Arlington, VA

It’s official: Arlington Public Schools will now open on Sept. 8, and classes will be held entirely online.

Superintendent Francisco Durán announced his decision to host online-only classes on Tuesday, at least for the first half of the fall semester, and spoke in more detail about the plan at a School Board meeting yesterday (Thursday).

School Board chair Monique O’Grady said that the decision to go online-only fell within the superintendent’s domain as an operational decision and would not be voted on at the meeting. What the School Board did unanimously agree to was pushing the start date back from Aug. 31 to Sept. 8 for students.

The change was suggested by Durán, who said that if the it was approved the teaching staff would still start on Aug. 24 for training and professional development. The implementation of a hybrid in-person model would be delayed.

“The health and safety of our students has driven our decisions,” said Durán. “Beginning virtually allows us to monitor COVID-19… I believe it is the right thing to do for the health and safety of our students and staff.”

Durán said APS is still committed to resuming in-school instruction as soon as it was safe, which he said the schools were currently eyeing as the beginning of the second quarter of the school year, provided the COVID-19 situation has sufficiently improved by then.

“As of Monday, there is still community-wide spread of COVID,” Durán said. “We are definitely far from normal. Given that information, really important we pause and ensure the safety of all is at the forefront.”

Durán said that instruction will all be live with students graded on their work and attendance taken. That contrasts with the last quarter of the 2019-2020 school year, when schools closed and students engaged in remote learning activities but were not taught new material.

While the School Board did not vote on Durán’s plan to go all-online, O’Grady said the decision had the support of the School Board.

“[The Board] honors and values experience the experience of the superintendent and has hired him to make those decisions,” O’Grady said.

The only concerns about the plans voiced by the School Board were from Reid Goldstein, who said he didn’t like the idea of putting out the information item and taking action in such a short timespan, but also added that he recognized that “sometimes exigent circumstances require taking action more quickly.”

Approval of pushing the start of the school year back to September was approved in a 5-0 vote.

More on the decision, below, from a School Talk email sent to APS families this morning.

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Morning Notes

Arlington Gets Federal Arts Grant — “Arlington Cultural Affairs will receive a $35,000 Art Works award from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)… [Arlington] will use the grant to support a multi-cultural artist residency project serving the Columbia Hills and Columbia Grove affordable housing communities.” [Arlington County]

Justin Trawick to Play ‘Secret’ Show — “We just got approval from Arlington County to present ‘Common Good on The Block’ benefiting the Arlington Food Assistance Center. Join ‘Justin Trawick and The Common Good’ for a secret street show with the full band on August 1st. This will be a socially distanced event and there are only 60 tickets available.” [Twitter]

Armed Robbery Near Ballston — “At approximately 11:45 p.m. on July 7, the victim was outside his residence when he was approached by two male suspects, one of whom was displaying a firearm. The suspects forced the victim back inside of his apartment, assaulted him, and demanded money. The victim was forced into the bathroom while the suspects ransacked the residence, then stole the victim’s vehicle, a 2005 Chevrolet Equinox with Virginia tags, and other items of value.” [Arlington County]

APS Superintendent to Hold Virtual Town Hall — “Dr. Durán will be hosting a community virtual Town Hall on Tuesday, July 14, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., to address the family selection process for choosing an instructional model for students. The Superintendent will address questions already received and take questions during the live event using Microsoft Teams or Facebook Live. The event will provide simultaneous interpretation in 5 languages (more details to come), including ASL, and closed captions in the streamed video.” [Arlington Public Schools]

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Arlington Public Schools is planning to start the fall semester with most students spending just two days a week in classrooms.

The “hybrid” model would see students spending the other three days a week leaning remotely, from home, a plan similar to that just announced by the country’s largest school system.

Arlington parents will also be able to opt their kids out of physical school entirely, in favor of full-time remote learning. For those students going to schools, however, masks and physical distancing will be required.

There are parents, however, who say that the APS plan is inadequate, and students should be going back to school full-time. A new volunteer coalition, Arlington Parents for Education, has formed to advocate for just that. From the group’s website:

The group recently penned a letter, sent to local news outlets, arguing that “the average citizens of our county will be worse off and those with the fewest resources will be left significantly further behind” if APS does not fully reopen.

The decision the members of the Arlington County School Board will make regarding the Fall semester will be the single most consequential decision they ever make. Superintendent Durán stated that a plan for full-time instruction was his preference. He needs to make it his priority. The need to protect Teachers and Students is tremendously important, but this decision must be made with the fullest picture of health and safety in mind. Unclear references to teacher and student physical and mental health are not a sufficient explanation for failing to provide a full-time option.

