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FCPS Stressed Everyone Out Before Making the Right Choice

I appreciate the leadership of Fairfax County Public School Superintendent Brabrand, and the School Board as they made sure our kids will be safe when starting back in a few weeks. I am relieved that the decision was made to go back virtually. When FCPS student decisions were being registered back in July, my daughter chose the in-person option. Almost immediately, everyone in my family regretted that choice. I sent the following email to Dr. Brabrand asking him to reconsider providing kids with both an in-person and virtual option.

Dr. Brabrand,

My daughter will be a senior at Langley High School and we recently chose the “in-person” option as a way of helping her feel less isolated and knowing that FCPS would only make this option available if they felt it could be done safely. Making this decision was difficult for us and required a great leap of faith. However, recent news reports about rising COVID cases and decisions made by neighboring school districts to move toward a 100% virtual option have caused me to conclude that FCPS should reconsider taking on the challenge of providing two options for students.

Despite your best efforts to communicate with students and families, binding choices had to be submitted by July 15th with very little information about availability of classes and teachers. We chose with the expectation that our daughter would have access to the classes she needs to get into a competitive college. We believed that the necessary social distancing limitations would still make attending in person worth the risk. We considered her preference for in-person learning and desire to find some small way to engage with friends while salvaging her senior year. I’m concerned that binding student choices had to be made without knowing whether these expectations could be met making it likely that students will be disappointed with their decisions if you can’t deliver.

In watching your recent “Town Hall Meetings”, I also became concerned that we are asking too much of our administrators and teachers. For example, mask wearing has become extremely politicized. You said students will be required to wear masks but FCPS cannot suspend or expel students if they don’t. That puts administrators in the dangerous situation of managing an unmasked student whether it be by omission or with intent. I’d like to think everyone would choose to protect each other by wearing masks, but we have seen too many recent examples where people believe their individual rights are more important than the common good. I don’t think it’s fair to put our teachers and administrators in the middle of that.

My husband is also an FCPS high school teacher and he registered his virtual “preference” as requested. He is aware that ultimately his teaching situation will be dictated by student choices. He would have liked to register his preference based on which option allowed him to teach the subjects he prefers. But since that information wasn’t available until student choices could be tallied, he based his preference on his personal safety. I’m guessing many other teachers did the same which doesn’t give you a true reading of teacher preference. You should also know that stressed-out students were contacting him for guidance when making their July 15th binding back-to-school choice. Of course he had none to give.

I think taking the choice away from students and following neighboring school districts toward a 100% virtual class schedule is more manageable and realistic in an environment where things are too uncertain. Let’s divert the FCPS resources we would have spent on multiple class schedules toward helping kids in need of meals, devices, internet access and social services. Let’s tackle what we can safely manage and avoid overextending our limited resources. We can always reassess once we know more about cases and the availability of vaccines.

Thankfully, the FCPS School Board voted in July to resume school virtually. Articles like this one by Monica Hesse of The Washington Post provide a glimpse of what happened in North Paulding High School in Georgia when they went back to school this year. Their debacle around mask enforcement is exactly what I was referring to in the 3rd paragraph of my note to Dr. Brabrand. I share Monica’s perspective on the hypocrisy of allowing mask wearing to be a “personal choice”, yet dress codes are considered enforceable and punishable when kids don’t comply.

We weren’t ready go to back to school in-person for so many reasons. Eventually a new set of ground rules will need to be agreed upon in order for this to work. Vaccine or no vaccine. 

Related article: The impact of COVID on Teens