Update from School Board Member Melanie Meren

Update from School Board Member Melanie Meren

Hello Community Members,

I hope you and your families are as well as can be during this extraordinary time in our lives.

Join us Friday, April 24, 12:30 p.m. for a budget-focused Town Hall

I’m joining Hunter Mill Supervisor Walter Alcorn to share an update on the development of the Fiscal Year 2021 budget, with most of the time devoted to hearing constituent questions. Watch or participate! More information is here: https://conta.cc/34UCqvK

Strengths, challenges in our school system

I am proud of FCPS’ commitment to ensuring our children and families have basic needs. This includes distributing food and technology, and establishing practices to keep our staff protected from COVID-19. I’m also thankful for teachers and school staff who have shared distance learning resources to use at home.

However, like many in the community, I am frustrated with aspects of the distance learning plan. The problems with providing real-time opportunities for students to connect with teachers for learning and emotional support have, of course, been a big disappointment. And the broken promises for a functional learning system are below the standard of quality that we expect from our Fairfax County Public Schools.   

I am vigilant about finding answers to questions about why we are in the situation we are, but more importantly, how the school division will get us out of it. I am advocating for our educators to have permission and access to the reliable learning tools and platforms they have readily available to best teach our children. I’m also seeking better communications from the school system to inform parents and teachers of vital information. Additionally, I am seeking confirmation that online privacy and security settings are effectively protecting our students and staff from inappropriate, offensive, or hateful content – and that consequences occur for those who aren’t being respectful digital citizens.

About FCPS’ contracts for online learning

FCPS has two contracts with Blackboard, for the two products used (Blackboard Learn and Blackboard Collaborate). Both were awarded in 2011, and both expire on June 30, 2021.

Prior to the COVID closure, a new contract had been awarded in advance of the end of the Blackboard contract. A contract was awarded on June 26, 2019, to Schoology, a Google product. The Pilot is to start Fall 2020 with 15-20 schools. Full rollout is set for Fall 2021. The contract expires June 2026, although there are renewal options.

I do not yet know the possibilities and consequences of FCPS making a change to either contract.

Fiscal Year 2021 Budget

The School Board is in the final stages of the annual budget process - now reviewing the Superintendent's proposed budget, which will be voted on in late May. Due to COVID-19, we will receive less money from the County and State; however, the budget outlook is not as bleak as it could be. While we may not get much extra money, it seems we should be able to fund current positions, programs, and services. I’ve advocated hard for social, emotional, and behavioral supports for our students to help them navigate tough times ahead as we navigate life with the threat of coronavirus. I’m pleased to see several modest but strategic additions in the Superintendent's proposed budget to support students in this way, as well as help our students with special needs and disabilities. For more information about the budget, see here: https://tinyurl.com/y8h6wgwe.

Public Engagement

As Chair of the Board’s Public Engagement Committee, I’ll be leading the kickoff of the Committee's work in May. Board committees had been on hold due to COVID-forced closure until the County Board of Supervisors granted permission last week for such committees to operate, per Virginia law. We have many lessons learned and needs revealed during the closure that I’m eager to address with my colleagues. 

New FAQs for Special Education

Now available are answers to frequently asked questions about special education services for our students. Find the page here.

Celebrate Earth Week!

Earth Day Anniversary

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, making Earth Week 2020 a great opportunity to take small actions to make a positive impact on our world.

Even with schools closed, you can celebrate Earth Week! 

FCPS Earth Week Home Edition fosters conversation and learning about environmental topics that are essential in developing students as ethical and global citizens who are stewards of the environment. Learn more at: http://get2green.fcps.edu/EarthWeek.html

Grants, Contests, and Opportunities

Congressional art competition

The Annual Congressional Art Competition provides Members of Congress with the unique opportunity to showcase the artistic creativity and talent of high school students from across the United States. More information is here.

Poster contest featuring pollinators

Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District is requesting entries for the 2020 poster contest. The theme is “Where Would We BEE Without Pollinators?” The competition is open to all students in grades K-12, and scouts who enter are eligible to receive a conservation poster contest scout patch. Winners in each age category will be sent to compete in the state competition. Entries from Fairfax County students must be submitted to NVSWCD by Friday, May 15, 2020. More information is here.

Healthy Kids Grant

The Community Foundation for Northern Virginia’s Healthy Kids grant encourages healthy lifestyles through increased exercise and better nutrition. Individual schools can apply for up to $2,000. The deadline to apply is Thursday, July 2, 2020. More information is here.

Tuition-free college credit over the summer

Northern Virginia Community College is using institutional dollars from the Federal stimulus to launch a new summer schedule of tuition-free online classes for approximately 70,000 qualified Northern Virginia high school students. This is an opportunity for rising seniors through graduating seniors to JumpStart their summers and earn college credit by attending up to two online courses that will run from June 1 to July 15. More information is here.


While much uncertainty surrounds us, I remain hopeful that we will get through this and keep providing students with opportunities for growth. In fact - a bright spot this week was attending the student-run election for our next Student Representative on the School Board. I am eager to work with our new, energetic rep, who will join us in a few months!

Beyond academics and skills, we also want our children’s development to build character, resilience, and connection with their world. This time is ripe for these experiences. Learning to pivot to new circumstances, as difficult as they may be, is something that will strengthen our children – as well as adults.

I wish you all the best, with minimal struggles during this time.



The views contained within this newsletter reflect the views of the individual school board member who is the publisher of this newsletter and may not reflect the views of the Fairfax County School Board.

© 2020 Fairfax County Public Schools, Fairfax County, Virginia