Dr. Noonan announces new reopening plan, with return set for week of February 22

Kaylah Curley and Megan Clinton

Picture of open collaboration space
After months of empty classrooms, Cohort 3 (Grades 6-12) are set to begin hybrid instruction during the week of February 22. Students with last names A-K will attend in person classes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Students with last names L-Z will attend in person classes on Thursdays and Fridays.  (Photo by Charlie Adams)

On January 22, Superintendent Dr. Peter Noonan announced that most FCCPS students will remain in virtual instruction until the week of February 22.

Dr. Noonan said in his Friday lookahead that he made the decision “based on what is needed to remain safe and healthy–and provide consistency and stability for our students, our staff, and for you.” 

His announcement referenced health metrics, vaccination of teachers, the new COVID variants, and operational issues. Most COVID metrics in our region remain steadily in the highest risk category. The hope is that over the next few weeks, these statistics will improve. 

At this proposed return date to hybrid learning, most FCCPS faculty and staff will be fully vaccinated. Many teachers received their first dose of the vaccine on January 18, and another vaccination clinic for their second dose is planned for February 15. About 90% of the teaching staff will have had both doses of the Moderna vaccine and will have built up immunity to the virus by February 22, according to Dr. Noonan.

Our staff must feel safe in order to educate our students in person,” Dr. Noonan said in his message. “The vaccine offers that.  We must hear them and respect their voice.”

The extra month before returning to the hybrid schedule allows for FCCPS to better prepare for reopening. Recently, there has been an increase in contact tracing investigations, positive cases, and exposures at the schools, so the extra time will allow FCCPS to improve their processes and allow for some problems to be resolved.

The announcement left GMHS students with mixed emotions. This delay in reopening may have come as a relief to some, due to the new variants of the virus. Others are upset by yet another delay in reopening.

“I am concerned about going back, in general because COVID numbers are still high, and there are more infectious strains,” junior Emma Tice Kepner said. “I’m happy with the return date; I do think it is still a little up in the air as to where it is not the return will be successful because of case numbers and increased traffic at the school.”

Some students were also frustrated with the timing of the announcement. During that week’s “Wednesday Lookahead,” it was suggested that students may begin phasing into the hybrid schedule during the week of January 25. 

“I think Dr. Noonan’s announcement was well stated, and it cleared up a lot of the confusion as to why we were deciding on a weekly basis whether or not to go back to school,” said Tice-Kepner. 

The announcement differed from the weekly Wednesday/Friday decision cycle that Dr. Noonan had used for reopening updates during January—the week-by-week updates had been difficult for many in the FCCPS community. Teachers had little time to make structured plans as they didn’t know where they would be teaching in the next week. Additionally, students had to prepare to quickly readjust, as the decision to remain virtual or transition was made just three days before any changes in the schedule would be implemented. “The Wednesday/Friday process is not providing stability,” Dr. Noonan acknowledged.

Hybrid Schedule
When we move to the hybrid schedule, class time will increase from 55 minutes to 84 minutes. Students will continue to have learning support but they will not have CCE. (Photo via FCCPS)

The potential return to full hybrid learning also comes with the challenge of having a new schedule. Students have gotten used to the all virtual schedule and the freedom it grants them, with an hour long lunch and free time during learning support. In the hybrid schedule, classes will be 84 minutes long instead of the virtual schedule’s 55 minute classes, with considerably less time built in for breaks. This will be a big change for students on the days their last name group is in virtual learning, as well as for students who opt out of in person classes altogether.

Once the transition to hybrid begins, all three cohorts will remain in hybrid. “Any moves to virtual will be based on the need to “pause” isolated groups to allow for contact tracing or other similar issues,” Dr. Noonan said. 

Most FCCPS students have been home with virtual learning for almost a year—now, a tentative date for reopening is nearing. Collective measures to minimize community spread, such as mask wearing and social distancing, will make the return to school safer for all.

“The last ten months have not been easy,” Dr. Noonan said in his announcement. “There has been so much loss in so many ways, but we have hope and a path forward–together.”