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Fairfax County Public Schools currently separates middle school students into “boy” and “girl” groups for sex-education classes (via Samuel Regan-Asante/Unsplash)

Middle school sex education classes in Fairfax County will remain separated by gender going into the next school year.

A majority of the Fairfax County School Board agreed on Tuesday (May 24) to postpone a vote on whether to introduce gender-combined Family Life Education (FLE) classes for students in grades 4-8 and 10th grade, along with other proposed changes intended to make the curriculum more inclusive.

The recommendations came from the FLE Curriculum Advisory Committee (FLECAC), which advises Fairfax County Public Schools staff on instructional materials and goals. FCPS Chief Academic Officer Sloan Presidio said this year’s report contained the most recommended changes he has seen in 10 years with the school system.

At the work session, several board members said they feel more time is needed to study the recommendations and conduct community outreach. FLECAC’s reports are typically open for a 30-day review period around the end of each school year.

“This is for many people an uncomfortable conversation, an uncomfortable topic, and just out of sheer respect for that, I understand the need to have further conversation and engage our families and speak to them as to why this recommendation was made,” Board Chair and Sully District Representative Stella Pekarsky said.

According to the FLECAC report, FCPS currently separates boys and girls in fourth through eighth grade for lessons on puberty, reproductive systems and processes, sexually transmitted infections, and abstinence. 10th grade students are separated for a lesson on self-examinations for breast and testicular cancer.

The committee proposes making those classes co-ed to better include LGBTQ, intersex, and other gender-diverse students, while giving all students the “opportunity to learn about individuals who are different from themselves” and normalizing conversations “that will be important to healthy relationships.”

“Dividing students into boys and girls classes sends a message that bodies different than their own should not be talked about and are mysterious,” the report says. “When students are separated by boys and girls, it affirms a rigid binary based on anatomy.”

Many school divisions across Virginia already combine genders for all or most sex-education classes, including Arlington, Alexandria City, and Virginia Beach City, according to FLECAC, which says in its report that there’s no “available research to support the practice of gender-segregated instruction.”

Karl Frisch and Laura Jane Cohen, who represent the Providence and Springfield districts, respectively, voted against extending the community review period, which FCPS staff said would delay implementation of any changes until the 2023-2024 school year.

“This change would align our program with best practices,” Frisch said.

However, other board members said more time for community feedback is needed to hear from a variety of perspectives, including from students, on FLECAC’s proposals, which also include adding gender to a 10th grade lesson about human sexuality.

FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand told the board that “very few” students opt out of the FLE program, and it’s important that the community understands the rationale for the proposed changes.

“What we want is for families to continue to access this curriculum and not opt out of information that I think is critical for young people,” Brabrand said.

FCPS Pride, an advocacy group for LGBTQ staff and families, said in a statement that it was surprised by the school board’s decision to postpone a vote on the FLE changes. The group says it supports gender-combined classes so students don’t have to “out” themselves or choose a gender, and research suggests more inclusive classes lead to healthier behaviors.

“We are confident that the school board will adopt gender-inclusive FLE classes,” FCPS Pride said. “They are best practices, common around the state and nation, and backed up by a substantial amount of academic and practical research. FCPS is a world-class school system precisely because we learn about and follow research-backed best practices.”

Photo via Samuel Regan-Asante/Unsplash

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Morning Notes

Tysons Tales pop-up park outside The Boro (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Board Chair “Saddened” by Buffalo Mass Shooting — “I am both saddened and angered over the senseless loss of life that took place in Buffalo, NY. The racial hate that reportedly motivated this horrific attack is inexcusable. I am keeping the victims and their families in my prayers.” [Jeff McKay/Twitter]

Nearly Half of Metrorail Operators Lapse Recertification — “Metro management is taking immediate corrective action to remove from service 72 train operators who became out of compliance prior to May 2021. This will result in a temporary reduction in Green and Yellow line service from every 15 minutes to every 20 minutes due to an operator shortage…Service impacts are expected to continue until the end of May.” [WMATA]

