Town Hall and Return to School Answers

Hello Fairfax County students, families, and staff,

I know it has been some time since I have sent a message, and I appreciate your patience.  

This is a long newsletter, even for me, the Queen of Long Newletters. Below I am trying to share my thoughts on our change to an all virtual start, some answers to questions frequently asked of me and links to more information. I hope you find this useful. 

First, I want to acknowledge your anguish and angst. These last two months since the Return to School plan was first released have been a roller coaster of stress and uncertainty. I know many of you are frustrated and I understand. I wish I could say things going forward will be different,  but life under a global pandemic by nature is extremely uncertain and flexibility is key. I have explained below in more detail my thinking around this change.

FCPS staff are continuing to work very hard to make sure fall is a smooth and strong start, despite trying to stand up something brand new. And while the School Board is normally on recess in August, we will be holding two return to school work sessions on August 18th and August 27th. And we continue to work with staff, advocate and ask questions, respond to constituents, and do what we can to support our families and students. Fairfax County is known for an excellent education for all and that is still the plan, no matter how that education is delivered. 

Town Halls:

To that end, I will be holding at least four town halls before school starts on September 8th.

August 5th 7:30-8:30 pm - Return to School Town Hall with School Board Vice Chair Stella Pekarsky 

Held via Zoom and Facebook Live. If you can’t get into the Zoom meeting, you can follow along on Facebook Live. We will answer questions posed on the chat/comments on both platforms

Zoom Meeting (Limit 100) Link to Zoom Meeting Here

Meeting ID: 899 2900 3207; Passcode: 312878 or 

 +1 301 715 8592 US 

Facebook Live Link: Link to Facebook Live Session Here  


August 13th 6-7 pm - Mental Health Town Hall

Focused on student voice and family outreach, with tips from FCPS experts. We want to talk with our students about mental wellbeing and how to stay mentally strong during the next school year. This is held via Zoom and Facebook Live. If you can’t get into the Zoom meeting, you can follow along on Facebook Live. We will answer questions posed on the chat/comments on both platforms. With 

  • School Board Student Representative, Nathan Onibudo 
  • Bethany Koszelak, FCPS Mental Wellness Specialist
  • Mike Axler, FCPS Coordinator of Psychology Services
  • And other FCPS Staff

Zoom Meeting (Limit 100) - Link to Zoom Meeting Here

Meeting ID: 896 6010 1344

Passcode: 179374

+1 301 715 8592 US (Germantown)

Link to Facebook Live Session here - Link to Facebook Live Session Here


August 19th 8-9 pm  - Return to School Town Hall - 

Link will be emailed later  

September 1st 7:30-8:30 pm - Return to School Town Hall - 

Link will be emailed later 

In the meantime, here are links you may find useful:

Return to School Plan

Sample Schedules

FAQs for Families

Parent Information Lines (support for families in 8 languages)

We want nothing more than to have our students in our buildings, but we must make sure we can do so safely. Even Dr. Fauci, while acknowledging the importance of in person schooling, stated that health and safety must come first. I know there are risks to students learning at home - the mental health concerns, abuse and food insecurity, need for support - and we are working hard to make sure FCPS has support in place to mitigate those as best as we can.

And I know some students are less able to learn online than others. Our plan, while starting virtual, is to prioritize getting students who are least able to access distance learning back into the buildings as soon as we can do so safely. 

Finally, I believe COVID is trauma on a global scale. From my own experiences with trauma, I recognize the anger, the fear, the extreme desire to have what we once had, and to control our world.  Life under a global pandemic with a novel virus requires flexibility and patience, two things that seem in short supply in the aftermath of trauma. 

I found the hardest part of trauma for me was letting go of the anger at having my world ripped apart. But until we can let that go, I don’t know how we find the path to whatever our new world will be. COVID has changed our world forever. It is up to us whether eventually that world will be better or worse than the one we had before. It is tempting to make our path forward a mirror of our past. I’d like to encourage us to instead move forward to realistically find the best future we can.

