As school districts put together plans to start returning students to classrooms, some teachers in Fairfax County, Virginia, who aren’t comfortable returning may need to anyway.
Fairfax County teacher wearing PPE
Special education teacher Susan Riedinger said all things considered, distance learning is going pretty well, which is why she was caught off guard when she was told she’s expected back in the classroom Oct. 18.
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“I feel like I have whiplash,” she said. “You told me to go online, I’ve been putting my all into going online, and now, boom, you’re telling me I’m going back.”
In a couple of weeks, Fairfax County Public Schools, the largest school district in the area, will bring back younger students in special education.
In the summer, FCPS surveyed families and teachers and found 60 percent of students wanted in-person school but fewer than half of teachers felt safe returning.
The teachers who wanted online were broken into four tiers: tier one being teachers who are high risk down to tier four for those who don’t have health concerns.
“I was a tier four which was just, I would like to be virtual,” Riedinger said. “But people who have ill family members and so forth, they’re being told you have to go back.”
Teachers could choose to take a leave of absence or resign.
Returning to classrooms isn’t an easy choice for students’ families either.
Over the summer, FCPS released a picture showing how teachers might look wearing personal protective equipment in the classroom.
“When she first saw that picture her comment was ‘afraid, afraid,’ and when I asked her if she wanted to go to school with her teachers looking like that she was very adamant at saying no while at the same time any other time I ask her if she wants to go to school it’s ‘yes, yes, yes,'” said Amanda Campbell, whose 8-year-old daughter, Sarah, is in special education.
Riedinger said she understands. While she wants to wear PPE for safety, she realizes it’s a barrier for students like Sarah.
“There’s no good answers — for anybody,” Campbell said.
FCPS will give families the option of returning to a hybrid in-person model or staying fully virtual.