Police Investigate Deaths Near Robinson Secondary School — “Detectives are on the scene in the 10400 blk of Stallworth Ct. in Fairfax after officers discovered two deceased persons following a welfare check. Preliminarily, this appears to be a domestic-related incident. There is no known threat to the public at this time.” [FCPD/Twitter]

FCPS Considers Co-Ed Sex Education Classes — “An advisory committee recently approved a plan to mix boys and girls in grades 4-8 during Family Life Education instruction; a practice that is done in some area school systems but not in others…Board members are expected to discuss mixing-genders in Family Life Education classes as early as June.” [ABC7]

Area Eagles Suffer from Lead Poisoning — “Toxins in the environment, and especially lead, [Jeff Cooper] suspected, were hurting bald eagles in Virginia more than ecologists realized…The findings went beyond Cooper’s fears: Nearly half of bald and golden eagles in the United States, and in the D.C. region, have chronic lead poisoning.” [The Washington Post]

Person Shot in Mount Vernon Near Richmond Highway — Fairfax County police officers responded to Buckman Road and Janna Lee Avenue on Thursday (May 12) after a person was shot in the upper body by someone “seen pointing a silver handgun from an older model black Toyota Highlander.” The victim’s injuries were not considered life threatening, and police don’t believe it was a random act. [FCPD]

Couple Recalls Meet at Clyde’s in Reston — As Clyde’s prepares to close on Saturday (May 21) after 31 years at Reston Town Center, resident Kristin Simons reflects on having her first date with her now-husband at the restaurant. Since then, Clyde’s has become a go-to destination for the family for everything from brunches to work-related celebrations, she says. [Fairfax County Times]

Princess Diana Exhibit Comes to Tysons — “The new experience, called Princess Diana: Accredited Access Exhibition, is said to be the world’s first-ever walk-through documentary by its creators…Tickets to the experience are now on sale…and the event’s first day open to the public will be on May 25 at Tysons Corner Center.” [WUSA9]

Tysons Pedestrian Bridge Falling into Place — “The perfect cure for a gloomy day? Check out the most recent progress pics of our new ped bridge over the Beltway in Tysons, opening this year!” [VDOT/Twitter]

It’s Monday — Rain in the afternoon and evening. High of 74 and low of 62. Sunrise at 5:57 am and sunset at 8:17 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Morning Notes

Under the virtual shark tank at Reston Station (photo by Marjorie Copson)

Austin Transit Leader Named New Metro General Manager — “Metro on Tuesday tapped the chief executive of a Texas transit agency to lead the system through safety and pandemic-related challenges that have frustrated riders and strained public transportation…Randy Clarke, 45, will replace Paul J. Wiedefeld, who announced in January that he would retire on June 30″ [The Washington Post]

Fairfax County Firefighter Gets Funeral Procession — “Tuesday marked the final farewell for Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Captain Kimberly Schoppa, who died last month from occupational cancer. Her line-of-duty funeral included a procession and escort to the church, with her flag-draped casket onboard a fire truck and then carried inside by the Honor Guard.” [ABC7]

Jury Awards Tysons Company $2B in Damages — A Fairfax County Circuit Court jury awarded Appian over $2 billion in damages after finding rival software company Pegasystems Inc. stole its trade secrets. Announced yesterday (Tuesday) after a seven-week trial, the damages are the largest ever awarded in Virginia court history, Appian says. [Appian]

County Board Approves New Budget — “On Tuesday morning, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors gave final approval to the fiscal year 2023 budget, which reduces the real estate tax rate by 3 cents. The approved budget did not change from the budget markup the board approved on April 26.” [Patch]

Teachers’ Union Calls for Continued Virtual Learning — The Fairfax Education Association sent a letter to Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand and school board members last week urging them to “continue offering a limited virtual school program for vulnerable students and staff.” FCPS announced in March that it will discontinue the option in the next school year. [WTOP]

Former Reston Association Board President Dies at 84 — “In the words of one reporter, Mike [Freeman Jr.] had a case of chronic community activism for a myriad of Reston organizations, including St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, FISH, and soccer and swim teams. He was a volunteer driver for the first local RIBS bus, and an elected board member of the Reston Association, serving as Board President 1988-89.” [Patch]

