A few hundred parents say Arlington Public Schools should prioritize recreating pre-Covid normalcy in the classroom and evaluating the use of electronic devices.
Since schools reopened, APE has evolved into a School Board watchdog group, with priorities such as reversing pandemic-era learning loss. The group says the survey will inform what APE should advocate for, in addition to ending Covid protocols. The priorities don’t surprise School Board candidates and other education advocacy groups, but some groups say the survey does not speak for the parents they represent.
The survey netted a few hundred responses, about 70% of which reside in North Arlington and a little under 30% in South Arlington, with some respondents living outside the county. Most have elementary-aged children, followed by children in middle and high school. Some also indicated they had children in area private schools, which saw an influx in public school families when they returned for in-person school before APS.
“We recently surveyed hundreds of our parents to see how their students are doing in a post-pandemic world at APS and what they want APS and APE to focus on,” APE said in a statement. “Overwhelmingly, parents want a return to normalcy for their students — full resumption of field trips, in-person orientations, back-to-school events and other parental involvement opportunities in all APS buildings.”
“This also means returning to the pre-pandemic golden rule applicable to any illness: if you’re sick, stay home,” the group added.
APS is, in fact, returning to pre-Covid procedures for field trips and events, APS spokesman Frank Bellavia said.
Masks became optional as of March 1, but students, visitors and teachers have some Covid protocols to follow.
Those with Covid-like symptoms must present a negative test or alternative diagnosis from a medical provider or isolate at home for five days before returning to class. Meanwhile, volunteers, like APS employees, must have proof of vaccination or undergo weekly testing to volunteer, Bellavia said.
For APE, that’s not normal. But for Smart Restart APS, a parent group that started to push for protocols such as outdoor lunch and improved ventilation, said there is no return to life pre-2020.
“Smart Restart APS believes we are living in a new reality, and APS should continue to have appropriate, common-sense measures to adapt to living in this new reality, one which includes the ever-present possibility of COVID-19 infection spreading through our schools,” the group said in a statement. “We have to adapt — not ignore — the new situation.”
The spread of Covid still impacts families, whether a parent misses work or a child brings home Covid to a high-risk family member, the group continued.
“Everyone has a right to access a safe and healthy school environment,” the Smart Restart statement said. “COVID-19 in the air should not be a part of that.”
Groups of Arlington Public Schools students walked out today (Tuesday) to protest model policies the Commonwealth says local school boards should adopt regarding the treatment of transgender children.
Released last week, the draft policies from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), among other things, direct schools only to affirm a transgender student’s identity if parents request it. The document is perceived as a rebuttal to last year’s Democratic-led policies, which advised schools to affirm the child’s gender expression regardless of their family’s support.
In less than a week, a student-led LGBTQIA+ advocacy organization in Virginia mobilized kids across the state to protest the proposed revisions. The group said these changes would allow students and teachers to misgender transgender students while forcing those students to use restrooms corresponding to their sex assigned at birth.
In Arlington, walkouts were scheduled at Wakefield and Washington-Liberty high schools, the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program, and Thomas Jefferson and Kenmore middle schools, according to the student group, Pride Liberation Project.
A few dozen W-L teens gathered this morning in nearby Quincy Park (1021 N. Quincy Street), and some — including a few transgender students — made speeches and spoke to the media. The walkout was not school-sponsored, per an email to W-L parents.
“It’s just so bad. I don’t understand why [Gov. Glenn Youngkin] wants to bully these kids, including myself, I don’t see what’s so scary about using the name Matteo, using he/him pronouns, and why that threatens him so much, but it’s really sad that it does,” W-L junior Matteo Hope, a transgender boy, told ARLnow.
Mars Cirtain, a W-L junior, said politicians and family members cannot override how transgender students choose to express themselves.
“For a parent to tell a child that they are not the person they identify as is the same as their parents telling them, ‘You are not the person I raised you to be,'” Cirtain said. “It’s not about what your parents think you are, and it’s not about what your family thinks you can be. It’s about who you are and you get to decide that for yourself, not Gov. Youngkin, or your parents.”
Under the draft, teachers could not be compelled to use a student’s preferred pronouns, and students would use bathrooms and locker rooms corresponding to their sex assigned at birth. Schools would only accommodate students who identify as transgender at the written request of their parents. The document says these changes respect parents’ rights and beliefs and reverse Democrats’ attempts to “promot[e] a specific viewpoint aimed at achieving cultural and social transformation in schools.”
