The “classroom monitor” program, which secured temporary workers to effectively babysit classes taught by teachers working remotely, will end forever come fall, Brabrand said. Ditto for the “concurrent” model of teaching, which asked teachers to simultaneously instruct children learning remotely and children learning inside the classroom.
The Northern Virginia school system of 180,000 is even “reverting to pre-pandemic bell schedules,” Brabrand said. He acknowledged, though, that some families still distrust in-person learning.
“I pledge today that we are going to work with every family by name and by need — with every family directly — to ensure that they are confident in returning their children into our school buildings this fall,” Brabrand said.
As those outreach efforts proceed, Fairfax will also focus on helping students recover from academic, emotional and social harm inflicted by the pandemic, Brabrand said. At the meeting, chief equity officer Lisa Williams reviewed grade data showing that students of color, students with disabilities and those whose first language is not English are receiving failing marks at high rates.
As of the second quarter, 71 percent of all grades earned by Hispanic middle- and high-schoolers were C’s or lower, according to Williams’s presentation, as were 58 percent of all grades achieved by Black middle- and high-schoolers. By contrast, just 30 percent of grades received by Asian middle- and high-schoolers were C’s or lower, as were 40 percent of grades achieved by White middle- and high-schoolers.
Among students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals, 69 percent of grades earned were C’s or lower; as were 83 percent of grades earned by students whose first language is not English; and 67 percent of grades earned by students with disabilities.
Fairfax staffers at every school are currently identifying children at risk of not graduating, children failing to make expected academic progress and children with “engagement or wellness needs,” Williams said. Officials hope to switch these students to four days of in-person learning before the end of April.
Once the academic year ends, Fairfax plans to place struggling students into a comprehensive summer school program, said chief academic officer Sloan Presidio. The program will involve roughly 35,000 students total, making it 10 times larger than Fairfax’s typical summer offerings.
Summer learning is free, will take place in person and will be offered on every campus, Presidio said. It will cost more than $35 million, he said, which will be drawn from coronavirus relief funding provided by the federal government.
Almost all pre-kindergartners and kindergartners will be eligible for summer learning. Elementary and middle school students who are performing below grade level in reading and math will be invited to take part. And at the high school level, students who fail one or more of several classes — including English, biology, chemistry and some math and history courses — will be eligible to retake those classes, for a new grade, over the summer.
Presidio said that Fairfax is still recruiting teachers to staff the summer program but that he is confident the system will procure a sufficient number. He said teachers who work over the summer — as well as summer bus drivers and cafeteria workers — will receive extra pay.
Brabrand spoke at length about how Fairfax is gearing up for fall instruction. There is an onslaught of factors to consider, he said — for one thing, Fairfax must develop new busing protocols, which involve cleaning the buses on both morning and evening routes. Officials are also outlining master class schedules.
And Fairfax is setting up large-scale screening and diagnostic testing, meant to enable quick identification of coronavirus cases on campus. Brabrand said this effort was made possible through millions granted to the county under President Biden’s American Rescue Plan.
The school system is also considering creative ways to offer the maximum number of children in-person instruction while abiding by health guidelines — for example, by holding class outdoors. Fairfax has purchased roughly 50 tents for that purpose.
The more than 800 classroom monitors hired this academic year will not be necessary in the fall, and Brabrand said that he hopes to find them other jobs within the school system.
Fairfax is adopting a policy this fall that all employees have to report in person to perform “essential functions.”
“For teachers, [that] includes classroom management,” Brabrand said. “As a result, telework will generally not be available next year.” Covid-related leaves of absence will not be available in school year 2021-2022, he said.
On top of all this, the school system is working overtime to convince every family in the county that in-person learning is safe, Brabrand said. The outreach campaign — staffed by administrators, teachers, parents, and community and religious leaders — will involve meeting families at food-distribution sites, sending newsletters, posting on social media and holding “door-to-door meet-and-greets” with families, as well as holding town halls and publishing podcasts in many different languages.
“We are busy!” Brabrand summed up Fairfax’s preparations for in-person learning.
The demand for face-to-face instruction is already significant. As of mid-March, roughly 84,600 students in Fairfax County — representing 47 percent of the student body — had returned for in-person learning. Since then, some families who previously opted for virtual have also indicated they would like to return for in-person learning, and Fairfax is working to accommodate them.
Officials predict that the percentage of students who wish to remain virtual come fall will be small.
Still, much of Tuesday’s board meeting centered on the question of how Fairfax will treat the online-only population. Families will have to apply for virtual status, Brabrand said, and prove the need.
He presented the board with two options: Fairfax could offer remote students instruction through the concurrent model, or Fairfax could enroll these students in Virtual Virginia, a state-run and taxpayer-funded program of online instruction that’s been around for years.
The board did not much like either option. Members criticized the concurrent model as placing too great a burden on teachers. And they argued that Virtual Virginia provides less comprehensive instruction than the Fairfax school system. Students enrolled in Virtual Virginia will be taught by state-employed teachers, not Fairfax ones, and certain courses and electives offered in Fairfax are not available through the state program.
Virtual Virginia is also expensive: Brabrand estimated it will cost nearly $4,000 per student.
“We have Option A, which stinks,” board member Karl Frisch said, referring to concurrent teaching. “And then we have Option B, which is a little better but still kind of stinks” — referring to Virtual Virginia.
Brabrand said that Fairfax would make sure to supplement Virtual Virginia with its own offerings.
The board took an informal vote and unanimously advised the superintendent to abandon the concurrent model of teaching. Instead, the board directed him to explore how Fairfax can best serve its online-only students through Virtual Virginia.
The superintendent said he would present board members with more information in coming weeks. He said that any plan for online learning is likely to be flawed.
“Every model has its trade-offs. . . . It’s just weighing in the end where you want to land on what those trade-offs are,” he said. “But we cannot do it all. The lesson of this year? We cannot do it all and do it well.”