Arlington, VA

Thursday night was not a typical Arlington School Board meeting.

A contentious public comment period, during which Board Chair Monique O’Grady called for order multiple times, preceded news that Arlington Public Schools has launched school-based COVID-19 testing and preschoolers will gain access to four days of in-person instruction.

Six times, O’Grady addressed violations of the comment period, which included clapping, direct appeals to school board members, and an unseen man shouting down a speaker. She even threatened to “take other measures” if people kept disrupting the proceedings.

“We do appreciate hearing from all families, whether you’re happy or not, but we ask you that when you come into our board room that you please respect our rules and one another,” she said later in the meeting, which was preceded by a rally pushing for schools to add more in-person learning days this spring.

Tensions came to a head last night among parents who are asking APS to open schools fully, school board members and administrators, and other parents and advocates who want the school system to retain a virtual option.

Last night, administrators announced some new developments.

APS is rolling out on-site COVID-19 testing, which could allow some students exposed to COVID-19 in class to return sooner, said Zachary Pope, the director of emergency planning for APS. This new approach will be tested in the summer and could be implemented this fall.

Additionally, Superintendent Francisco Durán said preschool students can be in-person four days a week starting Monday, May 3 due to the federal guidance shortening social distancing from six feet to three feet. Students in certain special education programs are the only ones currently in person four days a week.

But many parents want to see four-day schedules for all students, not just those enrolled in specialized programs. They call for APS to follow the lead of Fairfax County Public Schools.

In Northern Virginia, the superintendents of Arlington Public Schools and Alexandria City Public Schools are sticking with two days a week of in-person students for the remainder of the semester, while Fairfax and Loudoun County public schools have allowed some students to access in-person education four days a week.

A spokeswoman for FCPS tells ARLnow the first students to get four days of in-person learning were those in most need of it, who may or may not have been in-person before. After they returned on April 6, wherever additional spots remained, school personnel reached out to students attending school in person twice a week and gave them the option of four-day, in-person schedules, depending on the number of staff and the size of each classroom.

APS is taking a different approach, Durán said. Rather than expand schedules to four days of in-person school for a limited number of students, he decided to expand access to two days of in-person education. Over the last month, nearly 1,800 students who were virtual started attending school two days a week where space allows.

Last night, parents calling for fully in-person schedules picked up where they left off earlier this month, calling for more days as well as the resignation of APS leaders.

Standing with her daughter, Sheila Leonard pleaded with the school board to allow hands-on arts, music and physical education experiences on in-person school days, and to open schools fully.

“Since July, Gov. Ralph Northam and the American College of Pediatrics have prioritized [special-education, English-language learners and K-2 students] but not APS. When will you stand up for our neediest children?” she said.

Next, Brittany Kitchen wondered whom the school board members are protecting in avoiding a full return.

“It’s not for the kids. It’s not for the teachers — they’re vaccinated. Who is it for, then? You, so you can sleep at night knowing you didn’t make a decision, so if something goes wrong, it’s not on you?” Kitchen said. “That’s not leadership, it’s cowardice.”

People clapped. O’Grady instructed attendees to wave their hands silently. Two more parents’ speeches are met with applause and O’Grady reiterated the rules.

Next, Aaron Asimakopoulos called for the removal of school board members and administrators.

“Who among you can honestly say you have fought to get our children back in school?” he said. “Your departure from APS would have absolutely zero effect on the outcome of a student’s outcome, except to remove a barrier.”

After O’Grady rebuked him for addressing her specifically, he told other board members to “show some spine.”

Eventually, Latina advocates Gabriela Uro and former school board member Tannia Talento came forward. They said the immigrant and Latino families they work with are more cautious about school since they have experienced disproportionate rates of financial burden, sickness and death during the pandemic.

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

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

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

Superintendent Francisco Durán reiterated this commitment two weeks ago.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos via APS

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Arlington Public Schools administrators are reiterating their commitment to getting more students into hybrid instruction this semester and five-day in-person instruction this summer and fall.

That’s unlikely to appease parents who want a quicker return to full-time in-school learning, however.

As announced last week, APS will be inviting more children — whose families initially opted out of in-person school in the fall and now want to return — to come to school twice a week in the hybrid model of instruction, as space allows on a school-by-school basis.

