Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), the 10th biggest school division in the U.S., has been working to provide options for students during online learning. COVID-19 forced schools to close, and FCPS was sent scrambling to prepare hundreds of schools for online learning. After resistance from the superintendent to closing and chaos in online classrooms due to digital disruptors and harassment, FCPS has been under scrutiny. Now with multiple options offered to both students and teachers, many faculty members are threatening not to return to schools in August.
Students can select one of two options: go to school entirely online or go to school with a reduced population twice a week. Teachers are also being presented with this choice, and being supplied with the vague timeline and lack of a list of precautions as students. Staff members are saying that they simply aren’t being granted enough information by FCPS.
The Association of Fairfax Professional Educators, The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers and the Fairfax Education Association have all directed their teachers to select the digital learning option until it is no longer feasible for the county to provide the in-person learning option.
Teachers are requesting that FCPS work with them to draft a clear plan, and that administrators provide clear information regarding the protections that will be provided.
This confusion has left many students reeling, as many families struggle to decide which option to select. Andy Bautista, a rising senior at South Lakes, shared, “Despite the fact that I would rather do in person lessons, teachers are the ones that are putting themselves at risk to educate us, therefore they should have the ultimate say.” Andy pointed to the confusion from the county, saying, “On both the student and teacher end, the whole situation is very unclear and the county should be clarifying as much as possible. COVID is still very much a threat to the public (despite popular belief) so having a detailed plan to deal with it in a school setting would help everyone understand.”
“Our educators are overwhelmingly not comfortable returning to schools. They fear for their lives, the lives of their students and the lives of their families.” Tina Williams, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, told The Washington Post.
Not all teachers are participating in any kind of strike or boycott. South Lakes football coach and physical education teacher Mr. Hescock shared that he will be in-person in the fall, saying, “I will be returning to teach in fall 2020. I think trying to return to whatever sense of ‘normal’ is important right now. Virtual learning is something that is extremely difficult for school aged students to experience success with, I know a lot of students need and value the in-face instruction. I also know that some families just cannot facilitate virtual instruction with their jobs, child-care, financial limitations…I’m a servant to this community, and I want to be a part of the solution…I trust in FCPS and its priority of keeping its students and staff safe, but also in the great leadership we have at South Lakes. I know my weight room will be cleaned beyond expectations, and all staff in the weight room will be diligent to maintain its high level of cleanliness.”
FCPS currently states that it will be maintaining its July 15 selection deadline, pointing to the participation of teaching unions in the creation of initial plans.
The pressure is on. The fall of 2020 feels unclear, and a lack of communication between families, faculty and administrators is only amplifying the anxieties filling many Fairfax County homes.