I believe kindness matters in how we as a community address the issues created by COVID. Kindness matters if we are to come together to prioritize our kids, our schools, and our future as a society. Or divided in anger we will fall. 

Let’s prioritize kindness. Let’s find patience. Let’s do this together.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Please stay at home as much as you can. 

And please wear your mask.

Warm Regards,


In this email you will find:

  1. My Thoughts on Virtual Start to School/Answers to Questions about the Change
  2. Information on:
  • Childcare
  • Schedule differences between fall and spring
  • Special Education
  • Mental Health/Social Emotional Health
  • Technology

  • Athletics and Activities (including Marching Band)
  • Class of 2021
  • Food Resources
  • How to Help


My Thoughts on Virtual Start to School

Here are my thoughts as to why the change and the path forward.  I hope this addresses many of the questions in emails sent to me.

What changed to decide to go virtual? Why did parents even get the right to choose if we were going to go all virtual a week later?

First, I want to say that I get it. I get the heartache and stress and agonizing decision our families and teachers made. I get how difficult that was. Making that choice for my own son was the second hardest decision I’ve made in my own life. And I know too well the social and emotional toll of isolation for our children and the mental health concerns of distance learning. I see it every day in my son.

And I know that distance learning can’t replace in-person learning and for some of our students, it is much less effective than for others, especially our younger students, our special education students, English learners, and those without support. It was an agonizing decision to make. I know the loss of the moments and events from this year, the friendships, the casual learning and connections, are difficult and real. I also know that even the in-person school day would look different than last year and that could also cause stress for our students and staff from the health risks

In this world under COVID, there is unfortunately little that resembles our life in 2019.  

So why the change?

Many have asked why FCPS changed its plans after just a week but in reality, it was more than a month after Superintendent Brabrand presented the hybrid choice plan to the School Board. In this new world ruled by COVID, a lot can change in a month. 

From the beginning, preparing for Scenario 1 - all virtual - has been part of our plans, as presented to the School Board starting in May. So even while we wanted to give parents and teachers a choice, we knew that if conditions merit it, we had the option of all virtual for everyone. Return to School Presentation

Our parents still needed to make a choice because when we do start to phase students back in, we will bring in those who opted for in-person learning unless it becomes safe to fully reopen school buildings. I am asking if parents can revisit their choice at a later date but that is the plan right now.   

So why did I support the change to an all virtual start? 

In the July 21st, meeting, Dr. Brabrand laid out many of the challenges - the UVA model that predicted a surge 4-6 weeks later, that cases are going up regionally and nationally, the CDC predicted cases may be 10 times higher than reported, the health department had provided us safety measures but not metrics to guide schools, that 10% of teachers had put in for ADA requests and leave of absence requests were double from the previous year and going up, and that you can’t pivot a 189,000 student school system on a dime so the change needed to happen in time to allow for planning and scheduling. 

Here is a link to that meeting:  FCPS 7/21 School Board Work Session

I’ve said from the beginning that I need to base my decision on clear data and metrics, with guidance from our health experts. The School Board has incessantly questioned our health officials over the course of the last month but haven’t been able to get a clear answer as to whether it is safe to open. And I even understand why. In the month between the plan presentation and the change, it became clear that too much is emerging and unknown about this virus, including whether children can spread it or not. 

So, for me, it was most importantly a continued lack of clear metrics.  We still don’t have specific guidance from the health department on whether it is safe to open given current conditions. We don’t know the health metrics to guide school openings nor have we been given any such metrics from either the local or state health department. I’ve read that Virginia is now developing such a dashboard, but it has not yet been released.

In our work session, I presented a motion directing our superintendent to work with our health department and/or utilize information from other states, to develop clear metrics and standards to guide our opening and closing decisions. The Board approved this motion and the Superintendent is directed to present these metrics to us no later than August 15th. I hope these metrics can guide our decisions going forward. 

