Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) educators and students are in crisis as FCPS withholds damning data from the public and students with disabilities continue to be disproportionately disciplined.
Data collected from a survey of administrators and staff at FCPS’s five day schools—Burke, Cedar Lane, Key Center, Kilmer School, Quander Road—indicates the schools are understaffed, under-resourced, and woefully unable to meet the academic, functional, and behavioral needs of their students. In addition, staff are struggling on a day-to-day basis with their workloads, while simultaneously being concerned about the safety of the students and of themselves.
Many of the educators’ narrative responses document frustrations with not having behavioral supports in place to help students—even though FCPS has a long history of students with special education needs being disproportionately represented in discipline data. From 2016 to 2019, data from IDEA SPP/APR Indicator 4a indicates FCPS has significant discrepancy in the rate of suspensions and expulsions of greater than 10 days in a school year for children with IEPs in particular.
In response to receiving this data, FCPS chose to delay full release to the public, including parents and educators who need it to advocate for themselves and their students.
The Survey & Data
Fairfax County School Board (FCSB) charged the FCPS Advisory Committee for Students with Disabilities (ACSD) with the following for the 2022-23 school year:
- Examine current practices regarding the referral process; staffing standards; academic, behavioral, and wellness programming; and the provision of special education and related services at the five Public Separate Day sites in FCPS (Key Center, Kilmer Center, Burke School, Cedar Lane School, Quander Road School).
- Review evidenced-based and research-based practices regarding Public Separate Day schools for students with disabilities.
- Based on a review of evidenced-based and research-based practices, make recommendations designed to improve staff recruitment and retention at FCPS Public Separate Day sites.
- Based on a review of evidenced-based and research-based practices, make recommendations designed to ensure consistency in the student referral process to a FCPS Public Separate Day site compliant with the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) requirements in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
The subcommittee approached the charge by engaging in literature reviews, hosting the administrators from all five public day schools for discussions at ACSD meetings, and surveying administrators and staff at the schools.
February 2023, ACSD’s surveys were approved by FCPS’s Office of Research and Strategic Improvement (ORSI) and sponsored by Dr. Michelle Boyd, assistant superintendent of FCPS’s department of special services (DSS). According to ACSD, the surveys were optional and anonymous, with 118 responses (up to a 90% response rate per school).
April 12, 2023 ACSD subcommittee orally presented some of the data collected during its monthly meeting and made a motion that was unanimously approved by ACSD to report on emergency action it deemed necessary at Burke School in particular, with hope that DSS would immediately act and that FCSB would weigh in with its concerns.
The staff narrative answers paint a portrait of educators and students in crisis. Some of the narratives follow below. The others can be accessed via the following links: staff survey, family survey, staff survey narrative comments, family survey narrative comments. (The numbers and letters preceding each comment refer to the column and row in which the comment appears on the survey spreadsheet. They do not reflect the question number.)
1AB : Burke is hugely understaffed. Our staff numbers were cut this school year for unknown reasons. We have more severe challenges with the aftermath of COVID. More students are coming directly to Burke from base school than ever before. Our Elementary program, with the most extreme behaviors has quadrupled in size from 4 years ago, yet we were not given any additional staffing. Our lack of staff creates dangerous situations everyday. Every staff member, including the custodian, the health aide, the SBTS, the librarian, the office staff, and itinerant teachers help with behaviors every day to support the teachers, CRTs, SSO, and Admin who are overwhelmed. Academic Needs cannot be met at all when the students and staff feel unsafe. Our school is in crisis, it’s amazing that the teachers are able to teach at all given the countless disruptions in class, evacuation of classrooms, and constant elopements from class. We do not have a Reading Teacher, Intervention supports, AART, and other curriculum supports staffed at other schools. Yet we are still expected to teach the same content as base schools. We get limited to no support from the special ed office about curriculum materials and resources, just offers to “coach” our staff. We cannot coach staff who are overwhelmed.
2G: We are a dumping ground, and serving as a Mental Hospital
2J: Burke Public Day is a dumping ground for kids, whether their cognitive/social & emotional/behavioral needs fit our programming or not. We have a rather large list of kids who were placed here erroneously. It can take months or even a year+ to get them to their proper placement. Some kids who are incorrectly placed here are at Burke for years.
