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Fairfax Co. Public Schools part of 'test to stay' pilot program

Fairfax County Public Schools announced its return to school plan in a letter to parents.

FAIRFAX, Va. — Schools in Fairfax County will remain open and in-person following the winter break, school officials said Wednesday.

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) will offer diagnostic COVID-19 testing on Friday, December 31, Saturday January 1, and Sunday January 2 for students in preparation for their return to classrooms on January 3. 

The school district made the announcement in a letter to parents on Wednesday. The testing is available to symptomatic students and staff who want to check their status before returning to school. Scheduled appointments will not be available; however, you must register for an account in advance to be eligible for testing, FCPS said in the letter. Students may access the Gatehouse Administration Center drive-through clinic from noon - 4 p.m. on Thursday, December 30, and Friday, December 31, as well as January 1 and 2.

"As we continue to live through this ever-changing pandemic, we are committed to keeping our schools safe and open for in-person instruction," the letter said.

In addition to the testing opportunity, FCPS announced more updates to its return to class plan.

Optional testing for COVID-19 will resume once schools reopen. The optional testing will soon expand to include vaccinated students, with parent/guardian permission, the letter said. It did not offer further details about when the expansion would take place.

Fairfax County Public Schools has also been accepted for a Test to Stay pilot program run by the Virginia Department of Health.

The Test to Stay program, in which more details are set to come out in January, would allow students who were in close contact with a positive COVID-19 case to "test out" of quarantine.

Under the pilot program, rather than immediately removing close contacts from the classroom, the student would take a COVID-19 test. If the test came back negative, the student would continue coming to class.

"The purpose of the program is to contain the spread of COVID-19 while minimizing disruptions to instruction for children who have been exposed to the virus," a Virginia Department of Health statement read. "It is anticipated that 10 school divisions will participate in a four-week pilot of the program, which is funded through a grant from the CDC."

For some parents, this comes as welcome and long overdue news.

“Absolutely no reason why test to stay cannot be done immediately today," Tracy Compton said. "We currently have screening testing occurring in our school systems, there’s absolutely no reason why we couldn’t have started it months ago let alone tomorrow and have it functioning in Fairfax County.”

While some parents said they are skeptical of how the pilot program will operate.

“To me if it’s a classroom exposure the whole classroom should go to be tested right away and at least for three days because that’s the common breeding ground,” Alisha Martin said. “If they still test negative after three days then fine go back to school."

In the letter to parents, FCPS also said that schools will continue to have students quarantined for 10 days, despite a recent change announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shorting the quarantine time. "We are working with the Fairfax County Health Department to determine how this impacts schools," the letter said.

As for athletic programs, school officials say athletic practices and events will continue, following our existing vaccination and testing requirements. "Please be aware that individual teams or events may need to be paused for the safety of all participants," the letter said.

FCPS said the goal is to keep schools open and in-person despite the omicron variant causing an increase in COVID-19 cases nationwide.

"We know more and have more resources to keep schools open. If we all do our part to stay safe and healthy, we can keep our schools open," school officials said.

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