By a unanimous 7-0 vote after a three and a half hour special meeting held online Thursday night, the Falls Church School Board voted that all Falls Church schools will revert to all online learning starting Aug. 24 for at least the first nine weeks of the fall semester.
The move followed the recommendation of Superintendent Dr. Peter Noonan, who after receiving feedback from parents and the broader community the last two weeks about the schools’ earlier plan for a hybrid approach to learning this fall, he decided the approach was untenable from a health and safety standpoint.
Noonan’s recommendation came prior to moves by the City’s neighboring Northern Virginia school systems in Fairfax, Arlington and Loudoun counties to also start the first chunk of the year with strictly online learning.
Upticks in the infection rates of the Covid-19 virus in the wider region was a deciding factor, as well as the inability of existing testing resources to provide timely results.
On behalf of the Falls Church School Board, chair Greg Anderson said he’d issue a statement to the Falls Church community about the decision Friday.
In a lengthy Friday memo to the F.C. Schools community, Noonan spelled out the criteria for making the change to all-virtual “distance learning” that the School Board voted for Thursday night:
“With health and safety as our first priority, the virus data we take into account is broader than just the City of Falls Church. As a reminder, the vast majority of our faculty and staff don’t live in the City of Falls Church. Therefore, we must look at the health picture’s entirety to include all of Northern Virginia, Maryland, and DC…not just 22046. Numbers need to be declining everywhere, so we aren’t inadvertently importing the virus.
“The stability of a workforce in a large organization is vital to its success. 25 percent of our custodial staff have either been positive or quarantined this summer due to Covid-19. This is before we introduce students and staff. If we don’t have the capacity to clean our buildings – especially during a pandemic, drive our buses, serve our food we can’t operate effectively.
“This past week we have seen a spike in teachers and staff applying for a year-long leave of absence and resigning their teaching position. In the midst of all of the pandemic, there is also a national teacher shortage. If we can’t keep the staff we have, we can’t hold classes. Substitute teachers have already indicated they will not report as they have in the past because they do not get health care benefits, and the risk is too great.
“Virginia’s largest school insurer, VACORP, says worker’s compensation is unlikely for teachers and staff who contract Covid-19, indicating a further lack of protection for our workforce.
“Our summer daycare has been a good proxy for opening schools more fully. Since we opened two weeks ago, we’ve sent five children home because they either arrived with a fever or developed one during the day. Additionally, families were asked a daily health screening questionnaire. Unfortunately, we’ve had some struggle with the screening, and at least one family sent children to school while other members of the household were home sick, awaiting the results of a COVID 19 test. Just yesterday, two faculty members were out due to illness with COVID-like symptoms and are seeking treatment. Given the small size of the program (50) and the strictest adherence to mitigation procedures for safety as defined by the CDC and FCHD, when you extrapolate out this circumstance to a full division of 2800 students, it is daunting.”