It was also the emerging research about filtration systems and outbreaks due to childcare that made me think we need to pause on our plan to bring thousands of children and staff into our buildings for 6+ hours a day. While many businesses are open, I contend that most stores where people are moving about are only there for a short period of time, as opposed to schools where most adults and children are together without a lot of space to move around, for 6+ hours a day, in some small, windowless classrooms. I want to see health metrics that take this reality into account. 

In this country, with its imperfect mitigation measures, we have emerging evidence of breakouts from childcare situations (camps in Michigan and Georgia, and a 1300-person outbreak tied to childcare in Texas). There has even been a large outbreak tied to schools in Israel. What is in common there? Lack of proper mitigation measures and a rush to reopen. Meanwhile, certain parts of Europe have been able to open schools in a limited way. Of course, those countries had much more stringent community lockdowns, mask wearing, social supports, and better testing and mandatory quarantining. Not quite the same as here. I wish we could be like Europe in our response to the virus but that must be consistent across all parts of our response.

I asked our health department point blank if it was safe to open schools given current conditions and our safety plans. I did not get a “yes” in response.

The Most Prudent Course of Action - The Best of the Bad Choices

At this time, I believe the most prudent course was to focus on an all virtual start that allows our staff and principals to focus on quality online education while we wait and watch. It means taking a regional approach with the recognition that at least a third of our staff live outside our county. Prudence means watching to see what happens with the SACC and other summer camps currently being held - very small groups with safety measures. It means, working on our ventilation systems and safety protocols. And watching our numbers and waiting for clear metrics from our health experts.

We were faced with two bad choices, both of which had risks and benefits, but neither of which were good. I hated making the choice. The reality of a novel virus means information is ever changing, incomplete and requires constant adapting. Going all virtual for the first quarter and then phasing in slowly, starting with the students who most need in-person learning, such as our special education, our English language learners, and our younger students, was the best option in a sea of bad options. 

I truly hope we can get all students who chose to return in person back into our buildings safely. In the meantime, we will work with our teachers and administrators to deliver the best and most equitable virtual learning experience possible.   

Was staffing the reason why we chose to go all virtual?

It was a factor. There was an imbalance between our staff filing for ADA accommodations, leave of absences, and choosing all virtual and the students who chose virtual. While overall the numbers were closer, the imbalances at some individual schools was great, with some schools where 70+% of students choosing in-person and 30-40% of staff choosing in-person. Given these imbalances, I suspect in-person would have meant sacrificing much of what makes Fairfax County great - certain AP or IB classes because we didn’t have the in-person teacher to teach it, AAP programs at some schools. 

 We just didn’t have the right mix of teachers and students at each school to offer the classes and options that make Fairfax what it is. As I heard from many emails and hours of testimony, parents rightfully wanted to make sure their children would have access to the programs and teachers and school community they love. It became clear that would be significantly at risk given the numbers. The thought was that by focusing on a single plan - all virtual - for the first quarter, we can provide as strong of a program as possible that offers and reflects all of who Fairfax is - the breadth of classes, the arts, music, career and technical programming. 

We also had a spike in teachers and staff applying for yearlong leaves of absence and 10% of our teachers requested ADA accommodations. Even while we are dealing with COVID, we are still in the midst of a national teacher shortage. Our teachers and staff make FCPS the great school system it is. Without our staff, we cannot have our classes. In addition, we already had a substitute teacher shortage. 

These are just my thoughts.


Answers to Other Questions:

Here is some information on other questions I’ve been receiving. For the most updated information, check out the FCPS FAQ page. FAQs for Families

What about childcare?

I know childcare is an enormous problem, and I’ve heard many of you who have told me you may lose your job if school doesn’t open. I know many of our teachers also have childcare concerns. I hear you, and I feel you. I wish I had a good answer. Affordable, reliable childcare has been a problem for many in our country for a long time and the pandemic has brought this into sharp focus for many others. FCPS has been working with the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors (BOS) on expanded SACC offerings (the BOS oversees SACC), helping our community partners provide childcare support and more. More should be coming out about this soon.

The Fairfax County Office for Children is working on this issue. You can read more at this link: Fairfax County Office for Children

How will the fall look different from the spring?

