April 27 Townhall Link and Answers to Questions

Dear Fairfax County students, staff, and families,

Hello all

As an FCPS parent I share your frustrations of the last week. I’ve gotten hundreds of communications regarding this last week with FCPS’ distance learning plan and the failures of FCPS attempts at “live” instruction. Thank you for reaching out and expressing your concerns. Thank you also to all of you who have offered help or expressed your frustration kindly. My colleagues and I have been vigilant about finding answers to questions about why we are in the situation we are and, more importantly, how to resolve it so face to face instruction can be provided for all. We have been advocating for our educators to have access to reliable and secure learning platforms and for our families to have better communications from FCPS.

While I haven’t been able to respond to all of you individually yet, I have read each one, synthesized many of the concerns for our leadership team, and many of your concerns are being or have been addressed. There were many common themes in your questions, and I have tried to include answers to those below.

A special thank you to our teachers, school-based technology specialists, and principals for your incredible flexibility, hard work, and dedication. I'm grateful to our teachers who have kept learning going these two weeks by reaching out via email, sharing videos and links, posting assignments, and using the other materials provided online and via our TV Channels. I remain committed to ensuring face to face learning happens – I realize how important this connection is to our students’ education and wellbeing.

I have tried to keep this newsletter brief and focused on providing answers and update on meetings and townhalls.

I hope you and your loved ones are safe and healthy.

In Health,


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Below you will find (in order):

1.   My Monday Town Halls (Updated)

2.   Answers to frequently asked questions from last week

3.   School Board Meetings Update

Monday 7-8 pm Town Halls:

Since I started on the school board four months ago, I’ve been committed to being as available and transparent as possible, and part of that is holding these weekly townhalls. I have included information below on tonight’s Townhall meeting with my colleague, Springfield District School Board Member Laura Jane Cohen, as well as upcoming Townhalls.

Tonight’s Townhall: 7-8 pm Monday April 27th  viaZOOM and Facebook LiveWith Laura Jane Cohen, School Board Member for Springfield

Laura Jane Cohen and I will hold a Townhall via Zoom (limit 100). I will also use Facebook Live for anyone who can’t get into Zoom. You can post questions via FB live as well as Zoom and we will do our best to answer those.

I know some of you were frustrated be not being able to get onto last week’s Townhall – I was not aware Blackboard Collaborate had a 250 person limit. I also know some had connectivity issues. I have asked for a larger virtual format but FCPS’ Blackboard Collaborate is limited to 250. Zoom has offered their Basic package (without time limits) for free to schools but that is also limited to 100 participants and does not allow for streaming into Facebook Live.

Future Townhalls: All 7-8 pm

  • NEW May 4 Blackboard Collaborate – Link Here, with Superintendent Brabrand (limit 250)
  • May 11 Link will be sent out at later date
  • May 18 Blackboard Collaborate - Link Here (limit 250)
  • May 25 Link will be sent out at a later date

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions to Me:

While I recognize that this may not answer all the questions I was asked last week, I tried to answer the more frequently asked questions. I am still answering individual emails addressed to me and I appreciate your patience as I work through all of them.

What is the School Board doing to fix this?

  • The School Board is a part time body. Our official role is to
    • set educational expectations for student achievement and ensure accountability for those expectations
    • monitor performance against benchmarks
    • engage and represent the citizens of Fairfax County and report to the public
    • ensure resource stewardship, oversight and accountability, and timely response to issues
    • set, review and amend policies
    • adopt the operating and capital budget
    • partner with parents, value employees, and build coalitions
    • Hire and evaluate the Superintendent, the Clerk of the Board and the Auditor General
  • The Superintendent is responsible for the day to day operations and daily operating decisions of the school system, including staffing, regulations, and implementation.
  • As per our oversight role, the Board has worked swiftly to discuss the issues with Distance Learning and review solutions with Superintendent Brabrand and we remain actively engaged to ensure successful distance learning.
  • Longer term, we have asked for an external audit to find out what happened and to make sure similar problems don’t happen in the future.

What is the plan for Face to Face Learning going forward?

