Settle in for a longer written message this week - OR you can now listen to this as a podcast.
Lots of updates as we see changes to COVID responses, the end of the semester, honoring Black History Month, budget work, School Board meetings, and lots of wonderful activities going on across our schools.
Good Luck, Coach Smith! Tonight Meridian boys basketball coach will go for his 500th career victory. There have only been two coaches in Northern Virginia to achieve this milestone, as far as we can tell. We are excited for Coach and our team to experience this milestone. Here's to hoping tonight is the night, which is also Senior Night!
Tonight will be a busy night on the secondary campus because the Broadway Desserts show will be filling the auditorium with songs at the same time.
Masking Opt-Out, Mitigation, and ViSSTA
I have been asked by many in the community to be “transparent” in reporting the number of students who have opted out of wearing a mask beginning on February 14th. There are 14 students whose parents have completed the opt-out process to date. This number represents less than 0.6% of the student population. The opt-out process is not complete until a parent or guardian provides a printed “hard copy” of the opt-out form to the school. This extra step ensures that students are not filling out the form on their own. The number who have completed the opt-out process at each school are JTP-0; MDES-4; OES-2; MEHMS-5; MHS-3.
Parents and guardians who opt a student out of masking are respectfully requested to enroll the student in the ViSSTA program to be tested for COVID regularly. The goal is to keep all children safe, and this regular testing is another way to know if COVID is in the community.
All adults who enter the building must be masked (including teachers and staff), and FCCPS will remain consistent with extensive mitigation measures in all schools. More than 90% of our staff and student population have been vaccinated (AMAZING!), which remains the best mitigation strategy to avoid COVID.
FCCPS has been testing twice a week through the ViSSTA program. This PCR testing program helps us understand the level of cases and transmission in schools. Data from the last two weeks of testing:
January 17-21, 2022
Did not test due to snow day.
January 24-28, 2022
January 31-February 4, 2022
Lastly, the FCCPS community includes a number of immunocompromised students and adults. These community members require special vigilance to protect themselves from all diseases, including COVID. I sincerely hope that if you decide to opt your child out of mask-wearing, you will reconsider that decision for the portion of the day they are near the immunocompromised members of our school community.
Regardless of Opt-Out status, a COVID-positive student who returns after five days of isolation must wear a mask at school for days 6-10. Symptomatic students at school, or those seeking health clinic services, will be required to wear a mask. Any unmasked student within 6 feet of others is considered a close contact. If either student is unmasked and within 3 feet, both students are considered close contacts.
NEW SEMESTER & GRADES:
Turning the corner on a new semester is always a time of excitement for what lies ahead. The first half of the year brought great learning for our students but was also in the context of the biggest COVID spike since the outbreak started two years ago. Moving forward, with the COVID numbers dropping precipitously, we look forward to a second semester that perhaps is less laden with the backdrop of a pandemic.
Thank you for all of your support of our academic program. When the student/parent portal reopens, student grades will be available in PowerSchool. Teachers have been working diligently to finalize grades, and we appreciate their efforts.
BUDGET HEARINGS AND UPDATES
We have been working on the FY2023 budget, and in January, I proposed the “Superintendent’s Budget” to the School Board. To date, we’ve held a community presentation, school presentations, and this week I wrote the Guest Commentary in the Falls Church News-Press. You can find it all at www.fccps.org/budget.
On Tuesday night, the School Board will have a Budget Work session and a Public Hearing on the budget. To provide input, anyone can attend the meeting and speak in person at City Hall in the Council Chambers beginning at 7: 00 p.m. or submit comments in writing via email to Board Clerk Marty Gadell at email@example.com.
HONORING BLACK HISTORY MONTH
February is Black History Month, and the national theme is Black Health and Wellness. Each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday FCCPS will share a social media post with links to local or virtual learning experiences that will engage the whole family. Look for these posts in the Morning Announcements, Twitter, and Facebook. Students in the MHS African American History class and student organizations Black Student Union, Students of Color Association, and Students for Social Justice are planning school-based and community-involved activities. Stay tuned to your school’s newsletters and social media for upcoming details. You can also access resources and activities on Our History Matters - Black History Month webpage.