2Q: Central Office has no idea what happens here on a daily basis. Michelle Boyd has not been here in two years nor does she speak to my principal on a regular basis.
2W: Burke is a 100% Special Education school with the most significant behavioral, social, emotional and academic needs in the County. We have untrained staff substituting on a daily basis, zero specialists (i.e. reading, math, etc.) or special interventions being implemented. Although we have BITs, they are responding to crisis calls when they are there ones who should be implementing interventions, however this is impossible to achieve when the school is in Crisis and not being attended too. Each student has differentiated needs and we do NOT have the support to meet the needs of each student.
3I: Again, [ability to meet student academic needs] is not being met because the county neglects the needs of this school- which should be attended too since it is such high needs. We have minimum funding and not enough supplies to differentiate student academic needs.
3N: We do not have adequate support in this school to meet the needs of the population of students. We have a very narrow substitute list, therefore teachers are not able to take necessary time off. And when they do take time off, other staff members are missing planning and lunch periods to ensure appropriate coverage. Our admin staff is short and overworked also. They are doing the best they can but again, are not supported by central office. The population of students are dysregulated and can be dangerous at times. Any one who works here should understand that their physical and mental health are likely to be compromised. Any staff who chooses to give of themselves in this school deserves hazard pay AND additional PTO days under the title of MENTAL HEALTH days in order to re-group and reset without their personal sick and personal time being used. The staff who works here generally care for the welfare of the students, but we need support in order to do our jobs.
3Q: When we ask for help from the special education office for help with sped program licenses we get push back. They want to meet with us, data dig, ask us why we do not do every pre-test and post test and every other test before they give us access to any materials. It can sometimes take weeks to months to just get access to something. I should be treated as a trained professional. If I was trained in the program and I’ve used it before, I know how to assess and place my students. Please just trust me and give me access. Why does it take so much to just get access to the programs I need to teach. We struggle daily with student behaviors, we shouldn’t have to fight for resources that our students are entitled to.
5H: This question [How satisfied are you with the available support from central office in helping to meet the academic needs of your students?] is triggering and laughable at the same time. Central office has not been available at all. I have seen or been supported by 0 people from central office this school year. I have a documentation log that I use to track support from central office and it is blank for the 2022-2023 school year. I have no faith that help is coming in any form.
5L: Due to understaffing, I have a large unmanageable SEL class that I teach by myself (no IA). Even on the rare occasions when support comes, we rarely get through the lesson. The students in my SEL demonstrate severe behavioral issues that interrupt instruction. I am usually running around campus locating children who have eloped. We have successfully gotten through ONE lesson this quarter as of 2/23/23, the one day I had support.
8H: Students are not placed properly here we do not have the means to run a mental hospital
8F: Unfortunately we are not meeting their needs. We have one clinician who isn’t in building regular hours so that leaves us short handed. We need another counselor. We also need an administrator (AP) who is in the building. Due to their absence most of the year it leaves us at such a disadvantage. Burke cannot operate with one AP who is primarily in charge of elementary and middle school.
8G: Nearly all the younger students in elementary require one on one support, pulling all the CRTs , clinicians, and RBTs, that the middle school and it’s staff are left adrift with zero support. I have not personally had a CRT come to my room to support since before winter break.
9H: BIPS are not here when they are supposed to be
9L: BITs are not avalible to the time we need them. They are not consistent enough. Also we have different BITs rotate which makes it hard with so many opinions and ideas.
9K: The only resources we currently need at Burke is more staff and more in-person support from central office. I am not aware of any supports we are currently receiving from central office. If we were properly staffed, I would have no doubts in my ability to meet the behavioral needs of my students.
9T: Our enrollment is constantly growing. Our classrooms should serve no more that five students each. This will support student safety. However, our current staffing has classroom sizes reaching 9 students. Also, same response as number 15: Despite our staff having impressive training in different techniques that support safety, we have trouble implementing these with fidelity because of our insufficient staffing. As stated earlier, we do all we can to provide the minimum supervision that will ensure student safely. Working at Burke is both physically and emotionally tiring. Our staffing should allow for staff to switch out and take breaks. We should have enough staff to ensure that all rooms have two staff present at all times. 30 minutes of lunch is not enough time to recharge. Situations with out students, in relation to their needs, can be exhausting and staff need breaks throughout the day.
10I: Not enough staff to follow through with student individual plans. Not enough time for teachers to take, aggregate, and analyze meaningful behavior data.
