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Fairfax County, Va., School Chief On His Plan To Reopen Schools

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have a clear message for school districts across the country - open up for in-person learning this fall. Of course, it is not a simple order to execute. And with the coronavirus surging around the country with no vaccine in sight, it may not be safe, either. In Virginia, the superintendent of Fairfax County schools, Scott Brabrand, recently announced his district will partially reopen, offering parents a choice between fully online learning for their kids or an in-school, at-home hybrid. Fairfax County Superintendent Scott Brabrand joins us now.

Welcome.

SCOTT BRABRAND: Glad to be here. Thank you for having me on your show.

CHANG: Well, thanks for joining us. So yesterday was the deadline for both parents and teachers to choose which learning style they want this fall. What's your sense so far of where people seem to be leaning?

BRABRAND: Sure. Sure, I can share that with you. We had a deadline last night around midnight, and we had - when - we had some folks that did not respond. We had communicated that if we did not hear a response, that we took that to mean that folks would want to come in person. So when we include the no response, the student intent form for in person was 60%, and families and students that chose online was 40%.

We also took time to ask our teachers what their preference would be, depending on how many students and families chose online. And our teachers - again, factoring in some that did not respond and counting them as in person - we're almost split down the middle. Teachers in-person was about 48% and teachers online 52%.

CHANG: Did you wish you had more buy-in from teachers? I mean, I know that there was a lot of pushback from teachers in your district to in-person instruction. Why did you proceed...

BRABRAND: Well, listen...

CHANG: ...With these plans even though the teachers were pretty split on this?

BRABRAND: Well, you know, we have teachers who want to come back and work in person with kids. We understand the great benefits that are there for having in-person instruction. And the balancing act that we're all facing in every school district across the country is using the health data, following the science and creating safe conditions in schools for students to come back. COVID is with us, and we have to continue to live with COVID.

CHANG: Right.

BRABRAND: And how can we do that and mitigate the risk of having our children back in school face to face? And we're putting in a number of safety precautions, following the CDC guidelines, our Virginia Department of Health guidelines and our local health department guidelines to make that experience absolutely the safest experience it can be.

CHANG: Well, let me ask you...

BRABRAND: There is no no-risk option with COVID anywhere. COVID is in our country. It's in our world. There are health impacts that we are facing with our kids being out of school. And we know for some, in-person instruction is what our students need. And so that's the balancing act that we're doing. And we're working hard...

CHANG: Right.

BRABRAND: ...To bring together both of these models. We gave our community choice.

CHANG: When it comes to...

BRABRAND: They asked for...

CHANG: If I may - when it comes to the remote learning model - I mean, we know that that had a rocky rollout in the spring. How will you make it better this fall?

BRABRAND: Well, we struggled for the first two weeks in the spring, and then we really soared the remaining two months of the year. Some of it was about doing the teacher professional development correctly to allow face-to-face instruction the way the link is designed to have the face-to-face online. And we're going to have additional time. The school board supported moving the opening date to September 8. We're going to have more time for professional development for our teachers, both for doing virtual and for doing face to face, in person. And that's important because in March, it was a sudden...

CHANG: Right. Right.

BRABRAND: ...Decision to close. And we had to...

CHANG: OK.

BRABRAND: ...Rush our professional development and do it virtually.

CHANG: All right.

BRABRAND: And we're going to have more time to really have our teachers ready to do this.

CHANG: Scott Brabrand is the superintendent of Fairfax County schools.

Thank you very much for your time.

BRABRAND: No, thank you. And thank you for having me on. Have a nice day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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