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Poll: Should FCPS return in person this week?

Fairfax County students have already gotten a couple extra days of winter break, thanks to yesterday’s snowstorm, but some community members are calling on Fairfax County Public Schools to extend its closure further, citing concerns about rising COVID-19 cases.

A Change.org petition started over the weekend urges FCPS to utilize some of its built-in snow days to either delay an in-person return in the hopes of mitigating a post-holiday surge or establish an online option for students who would prefer to remain at home.

As of 9 p.m. today (Monday), the petition was nearing 5,000 signatures. Supporters cited fear of the omicron variant’s transmissibility and the challenges with getting tested among their reasons.

FCPS’s designated testing sites have been closed to students the past two days, though the system tentatively expects to open them for staff today (Tuesday). Testing is only required for employees who aren’t vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, a union that represents faculty and non-administrative staff, also argued yesterday that FCPS should extend winter break another week, stating that staff absences and a rush to roll out Virginia’s planned test-to-stay pilot program would create “stress, chaos and inequity.”

“Our biggest concern has always been the health and safety of our students and teachers, we know that there are ways to better communicate and ensure that safety is prioritized,” the FCFT said in a series of tweets.

As acknowledged by the petition writer, FCPS is required by Virginia law to provide in-person instruction, but it could provide a virtual option or go fully remote if it’s deemed necessary to address high COVID-19 transmission levels in a school.

So far, FCPS has maintained that in-person learning is best for students, though a message sent to families on Sunday (Jan. 2) noted that “it is possible that short-term closures of classrooms will be necessary.”

The Fairfax County Parents Association, an organization that grew out of the Open FCPS movement in the summer of 2020, released a statement yesterday urging the school system to keep its commitment to providing in-person learning.

“We cannot let this hysteria lead us to more disruptions, where students in Fairfax County are on their third school year of educational disruption,” the group said. “Exacerbating that disruption only adds to the damage already done to students.”

FCPS reported 759 COVID-19 cases among students, staff, and visitors for the month of December — fewer than the 850 cases seen in September — but with schools closed for winter break, its data hasn’t been updated since Dec. 17.

How do you think FCPS should handle the current COVID-19 surge? Should students have the option to learn remotely, or should they all return in person? Would your comfort level change if testing was required?

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