Arlington, VA

The elementary school at the Key site is close to getting a new name, and it will not be after a person.

A naming committee is proposing Innovation Elementary School, or Gateway Elementary School as an alternate, for the school building 2300 Key Blvd. The Arlington School Board will choose a name on Thursday, March 11 ahead of the school opening to students this fall.

“We really feel like Innovation represents a skill and an ideal that we want our children to get from their elementary school experience,” the new school’s principal Claire Peters said.

The new school at the Key site, which is currently used by a Spanish immersion choice program, will be a neighborhood school, and it was created by a controversial swap involving multiple schools.

The school will be populated with students who live in the fast-growing Rosslyn area, including some who were previously zoned for Arlington Science Focus School.

Absent from the top two was the preferred choice among a group of survey respondents — Grace Hopper Elementary School — named for computer engineer and university teacher Naval Rear Admiral Grace Hopper.

Fresh from renaming what is now Washington-Liberty High School, and in the thick of efforts to remove names of Confederate generals and soldiers and slave-owners from Arlington’s roads and parks, committee members and at least one School Board member said they want to avoid people entirely.

“We had a very significant discussion around naming a school after a person, and it was clear from both the comments we received in the survey and comments that our committee brought back from their community that naming a school after a person is a divisive choice,” the new school’s principal Claire Peters recently told the School Board.

School Board member Reid Goldstein concurred.

“I was cringing a little bit when I saw the name because lately, I’ve been shying away from naming schools after individuals,” he said.

School staff said Gateway would reference the school’s location as the gateway to Arlington from Washington and communicate the idea that an education is a gateway to a bright future.

The other suggested names were Polaris Elementary School and Summa Elementary School of Arlington.

The survey generated nearly 400 responses, as well as 74 comments, including a few in Spanish or Mongolian.

More than half of respondents said they were community members, while the rest said they were parents of students going to the new school, parents of students at other schools, APS staff or business owners.

“This was a very small representation of the community that will be served by this elementary school,” Wilson said.

Arlington Science Focus School students also picked their favorite names: Gateway came in first and Innovation in fourth.

Photos via Arlington Public Schools

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(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.

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Morning Notes

Distance Learning Only for APS — “Due to inclement weather… Level 1, in-person learning support, Level 2 Career & Technical Education students and staff supporting these programs will temporarily revert to distance learning.” [Arlington Public Schools]

County Government Open — “Arlington County Government offices, courts, & facilities are OPEN Friday, 02-19-2021. Courts will open at 10AM. All facilities will follow normal operating hours.” [Twitter]

Be Careful Out There — “Northern Virginia crews continue to clear and treat roads overnight, for both some additional wintry precipitation as well as refreeze from low temperatures. Drivers are asked to continue to limit travel if possible, or to use extreme caution and be aware of the potential for slick pavement, even where surfaces appear clear or were previously treated.” [VDOT]

Doses May Be Delayed — “Virginia is seeing delays in this week’s vaccine shipments due to severe winter weather in the Mid-Atlantic region and across the country. The Virginia Department of Health says the state will likely see a delay in the delivery of approximately 106,800 doses, due to distribution channels in the Midwest and elsewhere that are currently shut down.” [InsideNova]

Architectural Review of HQ2 Phase 2 — ” It very intentionally does not look like anything else in Pentagon City or Crystal City, or anywhere else in the region. The style, a populist, jazzy take on high-tech modernism, isn’t aimed at architecture critics, but at the public, which shows remarkable forbearance to the predations of large corporations so long as they have a reputation for being innovative and forward thinking.” [Washington Post]

County Board Members Endorse Candidate — “Alexandria City Council member Elizabeth Bennett-Parker has picked up the endorsement of two Arlington County Board members in her quest for the 45th District House of Delegates seat. Board members Libby Garvey and Katie Cristol endorsed the candidacy.” [InsideNova]