The push to incorporate more students responds to a change in social-distancing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which now allows for three feet of distance between students in classrooms, though six feet is still recommended between adults and adults and students.

Nearby school systems are using the new guidance to add days of face-to-face instruction to the school week. Next Tuesday, Loudoun County and Fairfax County public schools will offer four days of in-person learning. This applies to all students in hybrid learning in LCPS and to identified students experiencing the greatest learning challenges in FCPS. (The Fairfax County plan has faced some criticism.)

Most Falls Church students, meanwhile, are now back in classrooms full time.

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

A number of parents who spoke at last week’s School Board meeting called for more days of in-person instruction this spring. In some cases, they also called for the resignation of Durán and certain School Board members.

“COVID-19 shows that the problem in Arlington is leadership is lacking,” said Paul Brickley. “The board must pursue the removal of the superintendent and the chief of staff for cause… Should the board not act, Arlington parents who care about the state of public education should immediately pursue a recall petition for [the board members] here since the start of the pandemic began. Should either course prove unworkable, parents should take to the streets using available peaceful means.”

While many Arlington students are in two day per week in-person learning, those in countywide special education programs report to schools four days a week. Between 41% and 51% of students, on the other hand, are still fully virtual.

The rates of opting for distance learning are higher among Arlington’s more vulnerable populations, Durán noted.

“I’ve heard from some principals as they’ve reached out to families that they still want to remain in distance learning,” he said. “We know that our English-learner population — particularly our Latino population — has had more exposure to the coronavirus and that particular community does not feel safe coming back to school.”

Overall, English learners and economically disadvantaged students are more likely to be in full distance learning than the overall APS student population, according to a snapshot of enrollment by instructional model, shown below.

At one school — Carlin Springs Elementary School — Durán said 80% of families are choosing to remain in distance learning.

“It’s really important to understand the nuance that there are significant variances among zip codes in comfort with coming back into in-person learning,” School Board Member Cristina Diaz-Torres said. “A lot of students are working to support their families or are taking care of younger siblings during the day and are just experiencing a different reality than some of our other students are experiencing.”

Gabriela Uro, who is part of an association of Latino APS parents, said the network of 600 Latino families she speaks with are very concerned about returning to school. Many parents worry their children could bring home the virus and infect a working family member, making it harder to put food on the table and pay rent.

More than 80% of people who responded to a Spanish-language survey her group sent out said their No. 1 concern with return-to-school is getting sick, with a number concerned about whether staff and students would comply with safety strategies.

“The level of anxiety was palpable,” she said.

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Some Arlington School Board members are putting pressure on administrators to get more students inside school buildings more often.

Arlington Public Schools has finished a month-long process of phasing students into school buildings for a hybrid, two-day-per-week model of in-person learning. Currently, about 35% of students are still fully virtual, and some of them are on waitlists for in-school instruction.

Some School Board members told Superintendent Francisco Durán on Thursday that they want more students in classrooms, as well as more than two days a week of in-person instruction, in light of new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC halved its social-distancing guidelines from six feet to three feet among students in classrooms.

Durán previously said that APS would conclude the spring semester in the hybrid model.

In response to the new guidance, Durán told School Board members that APS will admit some waitlisted students into buildings, prioritizing those learning English, receiving special education services, or at risk of failing grades 8 and 12.

Citing logistical and instructional hurdles, however, APS will not be increasing the number of days students can be in-person based on the new guidance, he said. It will use the guidance to work toward five days of in-person instruction for summer school and the fall, he said.

“I have received many calls over the past week — since the beginning of the guidance we received — asking us to revise our model and provide four to five days of in-person instruction,” Durán said. “I certainly understand those calls and the disappointment many people are feeling in wanting to get back more days in-person.”

Under the new guidance, buses could transport up to 22 students, or one in every row, where it currently seats 11 students, one every other row. Inside classrooms, every classroom could theoretically increase the size from 12 to 14 students. Staff said such changes would require redrawing bus routes for the entire school system and true capacity would vary by classroom and school building.

Doing so would take staff away from the task of carrying out the hybrid model that APS just finished rolling out, he said.

“This change is not a simple change that can just happen quickly when you think of all the things that need to happen,” he said. “Planning for five days in the summer and fall is something is something that we will be doing.”

