Update - Melanie Meren [Hunter Mill District]

Hello Community Members,

I hope you are well as can be as we continue day-by-day with the planning for Fall. I realize that it’s tumultuous. There are many details and decisions that haven’t been shared yet. Changing timelines only add to the hecticness. Please know that I am asking questions daily to the Superintendent and FCPS staff to get answers to the public as quickly as possible.

On that note, on Monday, July 13, part of the School Board work session will have a “round table” discussion for School Board Members and the Superintendent. Here are questions I have already submitted, to raise then:

  • Indoor air quality: Per new information about the importance of indoor air quality – including air circulation and using UV light filters on HVAC systems to kill bacteria - what are the plans to improve air circulation in rooms? Particularly for classrooms that don’t have windows (ugh!) or windows not designed to open? Furthermore, current practice (policy?) is that classroom doors remain closed during instruction locked to prevent intruders - will protocols or policy change?
  • Masks protocol: The School Board has required that masks be worn by adults, and students as “developmentally appropriate”. Define “developmentally appropriate”. What is the protocol for when students inevitably remove their masks because they simply are children and it’s difficult to wear a mask for hours?
  • Ill teachers and students (COVID-related or otherwise): What is the plan for coverage for teachers who are out sick? Can students receiving in-school instruction participate virtually if sick? Is this protocol division-wide or set by each school?
  • Instructional quality: Is the amount of instructional hours that students receive the same for both scenarios? What further details or samples of instruction and resources can be shared with parents, particularly prior to July 15?
  • Making up instructional days: Will we make up the instructional days removed from the start of the school year due to changing the student start date to September 8?
  • Compensation: What staff members, if any, are eligible to receive “hazard pay” or time-and-a-half pay?
  • Sports and activities: What are thinking and plans for student sports and activities – including performing arts groups, and extracurricular clubs and groups?

On the topic of health safety in our schools: the Fairfax County Health Department is our local expert in public health, and our public schools need them to help our schools prepare for safe learning and working environments. This includes providing screening protocols and on-site individuals to conduct screenings, conducting contact tracing regarding students, advising on school closings and openings, and more. Moreover, the County’s federal CARES Act funds can be used to support public health safety in our schools – such as for purchasing equipment to improve indoor air quality that I mention above.

Please advocate to my counterpart on the Fairfax Board of Supervisors, Walter Alcorn (Walter.Alcorn@fairfaxcounty.gov), and Chairman Jeff McKay (Jeff.McKay@fairfaxcounty.gov), to do more to assist our public schools in providing education and being an economic driver that it is in our county. Making our schools as safe as possible will help everyone in Fairfax!

As I said in my July 1 update, I continue to listen and make meaning of your comments, concerns, and questions to me about Return to School plans, and advocate on your behalf.

Information about Return To School and the Future

Why Students’ First Day of School Changed to September 8

The School Board voted on July 9 to approve a new student school start date of September 8 (instead of August 25). Ultimately, I supported that change. I want to share more information about the decision and my efforts to maximize learning for students.

During Board dialogue, I expressed that initially I didn’t support this change. However, I reconsidered after I learned that school principals and directors of student services expressed concerns about the time that they will need to turn around the enrollment data from parents and build the master schedules associated with the two options. Additionally, the extension will be used to on-board new teachers, provide professional development in areas including socio emotional supports, use new curriculum and technology, and other training. So, in essence, I see how this supports student instruction and the quality of the learning experience.

However, I did ask the Superintendent pointedly about the impact of not having the 10 instructional days removed by changing the date, and if this time will be made up. The Superintendent responded that a waiver for the instructional hour requirement is expected to be provided from the State Superintendent. Indeed, other area school divisions are also moving back the start date. However, it is not yet known by FCPS about when, if at all, the 10 days will be made up. I will be following up on this for the decision.

Some constituents have asked why virtual learning can’t begin as scheduled on August 25. The reason is that teachers and principals are conducting the planning mentioned above, to best instruct our students. Furthermore, FCPS is already creating two new, parallel instructional offerings – in-person hybrid, and online – which is challenging enough. Operating those two systems on two different timelines is not feasible.

I realize this may not be the result that you desired, but I want to be transparent with the action.

New Board Chair, Vice Chair, & Student Representative

I'm thrilled to congratulate my colleagues Dr. Ricardy Anderson as our new Chair, and Stella Pekarsky as our new Vice Chair! The Board annually elects new leadership to these positions in July. Thank you to outgoing Chair Karen Corbett Sanders and Vice Chair Tammy Derenak Kaufax for their commitment and service to our schools! 

Ricardy and Stella

We also welcomed new Student Representative, Nathan Onobudo! Nathan is a junior at South County High School, and was elected by the countywide Student Advisory Council (SAC) to serve a one-year term as student representative to the School Board, beginning July 1. He will participate in School Board meetings as a nonvoting member, filling the position previously held by Kimberly Boateng, a rising Senior at the high school currently known as Lee. Nathan is the 50th student representative to the Board! Thank you, also, to Kimberly, for being a dedicated representative of her peers! 

Nathan Onibudo


Upcoming Board Work

In addition to Return to School planning, the School Board is addressing other critical work that has been introduced at previous meetings, and will be acted upon (voted on) at the July 23 public meeting:

The Board does not have scheduled meetings in August.

Also, you can always see what the Board is working on by reviewing our agendas in Board Docs . Agendas and related materials are posted at least two days prior to meetings; however, sometimes agendas change and items are added or removed last minute. That’s the nature of responding to the school system’s needs! Go to the “Meetings” tab on Board Docs to see all upcoming meetings, and be sure to scroll down on a page to see if there are files to open. Meetings are live streamed at: https://www.fcps.edu/school-board/school-board-meetings, and most have recordings posted at that link afterwards.

What I’m Hearing About Racism in FCPS

Myself and the Board are hearing about racism and the need for culturally inclusive teaching at TJ High School for Science and Technology. The recent admissions data showing that just a tiny fraction of admitted students are of color has prompted advocacy. Rightly so. I’ve been talking with current TJ student advocates to incorporate their advocacy into the efforts to eradicate racism in the school.

On a positive note, our Social Studies Department was just highlighted for its work – including over the summer – to bring more culturally-inclusive curriculum to our schools. I’m eager to continue supporting and expanding upon these efforts! Thank you to FCPS educators and staff who participated in these summer months to contribute to FCPS’ goal of having a “caring culture” while simultaneously improving academic quality!

Data About the Role of School Resource Officers

FCPS and Fairfax County Police Department simultaneously posted the 2018-19 School Resource Officer (SRO) MOU and scorecard here. The report indicates that arrests decreased by 48 percent during 2018-19 while referral numbers remained consistent. FCPD report links are here.

I am eager for the School Board to focus on the role of SROs, during a planned work session in the Fall. The community is informing my perspective, which is voicing that students need social and emotional supports from professionals such as social workers, counselors, and school psychologists, rather than action from law enforcement officers. I’ve heard supportive stories of particular SROs in schools, and this is good to hear; however, by and large, our students are children, and legal enforcement on sight seems misplaced – and especially damaging for our students of color. I want to hear what alternatives we can implement for maintaining secure schools while also supporting our students in developmentally appropriate ways.

I hope you remain healthy and in good spirits as much as possible. We will get through this, day by day.


Melanie Meren

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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