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No Good Answers, But Some Really Stupid Ideas

Panda Lunch

Like many others in the US, the overly-large school district is slowly trying to get students out of their homes and back into the buildings. The process started last month with small groups of kids who in a few special programs.

Now the superintendent has announced plans to step up the pace and, as you can imagine, exactly no one is completely happy. The proposal also includes some really stupid ideas.

Lacking Vision

FCPS Tech Advisory Council Report

Back in May, the superintendent of our overly-large school district announced the formation of a Technology Advisory Council, with the mission to provide him with “expertise and guidance”. As I wrote at the time, the hasty formation of this group was most likely a reaction to the bad press surrounding the messy rollout of online schooling due to the pandemic. The Post loves “blue-ribbon” panels.

Move forward, less than three months later to late July and we get another message from the super declaring that the Council has “concluded its work”. And produced a final report brimming with expertise and guidance.

Online Schooling 1.1

Screen Shot 2020 09 02 at 7 47 27 AM

School opens next Tuesday here in the overly-large school district. As they were last spring, students and teachers will be working in virtual classrooms, at least for the first few weeks.1

Some are calling this “online learning 2.0”. Actually it’s more like online schooling 1.1. A bug-fix rather than a major upgrade.

Best Laid Plans

Sign with good question

As the saying goes, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”.1 The same could be said of school superintendents.

Not too long ago, late in June to be exact, the head of our overly-large school district announced a hybrid back-to-school plan where some students would start the year entirely online, while some would be in physical classrooms two days a week. He wasn’t alone, since several other area districts offered similar ideas for their communities.

Back to School

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Lots of politicians, pundits, and other experts, with minimal uncertainty, have declared that kids must go back to school this fall. I guess that whole online schooling we tried last spring didn’t work for them.1

About three weeks ago, the superintendent for our overly-large school district announced their plans for opening, a compromise between full in-person attendance and being fully online. Parents have been given the choice of their children being in the building two days a week, completing the rest of their work from home, or having their instruction completely online.

Teachers would also be given the same options, although, from what I’ve read and heard, administrators made it clear that they might not be able to honor all the choices.

As with most compromises, the many different constituencies immediately found something they didn’t like about the plan. The three organizations representing teachers2 were among the loudest, telling their members to all select the all-online option.

All of which is completely understandable since it generated far more questions than answers, even nearly a month later. And, as you might expect, the specifics keep changing.

For one thing, the school board moved the first day of school ahead two weeks to the day after Labor Day. Administrators also bumped the date by which parents and teachers had to make their decision, from last Friday to this coming Wednesday.

To complicate everything even more, in the past few days Fairfax’s plans were given a big national spotlight when the Secretary of Education3 offered her thoughts, all of them negative, and the district was featured in reports on CNN and other media. Plus lots of sometimes conflicting advice from medical organizations and other experts.

So, if I were running the overly-large school district,4 and the school board told me I had to plan for at least some students in the buildings, here’s what I would do.

For at least the first quarter, have all middle and high school students attend their classes online. Then send the elementary kids back but put half of them into the middle and high school buildings where they would have lots of room to spread out. It’s not a perfect plan, but show me one that is.

Anyway, here we are with fall fast approaching and plenty of uncertainty about… well, pretty much everything, starting with the course of the pandemic itself. Jen has a good post with some questions she’s been considering, and there are many more. I don’t envy my many friends and former colleagues who also have difficult issues to face, in and out of their jobs, probably for at least the rest of the year.

I’m still pretty sure the new school year will start sometime in September but beyond that, everything is up in the air.

Welcome to the new reality, for schools and everyone else.


The illustration is by Tom Toles, long time editorial cartoonist for The Washington Post. It pretty well sums up the current situation, don’t ya think?

1. Many more thoughts on that are coming.

2. Officially, the three groups are not “unions” since the state of Virginia does not allow public employees to be represented by unions. That may be changing soon.

3. She who must not be named. With any luck, she will be out of the job next January.

4. Something no one, including me, would ever want!

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