Summer School Decision Comes May 15 as Graduation Prep Starts

TAKING A MOMENT to show off their “Falls Church Better Together” t-shirts are members of the Falls Church School Board during their meeting Tuesday night. Donning those threads has become a trend for City officials, with city manager Wyatt Shields doing the same while speaking with the City Council Monday night. (Photo: News-Press)

Update: This article originally reported that Falls Church City Public Schools superintendent Peter Noonan would be providing an update on the school system’s summer plans on Friday, May 8. The language has been updated to show that he was instead referencing Friday, May 15.

The decision on whether there will be any face-to-face summer school sessions for the Falls Church City Public Schools will be announced by Superintendent Peter Noonan on May 15, which was discussed at the online meeting of the system’s School Board Tuesday night.

Noonan said his decision will come following his weekly online meeting with the Fairfax County Public Health Department earlier that morning next Friday. He said that at last week’s meeting, it was established that new cases of Covid-19 infections were still on the rise and expected to continue to an estimated apex on May 25.

He said the system is in the process of transition planning to what may follow as the crisis hopefully begins to mitigate over the summer, and that it is proceeding with newly-announced innovative plans for the graduation of the Class of 2020 at George Mason High School.

The plan, developed with student contributors, actually kicked off this week with the surprise deployment of signs distributed to the homes of 183 graduating seniors announcing that a “GMHS Class of 2020 student lives here.” The Mason PTSA spearheaded the effort that also included scores of signs for businesses and citizens saying “We Stand With the GMHS Class of 2020.”

The next step will see the distribution of caps and gowns to the graduating students that will be carried out tomorrow with drive-by distribution outside at the high school and directions for each student to create a video at home showing students wearing their caps and gowns and turning tassels or tossing caps in the air.

With a concerted effort to reach every graduating student for this project, the videos will be compiled by a professional local videography company and aired online on the evening of June 10 at 7 p.m. for everyone to see.
The next day, the graduated students will drive by the high school again to drop off their caps and gowns and other items, like the school’s laptops, band and athletic equipment and books, and pick up their physical diplomas.

Then, in the late summer or at some point early in the fall, there will be face-to-face recognition, which may occur during halftime at a football game if possible, to cap the ceremony.

There will be a yearbook for the high school, and there is also being planned a virtual “moving up” ceremony for 8th grade graduates of Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School.

Noonan also laid out to the School Board a detailed plan for the cleaning out of all classrooms by June 7 in advance of a deep clean during the summer.

The decision on summer programs run by the City’s Department of Recreation and Parks will be made by June 1, Noonan reported.

Concerning the fall semester, Noonan said the decision will not be made before June at the earliest, in conjunction with the State Department of Education. He said there are at least six different scenarios for how the school year may begin, including sticking with the currently-scheduled August 24 start date.

There are options for face-to-face, partial face-to-face and online, totally online and staggered schedules with options for classes beginning by mid-September or as late as Nov. 1.

He quipped that there is a lot of frustration associated with constantly including the phrase, “it depends,” in all of the deliberations. “It’s like going down a rabbit hole of ‘what if’s,” he said.

Among other things, the discussion of fall sports has included games without fans and temperature checks for all participants.

Noonan added that no one over age 65 is being allowed in school buildings and even though as much as half the staff contingents of bus drivers and cafeteria workers are over 65, nonetheless some have already been notified that they will not be allowed to work.

Board member Phil Reitinger expressed concern for the morale of the system’s teachers under the current conditions, given that earlier-approved salary increases are now off the table and distance learning is causing new challenges.

He also expressed concern for the high school seniors in the fall if a return to normal conditions is not possible, especially given the heightened stress at that time for those looking for colleges to apply for.

He also raised the question of how education may change long-term as a result of the current challenges, something he identified as opportunity arising out of necessity.

Noonan spoke of the idea of staggering student schedules for example, taking into account that some students are thriving under the current conditions and others are struggling.

It was noted in passing, as well, that many Mason students were keenly aware that last weekend was supposed to be their annual spring prom.