11C: I loved my job. This year has really removed that joy in making a difference in a student’s lives. Everyone here is hanging on by a thread and supported by one another at the school but it feels like an island. The lack of support from the central office (and I don’t mean observers, I mean people who help with the students for more than a few minutes) is so disappointing and lacking in concern.
11I: Don’t know of any resources from central office
13P: It makes sense that if TJ teachers get paid more and our bus drivers make more money than their peers then we should get paid better. Central office staff make 100k or more and they take hour-long lunches. Some FCPS staff are still working from home 1-2 days or even full time and we are in a dangerous situation everyday, yet our pay is much less. It just doesn’t seem fair.
14D: The lack of staffing is setting us up for failure, we have had numerous staff who have been physically hurt. I fear a large amounts of staff will leave after this year because of the lack of safety concerns from central office.
18B: Staff are wonderful but due to major issues we deal with morale is low. Changes need to be made including having central office being more proactive. We feel like Burke School does not matter and we should because we work so hard.
3C: Our academic and elective class sizes are good this year, but we really need a vocational wing in which students who just want skills can take classes that are relevant to their future, not just mostly academic classes all day. Most of our students can’t handle Academy classes b/c they are too large, meet outside the building, and usually have a lot of bookwork. They need their own self-contained vocational skills classes. We have WAT and Education for Employment, which teach very useful general work skills and soft skills, but those only account for 1-2 periods. Many of our students, especially ones pursuing the Applied Studies diploma, need some specific skills and training, such as tech ed (“shop”-type classes), woodworking/carpentry, small engine repair, computer repair, computer networking, etc. They could have reading, writing, math, and financial skills classes for 1/2 day (or less) and hands-on training for the other 1/2 day (or more). I have been here for 16 years and I can tell you that this is a serious need. The same would probably be true for Quander Rd. School.
3E: I realize no administrator is ever satisfied with their staffing. However, I do feel that there are some inequities in our situation. We have to offer all the courses required for a Standard diploma, yet we have to trade for a HPE teacher. Additionally, there needs to be consideration for a baseline level of staffing. Even if our numbers dip, we need to offer the courses needed for the Standard diploma, and not have teachers teaching 3 & 4 preps or across content areas in which they have not taken the Praxis. Lastly, we need more Instructional Assistants. The diverse academic needs of our students coupled with the behavioral/emotional needs makes it very challenging to teach a class without support.
4E: Our staff finds away to cover our students and our needs BUT it usually comes out of our pocket not FCPS.
9D: Many of our students have needs that exceed what we can provide at schools. Additionally, many of our families struggle to get them the supports they require in the community as well.
11C: This [How satisfied are you in your ability to meet the behavioral needs of your students at your school?] vascillates by the day and the student. Student behaviors change quickly in this setting. I can handle it, but some behavioral needs are beyond what a special education teacher can change. I have the ability to recognize that, remain positive and support students where they are – but am I always meeting their every need? Probably not. I’m not sure anyone can.
13G: With our diverse students having drugs, mental disabilities, spectrum needs, court ordered, anxiety, and more, we do our best. Security does what they can with their arms tied behind their back. We have been properly trained, but can’t use any of our training do to rules that always change. NO metal detectors – drug are rampant- things here change quickly and constantly.
4R: We have made a lot of things work for us, yet the Central Office or district supports could be more expansive. Most specifically, we need the two PHTA level staff in each classroom to support instructional levels. When disturbances occur daily and over multiple times, then additional access to skilled staff is needed. Additionally, more staff in the building, like CRTs-crisis resource teachers and sub or overstaffed teacher positions would help us maintain momentum of the lessons while also addressing the behavior needs of all students.
5F: Never seen central office and couldn’t tell you what they’ve done to help me meet the academic needs of my students.
5J: rarely see anyone from central office visit Key. do not feel supported
5K: The level of severity can’t be addressed by putting out fires, but requires more consistency from central office. Not a list of recomendations based on 1 observation, and then checked off a to-do list.
5M: Given my above discussion, I believe that Central Office needs to investigate our staffing needs and provide additional staffing support to help us meet student need. We can have all of the materials and curricula, but without adequate staffing, our students will not be able to fully benefit from instruction. On our Transition side, staff is necessary to support student behavior plans in order for students to maximize benefit from instruction. On our Center side, staff needs to meet student daily needs (bathroom access/feeding/tech supports/prompting etc.). I believe that Central Office follows formulas for staffing and plugs in numbers. However, they need to actually visit and see the level of student need and make staffing decisions accordingly.