Board Vice-Chair Barbara Kanninen said Thursday’s presentation tells the community that APS is coming up with excuses not to do something hard.

“When we let students into school, we certainly don’t let them say, ‘This is hard,'” she said. “We start asking them to get started with something — to try something. I believe that our staff does have a can-do spirit but I’m not hearing it this evening.”

She and Reid Goldstein said by the next meeting, they want to see a new plan that gets more students in-person for more days.

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(Updated 4/5/21) Arlington Public Schools is preparing to release more information on its plans for getting students into classrooms during the current semester.

During the School Board meeting this Thursday, Superintendent Francisco Durán is slated to address updated K-12 school guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which was released on Friday.

“APS is reviewing the guidance to determine how the changes may impact our ability to serve additional students in person and improve transportation in the current school year,” Durán said in a School Talk email on Friday. “An update will be provided at the March 25 School Board meeting.”

The CDC now recommends that, with universal masking, students should maintain a distance of at least 3 feet in classrooms, down from the previous guidance of 6 feet. The change reflects “the latest science on physical distance between students in classrooms,” according to the CDC.

There are some exceptions: Adults should remain 6 feet apart from each other and students, and 6 feet should be enforced in common areas such as auditoriums, lobbies, the cafeteria during meals, and any time masking would hamper breathing, such as choir or band practice, sports practices and P.E. classes.

APS is currently enforcing 6 feet for children and adults who are learning in-person twice a week in a hybrid model. As of March 11, Durán said about 64% of students are in-person. The rest have either opted to stay virtual or are on waitlists pending more space. APS recently said it would finish the semester in the hybrid model current, before returning to five-day-per-week in-person learning in the fall.

If APS shortened the social-distancing minimum to 3 feet, waitlisted students should be able to get back into classrooms, School Board candidates Mary Kadera and Miranda Turner tell ARLnow.

“I am encouraged that the CDC’s updated guidelines may provide the opportunity for students who are currently on wait lists to return to school,” Kadera said.

Turner agreed, saying that the new guidance “hopefully will be an impetus for APS to try and get more students in buildings this school year.”

Both candidates, who are seeking the Democratic endorsement in the School Board race, are awaiting more information from APS this Thursday.

“While we want to open our schools to all students who wish to return, we also have to remember what CDC guidance hasn’t yet changed, such as the requirement of 6 feet of distance between adults and students and 6 feet of distance in common areas, so I am interested to learn the details from Dr. Duran at this Thursday’s School Board meeting,” Kadera said.

Meanwhile, Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) has joined the chorus of people calling for returning more students to in-person learning this semester, which ends in June.

“I respectfully request that APS continuously review CDC revised guidance, and apply it to APS’s operational implementation for the current school year,” he said in a letter to Durán last week.

Beyer added that APS will receive $19.4 million from the recently passed American Rescue Plan Act to put toward reopening. The money is earmarked for items such as funding additional staff, implementing new testing protocols and supporting special-education programs as well as programs targeting unfinished instruction and social-emotional needs, he said.

On Friday, the pro-reopening group Arlington Parents for Education called on Durán to immediately apply the revised CDC recommendations. The group said the change would expand the current 11-student cap for buses, which it called “a misguided decision directly responsible for keeping kids out of school who want to be there.”

Relying on 6 feet of distance, it said, will “prevent Arlington’s students from receiving more than just two days of in-person instruction a week and from beginning the process of recovering academically, mentally, and socially, for the rest of the school year.:

Not everyone thinks a further reopening is the right move at the moment, however.

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Arlington Public Schools announced Tuesday that it will finish out the 2020-21 school year offering hybrid and virtual learning options.

As of this week, about 64% of students of all grades are in-person — mostly for two days a week — while 36% are at home full-time in distance learning. The last cohort to return were students in grades 7-8 and 10-12, concluding three weeks of phased returns.

Despite the big adjustment to teaching in-person and virtual students simultaneously, one high school teacher told ARLnow “we’re getting the hang of it.”

“I think within classrooms, mitigation aligned with CDC guidelines is going very well,” she said. “I wouldn’t choose this, but we can make it work well for this school year.”

Parents are divided over whether to push for a full return before school ends in June or to continue in hybrid learning, a tension exacerbated by the fact that a number of families are stuck on waitlists for in-person learning. Superintendent Francisco Durán wrote in a School Talk email on Tuesday that APS will stick to hybrid and virtual education and will aim for a full return this fall. This approach mirrors that of Fairfax County Public Schools.

