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Dr Noonan's Road to Reopening -  Issue #5
Dr Noonan's Road to Reopening - Issue #5
Dr. Peter J. Noonan
Friday, July 24, 2020

Dear FCCPS Families,

Over the past weeks, we have collectively put our best thinking, creativity, and small division focus on our reopening plans. All along, we’ve said we would be prepared for whatever the conditions presented us and make the appropriate adjustments to keep our students, staff, and families safe. Circumstances have changed in the last two weeks, and that has led us to a different decision point than where we started from the start of the summer. The following provides further context and other data points we can't ignore. I am hopeful that having this deeper understanding will help with your support of our shift.

What Has Changed - Context and Experience

  • 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% 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. 

To be sure, the Fairfax County Health Department was contacted appropriately and contacts with families were made as needed. We have all read and reviewed the information from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control. However, there is no substitute for actually implementing and doing the work as we have in FCCPS. Taking theory to practice is not easy because the human variable isn’t always accounted for in the theory.

  • The publication of the research from South Korean drove home that children above the age of 10 transmit the virus at the same rate as adults. This is NEW information as we have always been under the impression from our Health Department that kids are minimally impacted and not significant carriers of the virus.

  • Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu, M.D., M.P.H., the Director of the Fairfax County Health District, announced Tuesday that if schools opened, “there will be clusters of viral outbreaks and the schools should plan for them appropriately.” Yet, clear guidance from the FCHD for schools is lacking. I want to plan for safe instruction, not clusters of outbreaks - going online allows us to do both - be safe and get quality instruction.

  • The Fairfax County Health Department will require significant notice to provide schools with Public Health Nursing support. Public Health Nurses are critical in developing health plans, 504s, and IEPs for any face-to-face instruction. This is an issue given 50% of our students with disabilities have a health plan and an IEP or a 504 Plan. The FCHD is not prepared to support any face to face instruction at the beginning of the year.

  • Starting online let us work more fully with staff and faculty to prepare for opening in a hybrid. They have been great advisors over the summer but have also been on summer break and not had the intended influence over how it will work best. We need to build plan ownership as a team. By bringing people back in online, we can more adequately plan forward.

  • We’ve had many questions about the metrics necessary to reopen. We need help from the Virginia Health Department. There is a multivariable “dashboard” currently under development to help communities and schools, but it is not ready yet. When complete, we will work to review it and see how we can implement a process going forward.

Instruction Update and Examples of Bell Schedules  

When we began developing our 2020-21 reopening plan, we knew that there was a potential for a virtual option to be included, whether on a part time basis or 100% full time. Our principals and school-based leaders have worked in tandem with our Curriculum, Instruction, and Achievement team to create a robust instructional program that is redesigned, developmentally appropriate, structured, and aligned to state and IB standards and practices.

From the moment we realized FCCPS would begin the 2020-21 school year with a fully virtual opening, we immediately doubled down. Our goal is to develop a meaningful online learning experience providing students with a blend of new instruction, academic intervention, extension, and enrichment. This will not be the emergency learning program that students and parents experienced in the spring. Although we are proud of the continuity of learning provided to students during the spring COVID school closure, we are preparing to deliver high-quality instruction that includes new curriculum content just like we would offer under normal conditions within a face to face model.  

Our new online instruction program will mirror the regular school day. Students at the secondary level will receive a regular class schedule that they will need to follow each day. Elementary students will be assigned a grade-level teacher and all students will engage in online instruction five days per week. Daily attendance will be taken for each class, and the assignments will be graded. We will also continue our commitment to piloting standards-based grading for students in grades 6 - 9. Curriculum Team Leaders will support their individual teams with ensuring consistency with lesson planning, formative and summative assessment practices, and assigning grades to quizzes, tests, and major projects. Students can also expect to engage in independent practice, reading, and exploration outside of the scheduled school day. Students will also participate in encore & elective classes throughout the week.

Teachers will be actively digging into the new content. Daily, teachers will monitor student progress and implement academic intervention as appropriate while following the guidance outlined in the learning recovery plan.

Beginning the school year in a virtual format will be an adjustment for all of us. Principals are now required to shift their planning to implement a successful 100% online opening. We know that you will have questions about the fine details of student schedules. To support parents with their questions, each principal will be sending a newsletter that includes more details about schedules in the upcoming days. The information contained in these newsletters will help to answer many of your questions.  

We want to prepare students, staff, and parents for this new online learning experience. On July 6th, teachers began participating in the virtual self-paced summer training for Best Practices for Online Learning. We have also added training for effective use of the Schoology program. We will continue to support parents who require technology and Schoology assistance. To better support our student’s success, we are dedicating the first week of school, August 24th – August 28th to Social Emotional Learning, establishing classroom expectations, procedural routines, behavioral norms, and getting everyone reacclimated to school and learning. 

