Teacher Unions Oppose the FCPS Plan for Immediate Return to In Person Instruction

As conservative activists are trying to villainize teachers and school board members advocating for a more measured response to returning to in person instruction, the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers (FCFT) has expressed opposition to the reopening plan proposed by Superintendent Scott Brabrand.

In the plan recently announced by Dr. Brabrand, certain students would be returning to in person learning starting on November 16th. This would result in some students receiving instruction in the physical classroom while others would continue utilizing distance learning. All students would theoretically receive instruction from the exact same teacher at the exact same time, but the student population would be split between those participating both remotely and those attending in person.

Before the school year started a couple months ago, the Fairfax County contacted parents to see how they wanted to move forward during the pandemic and the county’s currently assuming parents will want to use the same option they previously selected. That being said, parents will be contacted to confirm their decision since their preference might have changed during the last few months.

Months of social distancing recommendations have caused many people to grow tired of schools and workplaces operating remotely, so most teachers understand the need for a discussion about how and when to safely return to the classroom. That’s why FCFT has released its “11 pillars for a safe reopening,” which is based upon guidelines from the Center for Disease Control, in order to promote discussion of how to ensure schools are prepared to keep everyone safe during the pandemic.

The union says the 11 pillars haven’t been met and, on top of that, teachers have concerns about the model of instruction being proposed. Emily Vanderhoff, a first grade teacher in FCPS and FCFT board member, has talked about how the proposal could result in gaps in instruction quality between students who using virtual learning and those attending in person classes.

“How are we going to give our attention to both groups at the same time?” Vanderhoff rhetorically asked according to WTOP. “The lesson materials that we use for in-person [classes] are different than the lesson materials that we make for online. So you’d be making double the materials to be able to engage both groups.”

So as a result of the 11 pillars the union proposed have not been met and the “concurrent learning” model FCPS is proposing set up in a manner they believe wouldn’t properly serve students, FCFT has come out in opposition to the reopening plan. This isn’t just a decision made by the union’s leadership as a survey the union conducted showed 85.7 percent of the organization’s membership opposes the plan and 52.7 percent are considering whether or not they’ll take an unpaid leave of absence if they’re required to return to in person instruction. Members said concerns about unsafe workplaces, poor communication from FCPS, and a lack of information and transparency as the reasons behind their decision.

Opposition to the plan has been compounded by teachers being required to suddenly make a decision about whether or not they’re willing to immediately return to in person instruction since the county needs to ensure they have enough teachers in the classroom.

As statistics show a recent record setting rise in coronavirus cases, an email was sent out to teachers last Friday saying they had to notify the school system of their plans by October 30th. According the email, teachers have the option to take an unpaid leave of absence, resign or retire, or potentially use the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act to take leave for childcare purposes.

FCTE isn’t the only education related organization expressing opposition to Dr. Brabrand’s plan as all these developments are taking place. The Fairfax Education Association, another union which represents about 4,000 FCPS employees, for instance, has expressed a desire for more aggressive measures needed to protect students and staff. In a letter the union sent to the superintendent, they called for virtual instruction to continue through the entire school year and for in person classes to only return once there’s been at least “14 days of zero community spread.”

As it stands now, FCPS is currently a pilot program that would help test whether or not the proposal should be implemented. The Fairfax County School Board has already had some intense discussions about the plan at previous meetings and has asked Dr. Brabrand to report on the pilot program’s progress in November. The board is then scheduled to vote on the plan’s implementation at their November 14th meeting.

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