“In response to requests for APS to bring additional students back for more in-person days, I want to clarify that APS will continue with the current hybrid model for the remainder of this school year, in accordance with current health and safety guidance,” Durán said in an update sent to families. “We all want to have as many students as possible back in the classroom, as soon as it is safe to do so; however, we need to continue to adhere to current health guidelines.”

Hybrid schedules and reduced classroom capacities are needed to follow physical distancing guidance from the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said — though those CDC guidelines were just relaxed this morning, allowing students to be spaced 3 feet apart rather than the previous 6 feet.

Arlington Parents for Education, a group that called for school reopenings and is calling for a full return, has a different take on the state guidance.

“The guidance says to maximize six feet of distance ‘to the greatest extent possible,'” APE said in a statement. “What this means, contrary to what APS is doing, is that in-person instruction should be the default, with six feet of distance if six feet is possible. If it’s not possible, then it should be the distance part that gives and not the in-person part.”

Distancing appears to be a concern for those who are in school. The high school teacher, who said she is fully vaccinated but not all her colleagues are, said students bunching together at lunchtime is one of her top concerns.

“At this point, it feels not like if we will have an outbreak, but when, because of lunch,” she said.

Last week, three staff members and 18 students reported testing positive, according to APS data.

Christina Headrick, a parent member of Smart Restart APS — a group that advocated for multiple risk mitigation layers before returning — tells ARLnow that APS has done well mitigating spread but lunch could be improved.

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Morning Notes

APS to Fully Return to Classrooms in Fall — “Arlington Public Schools will bring all students who choose it back for five days of in-person learning every week starting in the fall, Superintendent Francisco Durán told the school board Thursday.
He emphasized that any families… who want to stay virtual-only will be able to do so, and noted that staffers have already begun to plot out what the remote option will look like.” [Washington Post]

County Still Seeking New Logo Ideas — “Calling all artists, and artists-at-heart! The County will choose a new logo this year that better represents our Arlington community, and we need your help… Submit your logo concept/art by March 14.” [Arlington County]

Fire Breaks Out in Route 1 Median — From Dave Statter: “Watch your cigarettes, matches & ashes. Dry & breezy. A small brush fire on Rt 1 south of 23rd St briefly blocked traffic. @Reagan_Airport MWAA Engine 301 handled it.” [Twitter]

Brooks Basking in the Sunlight — From the Arlington County Police Department yesterday afternoon: “It’s a pawsitively beautiful day in Arlington County! FRK9 Brooks hopes you get out and enjoy the weather!” [Twitter]

Va. Booze Sales Soar During Pandemic — “Virginians bought considerably more liquor in the second half of 2020 than they did during the same period of 2019. That’s according to figures Washingtonian obtained from the commonwealth’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority, which show statewide sales of spirits were up 15 percent over 2019 from July to December of the worst year in recent history.” [Washingtonian]

State Tax Revenue Higher Than Expected — “On a year-to-date basis, collections of payroll withholding taxes — 61 percent of General Fund revenues — increased 1.1 percent, behind the annual forecast of 2.7 percent growth. Sales tax collections — 17 percent of General Fund revenues — increased 6.7 percent through February, ahead of the annual forecast calling for a 4.8 percent increase. Recordation taxes advanced 38.3 percent on a fiscal year basis, ahead of the 24.4 percent annual forecast. Total revenues rose 8.0 percent through February, ahead of the revised annual forecast of 3.0 percent growth.” [Gov. Ralph Northam]

Reminder: Spring Forward This Weekend — “The second Sunday in March is when Daylight Saving Time begins in most areas of the U.S., so in 2021 we’ll ‘spring forward’ one hour and on Sunday, March 14, 2021, at 2 a.m. Be sure to set your clocks ahead one hour before bed on Saturday night!” [Farmers’ Almanac]

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Two Democratic hopefuls for the Arlington School Board want to see full-time in-person learning and more consistency across Arlington Public Schools.

Miranda Turner, who made a name for herself calling for a quicker return to in-person learning, and Mary Kadera, the vice president of the Arlington County Council of PTAs, are looking to fill the void that will be left when Board Chair Monique O’Grady steps down. They are the only two to have met the March 1 deadline to be considered for an endorsement from Arlington Democrats.

