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June 30, 2020

Fauquier school board wrestles with fall reopening

Photo/Lawrence Emerson
Socially-distanced and wearing masks, the school board and administrators discuss the fall term Monday night in the Fauquier High cafeteria.
I’m having a hard time thinking that we’re doing anyone a favor by keeping children out of schools three days a week.
— School board member Donna Grove
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Fauquier’s school board wants to consider more options before approving a plan for resuming classes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Superintendent David Jeck on Monday night presented his favored plan for the fall term that would:

• Bring half (Group A) of Fauquier’s 11,300 students into schools for traditional classes Mondays and Tuesdays.

• Provide “virtual” or online instruction for the other half (Group B) at home Mondays and Tuesdays.

• Devote Wednesdays to virtual learning for all and “deep cleaning” of schools, while teachers also plan and have “office hours” to communicate 1-on-1 with students and parents.

• Reverse the instruction on Thursdays and Fridays, with Group B in schools and Group A at home.

“There is an element of independent learning that will take place,” Deputy Superintendent Major Warner said. “There’s no way around that.”

> Document at bottom of story

But, thousands of parents and some board members want students in schools more than two days a week.

The five-member board Monday agreed that classes would resume no sooner than Wednesday, Aug. 19 — one week later than originally planned. But, the board won’t make other decisions about the fall term until at least July 13.

To do anything other than provide virtual instruction to students at home, the school system must get variances from the Virginia Department of Education, Dr. Jeck said. That means proposals for student transportation, nutrition, instruction, classroom seating and countless other details require state approval.

“As we bring more people into buildings, the risks go up,” Associate Superintendent Frank Finn said during the meeting in Fauquier High School’s cafeteria.

Transportation alone presents huge challenges in Fauquier where more than 7,000 students ride buses that travel more than 3 million miles a year. To maintain 6-foot “social distancing,” a 56-passenger bus could accommodate only 11 students, Dr. Jeck said.

But, Fauquier’s proposed alternative, with students in every seat, staggered at opposite ends, would allow as many as 23 students to ride a bus.

“If we end up in a situation where we can only have 11 kids on a bus, none of this is possible,” Dr. Jeck said of the proposals.

He and his staff have devoted “countless hours” to planning the fall term since Gov. Ralph Northam ordered Virginia schools closed in mid-March and Fauquier began “distance learning” almost a month later, the superintendent said.

“What we’re trying to do is strike a balance . . . (with) ‘blended instruction’,” he added. “Spring was essentially optional (without grading). This isn’t. Face-to-face or virtual, instruction has to be the same. The stakes are much higher than they were in the spring. That’s gonna require a lot of professional development, a lot of work.”

Administrators have relied on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, along with the advice of state health department regional Medical Director Wade Kartchner and regional Epidemiologist Daniel Ferrell, in addition to county schools Health Coordinator Pam Trude.

The school system’s lawyer also reviews all of the proposals.

“It is by no means a perfect model,” Dr. Jeck told the school board. “It’s not gonna replace (full-time) face-to-face instruction. It’s just not.”

Of emails and parents’ responses to an online survey, he said: “I’ve read everything from, ‘This is a bunch of hooey,’ to ‘I’m not sending my kid back until COVID-19 is eradicated in Virginia’.”

But, after more than an hour of Dr. Jeck’s presentation, school board members raised concerns.

“Every parent who’s reached out to me wants students in school every day,” Donna Grove (Cedar Run District) said. “There are risks to everything we do,” such as getting into a vehicle and travelling a busy highway.

“Many households are under huge amounts of stress, with parents trying to work from home and keeping students engaged,” Ms. Grove added. “Or they’ve lost their jobs . . . . ”

She noted no child in Virginia has died of the coronavirus, adding: “I’m having a hard time thinking that we’re doing anyone a favor by keeping children out of schools three days a week.”

Suzanne Sloane (Scott) asked whether enough parents would opt for their children’s virtual instruction to allow the other students to attend school four days a week.

“Will that open up some space?” Ms. Sloane asked.

The school system got 5,587 responses to its online survey of parents about their preferences and concerns for the fall.

Just more than 33 percent of those responding, 1,696 said they could support complete “distance learning,” but the survey allowed them to indicate support for any or all of four choices, including:

• “Student attends physically 1 day a week and distance learns for a week,” 1,530 or 29.9 percent.

• “Student attends physically 2 days a week,” 3,562 or 69.7 percent.

• “A/B Week: Student attends school for alternating days,” 3,362 or 65.8 percent.

