Fair­fax schools to fed­eral work­ers: ap­ply as sub­sti­tutes

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - LOCAL PERSPECTIVES -

FALLS CHURCH — Three weeks into a par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down that has stalled nine fed­eral de­part­ments, Nargess Lake­hal-Ayat spends her days at home, field­ing ques­tions from her 12-year-old son that she’s un­able to an­swer.

“When are you go­ing back to work?”

“What are we go­ing to do?”

Then there are the ques­tions the sin­gle mother who said she lives pay­check to pay­check can’t an­swer for her­self. How is she go­ing to pay her $2,200 mort­gage? Or her $356 con­do­minium fee?

She has bor­rowed money from her sis­ter to get by. The lan­guage and cul­ture in­struc­tor for the State Depart­ment doesn’t know when her next pay­check will ar­rive.

That’s how Lake­hal-Ayat found her­self Fri­day, on the shut­down’s 21st day, in a non­de­script gov­ern­ment build­ing in Falls Church, one of about 200 fed­eral work­ers who ap­plied to be­come sub­sti­tute teach­ers in the North­ern Vir­ginia school district dur­ing a hir­ing event for fur­loughed work­ers.

“It’s a very stress­ful sit­u­a­tion. You don’t know when it’s go­ing to stop, when it is go­ing to end,” she said. “And I didn’t want to sit home any­more.”

Fair­fax County Pub­lic Schools Su­per­in­ten­dent Scott Brabrand said Fri­day’s hir­ing event was com­pletely booked — just like an­other one planned for this week. He said he hopes to have fed­eral em­ploy­ees work­ing as sub­sti­tute teach­ers by the end of this week.

The job, which re­quires 60 col­lege credit hours and a high school diploma, pays $14.37 an hour.

“It’s a small ges­ture of ap­pre­ci­a­tion that Fair­fax County Pub­lic Schools can share with our dis­placed fed­eral work­ers,” Brabrand said. “I am truly over­whelmed at the re­sponse. ... It rec­og­nizes the se­ri­ous­ness of fam­i­lies who need a pay­check to sur­vive in the Wash­ing­ton area.”

A surge in sub­sti­tute teach­ers in Fair­fax County would pro­vide a boost to full-time teach­ers, who some­times have to cover classes for col­leagues who are ab­sent, Brabrand said.

Ap­pli­cants were fin­ger­printed and cy­cled through an ori­en­ta­tion that in­cluded les­sons about manag­ing class­rooms, pro­fes­sional ex­pec­ta­tions and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

The event was an­other sign of strain in the Wash­ing­ton re­gion as the pro­tracted fight over Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s pro­posed wall along the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der thrust the lives of fed­eral work­ers, gov­ern­ment con­trac­tors and their fam­i­lies into uncer­tainty.

Hun­dreds of fed­eral work­ers gath­ered Thurs­day in down­town Wash­ing­ton, de­mand­ing an end to the shut­down. Some have re­sorted to char­i­ties and on­line fundrais­ers for food and other ba­sic needs.

School sys­tems in

Prince Ge­orge’s County in sub­ur­ban Mary­land and Falls Church have promised to ex­pe­dite ap­pli­ca­tions for free and re­duced-price meals for stu­dents from fam­i­lies af­fected by the shut­down. Fair­fax County said it would not turn away stu­dents need­ing meals.

Ar­ling­ton Pub­lic Schools of­fi­cials in Vir­ginia emailed fam­i­lies Tues­day, as­sur­ing “all fam­i­lies that our teach­ers, prin­ci­pals and school coun­selors are avail­able to sup­port stu­dents.”

Bre­ana Pegeron, a pro­gram an­a­lyst for U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion, is up to date on all her bills but said she would start to feel a fi­nan­cial pinch in com­ing weeks.

She never con­sid­ered teach­ing un­til she came across a post about the Fair­fax County event. But she taught English as a sec­ond lan­guage when she at­tended Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity and is keep­ing an open mind.

“You never know what av­enue your life is go­ing to take you,” she said.

JAHI CHIKWENDIU/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Fed­eral em­ployee Corey Sher­rell (cen­ter) at­tends a job fair that drew about 200 peo­ple in Falls Church.

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