School System Asks Parents To Choose Between Online Only Classes Or Some In-Person Learning

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An empty classroom.(Stephane de Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images)
An empty classroom.(Stephane de Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images)

One of the largest public school systems in the U.S. has come forward with a reopening plan for the coming school year despite uncertainty about the coronavirus.

Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia is surveying parents and teachers about whether they would prefer all-online learning or some in-classroom teaching. The school year is scheduled to start on Aug. 25.

Becca Ferrick, president of the Association of Fairfax Professional Educators and high school librarian, says the choice puts teachers in a bind.

“I applaud the opportunity to choose,” she says. “But I'm disappointed that the choices that students make will determine how many of us teachers are allowed to make choices.”

She says the student demand for online learning will drive teacher staffing needs, meaning teachers’ jobs will be based on enrollment in virtual learning.

Plus, the virus isn’t as concerning for younger people as it may be for teachers, she says.

“We anticipate that there will be a big difference between the number of students who want to be online all the time and the number of teachers who would feel the safest being online all the time,” she says.

It’s possible that what parents and students choose will be at odds with what teachers want. Parents may be itching to send their children back to school so they can work, a predicament that Ferrick says she and many educators empathize with.

There might not be a final solution that will suit everyone’s demands, she says.

“I think FCPS and other school leaders have been put in an absolutely impossible situation. We're asking them to provide a plan that will satisfy the needs and desires of all members of our community,” she says. “And in some cases, those needs and desires are diametrically opposed.”

The community is having to make catch-22 decisions based on a pandemic that continues to plague the country, she says.

If Fairfax County Public Schools do go back to school in person even for just several days a week, precautions will have to be taken, Ferrick says. But even safety protocols for face-to-face interactions are still up in the air, such as what happens if a student tests positive or how daily screenings would be managed.

The other option — to go fully virtual — also poses problems. Many students have lost ground by learning virtually. Robin Lake, director of the Center for Reinventing Public Education, told Here & Now when school starts in the fall, the average student may be one full year behind in math.

Because of the swirling uncertainty over school returning in the fall, she says she wishes the school system decided that virtual learning was the only safe alternative weeks ago. That way, educators could have spent the summer preparing and upgrading how to teach remotely.

Still, Ferrick says she has confidence in educators’ abilities to make virtual learning a better experience come fall.

“I can tell you that we became teachers to touch lives literally, and we can make distance learning work, but it lacks the same magic for us as it does for our students,” she says. “But right now, we're faced with having to surrender some of that magic in order to protect the health and safety of our community — and perhaps to save lives.”

Lynn Menegon produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd MundtSerena McMahon adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on July 6, 2020.


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Peter O'Dowd Senior Editor, Here & Now
Peter O’Dowd has a hand in most parts of Here & Now — producing and overseeing segments, reporting stories and occasionally filling in as host. He came to Boston from KJZZ in Phoenix.


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Serena McMahon Digital Producer
Serena McMahon was a digital producer for Here & Now.



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