Full-time instructions is not some outlier position and should be possible given Virginia’s final phase guidance. Massachusetts, New Jersey and numerous districts all over the world are figuring how to manage their risks and are making plans for students to return in the fall. Considering all the factors, the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly advocates that: “all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.” Arlington needs to follow suit. Conditions on the ground can change and we need to be prepared to meet those conditions. However, that is not an excuse for failing to provide a full-time plan given the current information at hand.

There has been no substantive assessment of why full-time instruction was not selected, and no public guidance from the county on what standards, if any, need to be met to get kids back in school. Even more concerning, there was no assessment provided about the consequences of the superintendent’s proposed plan. APS owes its citizens a breakdown of the expected cost of their plan on the mental, economic, and educational well-being of students and their families. It’s unsound policymaking to offer vague one-sided justifications without being transparent about the consequences their decision will have. This is particularly important when discussing our most vulnerable populations.

Among the advocates for five-day-per-week schooling in the fall: President Trump, who is threatening to cut off funding to school districts that do not physically open in full.

Those who want a full return to classrooms are not alone in their critique of APS. ARLnow has also heard from parents and teachers who do not believe any return to classrooms this fall will be safe.

APS, for its part, recently sent a School Talk email to parents further explaining the rationale for the hybrid back-to-school model and answering other parent questions.

Why APS is not offering a full-time in-school option: We understand there are difficult decisions to be made with both models. The full-time in-school scenario is not possible at this time, due to physical distancing requirements issued by the CDC, Virginia Department of Health and local health officials. Physical distancing limits the number of students and staff who can be inside a school at any one time, so the hybrid model allows half of students to be in school part of the week in order to reduce capacities in classrooms and on buses.

What APS will do if health conditions improve: If health conditions improve and physical distancing and other health requirements are adjusted in a way that would allow APS to resume in-person instruction for all students, we would reassess our operating status at that time.

What APS will do if health conditions worsen: We continue to monitor COVID-19 guidance from the CDC and state and local health officials on a daily basis. Our hybrid in-school model is contingent upon the school year beginning in Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan. If health data and recommendations from the Arlington County Public Health Division necessitate closing schools, students and staff participating in the hybrid model will transition to full time distance learning similar in substance to the existing full time distance learning model which will include a blend of teacher-led/synchronous instruction and asynchronous instruction.

Do you think APS should change its plan for the fall?

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Arlington’s new superintendent says Arlington Public Schools is focusing on a potential hybrid model for the return to school in the fall.

Dr. Francisco Durán is scheduled to update the School Board on back-to-school planning on Thursday. He said an APS Task Force this week “is reviewing hybrid instructional models that blend in-person and distance learning for student.”

“We are also planning for a distance-learning-only option for students who are in high risk health categories or are not comfortable returning to school in person,” Durán added.

Nearly three-quarters of families said in a recent APS survey that they would be comfortable sending kids back into classrooms this fall, with a plurality preferring only in-person instruction over a hybrid model (42% to 37%). Only 10% of survey respondents preferred keeping students out of classrooms altogether to start the school year, according to an email Durán sent to APS families Tuesday afternoon.

Fairfax County, meanwhile, plans to give families two options to start the school year: entirely virtual online learning or a hybrid in which students would be in class at least two days a week.

Last month interim superintendent Cintia Johnson said distance learning to start the school year was “very probable.”

The full email from Durán is below.

Dear APS Community,

We continue to develop our plan for returning to school this fall based on the state’s guidance, working in collaboration with the Task Force, regional superintendents, and the Arlington County Public Health Division. This week, our team is reviewing hybrid instructional models that blend in-person and distance learning for students, assuming Virginia enters Phase 3 by the start of school.

The Task Force has already reviewed many possible instructional models and is now focusing on three that best meet APS needs and align with neighboring school divisions. We are also planning for a distance-learning-only option for students who are in high risk health categories or are not comfortable returning to school in person.

I will share more details on our work and present the recommended instructional model at the School Board meeting this Thursday. Deciding on the model will allow for us to begin to make decisions regarding staffing, budget, childcare, transportation, and other elements of our plan.

