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Fairfax County delays return to in-person learning, as COVID cases rise

Early Head Start, pre-K, kindergarten and some students receiving special education services were scheduled to return to school Nov. 17 but that is now delayed.

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — Fairfax County decided Monday to "press pause" on bringing additional students back to classrooms this week. A group of students including Early Head Start, pre-K, kindergarten and students receiving special education services (group 5) were scheduled to return to school Tuesday, Nov. 17, but they will remain virtual until at least Nov. 30. 

"We made this decision as soon as new health metrics were released and are communicating it to you immediately as promised," Superintendent Scott Brabrand said in a letter to the community Monday. "We always anticipated the need to potentially adjust our return to school plans as necessary during this ongoing pandemic."

For a new group of students to begin in-person learning, both the number of cases per 100,000 persons and the 7-day percent positivity rate (PPR) must meet established county thresholds -- below 200 for cases per 100,000 and 8% for PPR. To continue with in-person learning, however, one or the other metric must not be exceeded; if either metric exceeds allowable limits, students would transition back to virtual learning.

Group 5 represents 6,800 students who would have been brought back into the building if metrics had been met. But since the number of new cases per 100,000 persons rose above 200, the decision was made to delay their return.

Fairfax County currently has a 7.1% PPR and reported 211 cases per 100,000 persons as of Monday.

Brabrand said that students who have already returned to in-person learning would continue to do so. The students learning in person currently (group 1-4) make up about 4% of the total FCPS population.

The announcement came shortly after a joint press conference held by leaders from four education associations on Monday, urging Gov. Ralph Northam to dial back the state's reopening plans and to issue statewide guidance for schools on when it would be safe to return students to classrooms. 

RELATED: Gov. Northam should 'recommend' virtual-only learning in Virginia, education association leaders say

Credit: FCPS
Proposed indicators and thresholds for risk of introduction and transmission of COVID-19 in schools.

Each education association representative asked that the governor mandate a clear statewide metric for when it is safe to reopen schools, and when returning to virtual-only learning was necessary. Currently, the metrics are created by the school boards, creating inconsistencies in the metrics across Northern Virginia, according to the representatives. 

"Education Associations in the Northern Virginia Region, representing more than 12,000 school employees, are urging you to return the entire Commonwealth back to Phase II of the reopening strategy, including a recommendation that public schools return to virtual learning as the safest option until case rates return to a downward trend and remain below 5% PCR as indicated by the CDC," education association leaders said in a letter to Northam and local representatives.

Group 6, approximately 13,500 students in first and second grade, were slated to return on Dec. 8.

FCPS will host a virtual "Return to School" town hall on Thursday, Nov. 19 from 6-7 p.m. to allow parents to ask questions about the plans moving forward. 

"These next few months will be not be easy," Brabrand said in his letter. "Know that I am committed to keeping you informed and updated as conditions change that impact FCPS students, families, and staff."


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