Arlington Public Schools announced Tuesday that it will finish out the 2020-21 school year offering hybrid and virtual learning options.
As of this week, about 64% of students of all grades are in-person — mostly for two days a week — while 36% are at home full-time in distance learning. The last cohort to return were students in grades 7-8 and 10-12, concluding three weeks of phased returns.
Despite the big adjustment to teaching in-person and virtual students simultaneously, one high school teacher told ARLnow “we’re getting the hang of it.”
“I think within classrooms, mitigation aligned with CDC guidelines is going very well,” she said. “I wouldn’t choose this, but we can make it work well for this school year.”
Parents are divided over whether to push for a full return before school ends in June or to continue in hybrid learning, a tension exacerbated by the fact that a number of families are stuck on waitlists for in-person learning. Superintendent Francisco Durán wrote in a School Talk email on Tuesday that APS will stick to hybrid and virtual education and will aim for a full return this fall. This approach mirrors that of Fairfax County Public Schools.
“In response to requests for APS to bring additional students back for more in-person days, I want to clarify that APS will continue with the current hybrid model for the remainder of this school year, in accordance with current health and safety guidance,” Durán said in an update sent to families. “We all want to have as many students as possible back in the classroom, as soon as it is safe to do so; however, we need to continue to adhere to current health guidelines.”
Hybrid schedules and reduced classroom capacities are needed to follow physical distancing guidance from the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said — though those CDC guidelines were just relaxed this morning, allowing students to be spaced 3 feet apart rather than the previous 6 feet.
“The guidance says to maximize six feet of distance ‘to the greatest extent possible,'” APE said in a statement. “What this means, contrary to what APS is doing, is that in-person instruction should be the default, with six feet of distance if six feet is possible. If it’s not possible, then it should be the distance part that gives and not the in-person part.”
Distancing appears to be a concern for those who are in school. The high school teacher, who said she is fully vaccinated but not all her colleagues are, said students bunching together at lunchtime is one of her top concerns.
“At this point, it feels not like if we will have an outbreak, but when, because of lunch,” she said.
Last week, three staff members and 18 students reported testing positive, according to APS data.
Christina Headrick, a parent member of Smart Restart APS — a group that advocated for multiple risk mitigation layers before returning — tells ARLnow that APS has done well mitigating spread but lunch could be improved.
Smart Restart is pushing for outdoor lunch across APS, but “not all schools are doing it yet — which is a little alarming,” she said.
Ultimately, APS has wrinkles to iron out with hybrid learning, and should not try to return more students if community transition rates worsen after Spring Break and as a result of new COVID variants, she said.
“I think we should let hybrid work for a little while before we make yet another change,” she said.
Meanwhile, some who opted to keep students in remote-only learning in the fall, when APS asked families to make learning model selections, have changed their minds given declining rates of infection — but are now waiting on extra space to get their children into a classroom.
Principals are maintaining waitlists and will be telling families if space — depending on community health metrics, health guidance and social-distancing guidelines — is opening up, Durán said.
“We understand some families wish to change their model selection from distance to hybrid as soon as possible in the current school year, and we will continue to monitor capacities at each school,” Durán said.
APE said many of these students are stuck on waitlists as a result of having to make a decision months ago, well before vaccinations started rolling out.
“APS has waitlists of students who want to return in person but are being told ‘no,’ and now Dr. Durán is saying that ‘no’ is the answer for the three full months remaining to the school year,” the group said.
Photos via Arlington Public Schools/Twitter