  • Dr. Brabrand has empowered principals to choose either Google Meet or Blackboard Collaborate Ultra as video platforms for face to face instruction. About 25% of our teachers so far have chosen to use Google Meet.
  • Schools worked last week to “test drive” the new links and some already got their classes up and running towards the end of this week, with Wednesday bringing 23,409 sessions and 72,577 attendees and Thursday 37,642 sessions and 149,00 attendees on Blackboard Collaborate Ultra.
  • Every indication is that Face to Face Learning should be happening across the system this week

What Happened with The Distance Learning Roll Out?

  • The failures from the last two weeks related to FCPS’ use of Blackboard Learn 24-7 to access face to face instruction
  • FCPS will no longer use this as a tool for instruction
  • Throughout these weeks, FCPS has continued “asynchronous” or non-face to face learning through providing packets, videos, assignments, Google Classroom, email, and more.

What are other schools doing?

Many school systems, including Arlington, are only doing asynchronous learning during this time. Some are doing a hybrid of asynchronous learning with and one to one office hours. Some are leaving it up to each teacher or principal as to whether they will offer face to face class time synchronous and others are doing live face to face class time. They are using a variety of platforms, some more successful than others.

What is the Distance Learning Audit mentioned by the Superintendent?

  • The School Board has retained independent experts with experience in cybersecurity and IT infrastructure investigations to conduct a comprehensive investigation.
  • At this point, we know that Blackboard failed to work as expected, but we don’t yet have a detailed and reliable understanding of what specifically caused the failure, why, and who was at fault or how we got here. The investigation will look into these issues, among others.
  • When completed, we hope to receive a public summary of its findings. 
  • This investigation will help guide the Board on any policy, procedure, or personnel decisions that need to be made with regard to the rollout as well as inform plans for Distance Learning should we need to shut down again in the fall.

What is the Technology Advisory Committee and how much do they charge?

  • After the failures with our face to face distance learning, several IT industry leaders volunteered to serve on a newly constituted Technology Advisory Committee.
  • The committee is advising FCPS on immediate issues to help fully stand up distance learning, and for future technology needs.
  • Dr. Brabrand has already met with the co-chairs and feels they will be instrumental in ensuring that FCPS has a clear vision and path forward to meet the technology needs of our 21st century learners,
  • This committee will consist of professionals in the IT industry and FCPS staff
  • Members of this committee are kindly offering their guidance at no cost to FCPS

What is FCPS doing to make up for lost time or to plan for future closures?

  • For weeks, FCPS has had a Task Force working on a "Return to Learn" plan for the remediation and other extra supports that may be needed to help students catch up when we can reopen schools.
  • The task force has also been discussing plans in case of future shutdowns.
  • This Task Force should be presenting its initial plans to the School Board soon.

What are we doing for graduation for the Class of 2020?

  • There is graduation workgroup hard at work to plan Class of 2020 graduation events.
  • This group includes input from graduating seniors and many others.
  • We are all committed to finding a way to celebrate the Class of 2020.
  • More information should be coming soon

Why did FCPS still use Blackboard?

  • FCPS and Blackboard have an existing ten-year contract that expires in 2021.
  • FCPS has already chosen to move away from Blackboard 24-7 before the COVID-19 crisis
  • The FCPS contract with Blackboard, Inc. for Blackboard Learn 24-7 ends in 2021
  • FCPS had already made plans to migrate to a new vendor/product Schoology
  • The Schoology system was to be piloted to 5-20 schools in Fall of 2020, assess any issues, make the necessary adjustments, train the teachers, and launch Divisionwide in 2021.
  • The School Board has asked to do a deeper dive into the capabilities of Schoology as well as a more robust distance learning plan should the need occur in the future.

Why don’t we switch to Teams or Canvas or….?

  • Standing up a new learning management platform takes months/years to migrate materials and link to other systems, such as SIS.
  • Dr. Brabrand has empowered principals and teachers to chose Google Meets or Blackboard Collaborate Ultra for live instruction, two already available platforms. Blackboard 24-7 will be available for students or teachers to retrieve materials but otherwise we are moving away from it for instruction
  • Only half our teachers had Google Classrooms set up initially.
  • Teachers can utilize Google Classroom for materials and assignments.

