Update: The Work of Our Public Schools to Support Students

Dear Community,

I'd like to share the following reflection with you about the work our public schools are doing, and the critical partnership needed with State policy makers to help children survive and recover from this pandemic.

The widening achievement gaps and inequality in our public schools that have been highlighted and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic are a matter of grave concern. It is wrong and dangerous, however, to lay all of the responsibility at the feet of public school systems. The gaps and inequities affecting children living in poverty existed long before the advent of COVID-19 and distance learning. They will not be fixed by holding public school funding hostage, as a few members of the Virginia General Assembly have advocated, to force public schools to “open.”

Public schools do as much or more than any other part of society to lift children and families out of poverty. The fact that so many children must still contend with the obstacles and barriers placed on them by poverty is on us as a society, not the schools. In Fairfax County, 31% of public school students live in poverty. That represents 58,849 school-aged children – more than the total student population in most Virginia school divisions. That is untenable for the seventh richest county in the nation.

While FCPS scrounges for funding to provide staff with a 2% raise, the schools now face the prospect of having state resources – generated by public tax dollars and required by law – cut off by the General Assembly unless buildings “open” despite local health conditions.

Virginia law makers’ efforts would be better spent on addressing the state’s systemic underfunding of public schools. For example:

· Improving state per pupil funding that consistently ranks among the lowest nationwide.

· Removing the state’s reimbursement cap of school support positions, which has eliminated hundreds of millions of dollars in funding annually since 2008.

· Reforming the antiquated Local Composite Index (LCI) that has specifically contributed to underfunding Fairfax County’s schools for decades.

Ultimately, Fairfax County needs policies from the General Assembly that dramatically address systemic biases and the causes of poverty that will remove the insecurities residents face for food, employment, housing, and health care. It is simplistic to believe that public schools can overcome the failures of public policies and leadership at the state and federal levels.

In fact, our public schools are succeeding against all odds – COVID-19 just made the odds more challenging. Those who clamor for Fairfax County Public Schools to “open” at the height of a dangerous pandemic ignore that we never truly closed. To imply otherwise diminishes the tireless and incredible work performed by our teachers and staff. Since March 2020, they have:

· Created and implemented a new virtual learning instructional program.

· Provided over 90,000 laptops to students.

· Adapted curriculum for virtual instruction for 12 grades and special programs.

· Trained more than 25,000 teachers and staff.

· Infused social and emotional learning experiences into the school day to help children through the pandemic.

· Opened a Parent Technology Help Desk to assist families and caregivers with computers and connectivity.

· Served 7.8 million meals.

· Worked to facilitate vaccine distribution

· Used budget reserves to forestall layoffs.

· Navigated a sophisticated international ransomware cyberattack.

In addition, by December 2020, more than 12,000 FCPS students had returned to in-person learning – the only system of our size in the DC/Maryland/Virginia area to have attempted that – with plans in place to bring all students back as soon as it is safe to do so. That moment will come sooner rather than later, given the availability of COVID-19 vaccines and the Biden administration’s leadership.

Furthermore, please see this comprehensive list of student support actions provided to students (whether they had previously identified needs or newfound needs arise during COVID, regardless of poverty) and planned offerings for recovery in the months ahead.

Fairfax County Public Schools wants in-person learning for students. Cutting off funds will only hurt our students who need support during the pandemic and beyond to recover.

To date, the state and General Assembly have been welcome and productive partners by helping us to continue to provide instruction and other critical services during the pandemic. We urge members of the General Assembly and the public to continue to be our partners. COVID-19 will recede as a danger, and we will return to primarily in-person instruction. But only by working together and advocating for better policies that finally make a difference in these complex and intractable problems, will we all be able to address the poverty and bias that underlie achievement gaps and inequities in public schools.


Please take good care,

Melanie Meren


Was this email not addressed to you? Sign up for my newsletters here!

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