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UPDATED: Arlington Plans for Entirely Online End to the School Year

Arlington Public Schools, now in its second week of students staying home due to the coronavirus pandemic, is working to determine what the rest of the school year will look like.

Monday’s announcement by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam means that APS will be closed for the remainder of the academic year, with educational activities continuing to be held online.

The move to teleworking has some concerned that disparities in access to technology will deepen already existing achievement gaps in public schools. But APS spokesman Frank Bellavia said students brought home their school-issued iPads and laptops before schools closed and students without access to the internet at home were given MiFi cards, allowing all to stay connected to their teachers.

APS is now working to figure out how to finish the school year, given the governor’s order.

“For now, we will continue to provide the continuity of learning plans in place through Canvas, Seesaw and other platforms through April 3,” APS said following the governor’s announcement. “We will be honoring Spring Break and no new assignments will be issued during that week. We will soon announce plans for programming for the weeks following Spring Break.”

In another message to parents earlier this week, before the announcement, APS said that the amount of new content introduced will depend on their grade level.

“Elementary teachers will not introduce new content within the timeframe that schools are currently set to be closed,” APS said. “Secondary teachers may begin introducing new content the week of March 23. We recognize that all students do not have the same ability to regularly access and attend to learning new skills or content while at home. Secondary teachers who are introducing new content are mindful of the opportunity gap that this is likely to create and will plan strategies to address it.”

“While virtual learning can never replace classroom instruction, teachers are providing instructional activities meant to help students maintain their skills and knowledge and prepare for what’s coming next,” APS said. “We understand this comes with both challenges and perks as adults and students work to establish new routines.”

If there are problems with the tech tools given to students, parents are encouraged to email the school system’s IT teams.

Catholic schools in Northern Virginia, meanwhile, have moved to entirely distance learning, the Diocese of Arlington announced yesterday.

“Distance learning is now in place, offering interactive, personalized instruction to students through the remainder of the academic year,” said a press release. “The Diocese has 37 parish (K-8) schools and four diocesan high schools serving almost 17,000 students.”

Update at 10:50 a.m. — Interim Superintendent Cintia Johnson sent the following update to APS parents Thursday morning:

Dear APS Families,

As we all continue to support each other during these challenging times, I want to provide a brief update on our plans, based on guidance we have received from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) to date.  But, first I want to acknowledge the impact this is having on family routines and thank you for your continued partnership in working through our present set of circumstances due to the coronavirus.

I understand the emotions our students, families and our staff are feeling, and I am confident we will move forward through this in a way that continues to serve all our students. Below are a few updates I can share now, with more to come.

Continuity of Learning Plan: Teachers will continue to engage in distance learning based on plans in place through Friday, April 3. Spring Break will proceed as planned the week of April 6-10. Monday, April 13 will remain a Grade Prep Day for teachers, and therefore APS will resume distance learning on Tues, April 14 with adjustments to our instructional model that will be announced prior to that time. Those plans are being shared with our advisory committees for input prior to sharing with families.

Graduation: State Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane announced Tues, March 24, that high school seniors who were on track to earn a diploma later this spring will be able to graduate. We are currently exploring creative alternatives to celebrate the Class of 2020. These students have worked hard and have been looking forward to this moment for years, so we want to make sure we honor and celebrate their monumental achievement. This will take more time and is a priority for us all. Once a final plan has been reached, we will share it with students and families.

Grade-Level Placement: Students who were in good standing as of the (end of the third quarter) closure of schools on March 13 will proceed to the next grade level while students in need of support or students with failing grades will receive the necessary help during the fourth quarter to make up work and grades in preparation for the next grade level. More information will be provided in the coming weeks.

Assignment Grading: We are following VDOE guidance to develop a process to ensure grading is fair and equitable while schools are closed. While distance learning cannot replace the work that happens in the classroom, all students will have the opportunity to make progress and to learn and grow.

Special Education Support: Special Education teachers are connecting with families via virtual video check-ins to provide students with the reassurance of a familiar face, as well as consultative support. Related service providers are collaborating with special education teachers to design accessible instructional activities or adapt existing activities for home learning.  Additionally, if individual students or parents are experiencing difficulties accessing instruction, related service providers will set up a consultation with the parents.

AP/IB Exams: The May 2020 IB examinations have been cancelled, but students still must complete their required assessments. Students will take their AP tests online in place of the traditional face-to-face test. The College Board will release the AP test schedule in the beginning of April.

Standards of Learning: SOLs have been canceled for this school year. The VDOE is currently in the process of officially applying for a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education, so additional information on SOLs will be released soon. Not having to take SOLs this year takes a lot of pressure off our students and teachers while allowing them to focus on instruction and essential skills during the closure.

Food and Nutrition: On March 16, APS began serving free grab-and-go breakfast and lunch for children ages 2-18 at Kenmore Middle School and Drew Elementary. On March 25, APS added three additional sites at Barrett, Campbell and Randolph elementary schools. Meals are served from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. Monday – Friday. To date, we have served 10,034 meals, just over 1,200 per day.

On the Friday before Spring Break, April 3, APS will provide a week’s worth of meals to families who come to one of the sites to ensure they have food during Spring Break.

We are currently evaluating plans for food distribution through the remainder of the year. Those plans are being developed based on state guidance and will be communicated when finalized.

I want to extend my appreciation to the food services workers who have been coming in to prepare the food for our students, as well as the APS executive leadership team and administrators who are volunteering at each of these sites. Thank you to our custodians and facilities staff who continue to clean and prepare our buildings. We also want to thank school PTAs, community partners, non-profit organizations and business who are supporting families through meal distribution and food drives. We have them listed on our website under Meal Services.

Telework and Schedule Adjustments

The transition to distance learning and telework has made it easier for continuous contact at any time of day, so I am asking everyone to please try to limit contact with teachers and staff to the hours they have communicated they are available as much as possible.

We will continue to keep you informed through our website with additional resources and updates on services as they are finalized.

In the meantime, please be safe and take care of yourself and your families.

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