Arlington, VA

(Updated at 2:50 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools would start the new school year a week later than originally planned, and with full time distance learning, under a new plan being proposed by new Superintendent Francisco Durán.

That’s according to a School Talk email just sent to APS families.

Durán says he will present his proposal to the School Board on Thursday. If approved, it would scrap the previous plan to start the fall with a hybrid model that would have most students in classrooms two days per week, while others could opt for online-only classes.

The hybrid model drew criticism from teachers and parents who said there would be no way to ensure the safety of students and school staff. On Monday the Arlington Education Association, which represents APS teachers, released a statement saying that “it is not prudent to re-open schools.”

“We believe, this fall, all learning should continue online from home,” the association said. “This is the only way to keep all educators and students safe and healthy.”

Earlier today, Arlington recorded its highest single-day total of new coronavirus cases since May.

Other parents, however, have called for a full-time return to in-person schooling, saying that online classes would disadvantage low-income students and single-parent households. A recent ARLnow poll found that about 30% of respondents supported five-day-per-week classroom instruction in the fall, while slightly more called for online-only instruction and a plurality preferred the hybrid model.

Under Durán’s new proposal, the school year would start on Sept. 8, rather than Aug. 31, to allow teachers more time to plan for online-only instruction. After the first quarter of the school year, some students may return to classrooms.

“We will continue to monitor the health data in September, with the goal of beginning to transition some students to in-person instruction in early October, which is the mid-point in the first quarter of the school year,” Durán wrote.

Over the weekend Montgomery County (Md.) Public Schools released a similar plan, with an online-only start to the school year.

A tipster tells ARLnow that the decision was reached yesterday.

“Rumor has it APS administration and principals met today and agreed to start the first quarter of the school year online only,” the tipster wrote on Monday.

More from the email:

APS Families,

As we continue to see an increase in positive cases for COVID-19 nationwide, over the past several days I have taken time to re-evaluate our plan and path forward. I have met with both County leaders and School Board members to review current health data for Arlington and the state. Yesterday, we reviewed the APS health and safety plan with our Return-to-School Task Force to address concerns we have received from teachers, staff, parents, and the community.

Based on these discussions and our monitoring of local and national trends in COVID-19 cases, I am proposing to the School Board on Thursday night to postpone the start of the academic year to Tuesday, September 8, and begin our school year virtually in the full-time distance learning model for all students. Throughout our planning, the health and safety of our staff and students has been our top priority, and beginning the year with a virtual model allows us to continue to monitor the situation until we are confident it is safe to return.

With this proposed change, our teachers and staff will return as scheduled on August 24, so that we can devote more time and resources to professional learning, to ensure they are well prepared to provide a robust full-time distance learning program that supports all students.

The start of the school year will be fully virtual for all students. We will continue to monitor the health data in September, with the goal of beginning to transition some students to in-person instruction in early October, which is the mid-point in the first quarter of the school year. Our goal is to have hybrid in-person instruction in place for all families that have selected that model by the beginning of the second quarter, based on health data and in consultation with health officials.

We know many families have selected, or are in the process of selecting, the preferred model for your student. If your family has not selected your student’s instructional model, we ask that you still complete this process by July 20. We will use your feedback, along with feedback from our teachers and staff, to inform ongoing planning for reopening our school buildings.

I want to emphasize that this decision weighs heavily on all of us. We recognize that this change will present challenges to many of our families, and I hope that by informing you now, you will be able to make necessary adjustments to your plans for the fall.

Reopening our schools is a community-wide effort that impacts us all. Getting “back to normal” will take all of us working together, staying positive and following health and safety guidelines, including wearing masks, physical distancing and frequent handwashing.

I will share more information about this proposed change and the health data informing it at the Town Hall for families this evening, and in my presentation to the School Board on Thursday. I will provide more details on the plan for distance learning, including information about Special Education, English Learners and Gifted Services. I hope you will tune in for these updates. Thank you for your continued support as we move forward together.

Sincerely,

Dr. Francisco Durán
Superintendent
Arlington Public Schools

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