The fall schedule is much more robust and similar to a “typical” school day than the spring. Attendance will be taken, grading will occur, and new material will be taught. Students will receive virtual instruction 5 days per week. The week will include 4 days of live, face-to-face online instruction with teachers Tuesday through Friday. Mondays will be used for independent learning with some students identified for teacher-directed specialized instruction/intervention.

  • At the elementary level, students will receive real-time, interactive instruction Tuesday through Friday.
  • The elementary day will also consist of additional small group instruction, intervention supports, and independent learning activities assigned to students.
  • Middle and high school students will follow an A/B block schedule. 
  • Student work will be graded, and attendance is required.
  • Teachers will have planning time on Mondays and will provide intervention supports for selected students that we hope can be provided in-person.
  • Individual schools will communicate with parents regarding schedules and other information to prepare for online learning.

Special Education:

I know there are many questions regarding special education. I have been and will continue to advocate for supports for our special education students and specific answers for our families regarding services and IEP/504 implementation. Case managers will be back on contract mid-August and will be reaching out to families to amend IEPs to meet student needs in this environment. 

  • Students with disabilities will not be issued a temporary learning plan. IEP teams will addend the IEP in August to reflect services the student will receive in the all virtual or hybrid option. Teachers working in the virtual option will be conducting synchronous instruction 4 days a week.
  • We plan to enhance our virtual instructional programming for students by purchasing additional materials for use in the home for our preschoolers, students on the adapted curriculum, and students receiving related services. 
  • We are also going to purchase additional technology for students with hearing and vision impairments. 
  • Instruction will not mimic what was offered in the spring. We have plans for a more robust experience for some of those students who have a more difficult time accessing online instruction.
  • Instructional Assistants will be supporting students in virtual classrooms and in breakout rooms; creating materials; prompting parents when needed during lessons; developing virtual activities under the guidance of the teacher.
  • Special education teachers and related service providers will be providing instruction in groups and one-on-one as appropriate for students’ goals and scheduling.
  • Instruction provided to students who are accessing an adapted curriculum virtually will occur synchronously (live) four days a week. Direct instruction may be supplemented with activities which can be completed by the student in addition to the synchronous instruction. Some students accessing an adapted curriculum will need the support of a parent/caregiver to participate in online instructional activities. The schedule for classes will parallel the schedule for students receiving in-person instruction as much as is appropriate for the student. 
  • FCPS staff have been working with the different vendors to determine how research-based specialized instructional programs can be used during full time online instruction. Depending on the program, and the ability to use aspects of certain programs, it is expected that instruction using the research-based programs may look different than it does during face-to-face instruction.
  • During online learning, teachers will instruct special education preschool students in both large and small groups to address IEP goals and curriculum. Both synchronous and asynchronous learning will be provided along with weekly coaching sessions for parents.
  • Adapted physical education teachers will consult and collaborate with health and physical education teachers to modify activities/lessons to meet student needs and problem solve around challenges that may occur across learning environments. Additionally, they will develop instructional activities and strategies that support student success in an online environment.
  • Work readiness skills instruction will continue through on-line curricula supplemented by instructional activities that incorporate skills and tasks that can be worked on at home. 
  • FCPS staff is reviewing options for a central portal for parent training. The Parent Resource Center and other offices all have their own courses and the goal is to store these trainings in an easy to find location and to ensure this information is communicated with the parent community.  Regarding related services equipment and supplies, staff will provide in-person training, especially if the equipment was new to the parent (e.g. adapted seating system) and if there was a safety component involved.
  • If a student requires an accommodation such as a fidget or movement cushion in person and those same accommodations are required in the home environment, we will be sending those required supplies home.
  • Some supports and services provided to students with disabilities in a face-to-face environment were designed to provide access to the learning environment within the physical school setting. Not all of these same supports and services are appropriate and feasible in the distance learning environment. Special education case managers and related services providers are expected to collaborate with parents regarding supports and services that will be provided in the distance learning and face-to-face environments. 
  • Due to copyright restrictions by some of the publishers of certain research-based instructional programs, it is expected that instruction using the research-based programs will look different in the virtual environment than it does during face-to-face instruction. 
  • Homebound services may be provided to students who have a medical condition preventing them from participating in classroom instruction because they are confined to home or a healthcare facility. Those choosing the online education option will not be eligible for homebound services. 