O’Grady follows two other members who opted not to seek re-election in 2020: Nancy Van Doren and Tannia Talento, who were replaced by Cristina Diaz-Torres and David Priddy.

These races are non-partisan, but Arlington Democrats will select a candidate to endorse over the course of two days of caucus voting in May. The winner will run in the Nov. 2 general election.

Turner, a mother of three young children, tells ARLnow that she started following goings-on within Arlington Public Schools when she enrolled her kids in 2015. Despite Superintendent Francisco Durán’s regular updates and the plethora of information APS publishes, Turner said she is frustrated with the return-to-school conversation among elected officials, who should be more laser-focused on five-day, in-person learning.

“Every kid deserves an option to go to school full-time at this point,” she said.

APS has been returning students to their classrooms in phases since November, but most students started to return for a two-day-per-week hybrid schedule last Tuesday after concrete dates were announced in February. The recent phased return followscalls from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to make a hybrid in-school option available to all students by March 15.

Secondary-level special education students and sixth- and ninth-graders returned yesterday and the final cohort of middle- and high-school students will start hybrid instruction next Tuesday.

Although the logistics conversation will have played out by Election Day, Turner predicts learning loss and mental health deterioration among students will persist. She said her kindergartener at Montessori Public School of Arlington has struggled with virtual learning over the past year. Her family made the decision to transfer her oldest, a third-grader, from Drew Elementary School to a private school because online school was not working for her.

“I am running for school board because I want our schools to open five days a week, safely, so my daughter can have an appropriate full-time education available at the school she wants to go to,” she said.

Beyond the pandemic, Turner said she wants to see APS more actively handle curriculum decisions across the school system, particularly around literacy.

“Some differences are entirely appropriate, but there should not be so much variation depending on where your child goes to school,” she said.

Kadera, a mother of two middle school-aged children, ​is also channeling the impact of the pandemic on parents, teachers and students as part of her campaign.

“We’re tired, uncertain, and worried,” she writes on her website.

In response to the dip in student performance, she said some of her areas of focus include attracting and retaining teachers, creating more authentic community engagement between the school system and individual school communities, and incorporating equity into all decision-making.

“APS educators have moved mountains this year to teach and take care of our kids — and we need to take care of them, too,” she said.

Kadera led the McKinley Elementary School PTA for two years, mobilizing and stewarding her community through the controversial school swap last year. During the pandemic, she organized volunteers to get groceries, books and school supplies to McKinley families in need, as well as families in other school communities where PTAs have fewer resources.

Inequities among PTAs are now an area of advocacy for her.

“I’m working to improve inclusion and representation in school PTAs and advocating for more equitable fundraising and spending by PTAs across the County,” she said.

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Morning Notes

Changes for Patent Offices in Shirlington? — “The Alexandria-based gatekeeper for U.S. patents and trademarks is working with the General Services Administration on a plan to shed excess space in Northern Virginia previously occupied by employees now working from home under ‘maximum telework’ imposed by the federal government to slow the spread of Covid-19, according to sources familiar with the situation. That could include relinquishing as much as a combined 1 million square feet in Arlington’s Shirlington area as well as its main headquarters in Alexandria’s Carlyle neighborhood.” [Washington Business Journal]

Sun Gazette Revamps Website — “The Sun Gazette over the past decade or so has not had its own full-service Website. But if you’re reading this, you can see that has changed, as we threw the switch over the weekend on a site that, hopefully, will become the one-stop shop for the communities we serve.” [Sun Gazette]

Police Looking for Missing Teen — From Arlington County Police Department, as of Monday evening: “ACPD is seeking the public’s assistance locating 16-year-old Michael… Last seen ~3PM in the 2600 block of S. Kent Street. Described as a W/M, 5’8″ tall, 138 lbs, with blonde hair and green eyes. He was wearing a blue jacket, jeans and an orange backpack. Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Michael is asked to contact the Emergency Communications Center at 703-558-2222.” [Twitter]

More Students Heading Back to SchoolUpdated at 8:45 a.m. — Additional @APSVirginia students will be commuting to the classroom as part of a phased return to hybrid, in-person learning. Our students depend on all of us to keep them safe. Slow down, remain alert & watch for students walking and biking.” [Twitter]

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(Updated 3/3) New data from Arlington Public Schools suggest that more secondary students are failing classes and their average GPA has dropped.

