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Virtual Learning and In-Person Sports: Where are Your Priorities FCPS?

Last Wednesday, The Washington Post's front-page headline read, "Failing grades spike in Fairfax." The Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) report on which this article relied showed that student performance dropped drastically during virtual learning, with the greatest impact being felt by English-language learners and students with disabilities. This is no surprise to anyone in the disability community. Most calls to my advocacy practice come from parents of children with disabilities who are beyond frustrated with virtual learning.

Schools have not been identified as a main cause of the COVID-19 spread, but FCPS has remained closed to all but a very few students since March 2020. Nevertheless, coronavirus cases are now surging. Do I think the schools should have opened at the beginning of the school year with PPE and social distancing when daily coronavirus cases and hospitalizations were lower? Yes. Do I think that they should open now when daily infection rates and hospitalization rates are soaring? I honestly do not know. There is no easy answer. There is an element of risk, and the consequences can be deadly.

What I do know is this. If it is not safe for students to attend school in-person with social distancing and masks, then it is not safe for students to participate in indoor school sports.

I just got an email from our local high school. Apparently, in-person tryouts for basketball begin on December 7. Gymnastics, Indoor Track, Swim and Dive, and Wrestling tryouts start on December 14. Basketball? Wrestling? You cannot maintain social distancing and play either of these sports. You can argue that the other sports listed could be done in a socially distanced manner. However, you can also learn math, history, science and English and any other school subject in a socially distanced manner.

While in-person sports mosey along, in-person education is not deemed safe in FCPS. FCPS's own internal study found that virtual learning is failing its most vulnerable children. Yet, here many still sit, waiting to go to school. To me, this comes down to a question of priorities. We all want healthy and physically fit children. Athletic scholarships are important to many families. However, if a school district must prioritize, what should be the most important goal? I am going to go out on a limb and say to educate our children. Fairfax County Public Schools just showed us what its priorities are, and that should concern us all.


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