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FCPS could start streaming classes for quarantined students later this month

Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand presents a proposal for virtual learning for students who must quarantine due to having COVID-19 or close contact with someone with the virus (via FCPS)

Fairfax County Public Schools could start providing livestreamed or recorded classes for students who can’t be in school buildings due to COVID-19 later this month.

Superintendent Scott Brabrand told the Fairfax County School Board on Thursday (Sept. 9) that administrators are developing a plan to let students attend their regular classes remotely when they have to quarantine, isolate, or pause in-person learning in response to testing positive for COVID-19 or being identified as a possible close contact of someone with the virus.

“We’re looking at several different options to get the important instructional content to our students, so it could be livestreaming. It could be teachers recording the lesson and posting the lesson,” FCPS Chief Academic Officer Sloan Presidio said at the meeting.

As of Thursday, FCPS has seen 555 reported cases of COVID-19 since Aug. 1, including 432 student infections. While that’s just 0.24% of the district’s 178,000-plus student population, the disruption in learning that comes with each positive case can affect entire classes or sports teams.

In addition to requiring isolation for students who test positive and quarantines for any unvaccinated close contacts, FCPS has been pausing in-school activities for students who could potentially be close contacts so the Fairfax County Public Health Department can conduct contact-tracing investigations.

“Fully vaccinated students who are identified as a close contact with someone with COVID-19 do not need to remain home as long as they do not have symptoms,” the school district says in its current health and safety guidance.

Last week, FCPS introduced a new system for electronically reporting students’ vaccination statuses in an effort to speed up the contact-tracing process.

Brabrand told the school board that FCPS is examining whether the 14-day quarantine period for unvaccinated students who come into close contact with a COVID-positive individual could be reduced to 10 or seven days.

Five of the seven COVID-19 outbreaks that have occurred in schools this academic year so far involved athletics, according to Brabrand. FCPS announced on Aug. 30 that it will require student athletes to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, effective Nov. 8.

A state law requires all public schools to provide in-person education for the 2021-2022 school year but allows for some exceptions. If a district offers online education for some students, it’s legally required to do so for all, such as students with disabilities and those with language needs, Brabrand said.

FCPS currently has a virtual program for a limited number of students with documented medical needs.

Braddock District Representative Megan McLaughlin raised concerns about the lack of a virtual learning option for elementary school students, who remain ineligible for the vaccine.

“We’ve gotten hundreds of emails from parents,” she said, pointing to Prince George’s County in Maryland. “They were offering it to 12,000 kids, and right now we only offer it to 400 kids.”

If approved, the classroom live-streaming option would be exclusively for students who aren’t able to attend school in-person for COVID-related reasons, as stated in Brabrand’s presentation and previously confirmed by FCPS officials.

FCPS officials said that, due to limited staffing, the live-streamed classes wouldn’t be interactive like last school year, when the district adopted a concurrent learning model where teachers worked with in-person and online students simultaneously. The school board largely balked at the idea of continuing that experiment into the new year.

Under the live-streaming approach, teachers could assist students through email correspondence. FCPS is reviewing whether office hours or other forms of outreach could be involved.

FCPS officials expect to present more details of their plans to the school board at a work session on Sept. 21.

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