Sixth-grade students appear to be the hardest hit this year: Their average GPA dropped about 6%, and the number of students failing at least one class increased 118%.

The newest numbers span marking periods one, which ends in November, and two, which ends in February, for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years. ARLnow obtained the data from an APS parent, who requested it from the school system.

“We are concerned by the grades we are seeing as compared to last year,” said APS spokesperson Frank Bellavia. “Our commitment is to ensure every student continues to grow and make progress, regardless of their instructional model.”

There is a bright spot, he said: The number of As are up for students with disabilities who receive accommodations as well as those learning English.

Nearly one year after school buildings closed, students in grades 6 and 9 will enter their classrooms this coming Tuesday, March 9, followed by students in grades 7-8 and 10-12 on Tuesday, March 16.

Secondary students are the last to return. Elementary students began their phased return this past Tuesday, following some career and technical education students earlier this year, and some special-education students in the fall.

Students will be in-person twice a week, with teachers teaching to online and in-person students concurrently.

https://twitter.com/APSVirginia/status/1367482517268418568

Across the board, metrics for student achievement indicate students are struggling to make grades this year compared to last year.

“Our middle and high school students are almost always ignored in return-to-school discussions because they are supposedly more equipped to handle virtual school — the data shows that is clearly not the case,” said Arlington Parents for Education, a local group that has been vocal in pushing for a swift return to in-person instruction, in a statement.

The group added that “it’s clear that our secondary students need to be back in the classroom just as much — and just as soon —  as our youngest learners.”

This year’s sixth graders have an average GPA of 3.3, compared to last year’s, whose GPA averaged at 3.5. For ninth-graders, the second hardest-hit group, their GPA dropped from 3.2 in November 2019 to 3.0 in November 2020.

Pre-pandemic, researchers have noted that the transition from elementary to middle and middle to high school has an impact on student achievement.

Meanwhile, the most significant drop in the 2019-20 school year was among seniors, whose average GPA fell nearly 6% during that time.

A greater number of middle schoolers are failing at least one class compared to their high-school counterparts. In fact, fewer seniors this February failed at least one class than last February, down to 293 from 334.

ARLnow previously reported that fewer K-2 students in Arlington Public Schools, particularly English learners and Black and Hispanic children, were meeting literacy benchmarks this fall.

Bellavia said APS is adding in a number of supports to help students who fell behind catch up.

Teachers will provide one-on-one support for students who are experiencing difficulties during their office hours, he said. Counselors will reach out to students and parents when they do not attend school, online or in-person, regularly or are not performing well academically or socially.

APS is also allowing teachers to extend deadlines to support students experiencing difficulties, he said. Schools have made adjustments to the school day to include academic support opportunities designed to provide students with additional resources and direct instruction.

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Morning Notes

Quarter of Students Staying at Home — “Students in Pre-K through second grade returned to Arlington County classrooms Tuesday, a step that Superintendent Francisco Duran says the school system is prepared to take on. Roughly 75% of the student body took the in-person learning option, while 25% will continue to learn virtually. Staff and students who return will complete a daily screening.” [WTOP]

More Commercial Burglaries Reported — Two more local businesses have been victimized among a spate of commercial burglaries. Arlington County police yesterday reported that business on the 5500 block of Columbia Pike and the 4200 block of N. Pershing Drive in Buckingham were broken into. In both cases, thieves stole cash registers and an undisclosed amount of cash. Police did not reveal the businesses involved; there are two on that block of N. Pershing Drive: El Paso Cafe and Popeye’s. [ACPD]

Wakefield Football Undefeated So Far — “The Wakefield Warriors rallied from a 14-0 deficit to defeat the Edison Eagles, 34-14, in National District high-school football action on Feb. 27… Wakefield stays undefeated on [the] gridiron.” [InsideNova]

W&OD Trail Work Taking Place — From the Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services: “[This] afternoon: W&OD Trail asphalt repairs in Bluemont Park just south of Wilson Boulevard. Will take about 4 hours. Flaggers on hand to direct users onto nearby Four Mile Run Trail. (Rescheduled from earlier this week.)” [Twitter]

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