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Student working on computer (via Annie Spratt/Unsplash)

(Updated at 12:30 p.m.) Fairfax County Public Schools and the Fairfax County Public Library are recipients of federal funding to help provide internet access and necessary devices for students, school staff and library patrons.

Announced on Tuesday (Oct. 26) by Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, the funding comes from the Federal Communications Commission’s Emergency Connectivity Fund Program to help close the “homework gap” for students who lack internet access.

The county’s library system will receive $41,330 and the school district will receive $17.9 million from the $7.17 billion program, which gives nearly $50 million to Virginia overall. The program was created by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which was authorized by Congress earlier this year.

“We’re proud to see these federal dollars go toward keeping Virginia’s communities connected,” Warner and Kaine said in their joint statement. “This investment will help close the digital divide, while improving access to job opportunities and educational resources for Virginians as we continue to recover from the impacts of COVID-19.”

The funding is intended to help public schools and libraries support remote learning by reimbursing them with up to $400 for each laptop or tablet and $250 for Wi-Fi hotspots, a spokesperson for Kaine told FFXnow.

Other eligible equipment covered by this funding include modems, routers, and devices that combine routers and modems.

Schools and libraries may purchase more expensive devices or Wi-Fi hotspots with their program funds, but they will only be reimbursed for the aforementioned amounts.

Recipients can also use the funding to provide commercially available broadband service with a fixed or mobile connection off-campus for students, school staff, or library patrons. The administrating company for the program, Universal Service Administrative Company, will review costs and applications for other eligible equipment and services.

Funding has been issued in three waves since late September, with the latest round getting distributed this week. However, the schools and libraries ultimately control the timeline for carrying out purchase agreements with internet providers and vendors.

An FCPS spokesperson deferred comment to state officials because the program is in its early stages.

“The school system is correct that this is very early stages,” Fairfax County Public Library told FFXnow when contacted for comment.

While broadband access is less of an issue in Fairfax County than in other parts of the state and country, 4% of households still have no internet, county staff reported in June. Access is uneven across the county, ranging from 1.4% of households lacking internet in Springfield District to 8.9% of households in Mason District.

Even with FCPS back to five days of in-person learning, internet access remains critical for students, particularly with some having to stay out of class due to COVID-19 contact tracing and quarantining procedures.

Since Sept. 1, FCPS has quarantined 3,942 students because they were identified as close contacts of someone who tested positive for COVID-19, according to the school system’s quarantine data dashboard. That does not include students who have had to pause in-person learning for contact-tracing purposes.

Photo via Annie Spratt/Unsplash

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Fairfax County Public Schools

School-based COVID-19 vaccination clinics for elementary school-aged children could be set up as soon as mid-November, Fairfax County Public Schools officials say.

As reported to the Fairfax County School Board at a work session yesterday (Tuesday), these targeted vaccination clinics will be available in evenings or weekends and have a parent or guardian present.

FCPS is also working with the Fairfax County Health Department to provide vaccination clinics during the school day that would require advance parental consent for students to participate. Those clinics are expected to be available after winter break, officials said.

With COVID-19 vaccine eligibility potentially expanding to children aged 5-11 in early November, FCPS is currently developing plans for providing testing and vaccinations to students.

Most families who responded to an FCPS survey of their vaccination plans intend to get the vaccine for their young children, according to results that school officials shared with the school board.

Of the 85,302 surveys sent to parents and guardians of children who will be in the 5-11 age range on Nov. 1, 35,801 (36%) were returned with responses. The survey was designed to determine what supports, if any, families need to access vaccinations for their children.

Survey results indicated that 76% of parents or guardians plan to get the COVID-19 vaccine for their child, with 80% of that group planning to do so as soon as it’s available. 12% of those surveyed are undecided, and 10% do not plan to get their child vaccinated.

According to Superintendent Scott Brabrand, “common reasons” cited for not getting vaccinated include “personal beliefs” regarding vaccinations, followed by the vaccines’ emergency-use authorization status. So far, federal health officials have only officially approved the Pfizer vaccine for individuals 16 and older.

The survey also revealed an even split on the challenges of obtaining a vaccination appointment, with 45% indicating that wait times have been a challenge and 44% indicating there were no challenges.

49% of those surveyed would not let their child get vaccinated during the school day without a parent or guardian present, while 35% would consider that possibility.

FCPS Department of Special Services Assistant Superintendent Michelle Boyd emphasized that, on top of the information provided by the surveys, officials will look at data on community transmission, vaccination rates, and other factors to guide their plans.

“We’re also using that health data to inform what might be the best locations and also taking into consideration what local vaccination opportunities are available in close proximity so that we can make sure that we’re building those bridges for folks who don’t have readily available resources that are within accessible distance,” Boyd said.

While FCPS has not mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for students, except those involved in athletics and some other extracurricular activities, school officials have strongly encouraged them for those who are eligible and are developing a plan for providing testing and vaccinations. Read More

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A Volunteer Fairfax member carries Valentine cards for Inova workers earlier this year (staff photo by Jo DeVoe)

As the country reflects on the 20 years that have passed since the 9/11 attacks in New York City and at the Pentagon, volunteers in Fairfax County will spend this Saturday (Sept. 11) giving back to the community.