Waltz Fellone, W-L senior and a school organizer for Pride Liberation Project, told participants that Youngkin’s policies were “cruel and evil.”
“All of you have made a difference,” they said. “I know it may not feel like it because we are just a small school in Arlington. We might not even be affected by this, but it still means a lot.”
Generally, the W-L students in attendance expressed optimism that Arlington Public Schools would continue to affirm transgender students’ right to self-expression, with support from residents of Arlington, which runs deep blue. W-L junior Sophia Braier said she has “several” friends who would be affected by this decision if they lived in more conservative, rural areas.
“Beyond just protecting people here, we’re doing it to garner attention all over Virginia,” Braier said.
The walkout drew a large crowd at Wakefield this morning, according to Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49), who posted about it on social media.
— Alfonso Lopez (@Lopez4VA) September 27, 2022
APS and neighbor Fairfax County Public Schools are adhering to their current policies while they review the updates, ARLnow previously reported. FCPS students also held walkouts at a number of schools today.
Yesterday (Monday) marked the start of a 30-day public comment period in which people can respond to the policies and potentially change VDOE’s approach. APS says it is currently reviewing the draft policies and would not take action until it has reviewed the final document.
(Updated 09/27/22) High school football season is in play, but this year, fewer students in Arlington Public Schools will be in the stands cheering on their friends.
That is because Arlington County Police Department does not have enough officers to staff events, police spokeswoman Ashley Savage tells ARLnow.
Only students who attend the competing schools will be able to sit in the stands this year, according to one parent’s recap of a recent meeting between the Washington-Liberty Parent-Teacher Association and school leaders, which was posted to a Facebook page for parents and shared with ARLnow.
Siblings who attend other schools can attend if they come with their families, the post said. Students of the Arlington Career Center and H-B Woodlawn and those in Virtual Virginia courses can attend the games of their home schools.
This policy applies to all athletic events, not just football, the parent wrote.
Last fall, ACPD advised APS that it would not be able to provide physical security at games and special events for the 2022-23 school year due to ongoing staffing concerns, Savage said. (The police department also announced earlier this year that it would be scaling back some services due to the thinning of its ranks.)
“ACPD continues to work with APS on a plan to ensure a safe school community,” she said. “These security plans are similar to procedures APS implemented when the school board voted 5-0 to remove School Resources Officers.”
School Board members previously said they removed officers in response to arrest statistics indicating Black and Latino kids are disproportionately charged with crimes.
Despite not being in the schools daily, Savage said department participates in the school system’s Threat Assessment Team and School Safety Audit, has a liaison to APS and remains in contact with school leadership on any public safety concerns they may have.
“The decision to revise our admission procedures for high school athletic events is based on our commitment to providing safe, secure environments for students, staff and spectators, as well as to support the school staff who are charged with managing the crowds and maintaining safety and security during these events,” APS spokesman Frank Bellavia told ARLnow on Tuesday. “This has been our previous practice and is not directly related to the absence of police officers at our games.”
But some parents were surprised by the policy change, saying they only learned of it two weeks ago, ahead of the Washington-Liberty High School football game against Chantilly High School on Sept. 9.
The change has already prompted a parent to launch a petition calling for the decision to be reversed. The petition has just over 175 signatures as of publication time and the author, W-L Boosters Club Co-President Kevin Hughes, asked members of the School Board last week at their meeting to drop the policy.
“This is a small community. Many high school students attended elementary and middle school together and remain friends even though they are enrolled in different high schools,” he said in the petition. “By virtue of being an Arlington resident, all high school students should be afforded the opportunity to watch live football games in person regardless of what school they attend.”
Hughes said that most incidents occur after the game concludes, and could be mitigated “proper crowd dispersal procedures.”
APS has had its share of incidents surrounding football games. Police had to use pepper spray to break up a fight during a W-L game in 2016, Wakefield football players allegedly were the target of racial slurs in Fairfax County and some Yorktown students allegedly were sexually harassed during half-time at a game. APS noted last school year that fights were on the rise, particularly among middle-schoolers, as students reacclimated to in-person education.
And Arlington is not alone in taking steps to tighten security at athletic contests.
After a football game ended in a brawl and charges against five people, Montgomery County Public Schools now requires fans to stay in their seats and limits fans to students from the competing schools.
