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Fairfax County schools reject Trump administration criticism of reopening plan

A Virginia school system is defending its plan for the fall, rejecting criticism by the Department of Education that Fairfax County parents are being given a “false paradigm” in the choice of either two days a week of in-classroom learning or five days a week of distance learning.

“They must fully open, and they must be fully operational,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said.

DeVos’ comment, made during a Wednesday conference call with U.S. governors, drew an immediate response from Fairfax County School Superintendent Scott Brabrand, who issued a statement which read:

“The health and safety of our staff, our students and our community must come before politics. We would all prefer to have a normal in-person school year. But we cannot have the same number of students in the same number of available buildings for the same amount of time and still maintain the social distancing that the CDC and other health experts say is essential to protect children and teachers from this global pandemic.”

DeVos’ criticism of Fairfax County’s plan is in line with President Donald Trump’s insistence that school districts bring their students back in the fall or face the possibility of cuts in federal funding.

Teachers have been among those wary of the pandemic and the threat it poses if proper precautions are not taken in the fall.

“I do want to hear more from the district about what they’re planning on doing to keep teachers safe. I want to hear what exactly are they going to be putting in place to ensure that teachers are kept safe; to ensure that students are kept safe, ” said David Walrod, a math and special education teacher at Lake Braddock Secondary School.

Walrod is also a member of the executive board of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers and a member of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s work group on returning to schools.

The union also rejected the criticism leveled by the Trump administration.

“DeVos’ belief that we can return to school as normal is setting us all up for failure,” said Tina Williams, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers in a written statement.

Walrod also pointed out that Fairfax’s plan, offering parents — either two days a week of in-classroom learning plus three days of distance learning for their children, or 100% distance learning — is similar to plans being offered in other school districts in Virginia and large school districts, such as New York City and Los Angeles.

“Fairfax’s plan lines up with not only what is happening in Virginia but around the country,” Walrod said.

Parents in Loudoun County are being offered a similar choice, and the Loudoun County Public School system has extended by two days, until July 15, the deadline for parents to indicate their choice of instruction for the start of the 2020-2021 school year.

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