County Opens West Falls Church Transportation Survey — “The Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) will hold a second round of virtual community meetings to present updates on the West Falls Church (WFC) Active Transportation Study…The public will have the opportunity to ask questions and provide input as well as completing an online survey to provide feedback.” [FCDOT]

Fairfax County Honors Hockey Team and Teachers — The Board of Supervisors recognized the Langley High School ice hockey team yesterday for winning the Northern Virginia School Hockey League championship in February while also completing the season with the least amount of penalties among teams. The board also designated May as Teacher Appreciation Month. [Fairfax County]

Veteran and Military Spouse Career Fair Starts Today — “The free-to-attend event features two days of opportunities for candidates to connect with companies, with in-person sessions between 10:00 am-12:00 pm and 1:00-3:00 p.m. ET on May 11 at the National Museum of the United States Army at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and a virtual fair taking place from 1:00-4:00 p.m. ET on May 12″ [Fairfax County Economic Development Authority]

It’s Wednesday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 69 and low of 50. Sunrise at 6:01 am and sunset at 8:12 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Morning Notes

Wall art by Starr Hill Biergarten at The Perch in Tysons (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

County Board to Adopt New Budget Today — “Board of Supervisors set to adopt FY23 budget tomorrow, May 10. It fully funds @fcpsnews employee compensation and invests in priorities. $96 million balance to reduce real estate tax rate, increase affordable housing, parks, among others.” [Fairfax County Government/Twitter]

Lee District Gets New Community Center — Elected officials and community members gathered on Saturday (May 7) to cut the ribbon for Fairfax County’s new Lee District Community Center, which will provide recreation, educational workshops, and other programs to residents in the Buckman Road area on the west side of Richmond Highway. The center also hosts a workforce training and development center. [Neighborhood and Community Services]

Metro Reports Higher-than-Expected Ridership — “Ridership has already surprised their conservatively-estimated projection of 28 million rides by nearly 40% through the first three quarters of the fiscal year…The numbers bode well for the region’s economic recovery as tourism rebounds and more workers return to the office, but it is less welcome news for train and bus riders who are experiencing more crowded vehicles.” [DCist]

Great Falls Road Closure Starts Today — “Springvale Road will be closed for 48 hours starting Tuesday to allow VDOT crews to reconstruct the road’s approach to Route 7. During the closure, drivers on Springfield Road can access Route 7 by taking Georgetown Pike to the Utterback Store Road.” [Patch]

Mental Health Services Facility to Be Renamed — “Fairfax County officials on May 12 will celebrate the renaming and dedication of the former Merrifield Center as the ‘Sharon Bulova Center for Community Health’…Bulova served as chairman through 2019, when she retired after 31 years on the board.” [Sun Gazette]

Route 7 Bus Service Plan Inches Forward — “Plans to create a bus-rapid-transit, or BRT, line using Route 7 to connect Tysons to Alexandria continue to move forward, with the next installment to hire a consultant that will guide the next phases of the project.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]

Fort Hunt Teacher Reflects on Three-Decade-Long Career — “Reading Specialist Jill Norris joined the staff of Stratford Landing Elementary School in Fairfax County last August after a break from a 35-year career as a teacher. ‘To share my passion for reading and writing with kids and teachers,’ is what brings joy to Norris.” [ABC7]

It’s Tuesday — Clear throughout the day. High of 66 and low of 46. Sunrise at 6:02 am and sunset at 8:11 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Trine University seeks to use offices in Reston for its programs (via MRP Realty)

A university is eyeing an 8,709-square-foot spot at an office building in Reston.

Trine University, a private nonprofit college that offers programs concentrated in science, technology, engineering, and math as well as business, is seeking Fairfax County’s permission to use a part of 1881 Campus Commons for the institution.

The Indiana-based university hopes to include three classrooms, two breakout rooms, and two offices to accommodate no more than 160 students and three faculty members at a time.

Classes would largely take place between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturdays and sometimes on Sundays.