Some parents have expressed mixed feelings about the new APS policy, acknowledging its likely necessity while critiquing its implementation.
“At the end of the day, of course everyone I would rather have this policy — if absolutely necessary — than have them going to restricted attendance or no students at certain games,” said W-L parent Mark Weiser. “There are a lot of questions and not a lot of answers and what irks me is that the policy was thrown out there without a lot of discussion.”
This story has been updated to include comment from Arlington Public Schools.
Early voting got off to a muted start today (Thursday) at the Arlington County government headquarters in Courthouse.
“We had a line of five voters when we opened at 8 a.m.,” Director of Elections Gretchen Reinemeyer told ARLnow. “We’ve had 72 voters as of 11 a.m. Flow is slow but steady. The first day of voting last year we processed around 400 voters. We might be slightly under that today.”
Through Nov. 4, registered voters in Arlington can cast their ballots at the county’s election offices for Arlington County Board, School Board and Virginia’s 8th Congressional district, as well as six local bond referenda totaling $510 million.
One seat on the Arlington School Board is open once member Barbara Kanninen steps down. Bethany Sutton, who has the endorsement of the Arlington County Democratic Committee, and Vell Rives, her independent challenger, are competing for the position.
The bonds, if approved, would fund some of the next 10 years’ worth of capital projects for the county and Arlington Public Schools. If needed, the Arlington County Board can reallocate approved bond funds to other projects within the same bucket, such as transportation or parks.
Though interest rates have been rising, the county says it typically gets lower rates, relatively speaking, thanks to its high credit rating.
“Arlington currently holds AAA general obligation bond ratings from the three major bond rating agencies,” the county website says. “These strong ratings allow the County to borrow at very low interest rates, resulting in lower costs to Arlington taxpayers.”
The planned bonds are as follows.
Metro & Transportation ($52.63 million)
- Paying Arlington County’s share of Metro’s capital improvement program: $42.6 million
- Paving local streets and roads, $7.2 million
- Conducting maintenance on local vehicle and pedestrian bridges, $1.5 million
- Improving street lighting, $1.1 million
- Replacing intelligent transportation system devices, $200,000
- Addressing missing links in curbs and gutters, $100,000
Parks and Recreation ($22.46 million)
- Parks maintenance capital and master planning projects, $10.8 million
- Additional funding for the completed renovations at Jennie Dean Park, $4.4 million
- Initial planning and designs for the Arlington Boathouse, $2.9 million
- Arlington’s Natural Resiliency program, which conserves natural resources makes upgrades at parks to prevent destructive flooding, $2 million
- Funding for the Emerging Uses program, which responds to “emerging recreational activities and casual use spaces,” $2 million
- Maintenance of synthetic turf fields, $300,000
Community Infrastructure ($53.3 million)
- Courthouse and Arlington County Police Department building upgrades, $13.1 million
- Facilities design and construction, $12.7 million
- Courthouse renovations and infrastructure, $12 million
- Fire station replacements and additions, $7.4 million
- Neighborhood Conservation projects, $5 million
- Facilities maintenance capital, $3.1 million
Arlington Public Schools ($165 million)
- Career Center expansion project, $135.97 million
- Improvements to kitchens and secure entrances, $12.24 million
- Major infrastructure projects, $16.8 million
Stormwater ($39.76 million)
- Spout Run Watershed, $13.26 million
- Langston Blvd and Sycamore Street culverts, $6.75 million
- Torreyson Run Watershed, $5.95 million
- Other capacity improvement projects, $8 million
Water Quality Improvements
- Gulf Branch Stream, $2.75 million
- Sparrow Pond Watershed, $1.275 million
- Other water quality improvements, $1.75 million
Utilities ($177.36 million)
- Meeting more stringent environmental regulations at the Water Pollution Control Plant, and increasing capacity there to meet Arlington’s growing population and development, $159.5 million
- Improving the Washington Aqueduct system, $15 million
- Improving gravity transmission mains, $2.9 million
The deadline to register to vote this year is Oct. 18. Voters can check their registration status online through the State Dept. of Elections.
Those planning to vote on Election Day may have a change in their polling location. Arlington County is sending out mailers with their district and polling place information for the General Election.
(Updated, 2:40 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools is “aware of and are reviewing” new draft policies handed down by the Commonwealth late last week regarding the rights of transgender students.