Below are examples of individual school bell schedules that will help to outline what a student’s day might look like.

Jessie Thackrey Preschool - Sample Schedule

Mount Daniel - Sample Schedule

Thomas Jefferson - Sample Schedule

Mary Ellen Henderson & George Mason - Sample Schedule 

Areas of Special Consideration & Vulnerable Populations:

As a division, we recognize the needs of some of our most vulnerable learners in this situation. We recognize that this is not the ideal learning setting for our youngest and our most vulnerable learners. We are committed to bringing back our Special Education, ESOL, and preschool students for in-person instruction as soon as possible when it is safe. Until then, we are committed to ensuring that their online/virtual learning experiences are of the highest quality we can offer. Please see the information below regarding some of our specific learners.

Economically Disadvantaged Students:

As a division, we recognize the ongoing hardships and economic burdens placed on some of our families due to the pandemic. Our students who participate in the Federal Free and Reduced Meals Program (FRM) will continue to be supported during online/virtual learning. FCCPS will continue to provide weekly food boxes for our families via our contactless pick-up program each Friday at Thomas Jefferson Elementary and George Mason High School. This program has been very successful and will continue into the 20-21 school year while we are in an online/virtual instruction model. Any family may submit an FRM application at any time during the 20-21 school year. Please visit FCCPS Free Reduced Meals Application Page to download the application for the FRM program. Once the application is complete, please email it to foodservices@fccps.org. You will be notified regarding your eligibility for this program ASAP.

Additionally, we will continue to coordinate with our community partners and utilize our Family Assistance Fund provided through the Falls Church Education Foundation’s generosity to support our families in need. Families will continue to be supported by the School Social Worker should they have any needs. 

Preschool Students:

Preschool students will receive online/virtual instruction in a developmentally appropriate format. The focus of learning will be on literacy, numeracy, communication, and social/emotional development. 

Parent coaching will also be provided to support our youngest learners in the online/virtual setting. 

Tuition-based community preschool students will be invited to participate in online/virtual learning. However, when we move to a hybrid model, alternative arrangements will need to be made due to a lack of space for social distancing. 

All preschool students will return to face-to-face in personal instruction when we are able to open under normal/traditional operations. Parents of preschool age students can contact Marie Baroody, Preschool Coordinator, via email at mbaroody@fccps.org with questions or for more details on the online/virtual program specifics for our youngest students.

Students with 504 Plans:

Students who have 504 Plans in place will have access to their individual accommodations. They will be supported and have their 504 accommodations implemented by their classroom teacher(s) across all instructional settings in the online/virtual environment. There may be cases where an accommodation(s) on the student’s individual 504 Plan will need to be reviewed to ensure that it is appropriate for the online/virtual setting. 

 Any parent who believes their student with a 504 Plan needs additional support in a specific class/course should reach out to their student’s teacher upon the reopening of school. (Students should reach out as well as developmentally appropriate.) 

504 Case Managers who are our School Counselors will also provide additional support with check-ins/monitoring to ensure students are successful in their online/virtual learning. 

The 504 Team can and will reconvene at any time to review the student’s progress and make revisions to the 504 Plan as necessary to support the student’s progress in the online/virtual setting. Please reach out to your student’s School Counselor if you have questions or need additional support. The School Counselors who function as 504 Case Managers for each building are listed below. 

 Please contact the Division's 504 Coordinator, Rebecca Sharp--Executive Director of Special Education & Student Services (rsharp@fccps.org) , for additional procedural information if needed.

 

Mount Daniel Elementary School Counselors:

Jed Jackson ( jacksonj@fccps.org)

Carol Seaver ( seaverc@fccps.org)

Thomas Jefferson Elementary School Counselors:

Laurie Prather ( pratherl@fccps.org)

Carol Seaver ( seaverc@fccps.org)

Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School Counselors:

Matt Sowers ( sowersm@fccps.org)

Tara Filmyer ( filmyert@fccps.org)

Heidi Gilmore ( gillmoreh@fccps.org

George Mason High School Counselors:

Sarah Snyder (snyders2@fccps.org

Dana Quirine ( quirined@fccps.org)

Brad McAdam ( mcadamb@fccps.org)

Valerie Chesley ( chesleyv@fccps.org)

Special Education Students with IEPs:

All Special Education students will begin the year in the online/virtual format and will receive the highest priority when we are able to safely reopen in a hybrid model, as well as in the future when we are able to return to normal/traditional operations. We are committed to providing face-to-face in-person instruction as soon as it is safe.

