The Falls Church City Public School Board Tuesday night appointed Sonia Ruiz-Bolanos, a parent-activist with the system’s English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and the City-wide Family Resource Center and board member of the Falls Church Education Foundation, by a 6-1 vote.
The vote was one of a number of important issues the board dealt with Tuesday, including the status of classroom education as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to rage, and some worrisome developments due to the resumption of indoor inter-school sports competitions.
With her appointment, Ruiz-Bolanos fills a seat on the board vacated by the resignation of board member Lawrence Webb in January. She will serve in the position until the end of 2021, pending the outcome of an election in November to fill the seat for a full four-year term.
Ruiz-Bolanos was one of 11 Falls Church citizens who submitted a request to receive the appointment. No other person was publicly nominated Monday. Board member Phil Reitinger said he felt the most important criteria “is a demonstrated record of commitment” to the system’s work, though he said it was “a very close question.”
Board member Shawna Russell said that she felt appointing someone with a more contrarian point of view to the current board’s majority might prove valuable, and she voted no on the appointment of Ruiz-Bolanos. Others pointed out, however, that Ruiz-Bolanos represents a diverse position on the board given her work with ESOL students, in particular.
In another development, Superintendent Dr. Peter Noonan reiterated that Feb. 23 will be the target date for the reintroduction of hybrid teaching throughout the system and all seniors will be invited on that date to visit the new high school. That date will mark the full immunity of every member of the system’s teaching and support staff, and and as such will make the F.C. school system the first in the region to reopen to classroom teaching.
The second shots provided to all teachers and staff are set for next Monday, Feb. 15, even though it is the Presidents Day holiday. Because of the potential for side effects associated with the second vaccine dose, all school buildings will be closed next Tuesday, Feb. 16 and all students, including Cohort 1 students, will access asynchronous learning. It will be an independent asynchronous student workday, when students will learn at their own pace, on their own schedule.
All vaccinations received by Feb.16 will be fully effective by Feb. 23.
Noonan said that the resumption of classes — though on a hybrid basis until its efficacy can be assured — will bring with it the same kinds of problems the beginning of any new school year would involve, and he was pleased to report that it would include 100 percent participation of teachers and staff.
“I am a believer in learning by doing,” he said, “and right now we don’t know what will happen.” While Virginia Gov. Northam set March 15 as a deadline for the reintroduction of hybrid teaching, Noonan stressed that there has still been no support from the state or regional levels on how to go about safely doing this.
“We all want a full-time return to classrooms,” he said, “But effective mitigation efforts must be in place to ensure social distancing, maskings and hand sanitizing.” Addressing mental health issues arising from the extraordinary circumstances of the past year, and lags in academics must also be addressed.
Social distancing will also require ensuring there is enough space in the classrooms.
The priority will be to provide full-time in classroom teaching for kindergarten, first, second and third grades. “We must work diligently to bring them back as fast as possible,” he said.
He also said that “there has been no big drop in math scores here on aggregate.”
Board member Susan Dimock addressed the impact on Covid-19 spread in the current indoor sports competitions that resumed last month. She cited a wrestling event in Florida that led to many new infections and even the death of one person from the virus.
If a student tests positive from such an event, how many others will have to go into quarantine and for how long, she asked.
Noonan said that the exposure in these sports will be contained to “very small pods” and when sports move outdoors this spring there will be less likelihood of spread. “This is not a satisfactory answer,” he confessed, “and I apologize.”
The high school’s student representative on the board, Elizabeth Snyder, said that there have been some cases of acquiring the virus at the school linked to the athletic competitions, and also of its spread at the school.
“Some student athletes reached out to me in December expressing their concerns about this, and their concerns were well founded based on what we’ve seen in the past few weeks,” she said.
Noonan expressed the frustration he’s felt from encountering parents who preface everything with the sentiment, “Can’t we just get open, please?”