New Spanish Publication on the Pike — “As part of its increased business support efforts, the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization (CPRO) has launched a new publication dedicated to supporting the area’s Hispanic business community. The publication, Boletín, is a small booklet of resources and information specific to those Spanish speaking businesses serving Columbia Pike’s residents.” [CPRO]

Arlington Man Arrested for Armed Robberies — “An Arlington man was arrested last night and is facing charges in connection with a series of recent armed robberies. Detectives from our Major Crimes Bureau determined that in three of the four robberies, the suspect approached the victim, displayed a firearm and took their personal property. In the other case, the suspect took a victim’s purse by force.” [Fairfax County Police Department]

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(Updated at 9 a.m.) What was supposed to be snow is actually falling as sleet this morning, but the change in precipitation is not dampening the jubilation of local students, who now have the day off.

Arlington Public Schools announced shortly after 5 a.m. that it’s a snow day, even for remote learning.

“In-person and distance learning are canceled for all students today, Thursday, Feb. 18, due to inclement weather,” the school system said. “APS school buildings and offices will be closed… All in-person learning support programs, athletic activities, team practices, in-person technology support and other activities in schools and on school grounds are canceled.”

Via social media, APS explained that it was following the lead of the federal government, which is also closed today, and taking into account the forecast for more sleet and freezing rain as the day goes on.

According to the officials National Weather Service measurement at Reagan National Airport, 0.3 inches of snow has fallen so far this morning.

Across the county, most main roads are mostly slushy, thanks to the efforts of snow clearing crews. Many side roads have not been treated and are treacherous. Residents are being urged to stay home or exercise extreme caution if driving today.

“Yet, again, Virginia State Police is encouraging folks to hold off on traveling until conditions improve,” state police said last night.

A number of crashes have been reported this morning, including one that closed a portion of Carlin Springs Road at N. Galveston Street after a car reportedly spun off the roadway and crashed, injuring the driver.

Dominion Energy says it is prepared to respond to power outages in Northern Virginia, should freezing rain cause trees and branches to fall and power lines to be knocked out.

Arlington County government facilities, meanwhile, are closed, though the local government is still operating on a virtual basis. Arlington County’s trash and recycling service is not running today, and will instead be delayed a day and will resume Friday, with Thursday’s routes.

Buses, including ART and Metro buses, are operating on modified schedules.

As of 8:25 a.m., sleet was continuing to fall, with some freezing rain mixing in. The frozen precipitation is expected to continue through Friday morning.

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Morning Notes

Arts Group Pushing for New Venue — “As part of its recently adopted strategic plan, [Embracing Arlington Arts] plans to use the coming three years to build community support for a performing-arts venue that would include a black-box theater and ancillary classroom and office space. Efforts would also be made to identify a site and start raising funds.” [InsideNova]

APS Changing Student Camera Policy — “In response to challenges teachers are experiencing engaging students with cameras off, we have adapted our policy regarding the use of cameras during instruction time, based on input we have received from teachers, staff, parents, the Distance Learning Task Force, and advisory committee members. We are asking teachers to encourage students to turn on their cameras during synchronous instruction and while directly engaging with peers and staff.” [Arlington Public Schools]

Spotlight on Arlington Man’s Heroism — “A must read about Arlington’s Paris Davis, the former publisher of VA’s Metro Herald. His heroism in 1965, while commanding a Special Forces team in Vietnam, seems worthy of the Medal of Honor. But those who served with him say the Pentagon kept losing the paperwork.” [New York Times, Twitter]

Local Nonprofit’s Work Highlighted — “Mohammad Ahmed, 30, gave up working as an Uber driver in March for fear of infecting his wife, 3-year-old son and two elderly parents who live with him. When he couldn’t pay the rent or electric bill for their two-bedroom apartment in Arlington, a local charity funded mainly by taxpayer dollars stepped in.” [Washington Post]

Metro Reducing Rail Service — “Metro this week began reducing Metrorail service during peak commuting hours because of low usage while saying it will boost Metrobus service as new commuting trends emerge during the coronavirus pandemic. The transit agency referred to the changes as a way to ‘normalize’ rail service.” [Washington Post]

