Arlington, VA

(Updated at 5:15 p.m.) An increasingly vocal group of parents and teachers are calling on Arlington Public Schools to scrap plans to have most students return to classrooms twice per week.

The current APS “hybrid” plan calls for two cohorts of students each going into school two days per week, while wearing masks and practicing physical distancing. It also allows parents and students to opt for online-only learning.

Nearly 2,000 people have signed an online petition that instead pushes for a “#OneAPS” model that starts all students with online-only classes in the fall and eventually allows a return to school for teachers and students who opt to do so.

“This will keep APS as one, united school system; protect the health and safety of students, teachers and staff; will not force teachers into options that might precipitate mass resignation; and support our most vulnerable learners,” says the petition, an excerpt of which is below.

Under the #OneAPS model:

  • APS will create a robust online learning platform and provide training for how to teach virtually. (See this article and Driver #3.)
  • All students begin school online and receive synchronous (live) online instruction four days a week (Tuesday through Friday) after Labor Day. The delayed start allows for intensive teacher training.
  • Mondays remain planning days for teachers, intervention days for small groups and asynchronous (independent) learning days for the majority of students.
  • When public health officials deem conditions safe to reopen, survey teachers to see who is comfortable returning to school for in-person support. NO teacher will be forced into this option.
  • Depending on the number of teachers available for in-person support, calculate the number of seats available. Allot those seats to our most vulnerable students

Other groups of teachers and parents have been organizing in opposition to a return to classrooms in the fall, similarly citing health and safety concerns.

One group — which is”advocating for a full distance learning model until Arlington County sees 14 days with no COVID-19 cases” — is planning a protest of Thursday night’s School Board meeting.

A Twitter account called “APS 14 Days No New Cases,” meanwhile, has been posting what it says are pleas from school staff not to reopen Arlington schools in the fall.

On the opposite side of the spectrum from the #OneAPS petition, a new group called “Arlington Parents for Education” has been formed to oppose the hybrid plan and push for five-day-per-week, in-person classes. The group argues that not returning to in-person schooling on a full-time basis disproportionately hurts low-income and single-parent households, and carries “economic and educational performance” risks.

A recent unscientific poll conducted by ARLnow found that a plurality of respondents — just below 40% — support the APS hybrid plan, with the rest nearly split between those favoring five-day-per-week classes and online-only classes.

(The “APS 14 Days” account, mention above, criticized ARLnow for conducting the poll. “Shame on you for farming the reopening crisis for clicks,” the anonymous account tweeted.)

A recent Arlington Public Schools survey found that only 7% of school staff were comfortable, with no reservations, about returning to school on a normal schedule, while 39% were “not comfortable at all” and 54% were either “comfortable with concerns” or “somewhat comfortable.”

The top concern of APS staff, according to the survey, is “public health regulations not being followed.”

Among other major D.C. area school systems, Montgomery County public schools are expected to start the school year fully online, while Fairfax County public schools are planning a hybrid model but facing teacher pushback.

Monday afternoon, after the initial publication of this article, the Arlington Education Association, which represents Arlington teachers, issued a statement calling for remote learning to start the school year.

The Arlington Education Association Executive Board believes re-opening Arlington Public Schools this fall puts students, educators, and staff, at an exponential risk of COVID-19 that can lead to illnesses and death. We believe, this fall, all learning should continue online from home. This is the only way to keep all educators and students safe and healthy.

According to the recommended guidelines from the CDC and plans chosen by Arlington Public Schools the plans will not protect the health and safety of all students and staff. While the plans sound good, they and have not been proven safe and there are too many unknowns.

AEA further urges APS to look at professional development for all educators, to provide a consistent platform for virtual teaching and learning. Professional development is needed immediately, and instructional assistants must be included as it will be their responsibility to reinforce lessons and skills taught by teachers.

APS families have until next Monday, July 20 to select either the hybrid option or the distance learning-only option for the return to school on Aug. 31.

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