Volunteer Fairfax, the county’s volunteer network, has hosted a countywide day of service each fall to support local nonprofits for over 25 years. The 2021 VolunteerFest has been timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and will involve over 30 volunteer projects, including ones that can be done at home.

The proceedings will begin at 9 a.m. at the Fairfax County Government Center (12000 Government Center Parkway) with a Chalk4Peace.org art project for youth to create positive messages of peace using art and sidewalk chalk.

Fairfax County will also host a remembrance ceremony for those lost on 9/11 at the Bailey’s Crossroads Volunteer Fire Department (3601 Firehouse Lane) in Falls Church, though members of the public are being encouraged to watch online through Facebook or the county government’s cable channel.

Scheduled to begin at 2 p.m., the event is expected to have a number of public safety and elected officials in attendance, including Rep. Gerry Connolly, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeffrey McKay, Fire and Rescue Chief John Butler, and Police Chief Kevin Davis.

Additionally, the Department of Public Safety Communications will make a special, countywide announcement over Fire and Rescue radios at 10:28 a.m.

Starting at 10 a.m., the county will also hold its first Stuff the Bus food drive of the fall with sites at the government center and 22 other locations around the county, including Fairfax, Chantilly, Reston, Lorton, and McLean.

Now in its 10th year, the program organized by the county government and local nonprofits collects donations for local food banks to address hunger in the community. Volunteer Fairfax has also been accepting monetary donations online during the pandemic.

Registration is still open for a range of VolunteerFest projects.

In-person projects include removing invasive plants at Difficult Run Stream Valley Park in Oakton, cleaning up Centreville Elementary School’s gardens, and helping prepare a large garden bed for planting several trees to beautify South Run RECenter in Springfield.

Those looking to participate in an at-home project can create “homeless survival kits” to be distributed across Northern Virginia, make fleece blankets or toys for rescue dogs and cats, and craft face masks for people with mental health, substance use and homelessness issues at Recovery Program Solutions of Virginia centers.

There will also be a gratitude station at the government center for community members to compose messages of remembrance and thanks that will be distributed to local fire and police stations. The station is co-hosted by Kids Give Back, a local nonprofit that supports youth volunteering.

Originally called the Voluntary Action Center of Fairfax County when it was created in 1974, Volunteer Fairfax took on its current moniker in 1992 as the organization’s focus evolved to accommodate more volunteers looking to serve, including youths.

Volunteer Fairfax now works with almost 14,000 volunteers who have contributed more than 54,000 service hours to over 650 nonprofits and public agencies, according to its site.

According to a news release, this year’s edition of VolunteerFest is supported by AT&T, NetApp, Kaiser Permanente, Accenture, Deloitte, Virginia Service Foundation, and The Williams Foundation.

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Safety, access, and equity are among the top priorities for Fairfax County residents when it comes to envisioning the future of transportation in the area.

The Fairfax County Department of Transportation released a draft report on Aug. 31 for its ActiveFairfax Transportation Plan, which will combine and update the county’s Bicycle Master Plan and Countywide Trails Map into an overarching plan for amenities to support walking, cycling, and other self-propelled modes of travel.

The draft comes after the county conducted a dozen virtual community conversations with residents this past spring to learn more about their concerns and desires.

The county also received public input from 1,474 virtual community survey responses, 1,217 comments on a virtual barrier and destination feedback map, and 537 comments on virtual planned trail, bikeway network, and complete streets map.

The feedback informed the draft report, which proposes a general framework for the ActiveFairfax plan with four goals:

  • Access and connectivity
  • Safety and comfort
  • Livability and health
  • Equity and social justice.

Access and connectivity refers to the goal of providing “a well-connected, multimodal transportation network that offers safe, convenient, healthy, sustainable and affordable mobility options for Fairfax County,” according to the draft.

Objectives under that goal include a focus on planning, implementing, and maintaining a network of safe and comfortable sidewalks, bikeway, trails, and streets that link residential and commercial areas.

The “safety and comfort” goal encompasses efforts to minimize traffic injuries and fatalities with an emphasis on active transportation users, including by pursuing policies and incentives that reduce vehicle trips and travel speeds.

Addressing livability and health will “advance public health, sustainability and the quality of life by providing inviting sidewalks, bikeways and trails that encourage frequent usage,” the draft says.

In order to achieve this goal, the draft proposes providing a variety of educational and promotional programs and events to promote active transportation modes, as well as applying best practices to street designs, including adding wider sidewalks and ensuring bicycle facilities are available for a variety of ages and abilities.

Finally, the goal of addressing equity and social justice aims to “provide a multi-modal transportation system that prioritizes the needs of the most vulnerable road users including communities of color, low-income communities, small children and their caregivers, youth, people with disabilities, and older adults.”

This fourth goal’s objectives include adhering to the county’s One Fairfax policy when developing or evaluating active transportation policies, programs, facilities, and practices. It also means making sure the public engagement process for transportation policies and projects is inclusive so that everyone’s needs are adequately addressed.

The county’s transportation department will host two virtual community meetings to further discuss the draft’s vision, goals, and objectives. The meetings will be held Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. and Sept. 15 at 6:30 p.m., and links to sign up for each are available on the county’s site.

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