Dr. Jeck and his staff will post another survey, seeking precise parental commitments for traditional in-school instruction four days a week and 100-percent virtual instruction.

The school board will conduct a virtual work session on the new survey results at 4 p.m. Thursday, July 9. Click here for the livestream and here for the agenda.

Any plan has shortcomings, Dr. Jeck acknowledged.

The survey results also indicate:

• 200 staff members or 12.6 percent have health conditions “that will prevent them from returning to work during the pandemic.”

• 478 parents or 8.6 percent of parents who responded have children with “a health condition or concern that may not allow them to physically return to school in the fall.”

• 2,036 parents, 36.4 percent said they are “completely comfortable” about their children returning to schools, with appropriate safety measures in place. Another 1,014 or 18.1 percent have “above average comfort level.” Those two groups account for 54.5 percent of respondents.

• 570 parents or 10.2 percent picked “not comfortable at all.”

• 1,967 parents or 35.2 picked the other two levels of comfort with returning to schools.

Stephanie Litter-Reber (Lee), who works as an IT systems manager for FEMA, admitted that even she had trouble getting her children set up for online learning in the spring.

The school system has existing computers and funding to provide Chromebook laptops for every student in Grades 3-12, Dr. Jeck said. “Every student who needs a device will get a device. We can do it.

“The bigger challenge is broadband” or reliable internet access, he added. “Connectivity is the problem, not necessarily the device.”

More than 20 percent of parents responding to the survey said their homes lack good connectivity, a problem throughout much of Fauquier, which the school system and county government continue to address.

“I am just afraid an uptick (in COVID-19 cases) is gonna start and we’re gonna have to stop” in-person instruction, board Chairman Duke Bland (Marshall) said. “I’d like to get as much classroom time in right now as possible.”

Mr. Bland suggested considering adding 15 minutes to the school day.

“I am one who thinks a second wave (of infections) is coming,” he added.

Dr. Jeck said the system must prepare for anything, including another sudden closure of schools and a pivot to total virtual instruction or an outbreak of in one of its buildings.

“This really falls on us,” the superintendent said. “A child may test positive, and he or she may have picked it up at McDonald’s, but we’re gonna be responsible.”

Reopening schools will require behavioral changes for everyone from custodians to kindergartners. The board and Dr. Jeck on Monday night talked about mental health challenges for students and staff members and how the school system will prepare to provide more assistance to those who need counseling.

They discussed cleaning protocols, including the need for teachers to help with that, and the tons of necessary supplies, including masks.

Dr. Jeck called the challenges “mind boggling” and expensive. But, state and federal funding, along with grants from the Warrenton-based PATH Foundation, should put the school system in position to handle the additional costs, he said.

Contact “Lou” Emerson at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 540-270-1845.

FCPS Path to Reopening - 6_29 by Fauquier Now on Scribd

Member comments
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For credibility, sign your real name; stand behind your comments. Readers will give less credence to anonymous posts.
To comment, please log in or register. · July 1, 2020 at 8:45 pm
brandonj · July 1, 2020 at 5:08 pm
@nana_rice is either a bot or a shill. Unless of course, this parent (their son/daughter) don't let their children go to public places to shop at the farmers market, retail store, or visit a place of worship.

@AngryBob has a perfectly logical argument though. If the school cartel believes they don't have to provide a service, then why can't tax payers be allowed to not provide revenue via taxes? The absurd argument that teachers deserve to keep their jobs and be paid if they are "at risk" going forward is nonsense. Perhaps this is news to some, but we are all at risk of injury or death in our daily lives. Most of us make a calculated risk every day driving to our place of employment in the anticipation we won't be slammed into by a distracted driver, but it still happens.

We flattened the curve. The Marxists need to take off their hoods and stop pretending this is about Covid-19.
nana_rice · July 1, 2020 at 3:18 pm
My concern is with the young kids starting kindergarten. What kind of first impression of school this will be. 5,6 & 7 year olds can’t social distance or be expected to wear masks all day. My grandson is supposed to start kindergarten this year but if it were up to me I would opt to hold him out until fall of 2021 and hope and pray by then that he would have a much better first impression of school. Most kindergarteners love school but I’m afraid this year will be a terrifying experience for them.
AngryBob · July 1, 2020 at 8:55 am
It's not free daycare. I pay a LOT of money for it. If schools stay closed then I want that money back so I can send my kids to a school that's actually open.