On Friday evening, the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) released updated “model policies” directing local school boards to adopt a set of new policies relating to the treatment, rights, and actions of transgender students as well as who teachers are allowed to identify as transgender.
“APS will continue to uphold our core mission and policies to ensure that every child receives equal educational access and opportunities,” read the statement in part, which is co-signed by Superintendent Dr. Francisco Durán and School Board Chair Reid Goldstein.
“We value the many diverse identities within our schools, where every student can authentically express themselves, including those in the LGBTQIA+ community,” the statement continued. “APS continues to take seriously the privilege and responsibility of working towards a shared understanding and mutual respect for all people.”
APS’s response also noted there’s a 30-day public comment period that begins Sept. 26 prior to the enactment of the new state-directed policies. APS spokesperson Frank Bellavia told ARLnow that VDOE could make changes to the policies in response to public comment.
“There is a 30-day public comment period, at which point the VDOE will review comments and make potential changes prior to posting a final document,” Bellavia wrote. “School divisions will need to then review the final document prior to any action.”
Fairfax County Public Schools are “thoroughly reviewing” the guidelines as well.
The new policies, under the administration of Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R), say that teachers and staff can identify as a transgender student only those whose parents provide written permission.
“The phrase ‘transgender student’ shall mean a public school student whose parent has requested in writing, due to their child’s persistent and sincere belief that his or her gender differs with his or her sex, that their child be so identified while at school,” says the guidelines.
Even if a parent does submit the required written request, however, it does not mean teachers and staff are required to use the student’s name or gender if the staff member believes it will violate their “constitutionally protected rights.”
The new policy has received backlash from some who say that this could result in students being misgendered, outed, and put in harmful situations. It also stands in contrast to APS’s policy first adopted in 2019, which says that students have the right to decide their own gender identity.
“Every student has the right to be addressed by names and pronouns that correspond to the student’s gender identity. Regardless of whether a transgender student has legally changed their name or gender, schools will allow students to use a chosen name and gender pronouns that reflect their gender identity,” reads APS’s policy.
(Updated at 11:15 a.m.) The failures of the controversial Virtual Learning Program were “an indigestible meal that is going to make you sick,” an Arlington Public Schools auditor told the School Board this summer.
APS created the VLP in May 2021 for families who had reservations about resuming in-person school last fall as well as for students who prefer online instruction. But it quickly malfunctioned for a dozen reasons, according to the audit, prompting school leaders to “pause” the program for the 2022-23 school year and redirect online students to Virtual Virginia (VVA).
APS lacked a formal plan and necessary time to stand up the program, having just the summer to do so, according to auditor John Mickevice. He said planners did not think through the problems that might arise trying to hire 111 teachers in that same period, amid hiring freezes.
The VLP needed more principals, teachers and specialized staff to meet the needs of students, who were overwhelmingly students of color, English learners and students with disabilities, he said. Program leaders were slow to inform administrators of technology issues and teacher shortages.
School Board members accepted the report on July 19 as a “learning” opportunity, taking some ownership for the problems but chalking others up to the pandemic. But they haven’t given up hope on a long-term virtual option, which could relieve capacity pressure and let secondary students pursue extracurricular opportunities, take more classes or recover credits.
A working group and task force are currently exploring what that could look like. Their recommendations are slated for School Board review this December.
“The School Board and Superintendent requested the Audit Report to formally assess the Virtual Learning Program and ensure the issues do not repeat themselves,” School Board Chair Reid Goldstein said in a statement to ARLnow. “The audit reinforced several of the themes which APS staff communicated openly throughout the 2021-22 school year, including insufficient planning time and resources to properly plan for and execute a virtual learning program.”
The working group and task force are “carrying these lessons forward in their work to propose a more sustainable virtual offering for students,” Goldstein said. “APS will continue to keep the community informed as this work progresses.”
Some in the school community say pursuing in-house online learning at all is the wrong takeaway.
“I think the painful lesson to learn was not to do this again. A valuable lesson, but a painful lesson,” said independent School Board candidate Vell Rives. “I think APS should be concentrating on in-person instruction. That’s our charge.”
Bethany Sutton, who has the endorsement of local Democrats, said APS over-extended itself and strayed away from its mission.
“[T]hey lost their way as to whether the VLP was a Covid-related stopgap measure or whether it was a permanent, full-fledged K-12 program,” she said. “This is absolutely a moment for the Board to examine its oversight role, any related policies, and the transparency of how they respond to situations that are emerging in real-time.”
