(Updated 12 p.m. 2/26/21) For the first time in nearly a year, school starts next week for Pre-K through 2nd grade students in Arlington Public Schools.
To help ensure safety for students getting to school — even if only for two days per week — the Arlington County Police Department is getting involved in the process.
APS is making final health and safety preparations ahead of elementary schoolers returning on Tuesday, March 2 — nearly one calendar year after APS closed due to the pandemic. Meanwhile, ACPD is ramping up efforts to remind residents of how to drive, cycle and walk safely in school zones.
“Since this is the first time in nearly a year that motorists will see an increased number of students walking, bicycling, and riding the bus to class, ACPD is encouraging the public to re-familiarize themselves with the location of school zones, applicable traffic laws (including those pertaining to school buses), and tips to keep students safe,” a press release said.
APS expanded its walk zones around schools to limit the number of students on the buses and enforce social-distancing. ACPD said this may result in more children being driven to school.
“The public can expect to see increased vehicular traffic in and around schools,” the release said.
Message boards along roadways throughout the county will remind motorists to slow down, avoid distractions and watch for students.
The county is also installing the following signs indicating temporary parking restrictions near schools.
In terms of health and safety inside schools, more than 98% of classrooms meet or exceed air quality requirements, APS said.
Additionally, the school system has three ways to ensure lunch can be consumed safely, Superintendent Francisco Durán told School Board members on Thursday. And starting March 1, families can fill out the daily COVID-19 symptom screener sent to their devices, and the school has made changes to transportation.
Amid falling rates of COVID-19 cases, reported cases among in-person students and teachers appear to remain low, when compared to close contacts with sick individuals. This means mitigation strategies are working, Durán said.
“I just want to acknowledge the Herculean effort that has gone on over the past year even to get to this point… and all the people who contributed to creating this plan,” Arlington School Board member Cristina Diaz-Torres said. “I am very confident in what we have thus far.”
Still, the superintendent acknowledged more work ahead. Many teachers report lacking clarity on how to teach online and in-person students at the same time using new technologies such as special microphones and cameras.
For most students, in-person learning will occur only twice a week, and a group of 75 parents, teachers, staff and students have determined ways distance learning could be improved. The group found that teachers and schools could use technology more consistently and students should be encouraged to turn on their cameras.
“When they have their cameras turned off consistently, it’s hard to find their level of engagement and for staff to build a meaningful relationship,” Durán said.
More back-to-school safety tips from the police press release, below.
Transportation Safety Tips
Drivers are reminded to:
- Obey speed limits which may change during school zone times.
- Avoid distracted driving and keep your attention on the road.
- Effective January 1, 2021, holding a hand-held communication device while driving is illegal in Virginia. Violations could result in a fine of up to $125 for a first offense.
- Watch for students walking and riding bikes to school.
- Don’t pass a stopped school bus loading or unloading passengers. Violations could result in a fine of up to $250.On a two-lane road, vehicles traveling in both directions must stop.
- On a multi-lane paved road, vehicles traveling in both directions must stop.
- On a divided highway, vehicles behind the bus must stop. Vehicles traveling in the opposite direction may proceed with caution.
- Have all vehicle occupants wear their seatbelts.
- Pick-up and drop-off students in designated locations.
Pedestrians are reminded to:
- Cross the street at marked crosswalks and never against a red light.
- Look before you cross and follow the direction of school crossing guards, officers and APS staff members.
- Always walk on designated sidewalks or paths, never along the side of a road.
Bicyclists are reminded to:
- Wear your helmet.
- Helmets are required for riders ages 14 and younger but are recommended for all.
- Keep right and ride with traffic.
- Secure your bicycle with a lock when not in use.
General Safety Tips for Students
Safety is everyone’s responsibility and back-to-school is an opportune time to remind students about important steps that can help keep them safe while out in the community. Parents and guardians are also encouraged to role-play possible situations with students and discuss personal safety and awareness tips.
- Know their address, telephone number and how to contact a parent or guardian.
- Remain aware of their surroundings.
- Walk or bike with another person, whenever possible. Stay in well-lit areas.
- Limit the use of devices that may distract them.
- Avoid engaging with or answering questions from strangers.
- Immediately report anything that makes them feel unsafe to a trusted adult.