Peter’s Take is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

APS has promised a return to “as close to pre-pandemic normal as possible” for Fall 2021,  but the details regarding what “in-person” really means have not been revealed.

Will the pandemic-era Plexiglas barriers, 10-foot distancing at recess, untouched libraries and art rooms, and no group work remain? What about the expansive quarantine policies, shortened days, and no aftercare that extend time out of school?

August 30, 2021 — the best of Sept 1, 2019

“In-person learning offers our young people the best opportunity to develop their passions, bond with their peers, and thrive. Let’s safely get our schools re-opened.” US Education Secretary Dr. Miguel Cardona, April 27, 2021.

APS MUST provide five FULL length days with a teacher in the room for all students who choose it in the 2021-2022 school year. Children should be able to collaborate with and learn from each other, touch materials, and play together without restrictions.

APS must ensure that the full range of its programs are in-person and active in Fall 2021, including enrichment classes, sports with fans, and in-person after school and evening activities, many of which are some children’s only chance to feel successful outside the academic environment.

Having school as normal as possible is also the best route to helping children feel comfortable returning to normal life and to send the message that school is SAFE. In particular, APS should hold in-person open houses in August so that children can see the building and spend time in their classrooms to be comfortable.

Coming together to address the impact of the pandemic

The Arlington community must come together to address the disproportionate impact of pandemic education, particularly among our most vulnerable populations.

APS’s own statistics at the elementary, middle and high school levels establish that “Black and Hispanic students, English-language learning students, and students with disabilities are experiencing the deepest drops.”

This crisis should be addressed using Federal Recovery Act and local funding. APS must:

The current shortened elementary day and expansive quarantine policies exacerbates this year’s childcare crisis. APS must update its quarantine policy to reflect  CDC guidance, offer a full school day and aftercare to prevent additional childcare crises and lost learning time in Fall 2021.

“We cannot undo the past, but we can recover in a way that is truly different than the inequitable system we should leave behind.” Dr. Pedro Noguera USC Education School Dean, March 31, 2021

Restore a healthy screen-use balance–particularly for our youngest learners

APS must restore a healthy screen-use balance. Excessive screen time damages children’s mental and physical health at all age levels, but particularly for our youngest learners.

In 2019 — the last full year before APS shut down in-person learning — APS had decided to end its 1:1 digital device program for students in K-2. This was welcome news to parents who were insisting on less school time iPads and the bulk of their classroom time “personally interacting with others, manipulating objects, playing and exploring outdoors, and doing art and science projects.” But in this year’s operating budget, APS reversed course and funded a 1:1 device program for K-2.

Beginning with the Fall 2021 semester, APS must restore its 2019 practice of eliminating the 1:1 program in K-2 classrooms.

APS should pledge now also to eliminate 1:1 sequentially in grades 3-5 for in-person classrooms by the end of the 2024-2025 school year.

School Board accountability and responsibility

Access to a free, quality public education is a Constitutional right in Virginia. Voting by elected officials is a fundamental element of representative democracy and critical to sustaining open dialogue. But APS’s School Board has not taken a single vote on any aspect of Return to School. The Arlington School Board should vote this month on the Superintendent’s reopening plans for summer and Fall 2021, take every opportunity to ask questions, and push for a return to normal.

Peter Rousselot previously served as Chair of the Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission (FAAC) to the Arlington County Board and as Co-Chair of the Advisory Council on Instruction (ACI) to the Arlington School Board. He is also a former Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC) and a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA). He currently serves as a board member of the Together Virginia PAC, a political action committee dedicated to identifying, helping and advising Democratic candidates in rural Virginia.

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