Before getting too far into planning a new program, she said APS needs to determine demand for virtual learning. Currently, there are 33 students enrolled in Virtual Virginia, according to the school system.
In a statement to ARLnow, watchdog group Arlington Parents for Education said the audit demonstrated “there should be a presumption against the use of [virtual learning] options going forward.”
“The audit report identified shocking failures and highlighted that the School Board must take ownership and oversight of APS seriously, including vetting, voting on, monitoring and holding APS leadership accountable for initiatives that impact instruction and the remediation of learning loss,” the group said.
Arlyn Elizee, whose children were in the program last year, said the audit’s lessons won’t be internalized until APS remediates the acute learning loss these children suffered.
“Assuming that all of these issues will soon be addressed [and] remedied as VLP students are dispersed back into their brick and mortar schools or into Virtual Virginia this Fall is not enough,” said Elizee, speaking on behalf of the VLP Parents’ Coalition, which formed to connect families and bolster their advocacy efforts.
(Updated at 11:15 p.m.) A Wakefield High School junior has died in the hospital after being struck by a driver while riding a scooter.
Miguel Angel Rivera suffered what were described as “massive injuries” after being struck while returning from work on an electric scooter.
On Monday, his parents said on a GoFundMe page that Rivera had died at a hospital in Fairfax County.
With heavy hearts, we want to announce that our Miguelito has passed as of early this morning, 9/5/2022. He is now in the arms of our Lord Jesus Christ and will forever be remembered. He is now an angel looking down on us all.
We are in awe of the amount of love, support, and generosity that is being shown to help the family during this time of unimaginable sorrow and heartbreak. Miguel Angel was loved by so many, please keep the prayers coming for those closest to him that that they find peace, comfort, and healing.
The GoFundMe page, which has raised nearly $20,000 for medical and funeral expenses, does not detail what happened. A community leader who shared the page on social media said over the weekend, and again on Monday, said he did not have additional information about the crash.
ARLnow hears that the crash happened just over a week ago in Alexandria. Police there issued a press release about a crash that happened just after 10 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 27 along Beauregard Street, west of the Mark Center.
The Alexandria Police Department is investigating a traffic crash that occurred on Saturday, August 27, 2022, at the intersection of North Beauregard Street and Sanger Avenue.
At approximately 10:17 PM, police responded to the area for a scooter struck at the intersection of North Beauregard Street and Sanger Avenue. Preliminary investigation suggests the victim, 16 years of age, was making a left-hand turn onto Sanger Avenue from the southbound lane of North Beauregard Street when he was struck by a Black Toyota RAV-4 traveling northbound on North Beauregard Street. The victim was transported to the hospital in critical condition with life-threatening injuries.
The […] driver of the Black SUV, remained on the scene.
APD’s Crash Reconstruction Team is investigating the crash. The investigation is ongoing.
As of Tuesday afternoon school administrators had not yet sent an email to WHS families about Rivera’s death and, we’re told, were awaiting permission from the teen’s family to do so.
NBC 4 reported Tuesday night that Rivera was just minutes from his father’s house when he was struck. He died after being taken off life support at the hospital.
There’s still no word on whether the driver of the SUV will face any charges.
A non-profit is teaming up with the county and schools to provide food assistance to students when classes start up again next week.
Food for Neighbors (FFN), the Department of Human Services (DHS), and Arlington Public Schools (APS) have announced a partnership where food, toiletries, and grocery gift cards will be collected and distributed to students in need on a weekly basis.
The Herndon-based Food for Neighbors has been partnering with Fairfax County and Loudoun County schools for the last five years, but the 2022-2023 school year will be the first working with APS.
FFN will work with students at three high schools initially — Wakefield High School, Arlington Community High School, and the Arlington Career Center — when classes start for the year this coming Monday (Aug. 29).
Renee Maxwell, Community Liaison for FFN, told ARLnow that a “rough estimate is that we’ll be providing consistent, regular support to 200-300 students” to start out. FFN works with the schools and staff to identify the students who are most in need.
The hope, though, is to expand to help more students at more schools soon.
“We’re thrilled to be working with the Arlington County Department of Human Services to bring our programming to Arlington Public Schools,” FFN founder and executive director Karen Joseph said in a press release. “Arlington is a highly diverse, vibrant area, and the expansion provides the opportunity for us to learn about and respond to the needs in the community, so that we may help even more students facing food insecurity.”