In an April 25 application to the county, the university notes that the Wiehle-Reston East area is identified as a “preferred location” for higher learning institutions in county planning documents.

“The utilization of a portion of one floor of the existing office building for an educational center associated with a university is in keeping with the intent of the Comprehensive Plan and the Zoning Ordinance regulations,” the application states.

The proposal is in the early planning stages and has not yet been accepted for review by staff.

The building is 90% leased to tenants like SOS International, 3M Cogent and Maersk. The nearly 245,000-square-foot building is managed by MRP Realty.

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Louise Archer Elementary School students research their school’s namesake (via Louise Archer Fourth Grade/Twitter)

Students have one week left to submit their ideas for new markers honoring Fairfax County’s Black and African American history.

The county is set to close the submission period for its 2022 Historical Marker Project on April 30. The project is part of a larger initiative to highlight the experiences of Black and African American residents that launched in February, coinciding with Black History Month.

While it remains to be seen how many proposals the county gets — and how many are ultimately chosen to become official markers — Louise Archer Elementary School students want to make sure their school’s namesake is in the mix.

Fourth-grade students have been researching Archer, who was the Vienna school’s first principal, in preparation for submitting her name, according to the grade’s Twitter account.

Born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, in 1893, Archer started her educational career with Fairfax County Public Schools as a teacher at Oak Grove School, a one-room schoolhouse for African American kids in Herndon, according to Louise Archer Elementary’s history of her.

Appointed as the teacher and principal of a school for Black students in Vienna in 1924, Archer joined with the Vienna Colored School League, the school’s equivalent of a parent-teacher association, to get a three-room schoolhouse constructed on Nutley Street in 1939 that would become Louise Archer Elementary.

The historical marker contest is open to all kids in Fairfax County. Submissions must deal with local Black and African American history.

The county recommends focusing on a person who is no longer alive or events that took place at least 50 years ago, though the guidelines say exceptions can be made with the Fairfax County History Commission’s approval.

Ideas can be submitted:

  • Through the county’s website
  • By email to NCSblackhistorycommittee@fairfaxcounty.gov
  • By mail to the Neighborhood and Community Services Black History Committee (12011 Government Center Pkwy 10th floor, Fairfax, VA 22030).

The winners will be chosen by a voting committee, and all participants will receive a certificate and recognition in a news release.

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Langley High School student Alex Pomper delivers donated books to the Latin American Youth Center in Riverdale, Maryland (courtesy Annie Kim)

The McLean Community Center is ready and willing to accept all your spare “Dog Man” and “Magic Tree House” books.

The facility at 1234 Ingleside Avenue is serving as a drop-off site for the latest donation drive by Give a Kid a Book, an initiative started by McLean teenager Alex Pomper to collect children’s books for kids in the D.C. area who might find them hard to come by.

“I grew up around books and realized how much I took that for granted,” said Pomper, a junior at Langley High School. “Many young kids in Fairfax don’t have access to books at home, and I think having books at home is especially important for helping kids get a good start reading, which will help them later in life.”

Launched in January, Give a Kid a Book has collected more than 4,500 books so far with monthly drives. The current effort at MCC started on Tuesday (April 19) and will last through May 20.

Driven by a passion for community service and education, Pomper has been conducting monthly book giveaways with the Arlington Food Assistance Center, a nonprofit food bank.

Donations have also gone to Second Story in Tysons, the United Way of the National Capital Area, D.C.’s Community Family Life Services, and the Latin American Youth Center in Prince George’s County.

Research indicates that access to books has a significant effect on kids’ educational success, and disparities in literacy are largely a reflection of socioeconomic inequality, following racial and financial divides.

According to Scholastic’s most recent “Kids and Families Reading Report,” children in the U.S. aged 6 to 17 have 103 books at home on average, but that ranges from 125 books for families with incomes of $100,000 or more to 73 books for families with incomes under $35,000. Hispanic and Black children also generally have fewer books in their homes than white, Asian, and other children.

Pomper says the need for books in many communities “really hit home” when he started meeting Give a Kid a Book recipients in person, including through the Arlington Food Assistance Center giveaways.

