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School Start Pushed to September With Online-Only Classes

It’s official: Arlington Public Schools will now open on Sept. 8, and classes will be held entirely online.

Superintendent Francisco Durán announced his decision to host online-only classes on Tuesday, at least for the first half of the fall semester, and spoke in more detail about the plan at a School Board meeting yesterday (Thursday).

School Board chair Monique O’Grady said that the decision to go online-only fell within the superintendent’s domain as an operational decision and would not be voted on at the meeting. What the School Board did unanimously agree to was pushing the start date back from Aug. 31 to Sept. 8 for students.

The change was suggested by Durán, who said that if the it was approved the teaching staff would still start on Aug. 24 for training and professional development. The implementation of a hybrid in-person model would be delayed.

“The health and safety of our students has driven our decisions,” said Durán. “Beginning virtually allows us to monitor COVID-19… I believe it is the right thing to do for the health and safety of our students and staff.”

Durán said APS is still committed to resuming in-school instruction as soon as it was safe, which he said the schools were currently eyeing as the beginning of the second quarter of the school year, provided the COVID-19 situation has sufficiently improved by then.

“As of Monday, there is still community-wide spread of COVID,” Durán said. “We are definitely far from normal. Given that information, really important we pause and ensure the safety of all is at the forefront.”

Durán said that instruction will all be live with students graded on their work and attendance taken. That contrasts with the last quarter of the 2019-2020 school year, when schools closed and students engaged in remote learning activities but were not taught new material.

While the School Board did not vote on Durán’s plan to go all-online, O’Grady said the decision had the support of the School Board.

“[The Board] honors and values experience the experience of the superintendent and has hired him to make those decisions,” O’Grady said.

The only concerns about the plans voiced by the School Board were from Reid Goldstein, who said he didn’t like the idea of putting out the information item and taking action in such a short timespan, but also added that he recognized that “sometimes exigent circumstances require taking action more quickly.”

Approval of pushing the start of the school year back to September was approved in a 5-0 vote.

More on the decision, below, from a School Talk email sent to APS families this morning.

The School Board approved the Superintendent’s recommendation to delay the start of the 2020-21 school year to Sept. 8, with staff beginning on August 24 as planned. This calendar change was made to build in more time for professional learning to prepare teachers to deliver a distance learning program that is synchronous, interactive and introduces new content effectively to meet the learning needs of all students.

The school year will now begin virtually on Tue, Sept. 8 for all students.

The School Board also received a status update on the Superintendent’s revised Return-to-School Plan and decision to pause hybrid in-person instruction for the start of the year and begin the year in full-time distance learning for all students. This decision, announced Tue, July 14, was made to ensure the health and safety of staff and students, based on discussions with County leadership, health officials and monitoring of national and state trends that show continued spread of the virus and an increase in positive COVID-19 cases.

The School Board voiced its support for the plan with the understanding that APS will continue to monitor COVID-19 developments and look to transition some students back to school buildings with the modified, hybrid schedules in early October, if possible.

“We support and applaud the Superintendent for his leadership in prioritizing the health and safety of staff and students and his decision to take a pause and begin the school year virtually,” said Arlington School Board Chair Monique O’Grady. “This is an anxious time, and we must listen to what the virus is telling us. In this difficult time, we are committed to continuing to come together as a community to educate our students, to meet their social-emotional needs, and to find ways to stay healthy and support one another.”

The Superintendent’s presentation included an update on the revised plan; the selection process for families; distance learning instruction for elementary and secondary students; support for Special Education students, English Learners and Gifted students; and a health and safety update.

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