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F.C. City Schools 1st to Fully Reopen in Northern Virginia

New NORMAL Fun. Kids? Sharing space and smiles? On a playground? What a welcoming sight. While the masks are still required, it’s easy to tell students at Jessie Thackrey Preschool are happy to be back and fully reopened for the rest of the academic year. (Photo: FCCPS Photo/Carol Sly)

“They came on foot, by car, bike, scooter, and bus to fill classrooms for the first time this year. Tuesday, all enrolled Falls Church City Public School students went back to class, all together, at the same time, for the whole day!”

The eloquent, poetic words of the schools’ public information chief John Brett, relayed through the system’s emailed morning announcements Wednesday, said it all. The Falls Church system became the first in the entire Northern Virginia region to bring all its students back from Covid-19 constraints and into classrooms full time this week.

The good news of that development was further enhanced by the announcement late Wednesday that students graduating from the brand new high school this spring will enjoy a graduation ceremony in person on the high school football field some time in mid-June.

FCCPS Superintendent Dr. Peter Noonan told the News-Press Wednesday that he, his staff and students are “really excited and thrilled to be fully back” in the classrooms this week. He said that more and more students are showing up to be included in classes between now and the June end of the regular school year.

“We are able to come back sooner than any other school district in our wider area because our data numbers were good (Covid-19 percent positivity and cases per 1,000 in testing), all our teachers and staff were fully vaccinated, the flexibility of our staff coming up with some really creative solutions, and the fact that size matters. As a small system, we were able to pull this off creatively,” Noonan said.

He said, “It remains the gold standard for us to socially distance at six feet, but there are some times when we have to settle for three feet,” even as that latter criterion is the new Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guideline, he added.

He said while there is talk of some creative activities that might be pulled together for outdoor programs before graduation, none are seriously contemplated right now. “Still, there is not a lot that we can safely attempt that is not outside,” he said.

While enrollment in the system is down now, more students are returning daily this week and he expects enrollment to be back to full strength by fall.

“Some students have stayed home because their families can afford home tutors, but our experience is that 90 percent of parents are pleased with how we’ve handled this whole situation,” Noonan said. He has reiterated how the lack of a coherent national and regional strategy left him and other school administrators on their own to devise safe and effective means to educate the students in their care since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic a full year ago.

CLASS IS IN SESSION at the City of Falls Church’s new high school as well, with lessons resuming in person just as they have at all other grade levels. (Photo: Courtesy FCCPS Photo/Peter Noonan)

He said one of the highlights of the slow return to classes this spring was the full-page ad taken out in the News-Press in March that was a big “Thank You” to the system from parents appreciative of the extraordinary effort it has taken to keep the whole shebang afloat and working.

“We are planning a ‘Thank You’ back from our administrators, School Board and teachers to the community,” he said.

Tuesday’s post-Spring break full reopening of the F.C. schools was documented by special on-scene reports by news teams from WJLA-7 and Telemundo 44. Noonan, Mt. Daniel Elementary Principal Tim Kasik, 2nd Grade teacher Gail Bodner and ESOL parent Erika Siqueira were interviewed.

On the last day of school before the Spring break, students, parents and faculty pitched in to help assemble over 150 white rolling desks used to expand distanced seating capacity in the classrooms for middle and high school learning hubs. The Falls Church Education Foundation helped come up with rapid funding so the desks, maximizing the ability to achieve six-foot distancing, could be procured and delivered with the help of the FCCPS facilities team’s “heavy lift” to get the unassembled desks to their destinations.

Also just prior to Spring Break, Noonan issued the following statement to the entire Falls Church community:

“Spring Break has arrived! I wanted to send a quick note to say thank you for your continued support of FCCPS. On the Tuesday we return from Spring Break, all of our students will return to school for the first time since March 13, 2020, at the same time except those who wish to remain online. It has been nothing short of an international, national, and local nightmare, but the ‘new normal’ is on the horizon.

“The pandemic is nothing any of us have ever planned for, and through it all, the vast majority of the Falls Church community has been thoughtful, caring, and kind as we have made our way through to the very best of our ability. As a parent, it has never been more evident to me the role the school plays in a community. I am sure you are feeling it too. This is a responsibility we, as FCCPS employees, have taken seriously since over a year ago. Through measured steps, we will be the first public school system in the greater DC region to reopen.

“Tuesday after spring break represents a celebration of what a community of people can do when they come together, share honestly and respectfully, and trust one another. This is the culture and ethos I have been trying to build in FCCPS since my arrival as Superintendent.

“I hope that next week brings a sense of renewal, hope, and light for you as spring is here, and the outlook for the future appears to be very bright for our Little City.

“Be safe, continue the mitigation strategies, remain vigilant, and let your kids play hard this break. You all deserve this time after the ‘Winter of Discontent,’ and we ‘round the bend’ towards the ‘Glorious Summer.’ I couldn’t resist the Shakespeare reference from Richard III.”