The teachers union of Fairfax County in Virginia wants schoolchildren to learn from home for the rest of the school year until August 2021.
“Science and Health Safety data support and require that no one should return to in person instruction until there is a widely available scientifically proven vaccine or highly effective treatment” for COVID-19, the Fairfax Education Association wrote in a letter-campaign addressed to the Fairfax County school board and superintendent.
“The metric for Safe Reopening should be 14 days of zero community spread,” the letter stated.
In addition to closing schools through the 2020-21 school year, the teachers union demanded that limited reopening be attempted only if “all buildings” are equipped with “HVAC Merv-13 filters,” if all staff is provided with “Medical Grade PPE” including N95 masks, goggles, face shields, and more, and if COVID-19 testing is available for staff.
“Since none of the requirements for safe return are likely to be met in the foreseeable future of the 2020-21 school year we reiterate: Keep Fairfax County Public Schools Virtual for the 2020-21 school year,” the letter concluded.
The Washington Free Beacon reported that Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand last week published an update for parents explaining when and how in-person learning in schools will resume. The plan is to begin in-person instruction for small groups of students who are having the most difficulty with distance learning.
“We will follow strict safety and health protocols to minimize health risks for students and staff,” the school said.
On Monday, classroom learning began for preschoolers with autism, students in “early childhood classes, and students in specialized high school career preparatory programs.” The district plans to phase in other students returning to school in different groups over the next several weeks. They have put in place several policies to limit the spread of COVID-19 as students and teachers return to class.
The union’s demands come as mounting evidence suggests there is no clear link between schools reopening and coronavirus infection rates surging. Additionally, there are growing concerns that so-called “distance learning,” with children staring at computer screens for most of the day, is failing children and parents who can’t handle it.
In New York City, an epicenter of the pandemic where reopening is limited and conditional on targeted random virus testing efforts, the New York Times reports expected outbreaks among the city’s 1,800 public schools have not materialized in the three-weeks since in-person learning resumed.
Yet, the Free Beacon notes, a Brown University study showed that districts with strong teachers unions, like Fairfax County, were more likely to recommend schools remain closed. In a statement to the Free Beacon, the Fairfax County Public Schools district said school officials maintain returning to the classroom is best for students.
“We firmly believe that while virtual environments are necessary at the current time, students learn best in-person,” a district spokeswoman said.
School reopening in the United States varies by state and individual school district. So far, only Arizona, Iowa, Florida, and Texas have ordered schools to open.