FCPS This Week - August 11, 2021

Returning Strong Graphic

Health and Safety in FCPS Schools: Layered Prevention Strategies

Student in mask getting off a bus.

As we prepare to begin the 2021-22 school year, FCPS is aware of your questions and concerns about the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus. The health and safety of our students, staff, and community are the school system’s highest priority and every day we are working closely with health officials to review our layered prevention strategies and ensure our schools and buildings are safe places to learn and work. Vaccination levels among 12-18 year olds are high and we will continue to offer vaccination opportunities in our schools. We are also using universal masking as a key mitigation strategy as we gear up to start the school year five days in-person. We look forward to welcoming you back on August 23.


Masks are an essential tool in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and protecting those unable to be vaccinated. To ensure a safe start to the school year, masks will be required for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, inside FCPS buildings. 

As we bring large numbers of students and staff back to buildings, FCPS is committed to doing all we can to provide a safe environment for everyone to learn and work. Therefore, existing mask requirements have been extended to include everyone, regardless of vaccination status and location. We will all wear masks indoors, unless we are alone in an office or room. Outdoor masking is still recommended for those who are unvaccinated.

There are some situations in school when students and staff are permitted to remove their masks, including:

  • When actively eating or drinking (if eating indoors, individuals are required to put their masks back on when not actually eating or drinking)
  • When outside (e.g. outdoor recess, outdoor physical education, outdoor instructional groups; anyone not fully vaccinated is recommended, but not required, to wear a mask in crowded settings)

Schools will use outdoor eating and instructional areas to increase opportunities for physical distancing as permitted by space, weather, and supervision. While FCPS is unable to implement full physical distancing in our schools with the return of 99.5% of our students, we will implement it to the best of our ability when space permits.



The most important thing we can all do to keep our schools safe and open all year is to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as we are eligible. Vaccines are safe, effective, available, and free. Thank you to everyone who got vaccinated at one of our clinics last week! (See video story below.) Vaccination rates in Fairfax County are increasing—let’s keep that trend going. To help make that more convenient, we will be hosting up to 40 school-based COVID-19 vaccination clinics starting in September. We will share more details over the coming weeks.

As of August 10, 76.65% of Fairfax Health District residents ages 12-17 have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. 

Screen for Illness Every Day, Stay Home When Sick

One of the most important prevention strategies guidelines is screening students daily for any signs of illness prior to leaving home for school. Any student who is ill or has COVID-like symptoms should remain at home. The daily health screening questionnaire and all translated versions can be found on our Health and Safety Guidance webpage

This document provides the details of the policies and protocols related to COVID-19, and it is continually updated to align with public health guidance as it evolves during the school year. Daily completion of the health screening is done on an honor basis and does not need to be sent to the school.

Read more about checking for symptoms and how to prepare to return to school after illness.

Cleaning and Disinfecting

Measures will be implemented to ensure that common areas and equipment, and personal workspaces, are regularly cleaned and sanitized. The Office of Facilities Management has worked closely with FCPS custodians to adjust their cleaning processes to better address current considerations. 

FCPS custodians are using effective disinfectant and sanitizing products to clean our facilities every day. For more detail about cleaning and disinfecting in schools, see the Health and Safety Guidance Document.

Hand Hygiene and Respiratory Etiquette

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.


FCPS uses mechanical ventilation systems to provide classrooms with outside air. FCPS schools are designed to ventilate fresh outside air and mitigate the buildup of odors and pollutants. Fresh air is filtered and conditioned before it enters the space. This is in line with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations aimed at preventing the spread of coronavirus that advises windows be opened in the absence of outside mechanical ventilation.

Contact Tracing and Quarantining 

In the event of a COVID-19 exposure, FCPS will work with the Fairfax County Health Department to conduct contact tracing and determine if quarantining is necessary. Further guidance is coming on this topic soon.

Monitoring by Health & Safety Teams 

This year, FCPS will be using an independent third party firm to perform safety team observations. Safety teams will observe and report on the health and safety mitigation measures in schools and make sure they are being implemented with fidelity.

In preparation for a strong return to 5 days of in person instruction,  we will also continuously monitor our community health conditions as well as adhere to FHD, VHD and CDC guidance.

Conditions for Potential Temporary COVID-19 Closure

FCPS is committed to continuity of learning during the 2021-22 school year and the school division is using layered prevention strategies to do everything possible to ensure our schools remain safe, healthy and open.  We do, however, have plans in place to ensure continuity of learning in the event health authorities require a temporary closure to protect the health of students, staff, and the community. Read more about protocols.

Video: Providing Vaccines to Help Our Community Return Strong

Vaccine Clinic video

Superintendent Scott Brabrand stopped by last week’s COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Herndon Elementary School to encourage all eligible students to get vaccinated. Not yet been vaccinated? Schedule your child’s vaccination.

