Arlington, VA

Arlington Public Schools is planning to start the fall semester with most students spending just two days a week in classrooms.

The “hybrid” model would see students spending the other three days a week leaning remotely, from home, a plan similar to that just announced by the country’s largest school system.

Arlington parents will also be able to opt their kids out of physical school entirely, in favor of full-time remote learning. For those students going to schools, however, masks and physical distancing will be required.

There are parents, however, who say that the APS plan is inadequate, and students should be going back to school full-time. A new volunteer coalition, Arlington Parents for Education, has formed to advocate for just that. From the group’s website:

The group recently penned a letter, sent to local news outlets, arguing that “the average citizens of our county will be worse off and those with the fewest resources will be left significantly further behind” if APS does not fully reopen.

The decision the members of the Arlington County School Board will make regarding the Fall semester will be the single most consequential decision they ever make. Superintendent Durán stated that a plan for full-time instruction was his preference. He needs to make it his priority. The need to protect Teachers and Students is tremendously important, but this decision must be made with the fullest picture of health and safety in mind. Unclear references to teacher and student physical and mental health are not a sufficient explanation for failing to provide a full-time option.

Full-time instructions is not some outlier position and should be possible given Virginia’s final phase guidance. Massachusetts, New Jersey and numerous districts all over the world are figuring how to manage their risks and are making plans for students to return in the fall. Considering all the factors, the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly advocates that: “all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.” Arlington needs to follow suit. Conditions on the ground can change and we need to be prepared to meet those conditions. However, that is not an excuse for failing to provide a full-time plan given the current information at hand.

There has been no substantive assessment of why full-time instruction was not selected, and no public guidance from the county on what standards, if any, need to be met to get kids back in school. Even more concerning, there was no assessment provided about the consequences of the superintendent’s proposed plan. APS owes its citizens a breakdown of the expected cost of their plan on the mental, economic, and educational well-being of students and their families. It’s unsound policymaking to offer vague one-sided justifications without being transparent about the consequences their decision will have. This is particularly important when discussing our most vulnerable populations.

Among the advocates for five-day-per-week schooling in the fall: President Trump, who is threatening to cut off funding to school districts that do not physically open in full.

Those who want a full return to classrooms are not alone in their critique of APS. ARLnow has also heard from parents and teachers who do not believe any return to classrooms this fall will be safe.

APS, for its part, recently sent a School Talk email to parents further explaining the rationale for the hybrid back-to-school model and answering other parent questions.

Why APS is not offering a full-time in-school option: We understand there are difficult decisions to be made with both models. The full-time in-school scenario is not possible at this time, due to physical distancing requirements issued by the CDC, Virginia Department of Health and local health officials. Physical distancing limits the number of students and staff who can be inside a school at any one time, so the hybrid model allows half of students to be in school part of the week in order to reduce capacities in classrooms and on buses.

What APS will do if health conditions improve: If health conditions improve and physical distancing and other health requirements are adjusted in a way that would allow APS to resume in-person instruction for all students, we would reassess our operating status at that time.

What APS will do if health conditions worsen: We continue to monitor COVID-19 guidance from the CDC and state and local health officials on a daily basis. Our hybrid in-school model is contingent upon the school year beginning in Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan. If health data and recommendations from the Arlington County Public Health Division necessitate closing schools, students and staff participating in the hybrid model will transition to full time distance learning similar in substance to the existing full time distance learning model which will include a blend of teacher-led/synchronous instruction and asynchronous instruction.

Do you think APS should change its plan for the fall?

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