The main way FFN collects and distributes items is through its “Red Bag Program.”
That’s where volunteers shop for shelf-stable items, leave them in an FFN-supplied red bag on their doorstep, and other volunteers come pick it up, sort the food, and distribute it to local schools that same day.
The day-long collection event happens five times a school year. The first one to include Arlington is set to happen on October 29. Those who would like to volunteer to donate items are being asked to sign up “well ahead of time.”
Over 1,700 food donors and about 1,200 volunteers have signed up to help across Northern Virginia so far, per a press release.
FFN also provides shelving and cabinets to schools to store the extra food, as well as grocery gift cards and holiday meals.
During the 2021-2022 school year, FFN provided more than 88,000 pounds of food and toiletries to Fairfax and Loudoun County schools. Additionally, more than $105,000 in grocery gift cards were also donated so that students could have access to fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and other perishables.
Food insecurity continues to be a major challenge in Arlington and across the region. Nearly 8% of Arlingtonians experienced food security recently, according to a report that was released earlier this year.
The rates were particularly high in certain neighborhoods including Glencarlyn, Buckingham, Ashton Heights, Pentagon City, Crystal City, Forest Glen, and Arlington Mill. All three of these high schools that will be served by FFN this coming year have students from these neighborhoods.
What’s more, the federal government ended the free meal program for all students earlier this summer. While students at several county elementary schools will still be able to receive free meals under the Community Eligibility Provision, the sunsetting of free meals nationally could leave some students wondering where their next meal might come from.
The hope is that Food for Neighbors could help fill some of those gaps.
“Through my previous work in Fairfax County, I have seen how influential a partnership with Food For Neighbors can be to address food security for middle and high school students,” DHS Food Security Coordinator Stephanie Hopkins said in a press release. “I know that Arlington community members have a very giving spirit, and I’m confident that they will come through to support the Red Bag Program by donating food and hands-on support.”
Middle and high school students at Arlington public schools will soon be able to ride Arlington Transit buses for free.
The new free ride program will begin next week, with the start of classes on Monday.
Students will need to obtain an iRide SmarTrip card to take advantage of the free rides, and a county press release notes that “due to supply chain issues, iRide cards are available on a first-come, first-served basis.”
Previously, students could ride ART for a discounted, $1 fare.
The full county press release is below.
Beginning this school year, middle and high school students from Arlington Public Schools (APS) will be able to ride free anytime on Arlington Transit (ART), the County’s bus transit system, with an iRide SmarTrip card.
Students with existing iRide cards will automatically receive the free transit access when classes begin on Mon., August 29, with no additional actions required.
APS students who don’t have an iRide card can obtain one for free by contacting their School Transportation Coordinator or by visiting one of Arlington’s Commuter Store locations with their student ID. Due to supply chain issues, iRide cards are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Students who cannot obtain a card in time for the start of the school year can anticipate new inventory in October.
The free rides on ART expand on Arlington Transit Bureau’s pilot program to provide transit service to APS students who have limited travel options to school. With this latest program, students can ride free anywhere, not just take trips to school and back home.
Previously, students could ride ART for $1 — half the regular fare — with a registered iRide card. The iRide card can also be used to pay fares on Metrobus, Metrorail and other regional transit systems, and provides valuable ridership data to the Transit Bureau for use in decision-making.
About ART Bus
Arlington Transit’s (ART) 16 routes operate within Arlington County to provide cross-County neighborhood routes as well as regional connections to Metrorail and Virginia Railway Express. Visit the ART website to find maps, schedules, and plan a trip.
Starting Mon., August 29, middle and high school students from @APSVirginia will be able to ride free anytime on Arlington Transit (ART) buses with an iRide SmarTrip card. Learn more: https://t.co/JvKxPd9Qrt @ArlingtonDES pic.twitter.com/PVjug33qTy
— Arlington County (@ArlingtonVA) August 26, 2022
Arlington Public Schools will follow mostly the same Covid protocols as last year, including optional masks, free weekly testing, and five-day quarantines.
Much hasn’t changed from last year as APS continues to align guidelines with both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH).
Masks will continue to be optional for students and staff as long as local transmission continues to be low or moderate. Currently CDC says Arlington is in its “Medium” community level for Covid, though it appears possible that that may flip back to “Low” on Thursday. If cases do rise and hit the “High” threshold, APS says its requirements will change.
