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APS Outlines Plan for Staff to Return to Schools, Avoids Specifics for Students

Arlington Public Schools is holding off on announcing future dates for returning students to school.

Sending back students and staff together is unsafe, Superintendent Francisco Durán told the School Board during a meeting on Thursday. For now, APS will focus on its timeline for returning staff to their buildings, he said.

Students with disabilities have been learning inside school buildings since Nov. 4. Shortly after, APS began providing learning supports — but not instruction — to additional elementary students at four schools, and “work space” programs at five high schools.

But before more students return, Durán said it is important that staff have “a buffer so they can prepare, feel confident, air any concerns with us… and acclimate to teaching from their classrooms.”

Further, he said he does not want to make promises he cannot keep regarding getting kids in the building.

“I don’t want to have to give dates that we have to take back,” he said, adding that both Fairfax County and City of Falls Church public schools have had to do just that, as the latest pandemic wave still rages.

The return-to-school schedule for staff is as follows:

  • Week of Jan. 25: preschool through second-grade teachers, and all countywide teachers and staff for elementary special education programs (dates for third through fifth-grade teachers will be announced “at a later date”)
  • Weeks of Jan. 25 and Feb. 1: Central Office staff
  • Week of Feb. 1: secondary teachers, staff, and all countywide teachers and staff for secondary level special education programs

The first in-person School Board meeting is set to be held on Feb. 4. More information on the staff return plans will be released during the Jan. 21 meeting.

Meantime, APS will launch a COVID-19 app that allows employees and families to complete health screening questions about symptoms and exposures in multiple languages.

Temperature checks will still be completed at school, he said.

“The platform will enhance the process for reporting exposures and positive tests, to assist with the speed and efficiency of our contact tracing process,” Durán said.

He also acknowledged the “many, many times” staff requested more granular data on the number and location of cases in school buildings. Previously, staff told ARLnow that they would learn only through word-of-mouth if an outbreak occurred in their building.

Depending on the number of reported cases, COVID-19 statistics will now be broken down by building or facility, or division, he said.

The superintendent also welcomed the news from Gov. Ralph Northam, announced on Wednesday, that K-12 teachers are included in the state’s second phase of the vaccine rollout.

“With the arrival of a vaccine in Arlington, I hope we will be turning a corner in how we manage and get through this pandemic,” the superintendent said.

Some teachers, however, have expressed concern about returning to school buildings.

“APS is not a jail system, but for the teachers who will be forced to come to work without any guarantee of safety, it is not an inappropriate comparison,” one H-B Woodlawn teacher said in an email to ARLnow. “The only reasons school statistics are not
comparable to prison statistics are because of cancellations and virtual options that have allowed teachers and students in APS to stay safe. Undoubtedly, coming back to school will result in higher infection rates in Arlington.”

“I understand there are many pressures for action from conflicting positions, but I implore them to make the choice that errs on the side of safety and a value for life,” the teacher wrote.

Meanwhile, a distance learning task force — focused on improving instruction and social-emotional learning — had its first meeting on Wednesday, Durán said. The force has 65 members, representing teachers, administrators, students and parents.

After its final meeting on Feb. 17, it will recommend specific steps to be taken “immediately,” Durán said.

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