“In-person distributions…showed me how much interest there was in the books I was donating, and I think it’s one of the reasons I’m going to be continuing to run this drive,” Pomper said by email.

Give a Kid a Book accepts donations of new and gently used books for a range of ages, from toddler-geared picture books to young adult books. Donations can be made at MCC or through the organization’s Amazon wishlist and website.

Pomper has seen a particular demand for board books and ones for early elementary school-aged readers, and books in Spanish and other languages outside of English are especially appreciated, according to his mother, Annie Kim.

Pomper, who often gets an assist from his younger brother in collecting and sorting donations, is currently focusing on the AFAC giveaways and obtaining books to give to elementary schools, but he is open to working with any organization that can help get books into kids’ hands.

“I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of organizations that need the books that I am collecting,” he said.

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A student plays the cello before Fairfax County supervisors during a budget hearing (via Fairfax County)

In a push to convince Fairfax County to fund the arts, one high school student put on a show.

The performance on April 13 provided a musical interlude after hours of in-person, phone, and video remarks across three days of budget hearings before the Board of Supervisors.

Student Christopher Tate, who attends Washington-Liberty High School in Arlington, only shared his name and spoke about himself when asked by the board after his performance, which drew applause.

“I play in the jazz band there. It’s really fun. I also play bass, and sometimes they’ll let me play cello,” he told the board.

He performed the prelude of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1.

Tate will perform with five other young musicians with the Amadeus Orchestra this Sunday (April 24) at 4 p.m. at St. Luke Catholic Church in McLean (7001 Georgetown Pike).

The orchestra plays mainly in McLean and Great Falls. A. Scott Wood, the orchestra’s conductor, said in an email that funding from the county and the nonprofit ArtsFairfax have helped local arts and cultural organizations, especially during the challenging last two years.

Wood noted that Amadeus Concerts has frequently received funding from ArtsFairfax, notably the Operating Support Grant that involves a competitive process for receiving it. During the pandemic, Amadeus also received ArtsFairfax Emergency Relief and Recovery Grant and Fairfax County PIVOT funding.

“From my perspective, if the county were able to increase funding to ArtsFairfax grant programs so that every qualified organization could cover 15% of its expenses (and note that this still requires them to raise 85% percent from other sources!), it would represent a significant endorsement of the arts in general, which are so important for quality-of-life in the county,” he wrote in an email to FFXnow.

ArtsFairfax is funded by a combination of county and state money, federal grants, and private donations. For fiscal year 2021, which ran from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021, about 70% of its revenue came from the county — 33% to cover operational costs and 37% to give grants to local arts nonprofits.

ArtsFairfax President and CEO Linda Sullivan asked the county to increase funding for arts grants, stating that despite facing significant challenges during the pandemic, the arts sector got just a fraction of the relief money awarded to the food, hospitality, and retail industries.

The advertised fiscal year 2023 budget currently being considered by the board allocates $1.1 million to ArtsFairfax, the same level of funding as the previous two years. Grant funding has remained at $550,000 since fiscal year 2020, according to Sullivan.

“The arts sector is being called upon to provide community engagement activities that not only benefit other sectors, such as retail and restaurants, but also offer the intangible social and emotional health benefits,” Sullivan said. “…We respectfully ask the county for a significant, one-time boost in nonprofit arts grants to support arts recovery and community activities, as other emergency relief sources will no longer be available.”

In addition to Tate’s performance, ArtsFairfax enlisted outgoing Fairfax County Poet Laureate Nicole Tong, the first person to hold that position, for a poem reading as part of its plea to the board.

Angela Woolsey contributed to this report.

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Fairfax County Public Schools has found its next superintendent, but in the process, it managed the impressive feat of uniting normally opposing factions of the community in protest.

The Fairfax County School Board voted 9-3 last night (Thursday) to appoint Dr. Michelle Reid as the successor to Superintendent Scott Brabrand, who will step down from the position effective June 30.

Reid will be the second woman to lead FCPS, following Dr. Karen Garza’s tenure from 2013-2016. Her newly authorized contract will start July 1, 2022, through June 30, 2026.