Local Economy Expected to Grow — “Greater Washington’s economy will rebound in 2021 as Covid-19 vaccinations become more common and the weather warms up, according to a new regional economic forecast released Friday. That means 3.5% growth in the gross regional product in 2021, a sharp rebound from the 2.9% drop in 2020. But the region will only see a full recovery in 2022, with 4.1% projected growth in the local economy.” [Washington Business Journal]

Many Office Workers Will Stay Remote — “Working in D.C. will continue to look different for the greater part of this year due to the coronavirus, a new study shows. Employers expect less than a third of their employees to physically be in the office in the first quarter of this year, but by the fall, they expect 75% of their staff to be back, according to a study.” [NBC 4, Washingtonian]

Flickr pool photo by GM and MB

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A belated 2020 high school football season is getting underway, but a number of Arlington Public Schools parents are awaiting a plan permitting limited spectators.

Last fall, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam approved a revised schedule for high school sports that allowed winter sports to start in December and rescheduled fall-season sports for February through early May.

Arlington Public Schools football players had their first official practice on Feb. 4 ahead of their first games on Monday, Feb. 22 — yes, high school football on a Monday night — but so far, there is no word on whether people can attend their games.

“Staff are working on these plans now,” APS spokesman Frank Bellavia told ARLnow in an email.

Yorktown football parent Diane Boyle said in an email that she is hoping a plan for spectators will be announced at the upcoming School Board meeting on Thursday, Feb. 18.

“The stands are rarely at capacity even in non-pandemic times,” Boyle said. “I’m certain we can safely have limited spectators, and hopeful APS announces a workable plan soon.”

Boyle is one of nearly 150 parents who have written to APS, urging the school system to allow two masked, socially distanced spectators per player. Northam allowed this ratio for outdoor sports in a December executive order that also stipulates capacity cannot exceed 30% of a venue.

The Yorktown parents pleaded for action to allow spectators for the sake of students. More from their letter:

“Students’ need for this sort of athletic and emotional outlet is far more pressing during Covid than in ordinary times. Our students have already suffered months of deprivation, isolation, loss, and related mental health challenges. For many seniors on the team, this season will be their last opportunity to play organized football. In addition, many need sports to open the door to college admission and scholarships. In short, the players and coaches need — and have earned — the opportunity to play.”

In a similar letter from 70 Wakefield families, parents said APS has “the good fortune” of having football stadiums with ample capacity. They added that other recreational sports and other school systems are permitting spectators.

“Many of us have seen these rules successfully implemented for months with outdoor baseball, soccer, and travel and other sports,” their letter said.

Last November, APS reversed course on a decision not to allow winter sports after hearing from students and parents. All but two winter sports started their seasons in December.

Image via W-L Football/Twitter

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Most Arlington students will be heading back to classrooms next month.

Arlington Public Schools announced Tuesday that in-person learning — with students in classrooms two days per week — will resume for all grade levels between March 2 and March 18, with younger students starting earlier. Students who opt out will remain in full-time virtual learning.

The announcement follows prodding by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, who last week encouraged school systems to return by March 15.

The news is being met with jubilation from many APS families, but others are not as happy. Many teachers wanted more time for vaccinations, while a contingent of parents think in-person learning should have resumed much earlier.

(Half of APS staff members have received at least one vaccine dose, according to Superintendent Francisco Durán, who cited improving health metrics as an impetus for his return-to-school decision.)

What do you think?

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Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Francisco Durán announced return-to-school dates Tuesday afternoon, nearly 11 months since schools first closed at the outset of the pandemic.

Students will start trickling into their buildings by grade level on Tuesday, March 2. By Tuesday, March 16, all students who have chosen to be in-person will be able to go to school twice a week, either Tuesdays and Wednesdays or Thursdays and Fridays.