What’s the Latest on School Meals?

photo of girl with lunch tray

FCPS is committed to ensuring the health and safety of our staff and students even at lunchtime when students will not be able to wear masks while eating.

We know that the situation at lunchtime will look different at every school but we are committed to make sure the structure of lunchtime works at every school. 

  • Students will be required to wear masks in the cafeteria when not actively eating and drinking.
  • They will need to wear their masks while going through the serving line. 
  • Students will put their mask back on when they finish their meal. 
  • Cafeteria spaces will be regularly and thoroughly cleaned with a sanitizing solution. 
  • Students will be encouraged to wash hands or use hand sanitizer or wash hands before and after eating.
  • FCPS Food Nutrition Services works closely with the Fairfax County Health Department to ensure proper food safety and sanitation. 

All students will be offered no cost breakfast and lunch for the entire school year. Menus will be available online beginning August 18. 

Why Will Lunch Look Different at Every School?

The size of every school cafeteria is different and the number of students at each school is different. Because most students (99.5%) will be back for in-person learning, social distancing will not be possible in most classrooms, hallways or cafeterias. 

The physical layout of each cafeteria varies from school to school depending on size and student enrollment. 

Some schools (but not all) will have outdoor cafeteria spaces or options. These will be used on days when the weather is good.

Students will not be required to face the same direction when eating lunch, as was the requirement last year. This kind of layout will simply not allow most cafeterias to accommodate all students without disrupting normal operations.

Physical distancing will not be possible in all circumstances when we return 99.5% of all students to school buildings. This includes some cafeterias. Schools will do their best to physically distance where space allows and when it does not disrupt normal operations

Concerned About In-Person Learning? Your School Can Help.

Earlier this year, the Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics supported a return to in-person learning for Virginia’s students, saying, “Returning to in-person learning, with well thought out mitigation strategies, is the right prescription for our children.” Returning to in-person instruction this fall also aligns with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Virginia Department of Health, and the Fairfax County Health Department.

FCPS realizes that some of our families are not ready for their child to return to in-person learning and we want to be clear about your options:

The application window for FCPS’ limited Virtual Program has closed. At this time, only newly enrolled students with a documented health/medical need are eligible to apply. 

FCPS’ Return to School plan prioritizes the health and safety of our students and staff. By using layered prevention strategies, with an emphasis on universal masking in schools and widespread vaccination, we will be able to provide a safe and positive environment for student learning. We invite you to visit our Return to School-Safety page often for the latest updates.

If a student has a medical or documented health condition that prevents them from returning to school this fall, or you are still concerned about them returning in person, please contact your school to discuss the options and support available to you. 

As partners in your child’s education, our amazing teachers and staff are eager to work with you to support your child’s needs and ensure their success.

Superintendent Brabrand to Host Return to School Town Halls

photo of Dr. Brabrand at a Town Hall

Superintendent Scott Brabrand will be hosting two virtual community Town Halls next week ahead of the start of school:

Monday, August 16, from 6 - 7 p.m. (In English) where he will be joined by Dr. Benjamin Schwartz, director of Epidemiology and Population Health at the Fairfax County Health Department, Jeffrey Platenberg, assistant superintendent of FCPS Department of Facilities and Transportation, and Michelle Boyd, assistant superintendent of FCPS Department of Special Services. The Town Hall will focus on returning to five full days of in-person instruction for the new school year and layered prevention strategies that will be implemented to help keep students and staff safe. Watch the Town Hall on FCPS’ website or on Cable TV Channel 99 (Verizon Channel 11). Please send your questions in advance to returntoschool@fcps.edu or ask your question live during the event by calling 1-800-231-6359.

Tuesday, August 17 from 6 - 7 p.m. (In Spanish) 

The superintendent will answer questions about returning to five full days of in-person learning and measures to help keep everyone safe for a strong return to school. The Town Hall will be streamed live on FCPS Facebook en Español. Please email your questions to returntoSchool@fcps.edu. You may also send us a message on our Facebook page or leave it in the “Comment” section during the Town Hall. 

Update Your Emergency Care Information Through weCare@school

Fairfax County Public Schools is committed to ensuring that the climate in all FCPS facilities is safe and secure. In support of this goal, FCPS provides weCare@school (weCare), an emergency care information system, available to FCPS parents and guardians who have registered for their own Parent account. 

weCare helps manage emergency medical information by enabling parents to enter and update their children’s medical data at their convenience online. Contact information provided automatically enrolls parents to receive eNotify communications from the district and their child’s school. eNotify is the communications tool for FCPS emergency, attendance, and essential outreach messages. Messages are sent via email, telephone, and text messages.