Here is more information - FAQs for Special Education

Mental Health/Social Emotional Health:

I have been particularly concerned about the mental health wellbeing of our students and staff given the trauma of COVID and the isolation of distance learning. There will be a focus on social/emotional learning and mental health supports for our students and supports for our staff. We have budgeted for more social workers and social emotional curriculum and our counselors will be available to provide support. I’m also advocating for our schools to provide safe social opportunities, clubs, and time for those connections and friendships. Clinical and counseling staff will provide mental health support and resources, including group counseling and consultation for students and families as needed as well as individual counseling with students and related consultation with families and staff.

Here are a few mental health resources:

Healthy Minds Blog:

Healthy Minds is a blog for parents, educators, and community-based providers who are interested in supporting student mental health and wellness. As a part of the Healthy Minds Fairfax initiative, the FCPS Office of Intervention and Prevention Services develops posts with timely information for all. Recent topics have included; Social Emotional Learning, Countering Stigma and Racism, and Building Resilience to Handle Challenging Times. Healthy Minds includes tips and strategies for increasing wellness and resiliency, as well as fostering success at home, at school and in the community.  Healthy Minds Blog

Kognito Training:

Fairfax County provides free online suicide prevention training to educators, parents, and other adults working with youth through the Kognito At-Risk training modules. The training allows you to enter a virtual environment and assume the role of an adult interacting with a young person. The interactive portion of the training allows you to choose actions and responses in order to receive real-time feedback on how well you are doing to engage the student in conversation and take appropriate actions. The one-hour training teaches adults how to differentiate between “normal” and “at-risk.”

Student Voice:

Many students listen best to each other, and FCPS is looking for students to speak about any topic. These videos typically focus on providing tips or ideas for other students. There are a few links below. The second link has some great videos created by our students sharing information about maintaining wellness during COVID. 

Here is a link for general submissions - please feel free to share with a student who may be interested in submitting something:

Student Voice Submission

Here are some examples relating to coronavirus. Some of these are very powerful.

Student Voice Videos


FCPS is still under contract with Blackboard Learn and Blackboard Collaborate. Those tools, along with Google Classroom, will be used next year. Schoology is being piloted in 17 schools with the plan to transition away from Blackboard Learn to Schoology in the 2021-2022 school year. I have received many questions about technology, but the reality is that it takes months, if not years, and funding to stand up a new learning management system and/or new virtual conferencing tool. There is no time to deploy a new one before the fall. 

Here is more information regarding technology plans: FCPS is

  • Convening a project team to consolidate supports for parents and families
  • Developing tip sheets/ trainings/ videos for successfully accessing virtual learning in our eight common languages
  • Launching a help desk for parents
  • Developing a portal to allow students to request technology help directly
  • Developing methods for students to manage their BBCU/Google Meet class links in their Google Calendar
  • Providing required professional development for all staff for high-quality distance learning
  • High School students will continue to use their FCPSOn laptop
  • Middle School students will be assigned a new FCPSOn laptop
  • Elementary School students will be assigned a laptop
  • New devices provided to all 6th grade students and Title I 5th grade students
  • Returned devices from middle schools and existing viable devices will be distributed to all other elementary students
  • We are working with individual principals now to get laptops out to students in August, and to continue to identify any students that do not have internet access at home.
  • We saw many successful distance learning weeks at the end of last year, and we have been working this summer to further test our systems with our vendors to ensure we are prepared for expanded virtual learning in the fall.

