Dear FCCPS Families,
Today, we received updated data from the Virginia Department of Health for our region. Unfortunately, the information has not changed from last week when we decided to take a one week pause. We remain in a “high” rate of burden and have substantial disease transmission for our region. The data points we monitor translate to “red x’s” on our checklist for reopening as well. Our data for Falls Church City continues to be concerning as well. We have moved from a ratio of 27.08 to 162.5 cases per 100k for Falls Church City. This data is summarized and provided on our FCCPS Reopening Metrics Dashboard. Therefore, we will remain closed to in-person learning for all students until after the winter break.
This is devastating news to all and is certainly not an easy decision to make or message to deliver. We hoped that we would see improvements with the data that would move us back into the moderate range after the additional week. That did not happen. In the end, we believe that moving the final two weeks of school prior to Winter Break online will allow us to recalibrate as a learning community and be prepared to return to school in January.
As the superintendent, it is my responsibility to ensure the safety and education of over 3000 people, mostly our students, daily. This is not a task I take lightly or without the duty of care and due diligence it deserves. Safety has been a primary driver for all decisions we have made during this health crisis. These are impactful decisions for everyone. The nuances of how decisions like this are disproportionately affecting some of our students and families are not lost, and they are impactful for so many. We do not take that lightly in any way.
However, the reality also includes the experiences we have had since reopening. During the first month and a half of reopening, when the data was low or moderate, we saw only 1 case and initiated 0 contact tracing investigations. Then, following the two weeks we opened, we saw an exponential increase in the span of a few days. There have been 10 positive cases confirmed, 7 cases requiring contact tracing, over 50 students who have experienced direct exposures from their homes or other situations, significant increases in testing and quarantines/isolations for students and staff. All of this affects over 45 families in our community and over 30 staff members across the system.
This is the “on the ground” impact of COVID-19 being at a high rate in our region and the local community. These issues are seen across all 5 schools, all of our programs and multiple notifications have been sent out in recent days. As a consequence, it is more difficult to operate consistently. We are a small, interconnected community and school division. The impacts are magnified here. If the Thanksgiving Break hadn’t come when it did, we would have been “pausing” classrooms across all of our buildings, and buses would be unavailable. Many students would have been moved online from hybrid to complete contact tracing cases resulting in more quarantines, isolations, and exposures.
I intend to continue working closely with our teachers and staff between now and January to revisit our data, collaborate intensively with our health partners, evaluate new studies, and reflect on our own experiences in FCCPS in response to this virus. All of the information continues to evolve about how the virus spreads, best practices in mitigation strategies, and how best to reopen our schools even when there are challenging data.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has an evolved set of indicators for reopening specific to schools that weren’t part of our original set of measures when we first developed our thresholds for FCCPS. We will be working as a team to ensure that we utilize that information to support keeping schools open and safe until such time as we have a vaccine. We cannot wait for that to be the reopening metric - this is an untenable long-term strategy.
I kindly and humbly ask you to remember that we are in a global pandemic, and none of us have done this before. The stakes are high for everyone on multiple levels, and we can not abdicate our responsibility for our community’s health. We are facing this situation together so that we can move forward with a sustained reopening plan. I know this is a hard message. It is economically, emotionally, and educationally trying.
We all come to this with different levels of risk tolerances, different familial issues, and, simply put...different lenses. No one lense is “right,” so we must work together. I am a parent of two who haven’t been to school all year, and each of our situations is different because we all have different frames and experiences. Someone wrote to me this week and said that “we are all not in the same boat, but we are in the same storm.” Please keep this in mind as we continue to navigate what I can only hope is the backside of this awful storm.
School leaders will follow up with families in the next day or so if there is a need to retrieve items from schools for the winter break.
We are keeping all of our FCCPS families and community impacted by COVID in our thoughts and wishes for a speedy recovery.