If you can afford a year+ vacation to stay home with your kids, then good for you. The rest of have to go to work.
PabloCruz · July 1, 2020 at 8:39 am
AngryBob-you are precisely the reason why parents/teachers/staff are worried. It’s people like you that DON’T care that will send their kids to school without regard for others. At least you admitted what you really want and care about: free daycare.
AngryBob · July 1, 2020 at 6:58 am
How about letting the parents choose? If you're scared of the Wuflu then keep your kids home. If you're not, put them on the bus.

So for the three days a week that kids are "distance learning", who is teaching them? Their teacher will be busy with the other group of students. So it will fall on the parents.

This lockdown has been EXTREMELY hard on families with two working parents. That this is going to continue indefinitely is not acceptable. In March they were talking about "Flattening the Curve". That has been accomplished. This needs to end.
J. Whitehead · June 30, 2020 at 9:22 pm
If you want a 5 day a week in person instruction for your son or daughter you are going to have to purchase this. I encourage frustrated parents to consider enrolling at Randolph Macon Academy in Front Royal, Virginia. They are accepting boarding and day students. School starts on time with in person instruction August 18th. They have a sound and carefully considered plan for dealing with the realities of COVID. Day students have a transportation option with a bus that picks up in Marshall. They accept 6th to 12th grade students. I am a just retired 27 year veteran teacher. I know exactly the disaster that is about to unfold in our public schools. You can do something about this. Contact Randolph Macon Academy and judge for yourself if this a the right school for your son or daughter
meckert · June 30, 2020 at 7:13 pm
Maybe check out what's happening in Europe with the return to schools. Seems like they are doing it correctly.
DonkeyFarmer · June 30, 2020 at 6:42 pm
Concerned mom - If your children don't attend school who is going to teach them proper spelling and grammar? Who will teach them the difference between their, there, and they're? Who will teach them the difference between to, too, and two? Who will teach them what a contraction is? · June 30, 2020 at 6:26 pm
@DonkeyFarmer-spot on. But seriously, can't the student's attend classes together in 'protest' mode? Although bricks and bottles may be a little heavy for the backpacks.
Really, the students could all 'self-identify' as 'COVID-19 Immune' or 'CI' as it's known in the CI woke community.
Concerned mom · June 30, 2020 at 4:55 pm
I don't feel comfortable with my children going I support distant learning. For those parents that want there children to to attend should be given the options to send there kids an the ones that don't can do distant learning. I feel that's a fair solution. I have two children with asthma an my biggest concern are the kids coming to school with covid that are asymptomatic an making staff or our children sick. There are some parents that send there kids to school sick an then when that happens alot of people will get sick within the school. A kindergartner isnt going to be able to keep a mask on all day without touching it then the teachers will spend most of day enforcing social distancing or telling kids to leave mask alone. I think it's to soon. My opinion is some parents NOT all are wanting there kids back in school because it provides daycare for them so some can't work during school hours unless there kids are in school. To each own but right now safety to me is more important.
brandonj · June 30, 2020 at 3:49 pm
Stop pretending the children are at risk. They aren't. This is an exercise in socializing fear in our youth. Life has to go on. We can't be crippling the education of our children out of endless fear. What a let down these administrators are.

@HearBetweenTheLines so make an exception for that child to "learn remotely". Why do you object to other children actually socializing and learning? Your Marxist leanings are evident in your language.
DonkeyFarmer · June 30, 2020 at 2:21 pm
We should start school November 4th. The virus will be gone then.
HearBetweetTheLines · June 30, 2020 at 2:12 pm
I would like to challenge Ms Grove to not only think about the children who have yet to die in Virginia. The Governor closed Virginia early and kept all children safe at home. When school starts, so will the curve of children contracting Covid-19. The more kids who contract the disease, the higher the chance of death.

You said there was more deaths due to the influenza so far this year than Covid-19, and in this you are wrong. As of 5/24 there had been 82,070 Influenza deaths world wide and 345,059 Covid-19 deaths. Source is from Global burden of disease study released be Johns Hopkins.
So you see, this pandemic is more deadly than the seasonal influenza virus we have several ways to treat for.

Also, when you send a child to school (especially the K-3 who are walking petri dishes) it is easier for a child to contracts Covid-19, that child then goes home to a household where an elderly grandparent are living, and parhaps a sibling who are 100% virtually schooling due to underlayment health conditions that makes it too dangerous to be in school until there is a vaccine or an 0% Covid-19 in the state. Or maybe you have an essential worker as a parent who cannot afford to get covid-19?

So again Ms Grove, I challenge you to think about more than just a child or all the kids who needs to be in school full time. Think about the nuclear family, think about the community in which you live.
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