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Dr Noonan Announces 'First Wave' Return of Students
Dr Noonan Announces 'First Wave' Return of Students
Dr. Peter J. Noonan, Superintendent
Friday, September 18, 2020

Dear FCCPS Families,

It has been a couple of weeks since you have heard directly from me, and I feel like the time is right to update you on some of the many things that are happening across the state and in our school division. Let me start by saying thank you for your continued support of FCCPS and working so well with your kids. As a working parent of school-aged kids who are online, I am walking the road by your side, and I will say this is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, so I hope you feel my empathy. I remain optimistic in our approach to returning, and I am also realistic. Today’s message (I admit it is long) is to provide you an even more transparent look into our planning processes and the information we are looking at to make it all work. There are links in this document that I hope you will find helpful as you continue to build an understanding of our plans going forward. 

If you were in the Noonan, Letiecq, Dineen household on a Saturday morning, it might go like this…

  • Get coffee - vital!

  • ”Kids, go outside, grab a book, do a puzzle, do something please, and give me some time.”

  • I would sit on my front porch.

  • Settle in and read, read, read

There is very positive news from our local and state health departments regarding the data trends regarding the transmission of the COVID virus, specifically in our area. I know many of you have been staying in tune with information coming out to the community via Morning Announcements, watching School Board meetings, and speaking with your respective administrators. We have been looking at three big categories that influence our decision making about returning to school. These include health data, operations capacity, and instruction. 

We have developed a draft of our data dashboard to help us better monitor and understand these measures. I would direct you to the following link: FCCPS COVID Metrics Dashboard.  We continue to remain in the Low category for Burden of disease, Steady/Fluctuating for Disease Trend, and Low for the Overall Composite across the eight measures regarding disease transmission for our NOVA region as of today’s updates. Here are the last few weeks of VDH health data metrics for our region to give you an idea of where we stand.

Additionally, the Virginia Department of Education has given schools currently online their most explicit guidance about opening yet; we should be moving to a hybrid solution based on the local data (Falls Church City has the lowest rate of transmission and disease burden in Northern Virginia). Our region has been in and remains in Phase 3 of the Governor's reopening status for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Schools in our Region IV consortia have opened in hybrids and are finding great success. 

We have always been, and continue to be, committed to the safety of our staff and our students. Falls Church City, where our students live, has the lowest rate of COVID in the area, and additionally, our NOVA region has one of the lowest rates in our state. We, as a division, have maintained that we will be condition-driven. Our health metrics and VDOE support the return of students. So, focusing on small cohorts of students who have experienced difficulty accessing learning in the virtual environment, it is time to begin the reopening process in FCCPS. I want to assure you of a couple of things...it will be slow, steady, and done with input from the staff and faculty.

“First Wave” Return

We are starting to return our “first wave” of students during the first two weeks in October. This planning for their return began several months ago, and we are getting ready with the final touches to make their time in FCCPS special. 

Over the past few weeks, our team has met with the JTP staff and some of the staff at TJES, MDES, Henderson, and Mason to discuss our most vulnerable students’ return. Specifically, we are looking to bring back our students in Life Skills; therapeutic day programs; students whose IEP calls for more than 50% time instructed by a special education teacher; hearing, vision, and orthopedically impaired; a small number of ESOL students; and PreK students that are in special education or participate in the VPI program. The total number of students this group represents is approximately 80. The timing for the return is the first and second weeks of October. As mentioned previously, the staff in each of these schools have been heavily engaged in developing the program. They have identified many of the needs specifically related to the population they serve. 

As a part of this planning process, we have worked with staff, consulted with the Fairfax County Health Department, reviewed CDC/VDH guidelines and VDOE processes for reopening schools. 

Division Reopening “Tight” Expectations

The list of our tight expectations is outlined below to help us provide a safe environment for reopening school to our students for in-person instruction in a hybrid model.

  • Face coverings are required when people are within 6 feet of others unless there are ADA, medical or developmental issues impacting this.