5N: Our ABA coach from central office has observed crisis behaviors with sudents, but little feedback is given on new strategies to try in the moment or in the future. Adapted Curriculum continues to create materials for VESOL, but the lessons can be difficult to follow and/or does not include ready made materials.
5O: the central office of Fairfax County public schools isn’t helpful at all to the students or staff at our school. they have done nothing to help us with getting extra staff and giving us a raise. I don’t think that they see or care about what happens at our school. The principle and assistant principle of key center are awesome and always are advocating for us and our students. they see what goes on and what we all are going through with our students. It is not easy but rewarding. The central office of fcps doesn’t see or understand how hard we work and care for these students.
5P: I don’t get involved with anything involving central office.
7F: I make it a point to discuss event of the day with my staff on a daily basis. Related service providers are harder to communicate with because they have so many different schools. That is done via email usually. I’ve had no communication with central office support staff. I feel communication with our school office staff needs to be improved. As a case manager, information is not easily/readily shared with teachers. Things would be so much easier if we got an email with information if a student is out and why, if they will be late, etc.
8D: Teachers are doing their best to implement this [How satisfied are you with the social-emotional and wellness programming your school is providing to students?] type of programming. There is not enough support from central office regarding adapted materials in this area.
12N: the central office of cps does not provide us with many resources for our students because they have no idea what we need because they don’t come in and see what we have and could use more of.
2C: It often seems that referring schools have not called upon/utilized other departments (ABA, BIT) to the fullest extent prior to making a referral. We sometimes see that ABA has been consulted once or twice prior to making a referral. Consulting with ABA once or twice does not seem to be enough when thinking about taking a student to a more restrictive environment.
2F: There has been an increase in students coming in with more significant needs despite running low on staff and space. Many new students are needing 2-1 ratios of staff as they adjust to our settings.
3H: more staff is required to support smaller class sizes, and maintain safety for students and staff. sometimes students require individual classrooms, however, more than 1 staff needs to be with the student, thereby pulling 2 staff for 1 student for safety purposes. sometimes more. our building, as well as others in the county, require more staffing to correctly and appropriately provide instruction, and the necessary supports.
4C: IF you count in instructional materials and supplies as in what we buy ourselves then yes. Most of the time we have to go buy items that will allow our students to connect with the subject. I do understand we have a special group of students.
4D: Better distribution is needed. Also, many resources available from the central office still have to be further adapted to truly meet the needs of our students.
12E: central office seems to supply little support for our students behavioral needs. We have our own behavior resource teachers at the school, therefore the central office behavior supports don’t come to our building, or support us. And they seem not to be able to support students with behaviors at other schools appropriately in order to complete the paperwork needed to document that students require the level of support provided here.
3C: In addition to the crisis resource position mentioned above, we are lacking a reading specialist. Upon examining the data for our population, it is clear that a significant number of students coming to us have large reading deficits. We end up putting literacy programs together as best we can and training teachers in different reading programs, however, those teachers may move onto other positions outside our building and we end up having to start all over again. Additionally, our population ranges in ability from students that have very high intellectual ability to students with significant learning disabilities to students that are so impacted by behavior due to autism, that it becomes difficult to offer a standard diploma option to those that need it while also meeting the remedial needs of the other students here.
3E: We do not have a reading teacher. Most of out kids are reading at an elementary and middle school level. We desperately need a reading teacher. It is really hard to teach students in all subject areas when they don’t have decoding or comprehension skills.
4B: I am constantly looking at the warehouse site to find furniture to replace items that break. Teacher desks and chairs are sub–par. There is little in the budget to meet the demand for student and teacher furniture. Because this building is not going to be renovated for a long time, if ever, we will not have the opportunity for an overall furniture refresh. We are also not allotted money for new projectors and must scrounge to find better used ones from other schools. It may also be worth noting, that the mold issue in this building impacts staff significantly.
4C: Although we have trained teachers in reading programs to work with our students in literacy courses, we NEED the county to give us funding for a reading specialist position at our school.