The results are in from the staff, student and family surveys on distance learning and reopening, and I would like to thank everyone who participated. Your input is invaluable as we work to plan for the upcoming year. We will post the complete results on our APS Engage webpage by this Friday. In the meantime, here are a few highlights which are informing our work moving forward:

  • 37% of families preferred reopening school with a hybrid combination of in-person and distance learning; 42% preferred in-person instruction only; and 10% preferred distance learning only.
  • 73% of families said they are comfortable sending students back to school with no concerns or some concerns; 9% were not at all comfortable.
  • 38% of staff said they are comfortable returning to school/workplace with no concerns or some concerns, while 39% said they were not at all comfortable returning.
  • The top factors influencing the level of comfort in returning for both groups were whether public health regulations will be followed, disinfection of facilities, and availability of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).
  • 35% of families reported that their students will not continue to ride the school bus, and 28% are uncertain if their students would continue to ride the bus.

We are developing health and safety plans to address these concerns to make sure students and staff are learning and working in a safe environment.

In terms of distance learning feedback, a few highlights:

  • Families (52%), students (43%) and staff (62%) all preferred a combination of live, synchronous distance learning and self-directed, asynchronous distance learning.
  • Students indicated that they know how to contact their teachers and get technical help when necessary (68% for both).
  • Staff indicated that they mostly felt “somewhat prepared” to connect with students, provide social-emotional support, and provide instructional supports to students (Special Needs, English Learners, and Gifted); further questions allowed them to specify what professional development and supports they would need.

This input will help inform our work in developing professional supports for staff, providing training as needed, and making sure that the 2020-21 school year is a success for all.

I hope that you will continue to follow updates on APS Engage and that you can join me at 7 p.m. tonight for the final Community Town Hall in this initial series of virtual events I have held this month. I also encourage you to view the School Board meeting on Thursday, June 25, as I present the recommended instructional model along with other important details and next steps.

Sincerely,

Dr. Francisco Durán
Superintendent
Arlington Public Schools

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As parents, we all want our kids to meet their full potential, today and as they grow into adults.

One of the most effective ways to realize that goal is to make sure that every child in every school has access to healthy, high-quality food.

At its best, school food not only combats hunger and obesity, it improves academic and athletic performance, reduces disciplinary problems, and teaches kids a life skill as fundamental as math and reading.

Since 2010, local nonprofit Real Food for Kids has championed healthy food and nutrition education in Arlington, Fairfax and other D.C. area school districts. Real Food for Kids has engaged thousands of area students in its educational programs, and successfully advocated for new salad bars, healthy entrees and elimination of sodas in vending machines in Fairfax County schools.

To kick-off the new year, we’re throwing a Back to School celebration and you’re invited!

Join Real Food for Kids Executive Director Jenn Yates and TV-personality/Chef David Guas at his award-winning Bayou Bakery in Courthouse on Thursday, October 3, 5-7 p.m. for a fun evening of apps, drinks and a dash of southern charm!

This event supports Real Food for Kids’ efforts to fight childhood hunger and obesity, and to ensure access to healthy foods and nutrition education in schools.

Real Food for Kids pursues this mission by:

  • Working with school leaders to identify and overcome challenges faced by food service departments
  • Teaching Pre-K through high school students healthy eating habits through fun activities and events
  • Uniting parents, school and elected officials to prioritize our kids’ health

Come raise a glass with parents, elected officials and other community leaders from across the region, and learn more about Real Food for Kids’ advocacy for healthy kids.

For more information and to register, visit https://bit.ly/2lNcBeF.

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Arlington Public Schools students returned to class this morning as fall unofficially kicked off on the day after Labor Day.

No major problems have been reported thus far on the roads, just the normal “Terrible Traffic Tuesday” increase in traffic volume on local arterials and highways, as well as some crashes and other hazards.

In Arlington, drivers were asked to slow down and take note of new traffic patterns near new and newly-repurposed schools, including Dorothy Hamm Middle School in Cherrydale, The Heights Building on Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn, and the Montessori Public School of Arlington on S. Highland Street. Another change this school year: the newly-renamed Washington-Liberty High School.

Arlington County Police, meanwhile, are out conducting high-visibility enforcement around school zones doay.

APS has been active on social media this morning, showing back-to-school scenes from around the county. A number of those posts are below.