  • Maintain 6 feet of physical distancing for all staff and students whenever possible

  • Staff/Students follow daily health screening and stay home if not feeling well.

  • Students will have temperature checks before boarding buses and entering buildings.

  • The health clinics are open, and we have procedures for

    • Daily Health Screenings

    • Isolating sick students

    • Supporting medication, health plans, and other first-aid needs

    • Notifying parents of requirements if their child is sick

    • Notifications of staff/parents should there be a COVID-19 positive result in our school division - at the direction of Fairfax County Health Department 

    • Working with the health department on contact tracing and notification of COVID cases regarding exposure/no exposure

    • Public Health Nurses will be released and will be on-site to provide support to the division beginning 10/5/20

  • Classrooms and any identified materials are deep cleaned each evening

  • High touch areas are cleaned throughout the day

  • Ventilation systems have been adjusted to increase airflow and improve filtering

  • PPE and training on the use of PPE will be provided to all special populations staff members who work in roles that necessitate this type of equipment

  • Tents will be provided to each school to support outdoor instructional activities

Below you will find a timeline that we have been working on to begin providing in-person instruction to our most vulnerable learners and a checklist that shows the operational steps we are taking: 

Date:

Event/Activity:

10/6/20

  • Secondary Special Populations Students Begin In-Person Learning, Tuesday-Thursday, 8:05 am to 1:05 pm (Grades 6-12--Life Skills & Therapeutic Classroom Students)

10/13/20

  • Preschool IEP & VPI students begin in-person learning, Tuesday-Friday, 8:15 to 12:15

  • Elementary students with >50% Special Education Services begin instruction, Tuesday-Friday, 8:50 to 12:50

  • Critical Needs ESOL begin in-person instruction - tentative

Facilities - Set-Up

  • Classroom and other spaces throughout the division are set up to support 6-feet of social distancing measures where possible

  • Plexiglass and other barriers will be in place in high traffic areas to prevent the spread of disease. (Examples in high exposure areas such as the front offices, individual testing locations, school health rooms)

  • Ventilation systems assessed and set to exceed building code guidelines for air circulation to promote disease suppression

  • Stairwells are designated as up or down to reduce traffic flow

  • Hallways have one-foot tiles that will help students measure distance in supporting 6-feet of social distancing

  • Congregate areas of the building will be closed for large group meetings unless needed for instruction with 6-feet of social distancing in place

  • Restrooms are monitored with every other stall/urinal/sink closed for use to promote social distancing 

  • Signage in place across all division buildings regarding safety procedures and social distancing

Facilities - Cleaning

  • Classrooms will be cleaned and sanitized nightly

  • Classrooms will have cleaner available for teachers/students to be able to clean/sanitize desks in between changes in group structure

  • Restrooms will be cleaned multiple times per day with disinfectant 

  • Classrooms and division areas are equipped with disinfectant cleaning supplies that are readily available and refilled nightly as needed

  • High touch areas such as doorknobs will have antimicrobial continuously self-cleaning touchpoints

  • Counters and sign in areas will be sanitized on a frequency schedule of no less than four times daily

Operations - Student Health

  • Students who attend school must have provided immunization/physical requirements as outlined by VDOE/VDH for school entry prior to participating in in-person learning

  • Students with an identified health issue placing them in a high-risk group as defined by their health care provider and/or the CDC must have an updated health plan on file prior to attending school in an in-person setting 

Operations - School Health Clinic

  • Public Health Nurses for all schools will be accessible three weeks prior to reopening for in-person learning

  • Health clinics are staffed, fully opened, and the isolation area identified for staff or students displaying symptoms

  • Procedures and resources are in place to address students/staff that feel ill due to COVID Like Illness (CLI) 

Procedures - Daily Health Screening and Face Coverings

  • Staff and students above the age of 2 and/or when it is developmentally appropriate will be required to wear a face-covering at all times unless there is a documented medical or ADA reason for exemption