Can we close schools for the year?

  • The School Board & FCPS are mandated by Virginia law to annually provide a public education for 180 days, or a minimum of 990 hours.
  • With the Governor’s initial (mandatory) 2 week closure, the annual built-in hours for inclement weather have been expended.
  • Thus, FCPS must (and shall) continue to provide student instruction until the end of the designated school year.
  • Until then, FCPS is working hard to ensure all paid employees are being used to support Distance Learning and our other operations, similar to the County’s approach.

Why do high school and middle school only have face to face instruction two days a week? Why do elementary school students only have face to face instruction one hour a day?

  • FCPS Distance Learning plan is a combination of live instruction and independent work time, in line with many other school systems.
  • FCPS recognized that many students may be sharing a computer with their siblings and/or parents, be responsible for watching younger siblings while parents go to work, have inconsistent access to the internet and many other things.
  • FCPS tried to design a system where siblings could share computers, especially since FCPS is only 1:1 for devices for high school students.
  • While FCPS did pass out over 14,000 laptops, this was not enough to allow for every student to have their own device. The plan is designed to allow for students to have live class time at different times than younger or older siblings.
  • Sessions are also recorded for students to watch at a later time.

Why did we give out meals and laptops to students instead of focusing only on education?

I have been asked many questions about our programs to provide free meals and laptops to students and why we didn’t solely focus on standing up distance learning. I will say I completely stand behind our efforts to feed our students in need and provide laptops to as many as we could to ensure access. It is the right thing to do as a public school. Studies show children who are hungry are less able to learn. And children shouldn’t be going hungry. Plans for distance learning started in February and at the same time we were giving out meals and laptops, we were creating materials for teacher led instruction (including packets) and posting resources for continuity of learning. Both were happening simultaneously.

A little history

I will leave you with a little history to put all this in context. FCPS is not an affluent school system. It is a public school system in an affluent area. About 1/3 of our students – about 60,000 students - qualify for free and reduced-price meals. While I am grateful for the last two years of fully funded budgets, the reality is that we have not recovered from the significant budget reductions of the Great Recession in the 2000s. We are operating on nearly 700 million dollars less that in 2009, with over 300 fewer positions. Many of those positions have been reductions in central office staff. In the last two years of more robust funding FCPS has focused on reducing class sizes and bringing teacher salaries up to market scale, among other things.

“Cutting administrators” can seem like a good thing until a crisis like this where we need staff to stand up distance learning for 189,000 students in weeks. Our central office staff have been and continue to work around the clock. Issues have occurred with face to face learning and we are determined to resolve those and understand how we got here. But I wanted to make sure I took a moment to thank our staff for their hard work even while we work to ensure all aspects of our distance learning run smoothly from here on out.

We know that distance learning is far from ideal and can never replace the brick and mortar experience. I cannot wait until we can reopen our schools. Until then, we are committed to continually improving to provide the best distance learning possible under these circumstances.

School Board Meetings


  • Monday, April 27th 1:30-4 pm Special Electronic Work Session        Main Topics: Legislative Update and Students Rights and Responsibilities
  • Thursday, April 30 at 2 pm Closed Session

For agenda, handouts and virtual meeting access, click here.

Members of the public are welcome to attend the Work Session virtually via at https://www.fcps.edu/tv/ch99.

Meetings will be recorded and available to view on the FCPS YouTube page here

Week of April 20th Meetings Information:

  • The School Board spent last week discussing the issues with Distance Learning as well as our regular work, which continues to prepare for next year. For example, given the drastically changed economic forecast and revenue projections, we needed to pass a revised advertised budget to be presented to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on April 28th.
  • The Superintendent presented his revised FY 21 budget recommendations.
  • We also reviewed FCPS’ Special Education Distance Learning Plan.

Here are links to Special Education Distance Learning Plan Presentation and the presentation on the Superintendent’s Revised Advertised Budget Recommendations:

Superintendent's Revised FY 21 Budget Presentation

Special Education Distance Learning Plan Update


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.

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