A very unusual school year begins Tuesday for thousands of students in Northern Virginia.
More than 188,000 students at Fairfax County Public Schools, one of the largest districts in the country, are among those logging on for classes. It's also the first day for public school students in the city of Alexandria and in Arlington, Loudoun and Prince William counties.
“It’s the first step back to normal here in Fairfax County,” Superintendent Scott Brabrand told News4.
“We all hope to be back face-to-face before the school year ends, but we have our teachers prepared to meet every child by name and by need,” Brabrand said.
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The district had serious problems with its e-learning platform Blackboard last spring after the rising threat of coronavirus forced schools to abruptly move online. Students struggled to log on smoothly, and there were security lapses.
Brabrand said in July that students and teachers would still use Blackboard Collaborate Ultra for the 2020-2021 school year. Another Blackboard product that couldn’t handle the high number of students logging on won’t be used.
Brabrand says the district is better prepared for classes this fall because it has addressed technology issues and offered more training to teachers.
“We have more technology, more software to individualize instruction for kids,” Brabrand said. “We’ve done more teaching training so they have the skills and abilities to make this virtual environment come alive for kids.”
His advice to kids and parents who are daunted by a return to online learning?
“Give everyone grace, not grief,” Brabrand said. “Have patience and we will have a successful school year at Fairfax County Public Schools.”
The goal remains to bring all students back to in-person classes by the end of the school year, Brabrand says.
Students will likely go back to school in small cohorts in phases. How many staff are available will also play a role.
Brabrand says he will discuss those plans with the school board in the coming weeks.