Photos via Arlington Public Schools, Arlington County Police

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Morning Notes

Woman Arrested for Burning Flag Near W-L High — “A woman was arrested for burning an American flag on an overpass over I-66 in Arlington, police say. Kayla Caniff, 22, was charged with property destruction after police say she burned a flag attached to a chain link fence on the N. Stafford Street overpass, north of the Ballston area, at about 11:55 p.m. Thursday.” [NBC Washington]

County Website Goes Down — The Arlington County website was down for an extended period of time over Labor Day weekend. [Twitter]

Lucky Dog Takes in Pups from Hurricane’s Path — “While Hurricane Dorian battered the Bahamas — thousands of miles away in Arlington, Lucky Dog Animal Rescue plotted a rescue mission… The Carolinas are projected to be in the storm’s path and Lucky Dog Animal Rescue is partnered with a shelter in South Carolina. So the organization’s volunteers met an animal control officer part of the way there to take 19 of the shelter’s dogs.” [WJLA]

APS to Review Westover Tree Plan — “Facing community unrest in Westover, Arlington Public Schools plans to take another look at the potential of saving more trees during construction of a new elementary school on North McKinley Road near Washington Boulevard. Following an Aug. 29 meeting with residents, the school system has directed that ‘before the trees are removed, we have the contractor stake out the site and renumber the trees.'” [InsideNova]

Energy Plan Concerns: Feds and Trees — Arlington County’s impending update to its Community Energy Plan, which sets a net zero carbon emissions goal, is an important step in fighting climate change, some advocates say, though additional action is still needed on the state and federal level. Others, despite supporting the goal, are concerned that achieving it may come at the cost of the area’s tree canopy. [Washington Post, Arlington County]

Arlington’s Many Advocacy Orgs — “My viewing [of the Netflix documentary ‘The Family’] got me thinking of the many newsmaking organizations — of all political stripes — that have long populated our suburb so close to the action of the nation’s capital. Wilson Blvd. and Crystal City alone are home to enough colorful groups to generate a slew of political and public policy contretemps.” [Falls Church News-Press]

Reminder: Be Careful on the Roads Today — It’s the first day of school, kids will be walking to school and there are new traffic patterns around some schools. Arlington County Police are conducting “a high-visibility traffic enforcement campaign in and around school zones and bus stops” today. [ARLnow, Arlington County]

Photo courtesy David Johnson

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The school year for Arlington Public Schools starts up again on Tuesday (Sept. 3), and there are a variety of traffic changes around the county for drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians to be aware of.

There are several new traffic patterns around new and newly-repurposed schools. At Dorothy Hamm Middle School in Cherrydale, there are new traffic signals and signs, crosswalks and crossing guards near the school at 4100 Vacation Lane. At The Heights Building on Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn, students will be arriving at buses on 18th Street N., which will be closed to the public The Montessori Public School of Arlington on S. Highland Street is now a countywide school, meaning more buses will be at the school.

Drew Elementary School and the new Dorothy Hamm Middle School are both neighborhood schools now, meaning pedestrians and cyclists to the school are more likely.

According to the press release, drivers across the county should remember to:

  • Obey speed limits which may change during school zone times.
  • Avoid distracted driving and keep your attention on the road.
  • Watch for students walking and riding bikes to school.
  • Don’t pass a stopped school bus loading or unloading passengers. Violations could result in a fine of $250.
  • On a two-lane road, vehicles traveling in both directions must stop.
  • On a multi-lane paved road, vehicles traveling in both directions must stop.
  • On a divided highway, vehicles behind the bust must stop. Vehicles traveling in the opposite direction may proceed with caution.
  • Have all vehicle occupants wear their seatbelts.
  • Pick-up and drop-off students in designated kiss and ride locations.

Pedestrians are reminded to only cross the street at the crosswalk and follow the instructions of crossing guards.

Bicyclists ages 14 and under are required to wear helmets, while helmets are recommended for everyone. Cyclists should keep to the right and ride with traffic, then to lock up the bicycle when not in use.

File photo

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(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) There’s still a lot that needs to be done in The Heights, the new home of H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program and the Shriver Program, before the school opens next week.

Construction crews are putting on the finishing touches of the building at 1601 Wilson Blvd even as teachers get their classrooms ready for the start of school next Tuesday (Sept. 3). Much of the state-of-the-art interior is completed.

Demolition for the old Wilson School at the site started in 2017, with crews working since then to build the new, five-story terraced structure. Most of the building is slated to be open and usable when school starts, though the auditorium remains under construction. Jeffrey Chambers, director of design and construction for Arlington Public Schools, explained that there’s still construction work that needs to be done and it won’t be accessible until a few weeks after the school opens.

There are other projects around the school, smaller pieces Chambers described as “finishing up the punch list,” but Chambers said any construction work that would be disruptive to students will be done after hours.