IEP teams will work with families to review and amend student’s IEPs to develop solid plans for the delivery of special education and related services in the distance learning environment. Instruction for all students is different in the online/virtual model. That means FAPE has changed and we must adjust accordingly. When the general education program changes, FAPE changes. We are focused on the appropriate services and supports necessary to support our special education students in the online/virtual program, until we can provide services safely in an in-person format. 

There are some goals, accommodations, and services that may not translate from the face-to-face instructional model of service delivery to the online/virtual format. IEP teams will address those issues and update IEPs accordingly to ensure students have access to FAPE in the online format. IEP teams will address those needs, it will look different in the online format vs the traditional in-school model, but students’ needs will be addressed despite the unprecedented circumstances we face. 

IEP meetings are going to be scheduled as well within the next few weeks, as the majority of our staff and teachers are out for summer break. Schools are working to get those scheduled as soon as possible. These plans will include, as appropriate based upon the individual needs of students outlined in the IEP:  

  • daily live instruction with special education teachers and regular education teachers, 

  • interactions with peers online, 

  • small group/whole-class instruction in the virtual co-teaching environment and special education setting online, 

  • hands-on materials for use at home as needed, 

  • assistive technology and adaptive materials, 

  • ongoing related services provided via teletherapy in small groups and individual sessions, 

  • a detailed daily schedule, 

  • solid case coordination and any other strategies that IEP teams identify to support our students in the distance learning environment for regular education and special education.

IEP teams will reconvene upon our return to face-to-face/in-person learning to review the impact of the closures due to COVID-19 on students with disabilities. We will provide additional support services to help students recoup any lost skills and continue making progress in accordance with the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services guidelines (OSERS).

Like our regular education students, our special education staff is working diligently to develop instructional plans for students with disabilities. We know this situation is not ideal, but it is temporary. We are committed to the health/safety of all our students and staff. ALL MEANS ALL. 

Each school has a Special Education Administrator available to help navigate school/student-specific issues and answer questions. They are:

Additionally, parents can contact Rebecca Sharp, Executive Director of Special Education & Students Services at rsharp@fccps.org or Seamus O’Connor, Director of Specialized Instruction and Behavior Supports at oconnors@fccps.org

Students who are identified as English Learners

Students identified as English learners (ELs) will begin the school year in an all-online/virtual format. Students who are identified as Long-Term English learners, Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education, or ELs who are otherwise needing more intense language services will be prioritized when we are able to reopen safely. 

Attention has been placed on bringing English learners back face to face as soon as possible by the state. The motivation is understandable, but the City of Falls Church is in a different position of being able to support our ELs virtually than other districts who may not be able to do. We have ensured that every student needing one, has a device and WiFi in their home. We have developed multiple ways in which families can receive tech support, both virtually and physically, in getting their students online and engaged. Utilization of Language Line by teachers, tech support, and administrators has allowed for increased direct communication, which has developed a stronger sense of parent and community involvement. 

In the virtual/online format, ESOL teachers will meet with small groups K-12 as well as supporting their general education peers in meeting the needs in their co-taught classes. In the Spring, all ESOL teachers (K-12) indicated a high engagement and participation level from their students. Throughout the summer our Elementary ESOL teachers have been providing an online ESOL Enrichment program for targeted ELs in small group formats. Our Secondary ELs were invited to participate in the FCPS Online Language and Literacy course. In the Fall, ESOL teachers at the elementary level will be providing small group instruction targeted to student needs as well as supporting their general education peers. At the secondary level, ESOL teachers will teach their English Language Development class, which every EL is scheduled into, as well as co-teaching our traditionally provided co-taught classes. 

Our FCCPS ESOL team is committed not only to their work as teachers but to meeting their students’ very special and focused needs. Their work has resulted in some of our highest Exit rates and growth indicators on WIDA ACCESS for ELs than we have seen in some time. 

Lastly, as we begin the year, we will need to identify how we can safely screen students new to FCCPS who have indicated a language other than English on their Home Language Survey. This will be pivotal in being able to provide ESOL support to our newly enrolled students properly. Communication between Region IV schools is underway to see how we can each do this work safely, and support each other in understanding structures in which to do this.

Parents are welcomed to reach out to Dr. Jennifer Santiago, Director of Equity and Excellence at santiagoj@fccps.org .

If you have general questions, please feel free to submit them to: reopening@fccps.org - We have a staff member assigned to fan the questions out and get responses as quickly as possible.

Thank you to all for making it through this long update and for your continued support of our schools. I hope you have a great weekend and continue to wear your face coverings and social distance.

Sincerely,

Peter Noonan
Superintendent, Fall Church City Public Schools