Teachers and staff, who have been re-entering their classrooms in phases since last week, will return one week before students, Durán said. This month, APS will end or scale back the programs currently providing some students with limited in-classroom instructional supports.

“I am encouraged by recent improvements in the health metrics, with case positivity rates and other indicators currently decreasing in Arlington and neighboring communities,” Durán told APS families via email. “Over the past two weeks, staff have returned to our buildings to prepare for the upcoming transition and to further strengthen our mitigation efforts.”

The superintendent was set to announce these dates during next week’s School Board meeting, but his plan changed last week, in response to a press conference in which Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam urged school systems to reopen by March 15.

More than half of APS staff members have received a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to date, according to Durán, with new appointments being added “all the time.” Staff who received the vaccine in mid-January are now scheduling their second dose appointments, he added.

Durán said families will be receiving further communication from APS regarding in-person days, the instructional model, transportation and any changes to teachers or classroom assignments.

He urged the school community to be “vigilant and work together,” after a year marked by protests and counter-protests over the ongoing closure of Arlington schools. Some APS families and many teachers have opposed the reopening of schools until more vaccinations could be administered.

“Our ability to continue moving ahead depends on all of us wearing masks, staying home when sick, and following all the other mitigation strategies recommended by Public Health to reduce the spread of the virus,” Durán said.

Durán added that he will share more information at the Feb. 18 School Board meeting.

The back-to-school scheduled announced today is below.

March 2-5:

  • PreK-2nd grade students
  • All students enrolled in Countywide Elementary Special Education Programs (PreK-5th grade – mini MIPA, MIPA, Life Skills, Communications and Deaf and Hard of Hearing – in person four days a week, Tues-Fri)
  • Elementary students enrolled in Interlude

March 9-12:

  • 3rd-5th grade students
  • 6th and 9th grade students
  • All students enrolled in Countywide Secondary Special Education Programs (6th-12th grade – MIPA, Life Skills, Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Shriver Program – in person four days a week, Tues-Fri)
  • Secondary students enrolled in Interlude and PEP program

March 16-19:

  • 7th-8th grade students
  • 10th-12th grade students

Special programs will end or be scaled back on the following days:

  • Friday, Feb. 19: five-day instructional learning supports for identified students at four elementary schools will switch to Mondays only.
  • Friday, Feb. 19: the seven meal drop-off locations that are not school-based will cease operating.
  • Friday, Feb. 26: the “work space” program for secondary students will stop running.

Image via APS/Twitter

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Nearly one year after Arlington Public Schools closed classrooms, the end of distance learning is in sight for students and teachers.

Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Francisco Durán said today (Friday) that on Tuesday he will announce dates when students can return to their school buildings — with students expected to return by mid-March.

The forthcoming timeline for the announcement is one-and-a-half weeks ahead of Durán’s schedule. The push to announce the phased return dates next week comes in response to a press conference that Gov. Ralph Northam held this morning.

During the School Board meeting last night (Thursday), Durán told board members and listening community members that he would provide dates on Feb. 18. This morning, Northam urged all K-12 school divisions in Virginia to make in-person learning options available to students by March 15.

“Given Governor Northam’s press conference this morning, I will announce the dates in my Return-to-School Update this coming Tuesday,” Durán said in an APS School Talk update sent this afternoon. “Our timeline aligns with the Governor’s guidance.”

Principals and school staff have been preparing for student returns in March, he said.

Arlington teachers and staff have been re-entering their classrooms in phases since last week. Durán came under fire last night for not following other Virginia school divisions, which have announced firm return dates.

“I’m certainly aware of the announcements of other divisions in Northern Virginia and others that are moving forward, but we are taking the time to do what is asked… to make sure we’re safe and ready to go back in person,” he said during last night’s meeting. “I’m going to continue to make decisions to best serve the needs of students in Arlington while ensuring the health and safety of everyone.”