“We are fortunate to have a large group of excellent candidates participate in our process. Among this large, strong group, Dr. Reid was consistently at the top,” School Board Vice Chair and Member-at-Large Rachna Sizemore-Heizer said, praising Reid for “her work around STEM and strong academics” and as someone who can bring a “22nd century education philosophy.”

Multiple board members said Reid stood out from a pool of 72 applicants, per Springfield District Representative, for her “holistic” approach to equity and inclusion. Sizemore-Heizer said she was the only candidate to mention issues of ableism and neurodiversity.

Reid’s confirmation came after more than two hours of discussion, including a failed motion to postpone a vote by Member-at-Large Karen Keys-Gamarra and Mason District Representative Ricardy Anderson, citing a desire to take more time to consider issues raised by the community concerns.

“I strongly believe we should afford ourselves the gift of time to reach out to those who have expressed their concern,” Anderson said. “We have discounted the people who we are elected to represent, the people who are telling us they have questions, they have concerns, and we have fed into the narrative of not being inclusive or transparent.”

Mount Vernon Representative Karen Corbett-Sanders joined Anderson and Keys-Gamarra in voting against Reid’s appointment, citing reservations about her lack of experience in a district with the size and diversity of FCPS.

A German immigrant who grew up in a military family, Reid was appointed unanimously in June 2016 as superintendent of the Northshore School District in Bothell, Washington. Her experience prior to that included leading the South Kitsap School District and various administrative roles in the Port Angeles School District.

She was named National Superintendent of the Year in 2021 by the National Conference of Education.

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Masked and socially distanced students utilize laptops during Fairfax County Public Schools’ limited return to in-person classes in late fall 2020 (via FCPS/Facebook)

After a year of readjusting to in-person learning, local students now have a new option for getting some additional academic support.

Starting today (Thursday), all Fairfax County Public Schools students have unlimited access to online, on-demand tutoring through Tutor.com, and thanks to an infusion of federal coronavirus relief funds, the services come at no cost to families.

FCPS announced in late March that the tutoring services would become available for the final months of this school year as well as the 2022-2023 and 2023-2024 school years. Superintendent Scott Brabrand called the service “an academic booster shot” that would help students without further straining the school system’s teachers, ABC7 reported.

Founded in 1988 and acquired by The Princeton Review in 2014, Tutor.com has 3,500 tutors who teach math, science, English, and social studies, along with providing preparation for the SATs and other standardized tests, according to its website.

According to FCPS, all of the tutors undergo a “rigorous application process including an extensive background check,” and all sessions are recorded, with transcripts available for review by both teachers and students’ parents or guardians.

Students can access the one-on-one services on a 24/7 basis through FCPS’ Schoology platform, and they can choose to communicate through voice or a text chat box. Access to Tutor.com is automatic, though families can opt out.

The service is being supported by an ESSER III Unfinished Learning Grant, part of the $188.6 million that FCPS received from Congress through the American Rescue Plan Act’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund.

First established by the CARES Act in 2020, the ESSER funds are intended to address the pandemic’s impact on school divisions across the country. FCPS received an initial allocation of $21.7 million through early 2021 and another $272.6 million in ESSER II and III funds.

The Fairfax County School Board devoted 82% of its ESSER III funds to addressing learning losses and other student academic, social and mental health needs. The school system has also been using the money to cover COVID-19 mitigation expenses, staff compensation and technology support.

School Board Chair Stella Pekarsky, who represents Sully District, reported to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors at a public hearing on Tuesday (April 12) that the ESSER funds allowed FCPS to decrease its funding request for fiscal year 2023 by 2.3%, or $78.5 million, from its approved fiscal year 2022 budget.

“We continue to see the impact of the pandemic in both learning loss and the socio-emotional well-being of our students,” Pekarsky said. “With the help of ESSER funds, we are addressing these needs with school specific action plans.”

She told the Board of Supervisors that FCPS anticipates more than 40,000 students participating in summer school programs this year. The school board approved $12.5 million in funding for the summer programs on March 24.

Photo via FCPS/Facebook

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