Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: No Plan for a Full-Time, Return to School Is Failing Our Students

By Courtney Mooney

What is trust? One builds trust with friends, family, and the community via ongoing positive experiences and by exhibiting competency, dependability, and integrity. On the topic of schools, we presently see much less trust in our community than any of us can collectively remember. That loss is a direct reflection of school leadership, and while it will be instructive and imperative at a later time to understand how we arrived here, at this critical point, the focus needs to be on how to fix the issue and get our children back in school full-time.

The evidence is mounting rapidly that our children are in emotional distress and falling behind in learning. The rates of anxiety and depression in our community are increasing dramatically, requiring medications like Prozac at record levels. As parents, we can see that our children, from Pre-K to seniors, are losing motivation for learning and becoming increasingly wary and distrustful of educational institutions in general. Despite the heroic efforts of our teachers, the lack of social interaction and the hours in front of screens have resulted in daily tears and frustration, especially for our younger children. Equally dangerous though is the apathy for virtual learning that older children are experiencing. There is no technological tool that can replicate the meaningful dialogue, opportunity for socialization, and ability to differentiate instruction that the classroom provides. The greatest growth occurs when children are together in the same room.

And the hard truth is that our area public schools are significantly behind much of the rest of the country, and certainly the world, in serving our children’s need for in-person education. Our Governor publicly recognized this fact in his statements just this past week, specifically stating that we must move with urgency to “prevent irreparable learning loss and psychological damage…” A number of studies demonstrate the low prevalence of in-school transmission of Covid-19 for young kids, and this has been evidenced in the private schools within our own city boundaries that have remained open. As Dr. Amesh Adalja from Johns Hopkins points out, “The default has to be to keep schools open. This is something that we’ve kind of made the wrong calculation on from the very beginning and we know we’re causing harm to children and we have data and science on our side that schools can be open safely.’

In light of this, a team of committed parents recently formed Falls Church City Parents 4 Schools (FCCP4S). This group is dedicated to advocating for the quick return of full-time in-person schooling based on science and the experience of thousands of schools around the world that have done so successfully. We aim to help the school administration in every way possible and to clear any obstructions to that goal. Our children must be the schools’ #1 priority, and the plans and decisions of leadership must reflect this. Waiting until fall to make this a reality is not acceptable, especially with so many districts back to school full-time across the nation.

Our Superintendent and School Board had important jobs to do over the past year in the midst of challenging circumstances. Last spring, the agile and efficient shift to virtual learning was a blessing for all and showed true leadership. Entering the fall, it was reasonable to argue that uncertainty and health concerns should still prevail. As we now enter our 12th month — with other public systems leading and research coming in — our Superintendent and Board are largely failing on the tasks at-hand. We must quickly right the ship and put a clear plan for full-time instruction in place now. Our children are paying the high price for our collective inaction.

FCCP4S applauds the move to bring children back in a hybrid model on Feb. 22, and we hope there is not yet another change to this decision, as frequent past mis-starts have impacted trust between parents and schools. However, concurrent planning must be in place to bring students back full-time. The questions that need to be answered transparently include: 1) What, if any, are the true impediments to children returning full time? 2) How can we comply with CDC recommendations for bringing students back? 3) What do our exceptional teachers need in order to teach in-person during this challenging time? 4) What budgetary adjustments need to be made to help accomplish having our kids in school full-time? And 5) How can the Administration utilize the talents within the community to help address the above questions, as well as address the fears, medical concerns, logistical issues, and financial burdens this requires? As Nelson Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until it is done.” Let’s put our collective minds together to solve these impediments.

Falls Church City has an exceptional educational record and has been a more nimble and independent-thinking school district in the past. However, the past few months have been chaotic for students, parents, and teachers alike, and the trust in the system and leadership has been shaken. The time is here to push forward with transparency, accountability, and innovation to give our students what they deserve…the best.

Courtney Mooney is a Falls Church City Parent, a Medical Diagnostic Professional and a Steering Committee Lead for FCCP4S