Student groups will return in this order:

  1. Preschool through 2nd grade students and countywide elementary special education students
  2. Grades 3-5
  3. Grades 6-12

Students from grades 3-12 will learn via “concurrent instruction” models. They will remain in their current classes, with their current teachers, regardless of whether they are in-person part-time or fully virtual. Teachers will instruct both online and in-person students whether they are in the classroom or working remotely.

On Wednesday, students enrolled in select technical education courses, from cosmetology to auto collision repairs, were able to return to their classrooms at the Arlington Career Center, Durán said. Students with disabilities who need in-person supports were the first to return on Nov. 4.

This week, APS launched a health screening application for teachers and staff to use daily, providing the school system with information on who tests positive, experiences symptoms or comes in contact with coronavirus-positive people, he said. The app will be available to students and families on Feb. 18.

Meanwhile, Durán said in-person instruction and support are having a “moderate” impact on reports of positive cases and close contacts with sick individuals. He cited the following statistics on positive cases and reports of close contacts among staff and students:

This morning, Northam also encouraged school divisions to offer summer school for families who want their children to make up for any loss of learning incurred during this school year.

“The health and safety of students, educators, school personnel, and communities continues to be our top priority,” Northam said. “We know that children learn better in classrooms and that going to school is vital for their social-emotional needs and for receiving critical services like meals. It is also important for our youngest learners, students with disabilities, and those with limited access to technology who have struggled most with remote learning. By focusing on mitigation measures, we can provide our kids with safe and equitable learning environments.”

Responding to early signs of falling grades during distance learning, two former School Board members indicated their interest in summer school options in December.

Photo via Arlington Public Schools Twitter

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Morning Notes

No APS Return Dates Yet — “Alexandria City Public Schools this week joined a flood of Northern Virginia school systems in setting firm timelines for reopening classrooms, vowing to welcome all students back for in-person learning by mid-March. But in Arlington, school officials aren’t committing to return dates just yet.” [Washington Post]

Summer School Appears Likely — “Gov. Ralph Northam on Friday will announce a plan to extend the school year into summer to allow students to catch up. The announcement will come during an 11 a.m. news conference, Northam said during a Thursday morning interview with Washington Post Live. No details have yet been released. ‘We’re working with our teachers, our school boards, our superintendents. It has to be a top priority,’ he said.” [InsideNova]

Karantonis Running for Reelection — “Although his announcement was temporarily derailed by a snafu too common in the Zoom era, Arlington County Board member Takis Karantonis on Feb. 3 formally kicked off his bid for re-election with comments before the Arlington County Democratic Committee.” [InsideNova]

Napoli Salumeria’s D.C. Location Closing — “The restaurant has decided not to renew their lease at their current location, so they are temporarily closing their Columbia Heights doors as they search for a new DC location. In the meantime, guests can still get the full Napoli Pasta Bar menu at Napoli Salumeria in Arlington starting next week (including dine-in). Napoli Pasta Bar will also offer free delivery for DC residents within a certain radius from Napoli Salumeria.” [PoPville]

Marymount Announces Commencement Speakers — “In mid-May, approximately 975 students will receive their degrees over the course of three days during Marymount University’s 70th annual commencement ceremonies. The newest graduates of the mission-based Catholic university will hear from three distinguished commencement speakers – influential Virginian James Dyke, Jr., entrepreneur and philanthropist Sheila Johnson and business leader Donald Graham.” [Marymount University]

Editorial: No Counterbalance Against Tax Increases — “The government’s Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission effectively has been gelded; the Arlington County Civic Federation is trying to keep up but is not the budget-watching powerhouse it once was; the Arlington County Taxpayers Association effectively died with its leader, Tim Wise; and serious budget discussions almost never even come up within the intra-Democratic nomination contests that determine who will hold elected office.” [InsideNova]

Virginia May Abolish Death Penalty — “Virginia is poised to become the first state in the South to abolish the death penalty, a sign of ascendant liberal political power in a state that has executed more people since the 1970s than any other except Texas.” [New York Times]

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