“If we ever get to the high community transmission, we will require masks,” said Durán. “Of course, we will have the opportunity for families to opt out but it will be required for staff.”
Students who have Covid-like symptoms will also continue to be sent home and only allowed back to school with either a physician’s note or a negative test. The change in this year’s policy, though, is that all tests will be accepted as proof, including at-home rapid tests. Previously, only PCR tests were accepted.
Like last year, all students who test positive must quarantine for five days and can return to school on the sixth day provided they are symptom-free. From day six to day ten, students and staff must wear a mask while at school.
If a student is unable or “unwilling” to wear a mask, a negative test must be provided to return to school. A student or a staff member who still feels ill or has symptoms after day five of quarantining should remain home.
“I want to put a plea out there to all of our parents and staff, monitor your symptoms. Do not come to school or work if you are not feeling well,” said Durán.
Another relative notable change from last year is that anyone who was directly exposed to a Covid-positive individual no longer needs to quarantine unless they have symptoms themselves, no matter their vaccination status.
Last year, the quarantine rules for those who were directly exposed but had no symptoms shifted. In early 2022, APS started allowing students who were vaccinated, willing to mask, and asymptomatic to return to school almost immediately.
Now, vaccinations and masking are no longer required.
Families and staff can also opt in for free weekly Covid testing provided by APS. A consent form was sent via email to all families, noted Durán.
“I highly encourage if you are concerned about making our schools safer to take advantage of this. It takes only a few minutes each week,” he said.
More information and a more complete list of guidelines is expected to be available on APS’s website and sent to parents, students and staff tomorrow (Wednesday).
The School Board meeting brought a few other updates with students returning next week.
Over the summer, APS invested more than $5 million in security upgrades, including a new visitor management system, door lock technology, and an alarm system.
A new mobile app is debuting that will allow parents to track where their student’s bus is and when will it arrive. A new virtual tutoring system for middle and high school students is set to be available, as well.
Plus, the first-ever “APS-wide dress code” is being instituted this year. Previously, dress codes were determined by schools. As School Board member Barbara Kanninen noted, a “more inclusive” system-wide dress code was prioritized by APS due to the ongoing efforts of one particular student who launched a campaign she dubbed “Free The Shoulders.”
The $38 million transformation of the Washington-Liberty annex is nearly complete.
Over the last three years, the nearly six-decade-old Arlington Education Center has undergone a complete overhaul to turn it into classrooms and school space for the burgeoning student body. This is the most significant renovation in the history of the building, which was completed in 1969 and previously used as the Arlington Public Schools headquarters. (The APS administrative offices are now located at Sequoia Plaza.)
We received an exclusive tour yesterday of the newly updated facility that is now updated classrooms, breakout areas, science labs, art studios, weight rooms, offices, and flex space. The project reached substantial completion back in June. With school less than two weeks away, it’s now all touch-ups, paneling, and inspections.
The annex is expected to open to students when the new school year starts later this month.
The goal of the project, APS’s director of design and construction Jeff Chambers told ARLnow while walking through the still-pristine hallways, was to turn an under-used office building into usable, updated school space.
“With this building, it’s set up so that it can be used for any type of classroom or for any grade,” Chambers said. “It’s going to be used by Washington-Liberty students when it opens, but it can be converted to be used for anything. The whole intent is that all of the classrooms can be modified and used for whatever program absolutely needs them.”
The five-floor, 55,000-square-foot facility can accommodate between 500 and 600 students. The building is shaped like a “quarter of a donut,” as described by project manager Robin Hodges, which allows nearly all of the classrooms a view of the outside while also facing inward towards the common areas.
Each level, with the exception of the ground floor, is similar in set-up, with the elevators moved back, large windows, and a common area with seating and furniture. The building’s footprint wasn’t expanded, though it might look that way.
“The ambient light into the classrooms and spaces has really made a huge improvement, opened up the building a lot more,” said Hodges. “Everyone that used to be here before and now walks the halls ask, ‘Did you make it bigger?’ No. We just have more daylight in the building.”
Chambers compared the old building’s lack of sunlight and darkness, particularly in the bathrooms, to walking into a famed Arlington landmark.
“It was like walking into The Broiler on Columbia [Pike] and you’re looking for your steak and cheese,” he said laughing, noting that they did a simulation of the sun’s movement and added window frits to help diffuse sunlight throughout the building.