“We’re excited to open in a week,” said Dr. Casey Robinson, principal of H-B Woodlawn. “There’s lots to do and we’re having lots of fun exploring the new space.”

H-B Woodlawn is a secondary program with a focus on students playing an integral role in developing school curriculum and shaping the culture of the school. Robinson was a student at the old H-B Woodlawn and later became a teacher there, so like much of the faculty she’s still adjusting to the new location, but she and the others are approaching it with a smile.

“We’ve been telling ourselves and our students that the comfortable feeling [at the old school] took 40 years to create,” Robinson said. “It won’t happen overnight.”

But artifacts brought over from the old school have helped soften the blow of the move for Robinson, as has an elaborate mural painted across the main common area that includes images from the generations that decorated the walls of the old school. Robinson said a “town meeting” planned with faculty and students will decide how the relics should be displayed.

The lower two floors of the building will be devoted to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Program — formerly the Stratford Program. The two programs will share a common area, cafeteria, auditorium and other school amenities.

“I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am [for school to start again],” said Dr. Karen Gerry, principal of the Shriver Program. “It’s surreal to be in this beautiful building and we’re excited to collaborate again with H-B Woodlawn.”

Plans for the new building haven’t always been happily received by the H-B Woodlawn community, but faculty at the school seemed determined to make the best of the new, more urban location.

“All of your familiar teachers are ready to welcome you back,” Robinson said.

Bill Podolski, director of choral activities at H-B Woodlawn, wore a shirt with an artistic rendering of the school’s former beloved home — which has been transformed into a neighborhood middle school — but seemed happy in a spacious band room with a full wall of multi-floor windows.

“We’re going to make it home,” said Podolski.

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Going into the Labor Day weekend, Arlingtonians should be aware of several closings coming up on Monday and one big opening the day after: back to school day.

As local students head back to the opening day for schools on Tuesday (Sept. 4), the Arlington Police Department has put out a reminder for motorists to slow down, avoid distractions, and watch for the influx of students walking and biking to school.

Arlington Police also reminded drivers that passing a stopped school bus loading or unloading can result in a $250 fine. Vehicles on both sides of the road must stop on all roads except for divided highways, where drivers are urged to proceed with caution.

Pedestrians are reminded to only cross streets at crosswalks with permitting signals, to walk along sidewalks or paths rather than on the side of the road, and to follow the directions of crossing guards.

For cyclists, helmets are required for anyone 14 or under, but are recommended for everyone. When riding through Arlington, cyclists should keep to the right on the roads and ride in the direction of traffic.

Parents with students starting school should make sure their child knows their home phone number and address. Parents or guardians should roleplay possible situations a child might encounter and discuss personal safety tips with their child.

Before school opens back up, several government facilities will be closed on Monday for Labor Day.

Courts

  • Closed

DMV Select & Virginia DMV

  • Closed

Human Services

  • Closed

Libraries

  • Closed

Parks & Recreation Facilities & Programs

  • Admin Offices – Closed
  • Classes/Leagues – Closed
  • Parks – Grounds Open
  • Centers – Closed
  • Spraygrounds – All spraygrounds will be open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Parking

  • Metered areas not enforced

Public Schools

  • Closed

Sheriff’s Office

Swimming Pools

Transportation

Trash Pickup & Recycling

  • Trash & Recycling – Regular schedule
  • Special Collection (Brush, Metal, E-waste) & Cart Services – Regular schedule
  • Mulch Delivery – No service
  • Leaf & Brush collection – Regular schedule

Call Center

  • Closed

HHM Facility and ECRC

  • Closed

Treasurer’s Office

  • Closed

File Photo

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With a little over a month until the first day of school in Arlington County, the Arlington County Police Department and the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office will begin a school supply drive tomorrow (Aug. 1).

Community members can bring supplies to ACPD’s headquarters (1425 N. Courthouse Road) from Aug. 1-16. From 6-8 p.m. on Aug. 16, donors can also bring items to help “fill the cruiser” at Westover Shopping Center or Fashion Centre at Pentagon City.

The drive will support county public school teachers and students, whose expenses can add up quickly. Supplies and school fees for the average elementary school student cost $662 last year, according to the Huntington Backpack Index, and that number goes up as students advance to middle and high school. Teachers often spend hundreds out of pocket purchasing items for their classrooms.

Arlington Public Schools is charged with distributing the donations. Suggested items to donate include No. 2 pencils, glue and loose leaf paper.

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