Crisis Management Messaging: Gov. Cuomo’s, Gov. Northam’s, VDOE’s, and FCPS’ Staff on “Distance Learning”

“Sorry this got to you and James”. ~Scott Brabrand, FCPS Superintendent
4.21.20, Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) Superintendent Scott Brabrand emailed this apology to Donald R. Fairheart, Deputy Superintendent and Chief of Staff, Division of School Quality, Instruction, and Performance, VDOE. (See document below.) James is James Lane, Superintendent of the Virginia Department of Education. To my knowledge, none of the emails Scott submitted to FCPS families, included the word “sorry”. His “sorry” followed an email (See document below.)from Alexander Cochran, Special Counsel to the Governor for Federal Affairs, Office of Governor Cuomo, to Stacey Brayboy, Director of the Virginia Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, warning:
“Three days into distance learning and Fairfax shut it down. Seems like they either didn’t test the stresses or did t [sic] prepare for the numbers. Not sure. However Lot of momma and poppa bears have turned into grizzly bears because of it out here in Fairfax county. Y’all should keep an eye on it and other school systems so it doesn’t roll up on ya.”
Stacey forwarded Alexander’s email to Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni, Virginia Superintendent of Public Education James Lane, and Virginia Assistant Superintendent, Department of Policy, Equity, and Communications Holly Coy, with the message:
I am passing this feedback along to you. I am flagging this issue because this maybe come and issue that will be raised to you both from parents or even by the media directly to the Governor. I know we are allowing school districts to handle distance learning on their own but Fairfax County is one of the largest districts and listed as one of the top school districts in the state. Several of my colleagues who work for other Governors but live in Virginia have reached out to me to flag this with you both. Full disclosure my little girl is in Fairfax County school district. I am trying to have patience. However, others are becoming fustrated. Please help parents and the community understand how they are not equipped to provide distance learning and have so many issues. There are other districts and states who have had their programs up and running for weeks.
From there, Donald contacted Scott:
“We wanted to reach out to you to see if there is a way we can assist and support you moving forward? Also, we would like to collaborate with you on a response if you are interested.
Scott responded with a “yes” and then forwarded talking points that had been presented to the Fairfax School Board 4.22.20, Donald responded with this:
Our proposed response is below… we will also share with the Governor’s Office. Please let me know your thought. thanks~ Thank you for contacting the Virginia Department of Education regarding this important matter. Dr. Lane has received your email and shared it with our Constituent Services team for response. We recognize that the impact to students during an extended school closure can be significant as the learning time and support students receive at school are not easily supplemented or replaced. Virginia is a local control state with regard to educational implementation. As such, local school divisions make decisions about exactly how teaching and learning are continued for students. The VDOE is in regular contact with all 132 school divisions in the Commonwealth, especially now, to provide information and guidance on issues related to educational services in the Commonwealth. In addition to weekly correspondence and phone calls with division superintendents, the VDOE provides guidance on its web page – COVID-19 and Virginia Public Schools. The VDOE is aware that Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) experienced a number of issues with the rollout of its distance learning program last week, halting service until they could address them. A detailed description, updated on April 20, describing the current status, appears on the FCPS web page. FCPS Division Superintendent, Dr. Scott Braband, has announced that the school division will no longer use the learning platform Blackboard Learn 24-7 as a tool for face-to-face instruction. Until a new video platform is established, FCPS teachers will continue to provide other instructional opportunities to students through a variety of tools such as Google Classroom, pre-recorded videos, learning packets, eBooks, and other approved digital resources. FCPS has indicated that teachers will contact students over the next several days when they are ready to resume face-to-face virtual learning opportunities. Principals will also share messages with the community about their learning plans. In terms of learning resources provided at the state level, the VDOE has developed a number of statewide technology initiatives that support instruction across the Commonwealth, including open educational resources that educational entities throughout Virginia create, share, and access freely. Additionally, on April 13, 2020, the VDOE announced the expansion of its Virtual Virginia (VVA) program. Virtual Virginia offers online courses and digital content to Virginia’s students and educators. As part of the expansion, VVA course content will be made available to any school division that chooses to enroll students and teachers into the program, at no cost to the school division. School division teachers will be provided space within the VVA platform to choose and create course content, share content between participating divisions, and edit content to personalize instruction.
That same day, The Washington Post reported that Maribeth Luftglass “stepped down from her job as head of IT at Fairfax County Public Schools” and it wasn’t until almost a week later, during an interview with Kojo Nnamdi, that Scott stated, “we have had really two amazing great days of learning this week.” Two days . . . That’s something isn’t it? Left out of the messaging is that the law firm “Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP” that FCPS hired to do a “comprehensive, outside review”, was paid almost $1.5 million between February and June 2020. According to FCPS’s transparency site, as of February 2020 YTD, the firm had been paid $2,788,112.11, and as of June 2020 YTD, the total is $4,274,027.78. I’m still waiting to see the report that was supposed to follow HAK’s review. To my knowledge, no messaging has been released to the public.
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