Get more information about updating your emergency care information.

Be on the Lookout for Your School’s Request for Parental Permission to Use Digital Resources

Girl in mask holding a computer

Fairfax County Public Schools provides access to digital resources to maximize learning opportunities and protect student privacy. Each digital resource used in FCPS has had an instructional and technical review. Information about the educational technology tools approved for use within FCPS can be found in the online Digital Ecosystem Library

Some FCPS-approved resources require parental consent before they can be used by students. Parents will receive more information from their child’s school prior to the first day of school. This will include the list of educational technology tools used and explain the process for providing permission. It is critical that parents respond to the request for parental permission so teachers can plan to use the best technology tools with students this school year.

Parents can find more information about FCPS-approved digital resources on the Digital Resources in FCPS webpage.

Middle School and Secondary School Students to Have Regular Instructional Breaks in 2021-22

Group of students raising their arms.

This school year, to support student social and emotional wellbeing, all middle schools (grades 6, 7, and 8) and secondary schools (grades 7 and 8) will implement a regularly scheduled student break throughout the instructional week. Break time will occur a minimum of every other school day for at least 15 minutes and may be scheduled around lunch, during the Advisory block, or at another time supported by the school bell schedule. 

Access to outdoor activities will be included in all formats, weather-permitting, and breaks will not be withheld due to academic performance or behavior. Breaks will be tailored to individual school needs and will be responsive to student input.

From the Healthy Minds Blog: Easing the Back-to-School Transition

School Staffer high-fiving a student

FCPS is Returning Strong to five days a week of in-person learning. The transition back to school can be difficult for both students and parents, but perhaps even more so this school year. It will be a change for all of us from what we experienced last school year. 

Spending some time now to prepare for the year ahead can help produce positive outcomes. Getting the school year off to a successful start can have a big impact on your child's attitude, confidence, and performance both socially and academically.

The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) has some suggestions to help ease this upcoming transition back to school and promote a successful school experience.

SACC Program Open for 2021-22 School Year

Welcome to SACC sign

The School Age Child Care (SACC) program (which is run by the Fairfax County Government, not Fairfax County Public Schools) will be providing before- and after-school care for children in grades K-6 beginning August 23.  

All SACC 2021-22 school year enrollments are pending finalization of center capacity and enrollment protocols. Families will be contacted by SACC Registration staff to confirm services

To request services:

  • Families with existing SACC enrollments and waitlists: No need to re-enroll. Log in to the new online registration system to update information and request to add services. Login by using the primary email address. To cancel services, families should call SACC Registration at 703-449-8989. 
  • New Families: Access the new online registration system to create an account and submit a request for SACC services for the 2021-22 school year. Families will receive an automated response, and a SACC registrar will follow-up within five business days regarding enrollments and/or waitlists.

More information about SACC is available online

From Student to Proud Principal: Meet the New Columbia Elementary School Leader Who Once Walked the Halls as a Child

Picture of Columbia Elementary School yearbook

If you look closely at a faded copy of the Columbia Elementary School yearbook which sits on the desk of new principal Michael Astudillo, a little boy with an impish grin stands out.

“That’s me, right there,” Astudillo said, pointing to his first grade photo on page 14 of the 1983-84 year book.

Forty years later the hair has changed, but the smile remains the same as Astudillo recalls how this school was a second home to him. Now, on his return as leader, he hopes to create that same home away from home atmosphere for the current students. Astudillo joined the school as its principal last month and is using those fond memories as the basis for his leadership strategy at the school.

Learn more about Michael Astudillo and his Columbia Elementary School story.

Congratulations to Our June FCPS CARES of the Month Winners 

FCPS Cares

FCPS Cares
is an opportunity for parents, staff, and community members to recognize FCPS employees for going above and beyond to help others and show they care. All FCPS Cares submissions were reviewed, and six winners were selected for the month of June—one for each region and the central office—to receive extra recognition for their work. They are:

  • Central Office: Mark Hyer, Department of Information Technology, Sprague Center. 
  • Region 1: Eric Fishman and Scott Aldridge, Thoreau Middle School.
  • Region 2: Kirsten Wiley, Falls Church High School.
  • Region 3: Cynthia Powell-Sparks, Washington Mill Elementary School.
  • Region 4: Mary Ann Barry, Fairview Elementary School; and Katie Cheneler, Oak View Elementary School.
  • Region 5: Erin Ferguson, Canterbury Woods Elementary School.

Get more information about the winners and how you can acknowledge an FCPS employee who has gone above and beyond.

We look forward to seeing everyone on August 23 for the first day of school. Please see the Return to School Section on the FCPS website for more information.

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