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APS Makes In-Person Learning the Default Next School Year, While Families Have Remote Option

Arlington Public Schools families will have two prospects for school in the fall: five days a week of in-person learning or a fully remote K-12 learning program.

This week, APS opened up a two-week window during which families can choose how their children will attend school. Families have until Friday, April 30 to make their choice.

Over the last few months, students have returned to school in phases, with most returning in March for two days of in-person instruction a week across all grade levels. Although APS is sticking to the “hybrid” model for the rest of this semester, the school system said it will provide a full five-day in-person option this fall, in addition to in-person summer school.

Superintendent Francisco Durán reiterated this commitment two weeks ago.

“We are absolutely doing that in the fall,” Durán assured Arlington School Board members during a recent meeting. “We are headed to five days in-person in the fall. All of our planning now until then will be dedicated to that. That will be the sole plan we are working on.”

The push coincides with a Virginia law that Gov. Ralph Northam signed on April 1 requiring school systems to provide a full five days of in-person learning, with a virtual option. The new law will take effect July 1.

APS is encouraging in-person learning in the fall, but providing a remote option for those with health and other concerns.

“We encourage all students to return for in-person instruction and remain committed to providing safe learning environments in all schools; however, we know there are a variety of reasons why some families and students may need to continue learning remotely,” the APS website says.

If parents and guardians miss the Friday, April 30 deadline, APS will automatically place children in the in-person instructional model.

“Elementary school families will be able to change their decision after the first, second and third quarters of the school year,” the website said. “Middle and high school families will be able to change their decision after the first semester in January.”

A group of administrators, teachers and staff are developing a separate K-12 Distance Learning Program and APS will hire an administrator for the developing program this May. Eventually, this temporary option could become a permanent program for students who prefer learning at home.

Families and students who choose to continue in distance learning will be asked to provide reasons for their choice, according to the website.

“It is important to understand if students are not returning due to health and safety concerns, preference for the model, or if they will not return until their student and/or immediate family is vaccinated,” the school system says. “APS is committed to providing safe school environments so that all students feel comfortable and confident returning in person in the fall; however, we know there are a variety of reasons why families choose distance. We hope to gain more insight from those families.”

Data compiled by APS, below, shows that white students are most likely to have opted for hybrid in-person learning this semester, on average, while students of color, English learners, and economically disadvantaged students are more likely to have opted for distance learning.

During the April 8 School Board meeting, Vice Chair Barbara Kanninen called on APS to “be more proactive” reaching out to families about the school system’s mitigation measures and the safety of in-person education.

“I’m very worried about how we’re going to get them either to opt-in by the summer or fall, and how we’re going to encourage them,” Kanninen said.

Durán told the board that preferences may change now that the vaccine is more widely available.

Photos via APS

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