Janna Laachir, 12, woke Monday to find her parents still sleeping.
She yawned and stayed put — the coronavirus outbreak, she knew, closed her school. Bored, hungry and unsure how to cook breakfast, Janna grabbed her brother, 10-year-old Abdorrahman Laachir, and walked seven minutes from her Falls Church home to Bailey’s Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences, one of 18 sites throughout the Fairfax County Public Schools district offering free breakfast and lunches to families during the shutdown.
Plastic bag of food in one hand and her brother’s arm in the other, the sixth-grader paused and swept her eyes left, then right. All she saw was empty parking lots.
“Maybe after this, I’ll do some chores,” Janna said. “I know I could clean my room and also maybe the kitchen — there’s not much else to do.”
She’d grown tired, she said, of watching TikTok videos republished to YouTube, her primary activity over the weekend.
Janna is one of 188,000 students left somewhat adrift by Fairfax County Public Schools, which is so far making no academic demands for the duration of its shutdown, slated to last until April 10. Officials published online educational activities, but the work is neither “required nor graded,” Superintendent Scott Brabrand wrote in a message to families last week. If students choose to, they can watch instructional television programming.
Even if Melanie Torrico, 7, wanted to complete an online lesson, she couldn’t. The Torricos — a family of two parents and three children — have one computer, and it belongs to the oldest sibling, who is 21.
He, Melanie said, is unwilling to share.
“So I don’t really have electronics,” she said Monday as she picked up a free breakfast from Bailey’s with her father, construction worker Jose Torrico. “What I’m going to do today is play with Lulu, my pit bull.”
Yassin Shaban and his family, by contrast, have far too many devices — and he is desperate to tear his four children away from them.
Since school shut down Friday, Shaban’s children — one in high school, one in middle school, one in elementary school and one in kindergarten — have been packed into the house “basically just sitting,” Shaban, 52, said. To avoid infection, the family is allowing trips outside only for essential reasons: for example, when Shaban, whose limo-driving business evaporated because of the virus, needs to go job-hunting.
They also made an exception Monday morning when Shaban and his wife, Abouzeid Ayat, 39, walked to Bailey’s to pick up breakfast.
“I want them to read a book,” Shaban said of his children, as his wife nodded. “Learn something.”
When the couple left the house that morning, the children were grouped around a PlayStation.
Janna knows her brother is enjoying the unexpected, indefinite freedom. He hates school, she said, prompting Abdorrahman to add: “It’s boring!”
She, however, is starting to worry. Janna already knows what she wants to do with her life: college, then medical school, then work as a doctor or nurse. She isn’t sure which.
“Not having school,” Janna said, glancing from the vacant parking lot to the empty building, “would ruin my plans.”