8C: We had an opportunity missed as Central Office decided to pay the ESSER III public day coordinators a fraction of those at non public day sites. As a result, no one was willing to take the role for what amounts to $11/hour. One teacher is spearheading an SEL project without pay.
8F: Besides clinical support, we don’t have any programs to help students improve their emotional/behavioral issues. A restorative justice person would be great, support groups, anger management, mentorship, substance abuse–we are nothing more than a holding ground for these kids.
Hiding the Data
During the April 12, 2023, ACSD meeting, School Board Member Laura Jane Cohen stated (at about the 2:35:00 mark of the meeting recording) she wanted to share the data with her colleagues and asked if the region four staff had seen the report yet. (Burke School is located in region four.) Subcommittee member Ally Baldassari replied, “I was told upon receiving the data—again, the sponsor, this survey is, I guess is Dr. Michelle Boyd, she’s our sponsor—I was told I was not allowed to share the data I received. I did have a Key Center Administrator tell me that she had been sent the data from DSS, so, I am not sure. That was the question I need to know. My subcommittee felt it was pretty much an emergency for people to see and honor the data and all of the staff members who took the time to fill out all of the long answers.”
Boyd, who attended the meeting virtually said she wanted to address Cohen’s question about whether region four staff had seen the report, however, she remained quiet on the question of whether the data could be shared. Although region four is home to the school of greatest concern, and the ACSD categorized its concern at “emergency” status, Boyd said region four staff had yet to see the data and she believed there was a meeting scheduled in the coming week to discuss it.
Boyd again remained quiet after ACSD member Amanda Campbell reiterated the question on why ACSD wasn’t being providing access to data from a survey it requested. At about the 2:39:04 mark for the recording of the meeting, Michael Bloom, FCPS’s director of special education in DSS stated that he would work with Dr. Boyd and didn’t think there would be an issue providing the full data to the ACSD committee.
Between the April 12, 2023, and May 10, 2023, monthly ACSD meetings, the full data was provided to ACSD.
However, FCPS’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) tried to block the full release by stating that it contained personally-identifiable information about children that had to be redacted. ACSD members don’t have a right to receive private information about children, so I questioned FCPS if it provided ACSD members the fully unredacted version, and, if so, why it was charging me for redactions that should have already taken place before the report was provided to ACSD. FCPS insisted on its fee and its redactions. I approved the fee and later received a redacted version from FCPS.
May 11, 2023, I obtained the fully unredacted version, which proves FCPS’s FOIA practices are questionable, that they delay the release of information to the public, and that they redact information that doesn’t need to be redacted.
Meanwhile, students throughout FCPS continue to go without their unique needs being met and for yet another year, FCPS students who have disabilities are overrepresented among students being disciplined by FCPS.
FCPS’s “First Semester Discipline Report 2022-23, Part I” and “Part II“, indicates the day schools are among the “schools with the highest percent of students with discipline by region and school level”. For Region 1, Cedar Lane School shares the “highest” mark with Herndon High for high schools. For Region 3, Quander Road School shares the first place for high schools with Mount Vernon High. For region 4, Burke Middle shares first place with South County Middle for middle schools, and Burke School Elementary shares first place with Halley Elementary, Center Ridge Elementary, Centreville Elementary, and Cherry Run Elementary for elementary schools. Neither region two or five have schools on the “highest” list.
Kilmer Center and Kilmer Middle tie for top spot for “schools with the lowest percent of students with discipline by region and school level.” Key Center in region three is among the “lowest”, too, tying with Twain Middle.
This echoes the data presented September 2022 in “Fairfax County Public Schools: Special Education Comprehensive Program Review Year 2 Final Report“, which found “students in special education show evidence of disparities in disciplinary actions when comparing SWDs to the general education population and when comparing groups of SWDs by race/ethnicity and region. From 2016 to 2019, data from IDEA SPP/APR Indicator 4a show that FCPS was identified as a division having significant discrepancy in the rate of suspensions and expulsions of greater than 10 days in a school year for children with IEPs. Students in special education were at a higher risk of being suspended or expelled for greater than 10 days in a school year when compared with their non–special education peers.” In addition, the report found that “students with IEPs in FCPS were 3.1 times more likely to receive an in-school suspension than their peers without an IEP” and that “for out-of-school suspensions, students with an IEP were 4.4 times more likely to receive an out-of-school suspension than peers without an IEP.”