moron who is in bed with the NEA

4) do not tell me that kids can’t get sick and quote an “article” that someone wrote online in their parents’ basement

5) yes, I’ve read every article and listened to every single podcast about returning to school, including the AAP article (which I think really shares very important points, but was also clearly written by folks who have never set foot in a classroom). I don’t at all mind you sending them to me, but please know I would never make a decision without first doing my homework. Also, please note that an editorial or an op-Ed are not “articles” they are not cited or peer reviewed, they are opinions and like buttholes, everybody’s got one.

6) do not think that telling me you will or will not vote for me in the future based on the Fall return will move me in any way. I work for you and your family whether you voted for me or not. I will continue to do that whether or not you support me.

7) please know that I know you have to go back to work. I get it. My kids got little educational support from me this Spring because I was working 14 hour days. It was awful and I don’t have to find childcare, so I can imagine how impossible that feels. I really, really get it and I get the consequences that come from having to choose between working and childcare. It’s real. I have seen it and I have lived it here in my own home. It sucks.

8/ Please know that I understand loss. That I know what it is like to hold someone you love’s hand as they struggle for their final breath. I know what COVID can do to even healthy, young, people.

Trying to balance the educational needs of our students with the very real possibility that kids and adults could get sick and possibly die based on a decision you help make is unlike anything I have ever experienced. Let me say that again, if kids or teachers or staff die because we go back into school buildings, I will have had a hand in that even if the final decision is not mine to make. I watch the numbers every day and pray that we can behave in a way that can get us back in classrooms. Teachers and kids are meant to be together, there is not a person in FCPS or on the Board that doesn’t believe that or want that. If that’s what you think, you haven’t been listening.

I want kids to learn and I don’t want people to die. Trying to figure that out means that I lay awake at night trying to see every angle. Trying to be more “creative”. So before you call me out on social media. Before you pronounce me a shill. Before you say I’m not living up to my campaign promises or that I don’t care about kids or teachers or education. Maybe you can take a breath and imagine for a moment what it is like to have 189,000 students (2 of whom are your own) and 26,000 employees who are counting on you to do what’s “right” when there is no “right”. In all scenarios somebody loses. Will you take responsibility when that loss is bigger than an educational setback? When it is someone’s mom, daughter, grandma, sister, aunt? Because I will have to.