The head of one of the largest public school systems in the United States has a message for DeVos: “You can’t put all the kids in a school”


For the moment, the pupils of this suburban school system, one of the largest in the country, will only return to school physically to a limited extent: two days a week in class. The rest will be virtual and parents can also keep their children at home.

Scott Brabrand, the director of Fairfax County schools, says it’s the best option they could find to comply with guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We are going to have PPE for all of our teachers and students, and we are going to have a return to school in a new standard for Fairfax County and for school districts across the country,” Brabrand said in a statement. interview in a classroom in the middle of offices parked 6 feet apart.

Education secretary Betsy DeVos repeatedly calls Fairfax County, Virginia, criticizing the current school system plan for just two days a week in class as insufficient. Devos noted that it is well funded in one of the wealthiest regions in America.”I would say it’s an elite public school system in America – has offered families a so-called ‘choice’ for this fall, and their attempt to spring from afar has been a disaster. I give this as an example because things like that can’t happen in the fall. It would fail American students and taxpayers who pay high taxes for their education, “DeVos said in a press briefing from the Coronavirus task force last week during which she insisted that American schools reopen full time.

“Covid strikes us all, and the guidelines for a social distance of 6 feet simply mean that you can’t put all the kids back in a school with the square footage. It’s that simple, ”said Brabrand flatly in response to DeVos.

He argues that they can have a lot of resources, but that does not make it more feasible to group students together in schools while respecting guidelines for social distancing.

“This is the American dream, American public education. We are here to offer it to all of our students and families, and those who would criticize it, I don’t think I have the best interest in public education and in the United States. in the soul, “he said, after a not-so-subtle search at DeVos, whose goal is to transfer more public funds with students to private schools.

Fairfax County is one of the largest school districts in the country with more than 188,000 Kindergarten to Grade 12 students.

Brabrand said that normally students are about 18 inches from each other on average, and he calculates that to have enough space for all of his students to be at a social distance, they would almost need to another school system of 200 sites.

To put it another way, he said that the school system is the size of “five pentagons”.

“You would need another five pentagons of space to be able to safely house all students in public schools in Fairfax County,” he said, which would not only be expensive but impossible to build within six weeks. that precede the start of school.

“What we are doing is the best we can under the constraints of Covid-19,” he said.

Parents hope better

Fairfax County mother Miriam Aguila says she hopes the best the school system can do looks much better than it did in the spring for her daughter, a rising gardener, and her son, who is entering third grade.

She was frustrated with the virtual learning process – noting that there were too many platforms that often did not work properly.

“My son had about 200 emails that I just didn’t have time to go through,” said Aguila of her sophomore.

“Get it connected, technical difficulties, just be there. After that, I felt like a computer scientist, that IT is not my field. So it was crazy, ”she said, echoing the frustration and experience of parents across the country. .

“There were (several times), thank God, my work was very understanding when I was not available in the morning and I pushed back my work schedule either in the afternoon, sometimes even when they were at bed because it was quiet, “she remembers.

Aguila is a single mother but considers herself lucky. She can work from home and has help, including from her own mother who lives with them.

“Even my mother being here, even with this help, sometimes you have to be like, ‘Silence. I’m on a call! ‘ “, She says.

“Sometimes I would get up until 2 or 3 in the morning just because when the house was quiet, I could concentrate. And then you have to get up in the morning trying to do your best, ”she added.

Despite all this, Aguila plans to choose full-time virtual learning for the fall. She worries about exposing her 71-year-old mother and also says that if there is a spike in the area and in-person learning two days a week stops, her children will at least have consistency.

Knowing that CNN was also speaking to the director of her school, she made a plea for virtual learning to be more streamlined for the fall.

“We had two weeks where we struggled,” said Brabrand, but also insisted that they “fly away” afterwards.

“I wish we could have done it from the start. We have lessons learned and we are using them to help us be ready for a successful fall, ”he said.

Some of the problems encountered in the spring – such as securing systems – have been resolved. But other challenges reported by Aguila, such as using multiple platforms, will not change. They still plan to use both “Blackboard” and “Google Classroom”.

But Brabrand insists that teachers get better training and that any student with connectivity problems or who needs a computer or I-Pad can get one.

So far, most parents have opted for in-person learning.

By Friday evening, about half of the students in the school district had registered their preference, and Brabrand said about two-thirds requested in-person experience and about one-third requested virtual experience.

“Many of our families and communities want to return to normal, but we have to do it in the context of Covid-19. We need to be able to reopen schools in a responsible and safe manner, for our students, for our staff and for our community, “he said.

Everyone on site will have to wear masks, including the youngest students, which he says will be a challenge for the youngest.

“One of the things I have already said to parents, when you consider your choice of virtual or going back to school, put a mask on your child for a few hours a day now during the summer, see how it ‘is. It is a new experience for children. I still believe in the resilience of children. We know that some children, again very young, may have trouble with the mask and we need to understand how we work with these children or provide extra protections for our teachers where there are situations. ”

He said there will be other accommodations for students, including those with special needs, who cannot wear masks.

“We will have PPE in certain situations, gloves and gowns and face shields that will provide protection if masks are not the way to go,” he said.

Teachers’ concerns

While there is some evidence to suggest that children with Covid-19 don’t get as sick as the elderly, experts like Dr. Deborah Birx, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, admit there is not had enough tests to find out enough about children, especially regarding the transmission of the virus. This stranger makes teachers across the country nervous about spending the whole day indoors.

In Fairfax County, teachers will also have to wear masks, even in front of the classroom, and students who come to school without masks will have temperature controls.

Brabrand has said he wants them to be able to go further and offer testing for the virus, but that is not yet reliable or available.

“One of the things in learning with our health department is that you are testing at that time. Do we have enough tests available in this country to test children regularly or our faculty? I know this is something the colleges are watching, but then our conversations here, one of the questions is, which only captures a moment in time, “he said.

“I don’t think any of us are there yet in the United States,” he said flatly.

Financing threat

President Donald Trump has spent the week aggressively pushing for the reopening of schools, which is not only important for children’s development, but also essential for boosting the economy by allowing parents to leave home and return to work.

Trump and DeVos even threaten to withhold federal dollars for schools that do not reopen completely.

The reality is that 90% of American schools get their funding locally.

In Fairfax County, Brabrand said that only 2% of the budget came from federal dollars.

“These are not political games. These are not budgetary fights. This is what works best for America in times of crisis, and we need clear, concise and supportive leadership that says, “Do it and do it well, and we are here to support you. Tell us what you need so we can help you succeed. We need fans of public education to stand up and say, “Superintendents across the country, school boards across the country are all trying to do the right thing, and we’re here to support you. Let us know how we can help you. “This is what will be the recipe for success this fall,” he said.


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