MOVING TOWARDS A “NEW NORMAL”
Our health partners, the Fairfax County Health Department (FCHD) and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), are moving thoughtfully toward a big change in COVID monitoring. We are beginning to respond to COVID with surveillance health monitoring, in place of contact tracing. This means that individual sporadic cases are no longer reported to FCHD. Contact tracing is replaced with surveillance health monitoring, as is done with communicable diseases like the flu, gastrointestinal viruses, and measles. Should there be an “outbreak” (3+ linked cases in a classroom/group/program or 10% of the population in the building), FCHD will get involved.
All individual cases should continue to be reported to FCCPS via FCCPS COVID POSITIVE RESULT REPORTING FORM. FCCPS Health Team will work with each family to support a student’s isolation period. Parents will receive notice if there is a positive case in their student’s class(es). The school community will receive notification if there is a situation with multiple cases or we reach an outbreak status. We have had only 2 outbreaks in two years, both of which were limited to a small group of students on sports teams.
This shift may cause concern. Please remember FCCPS continues to monitor and isolate all individual cases. The numbers are in our favor to prevent COVID outbreaks:
There is an incredibly high vaccination rate for both staff and students–well over 90% for groups eligible to be vaccinated.
The universe of those “opting out” of masking so far is .6%, so 99.4% of students and 100% of staff will still be wearing masks on Monday, February 14th.
FCCPS has always exceeded the guidelines established by our health partners. Mitigation will continue to remain strong. Mitigation strategies are designed to care for our most vulnerable. In meeting their needs, we meet everyone’s needs. That is why we are #BetterTogether.
Mitigation strategies include:
high vaccination rates among staff and students
parental notifications if a positive case is reported in a classroom(s)/program/team/activity/club
continued social distancing of 3-6 feet wherever possible
multi-layer testing with both rapid and PCR testing
n95 masks and face shields for students and staff who wish to have them
review of classroom seating arrangements to support social distancing
masks required on all buses
reviews of individual health plans for students who are medically vulnerable AND SEPARATE NOTIFICATIONS IF THEY ARE IMPACTED
use of MERV filters in all buildings, BiPolar Ionization in HVAC systems at Meridian, increased airflow through our HVAC systems, and windows and doors open where possible to maintain airflow
eating 6 feet apart and/or outside weather permitting
focus on maintaining high rates of vaccination and vaccine verifications
health monitoring to ensure sick or symptomatic students/staff are not in school buildings
requiring masking for anyone who has tested positive or been exposed for days 6-10 upon their return after day 5 (regardless of mask opt out decision)
additional registered nurse support
nurse/school health aide phone calls to ensure anyone returning after isolation or quarantine is not symptomatic prior to their return
strong hand hygiene practices
Parents and staff should:
Continue to report cases to the FCCPS COVID POSITIVE RESULT REPORTING FORM.
Register for PCR testing on ViSSTA Testing Registration/Permission Link. Anyone can be tested weekly if they choose.
Contact school for support or questions.
Follow the VDH PARENT FLOW CHART FOR POSITIVE RESULTS AND CASES if a student tests positive or is exposed.
FCCPS COVID By The Numbers
Number of Cases for Week 23
Cumulative Since August 1
# of Student Cases:
# of Staff Cases
# of Students in Quarantine Due to Being a Close Contact
FCCPS Rate of Transmission
HIGH for Falls Church City
HIGH for Fairfax Health District
Please note that this data is just a snapshot of FCCPS in total and is adjusted based on the outcomes of each contact tracing investigation.
All FCCPS positive cases are included regardless of source. These data include parent/staff reports, ViSSTA results, HD notifications, and healthcare providers.
Thanks for your patience, given the length of this week’s message. I hope you can take some time this weekend to rest and catch up on your favorite activities together with your families or just do something for yourself. If Punxsutawney Phil is correct, we are in for a longer winter, so stay warm this weekend!