  • Staff and students will complete a daily health screening

  • Temperatures will be taken upon arrival when in-person learning is provided

  • Staff and students will self-monitor health and follow attendance guidelines established by the division

  • Students unable to adhere to mitigation requirements with support and reasonable accommodations will be moved to online/virtual instruction to ensure the health and safety of themselves and others

Procedures - Transportation

  • Students will be transported on school buses with 6-feet of social distancing in place where possible

  • Buses will be sanitized prior to beginning of the route, and in between routes, all seats and handrails will be cleaned

Procedures - Visitors

  • Visitation to the school site is discouraged. Visitors will only be allowed in the buildings for scheduled appointments and will be asked health screening questions and subject to temperature check by school staff upon entry

  • Contactless pick up/drop off procedure in place for parents to deliver/retrieve student items without entering the building will be in place to minimize disease spread

Supplies and Equipment - Face Coverings

  • Washable face coverings available for staff or students who do not have them

  • A 60-day supply of disposable face coverings for students who may arrive at school without one

Supplies and Equipment - Personal Protective Equipment for Staff

  • A 60-day supply of PPE for all schools available, including masks, gloves, gowns, and face shields calculated based upon need and role which may include full PPE for School Health Assistants, Preschool staff, Special Education staff, Behavior Specialists, Administration, and others as appropriate

Supplies and Equipment - Hand Washing and Sanitizing

  • Hand sanitizer is provided at all entrances/other critical areas and refilled daily as needed, and handwashing will be promoted by staff 

Parent Expectation for Joining our “Bubble”

Falls Church City, in many ways, represents a “bubble” in Northern Virginia. We have very low numbers associated with COVID, and that is a good thing. But many of us go outside of FCC for shopping, sports, hiking, etc. We ask for your support as we consider returning by being thoughtful about being part of our school “bubble.” To that end, we hope you will continue to follow all the best practices in hygiene to minimize the transmission of COVID. Please keep social distance, wear a mask, wash your hands, sanitize as needed, avoid large groups, etc. We urge families to consider getting a flu shot this season to help keep the numbers of illness down particularly since the flu can present like COVID, which has consequences for testing, treatment, and potential quarantine. 

“Second Wave” Return

We’ve said all along we wouldn’t do anything before the end of the first quarter except for those that are our most vulnerable, which leads to the “Second Wave” of students returning. We plan to look at students most impacted by being in an online environment and are least likely to adapt or be independent in learning, which is essential in an online format. This would be our K-5 students. There is no timeline designated yet for their return, but I want us all to begin thinking about how we can do this together, considering the end of the first quarter will be here before we know it. I have scheduled an all-staff meeting with the staff and faculty at TJES and MDES next week to engage in a solutions-oriented dialogue to support students’ return. I look forward to seeing them and working together on behalf of our students.

Concerning our secondary schools (Henderson and Mason), please be patient as we want to focus our resources (time, human, and financial) on our youngest learners at this moment in time. We anticipate sharing more with the secondary schools in the weeks to come.

We recognize that as we develop plans to reopen schools, some would prefer to stay online for the time being. We are committed to finding a way to provide that as an option for families as well. Once planning and timelines become more precise, we will send a form for families to designate their preference. In that survey, we will be very clear about the options and what the structures will look like so there isn’t any ambiguity about what you are choosing.

Lastly, I am linking an article here: https://elemental.medium.com/your-surge-capacity-is-depleted-it-s-why-you-feel-awful-de285d542f4c  that you may find of interest. In March of this year, we began our “surge” to move to all online, and through the summer, we “surged” again. Because of the amount of energy it takes to surge and get where we need to be, our reserves are depleted, and we feel low. This work is incredibly hard. Further, I know many of you are tired and may be suffering in ways we don’t all see or know. Between COVID, racial justice issues in the US, and a divided political environment, we are all feeling something.  I am asking us all to be understanding with each other, assume positive intentions, and be resilient as a community. 

Thank you for your continued support of our schools! 

Sincerely,

Peter