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JUST IN: Distance Learning to Start School Year ‘Very Probable,’ APS Says

(Updated at 3:55 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools will “likely” start the new 2020-2021 school year with students staying at home, the interim superintendent told families Friday afternoon.

In a School Talk email, Cintia Johnson — who is soon to be succeeded by newly-hired superintendent Dr. Francisco Durán — said that APS is planning for three scenarios to start the fall: in-home distance learning, a return to classrooms, or a hybrid of the two.

Distance learning is “a likely scenario,” Johnson wrote, noting that APS is awaiting expected guidance from the Virginia Dept. of Education next month. A presentation linked in the email describes distance learning, at least to start, as “very probable.”

“Starting the school year with distance learning, should public health officials advise us it is not safe to reopen. Based on current conditions, this is a likely scenario, and we are preparing for a distance learning model that includes synchronous instruction of new content,” wrote Johnson.

By contrast, “reopening schools as normal with in-person instruction… is the least likely scenario.”

ARLnow previously reported that the school system was gearing up to teach new material via online classes in the fall, if need be, after facing criticism over holding off on teaching new things once the pandemic closed schools. One concern that prompted the decision to hold off on teaching new material — that of equitable access — is getting addressed: Arlington County is spending some of its federal grant from the CARES Act to provide free broadband internet access to households that currently lack it.

The new school year is slated to start Aug. 31.

The full email from the interim superintendent is below, after the jump.

Dear APS Community,

I hope this message finds you safe and well. I want to provide you an update on the significant work taking place among the executive leadership team, administrators and staff to prepare for the return to school for the 2020-21 school year.

Like other school divisions, APS is continuing to plan for a variety of possibilities while awaiting detailed guidance from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), which we anticipate will be issued in early June. We are working in close coordination with neighboring Northern Virginia jurisdictions to discuss and coordinate on our plans. Our focus is on developing a plan that protects the health and safety of our students, staff and families, and provides consistent, reliable and equitable access to learning resources, technology and internet connectivity at home.

At last night’s School Board meeting, I shared a presentation that outlines key factors informing our plans; scenarios we are considering; anticipated challenges we are working to resolve; and the timeline for sharing and finalizing our plans, pending state guidance. That presentation is available online.

The three planning scenarios are:

  • Starting the school year with distance learning, should public health officials advise us it is not safe to reopen. Based on current conditions, this is a likely scenario, and we are preparing for a distance learning model that includes synchronous instruction of new content;
  • Reopening schools with a hybrid of in-person and online instruction, including multiple contingencies to meet class size limits and social distancing requirements; and
  • Reopening schools as normal with in-person instruction, if social distancing requirements have been lifted and conditions are met to open school buildings safely. Based on current conditions, this is the least likely scenario.

For each scenario, APS is carefully considering training, communications and operational needs, and impacts on all areas including school health, instruction, facilities, special education, technology and access, transportation, food service, extracurricular activities and extended day.

Last night I also announced our plans to form a stakeholder Task Force focused on reopening plans, which I will co-chair with the new superintendent, Dr. Francisco Durán, who begins on June 1. The task force will include leadership and staff from various departments and schools, as well as designated staff, student and parent stakeholder representatives from established APS advisory groups.

Additional details about the task force and opportunities for community input will be announced in early June.

Community members with questions about reopening can send them to APS Engage, [email protected] As new information is received from public health officials and the VDOE, we will provide regular updates and engage with staff, students, parents and community members.

While in the process of planning for the fall, we are working to close the current school year during these unprecedented times. In the next few days, school principals will be reaching out to their school communities to provide information on year-end activities, how to retrieve belongings and other details.

We are an excellent school system with incredible staff and a supportive, engaged community, and we are truly in this together. As we close out this school year and transition to the new superintendent in June, I want to thank you for all you continue to do to support each other and our community.

Take care and stay safe and well.

Sincerely,

Cintia Z. Johnson

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