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Fairfax parent explains how forced at-home learning affected his kindergartner: ‘It was insanity’

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A Fairfax, Virginia parent told Fox News Digital the local schools’ decision to keep schools closed for months affected his special needs son and how it prompted him to step up to the mic to challenge their priorities at a recent school board meeting.

Fairfax father Tom Goudreau accused Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) of leading a “race to the bottom” in academics at last week’s meeting. Instead of just sounding off on the slip in grades, however, he offered three strategies the school board should adopt.  

He suggested the board focus on a return to academic levels achieved prior to the 2019-2020 school year, “repair damaged relationships with parents,” and “reestablish resource stewardship to serve FCPS strategic priorities.” He urged FCPS to end spending on discretionary projects until all classroom requirements have been funded.  

“Lastly, FCPS’ commitment requirement to ‘reach, challenge, and prepare every student for success in school and life’ should not just be about eliminating gaps,” he said.

PARENTS BLAST FAIRFAX SCHOOL BOARD FOR SHUTTERING SCHOOLS, LEADING A ‘RACE TO THE BOTTOM’

Goudreau laughed when asked by Fox News Digital if he’d heard back from the board. 

A Fairfax County school bus sits in a depot, a day after it was announced the county would begin the school year all online, in Lorton, Virginia, U.S., July 22, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

FAIRFAX PARENTS REACT AS BOARD VOTES ON PUNISHMENTS FOR STUDENT ‘MISGENDERING’: ‘COMPELLING THEM TO SPEECH’

“The school board does not provide feedback to citizens comments that they don’t like,” Goudreau said. “Their policy is they just listen, and they don’t respond.”

Goudreau had a rising kindergartner when Fairfax schools decided not to reopen in-person schooling in 2021 school year—a decision he said was in direct contradiction with his son’s individualized education plan. 

“My initial thought, my initial reaction was to reach out to the school board individually, explain my son’s issues, and ask for a resolution,” the parent told Fox News Digital. “They dismissed me and ignored my problems. So then I ended up taking the school system to court through the due process process. And we finally settled by January of ’21. But in that period of time, my son lost a lot of educational progress and incurred a lot of negative consequences as a result of online learning.”  

Goudreau said that “nowhere” in the FCPS’s following strategic plan did the schools have a plan to return to in-person schooling five days a week, nor did they address learning loss. They had “pretty much pencil whipped” the status on the things that they’ve been tracking since 2019, he said.

In a statement shared with FCPS in April 2021, Goudreau said that FCPS sought to have the due process complaint dismissed, fought requests for discovery, and even FOIA’d his letters to the school board. 

“While FCPS would not spend Fairfax County taxpayer dollars on supporting my son’s IEP, they did spend heavily on fighting to preserve their right to deny my son promised services,” he said at the time. “And FCPS has increased their legal budgets to continue fighting parents of special education students.”

Goudreau said he’s had a lot of experience in strategic planning and brought his concerns to last week’s school board meeting because he thought FCPS Superintendent Dr. Michelle C. Reid’s first 90 days is a good time to establish some priorities. Reid started her tenure in July. He said he wanted to explain to her “directly” where the school board was. 

Ellen Phillips virtually teaches a second grade class for students who are either at home or in a separate classroom as in-person learning resumes with restrictions in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at Rover Elementary School in Tempe, Arizona, U.S., August 17, 2020. 

Ellen Phillips virtually teaches a second grade class for students who are either at home or in a separate classroom as in-person learning resumes with restrictions in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at Rover Elementary School in Tempe, Arizona, U.S., August 17, 2020. 
(REUTERS/Cheney Orr)

In Fairfax County Public Schools, one of the largest districts in the country, students’ reading scores decreased 10% from 2019 through 2021, according to the Virginia Department of Education’s most recently available data. Math scores dropped 30%.

“Online learning really was a failure for a large percentage of the students in Fairfax County,” Goudreau said. “And it’s not a function that parents weren’t home trying to help proctor the learning. It’s just – it’s a failed format for a lot of folks.”

The father explained the unique challenges his special needs son faced during the at-home lessons. 

“He had vision problems, he had ADHD, he had some emotional detachment disorders,” Goudreau explained. “And so putting him in front of a Zoom call with 16 other students that he doesn’t know, with teachers that don’t know him where he can’t see everybody in the class, that they mute everybody until they’re called upon, was a point of frustration. And doing that for six hours a day, five days a week, it was insanity. Just insanity.”

For kids with speech problems, he said, it was “even worse.” As for middle and high school students, Goudreau said, some “basically checked out.” 

“Some learned basically how to data mine their answers to problems online and copy and paste,” he said.

Fairfax County parents protest outside a school board meeting. Photo credit Tyler O'Neil/Fox News Digital.

Fairfax County parents protest outside a school board meeting. Photo credit Tyler O’Neil/Fox News Digital.
(Tyler O’Neil/Fox News Digital)

He wondered how many of the seniors who graduated are “ready” for college.

But he said the board stood its ground. 

“Their answer was that’s all they offered and that’s all they were going to offer.” 

FCPS did not respond to a request for comment.

Several Fairfax schools’ policies have irked parents the past two years, from mask mandates to progressive policies involving gender and gender identity. Over the summer, for instance, parents were up in arms when the board voted to increase punishments for students who “misgender” their classmates. That is, refer to classmates as a gender other than their preferred pronoun.

Parents were also concerned ahead of a vote to change sex-ed classes to be co-ed. The school district sent a statement to Fox News Digital at the time saying that all students have the right to be respected. 

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“Fairfax County Public Schools firmly believes that every student has a right to be respected. Our Students Rights and Responsibilities ensures that all students at FCPS feel welcome and safe in their learning environment,” the statement read. “No student should ever have to be faced with persistent and deliberate bullying or harassment once they enter our schools.”

The leadership needs to “change” in order for FCPS to “reset the relationship with parents,” Goudreau said.

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