Athletics and Activities:

What is the plan for fall sports? On July 27th, the VHSL announced its plans for the 2020-2021 school year.  All VHSL sports and activities will be delayed until December 14th.  FCPS is assessing when school clubs could begin in virtual settings with the goal of a late September start.  This model leaves all sports in the season where they are currently aligned. I know it is disappointing to postpone the season, but I hope we can still have the sports that are seminal to our students’ high school years and their lives.

  • Season 1 (Winter) December 14 – February 20 (First Contest Date – December 28)
    • Basketball, gymnastics, indoor track, swim/dive, wrestling
  • Season 2 (Fall) February 15 – May 1 (First Contest Date – March 1)
    • Cheer, cross country, field hockey, football, golf, volleyball
  • Season 3 (Spring) April 12 – June 26 (First Contest Date – April 26)
    • Baseball, lacrosse, soccer, softball, tennis, track and field

What is the plan for marching band this summer and fall? 

Marching band has been postponed. The hope is if students can return in the winter and/or spring, we will have some form of marching band in a way that doesn’t conflict with concert assessments. As a former band parent, I do completely understand how devastating missing band camp and the marching band season is.


FCPS will be holding the August 29th SAT in various schools. In addition, FCPS is working with the College Board to allow seniors to be able to take the SAT on September 23rd at their high school through the SAT School Day testing program.  More information should be coming out about this from FCPS soon. 

Class of 2021:

I have been advocating very strongly for support for this class. I know that many are worried about college applications and career planning. Counselors will be available mid-August to begin working with our rising seniors. 

And I know how challenging it is for our seniors to think about their senior year during a global pandemic, starting virtually and facing many unknowns this year. I will continue to advocate for supports for this class as I will for all our students. 

Food Resources:

Grab and go meal service is taking place this summer Monday-Friday at 52 sites and on 13 bus routes and will continue into the fall. Meals are available at no cost to students. Adults may pay $2. See the link below for more information as well as many community resources to help with food and other needs

Food and Community Resources

How can we all help each other?

I know that virtual (or even hybrid) school can increase the already existing gaps, exacerbate inequities and it is more difficult for some. This is one of my biggest concerns for this upcoming school year. There are some children who don’t have as many supports at home, who were already experiencing fractures, and some who are more at risk of checking out and disconnecting. I don’t have a good answer for you here but rather an ask.

These are real issues that will need long term solutions. In many ways COVID has brought to the forefront the inequities and gaps that had been existing in our society, the deep seeded need for better societal support for working families, and a better safety net for us all, including access to health care. These long-standing issues have been made worse by this global pandemic we are in.

While FCPS is doing what it can to provide extra supports for these students, which includes planning roles for all our staff to reach out to these children and their families, we need help.

If you are able to help, I’m asking you now. Can you help?

I hope we as a community can pitch in to help - reaching out to community organizations, faith- based organizations or even creating our own organization to help.  Some people are forming “pods” for academic and/or social support but there are many students and families who don’t have access to these pods. 

  • Can you help invite a student who needs it into the pod, even if it is virtually?
  • How can we help with childcare?
  • How can we make sure those children most at risk are supported, that the children not invited into a “pod” have some safe socialization with their peers, that we help our community organizations support those who need it most? 
  • How can we take care of our own AND pitch in to take care of those who are most at risk?

If you can, consider donating to the Foundation for FCPS’ Collect for Kids campaign to collect school supplies to those in need. Foundation for FCPS's Collect for Kids Campaign 

Or check out Cornerstones and GrandInvolve, two organizations working to provide support and tutoring to our most needy students. GrandInvolve and Cornerstones 

I ask you - how can we all pour all our efforts into prioritizing opening school? This means support for sufficient spaces, looking at and upgrading air filtration systems as needed, providing child care support so our teachers can teach and our families can work, getting public health expertise on what it means to be safe, prioritizing those who need it most, and much more. 

How can we better support those who have to choose between quarantining and putting food on the table so people could more easily quarantine (or not potentially send their child to school sick?)

COVID is a community problem that needs community solutions. I hope we can become that community for those who need it the most. And work together to solve the global problem that is COVID.

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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