Teachers in Fairfax County, Virginia, are planning to rally against returning to school during the pandemic, just as Fairfax County launches a pilot program to test out what's known as "concurrent learning."
Concurrent learning is one lesson for two audiences: The teacher has some students in person, and the rest of the class watches live while distance learning at home.
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Fairfax High School began a pilot program Wednesday for this format of learning.
Teacher Natalie Hanson explains how she does it: "So I just kind of toggle back and forth. I look online to read comments .... but then if I want to interact with them, I look and I can talk to them in the room."
When students aren't in a live class, they can do distance learning in the library or leave and do it at home.
Fairfax High has about 100 students in person at once, but if all goes well, as many as 550 students could be there at the end of January.
"It's definitely different; it's weird," said Kathryn Parr, a student in FCPS's concurrent pilot program. "It doesn't feel normal, but you know, what is normal anyway at this point?"
Grace Roti is another student in the pilot program. "I definitely appreciated being in person so much more," she said. "Definitely got a lot more out of the class."
For months, many Fairfax County teachers have opposed returning mid-pandemic, but Hanson says it was the right choice for her.
"I was very, very nervous and very scared for myself," she said, "but I have been in the building and I've felt safe being in the building because there's not a lot of people here and I'm in my classroom and I wear my mask."
When Fairfax County Public Schools decided to go fully virtual back in July, Superintendent Scott Brabrand said the COVID-19 health metrics and projections were too dangerous to be in person. But now, as teachers and students start returning, both of the metrics are worse, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
News4 asked Brabrand about the health metrics being worse now. He says at that time, there was not clear guidance from the state on how to safely return. Now there is, and FCPS says it's following those guidelines.
Despite that, teacher Janey Lewis chose to take a leave of absence -- a decision she did not make lightly.
"A few years ago I had to decide with my family to take my dad off of life-support. That was an easier decision than this," Lewis said. "Because my dad had always told us what he wanted. He had always said you know if you ever find yourselves in this position, this is what I want. So I had certainty and clarity in that decision making, that I didn't have in this process."
News4 has asked FCPS for the number of teachers who have taken a leave of absence or resigned, but the school district hasn't provided that information.
As for students, they can still choose to remain fully virtual for the rest of the year.