F.C. Schools Plan August Reopening With Hybrid Schedule

Dr. Peter Noonan, superintendent of Falls Church City schools, warned in his newsletter that if virus prevention etiquette isn’t followed and another spike in Covid-19 cases happens, there may be no option for face-to-face learning in the fall.

Banking on continued progress in the containment of the Covid-19 pandemic in the next two months, Falls Church City Schools will open on Aug. 24 with an initial alternating hybrid two day a week face-to-face and online education plan, F.C. Schools Superintendent Dr. Peter Noonan announced in a newsletter to parents, students and staff this week, and reported to the F.C. School Board Tuesday night.

In his newsletter issued earlier this week, “The Road to Reopening,” Noonan stressed that everyone “continue to model and enforce appropriate viral transmission hygiene,” meaning that “as we enter Phase 3 reopening in Virginia generally, that everyone wear a mask and appropriately social distance,” stressing that “If we have a spike in cases, we could be at risk of not being able to return to school face-to-face.”

His plea comes amid dire reports of new surges in infection cases in a majority of the U.S. states, and the modification by Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia’s Phase 3 reopening scheduled to go into effect on July 1 this week. The modification involves no open bar environments in restaurants, which have been identified nationally as the most likely places for new transmissions of the virus. In ordering that policy, the governor followed suit for developments in the beach communities of Delaware, in New York City and elsewhere.

Virginia has remained to date, however, one of a handful of U.S. states to maintain a steady diminished rate of new infections compared to an explosive rise in states such as Florida, Texas, Oklahoma and Arizona and increasing trends in its neighboring states of North Carolina and West Virginia.

There has been almost no advancement of reported cases of the virus in the last weeks in the City of Falls Church, according to daily updates from the Fairfax Department of Health, although there have been anecdotal reports of groups of folks not practicing social distancing or masking around the City’s 2.2 square mile area.

Dr. Noonan told the F.C. School Board Tuesday that he’s pleased with the responses to a parent survey sent out last month.

In only a few weeks, over half the parents have responded, he said, being 1,595 so far at a rate of 95 percent, and was pleased to learn that of those, there is an overwhelming number (97.3 percent) who say their children will be seeking face-to-face learning as much as public health guidance allows this fall.

The deadline for the submission of survey responses has been extended beyond the Fourth of July weekend to July 10.

For starters, he told the School Board, the plan is to dedicate Mondays to teacher planning and that one group of students will be attending in-person classes for full days on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the other group on Wednesdays and Fridays, such that social distancing and other sanitation measures will be in keeping with the guidance from the Virginia Department of Education, the Virginia Department of Health and the Fairfax Department of Health.

Noonan said he’ll produce another newsletter for the entire school community this Friday and follow that with at least one per week until classes commence on Aug. 24.

“In addition to classroom education, all students will have access to art, music, physical education and the library,” he said, adding “there may be cases of ‘art on a cart,’ where programs will be brought into classrooms rather than at fixed places.”

He assured the School Board that the content of the education, both in the classrooms and also online during the two days a week when students will be getting their education that way “will be more robust than in the spring.”

As far as transportation to school, he said, the vast majority surveyed say that limits to use of buses (the guidance limits students on buses to 13 per 77 seats), most students will be transported by their parents or will walk.

Some will ride bikes, and some their own cars.

Only 82 students out of the 1,217 survey responses indicated they will have difficulties getting to classes, Noonan said, and plans are being made to accommodate them.

Eighty-seven percent of the survey respondents said that masking is already being practiced and will present no burden to them, and 98.1 percent say they have access to the Internet from home.

The biggest issue for those surveyed concerns the lack of “social and emotional connection with other students” that arise from at-home learning.

Noonan indicated that under the guidance of the Virginia High School League, conditioning programs for fall sports will be able to commence next week.

He noted that suggestions to continue to use the old school building once the new building is complete this December to help accommodate social distancing “is a good idea, but we have 45 days from completion of the new to vacate and turn over the old GMHS to the development team.”

He said, however, that the greater capacity of the new school will more than allow for the enrollment needs notwithstanding the mandate for social distancing.

He also noted that “there are some students who will receive face-to-face instruction four days a week. The students who have been disproportionately impacted due to disability status, ESOL status, and economic status will be first to gain fuller access face-to-face,” adding “families who will receive this option will be contacted directly in the next several weeks.”