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Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

“A backward situation.” That’s how Arlington School Board Chair Barbara Kanninen described the planning process for the expansion of the Career Center during the Board’s Sept. 21 work session on the upcoming Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).

What’s backward is staff’s proposed timeline that has the School Board voting in October to set a budget and the number of seats for the Career Center project. Instead, these decisions should not be made until the School Board votes on its next CIP in June.

The Board’s detailed CIP procedures provide for the Board to have critical information needed to make capital improvement decisions — information that it will not have until the winter and spring, including updated:

  • Enrollment projections
  • County revenue estimates
  • Assessments of capital and non-capital options to meet student needs
  • Priorities for capital options

The history of addressing the need for additional high school seats and the option of locating them at the Career Center has been fraught.

More than three years ago, the School Board set a budget ($184.7 million) and the number of seats (800) for the Career Center expansion as part of its FY2019-28 CIP, adopted in June 2018.

But the School Board dropped the project from its FY2021 CIP two years later in June 2020. This was after an extensive design and planning process that resulted in a concept design that could not be built due to an estimated cost of $237-272.5 million — far above the budget.

This past June, the Career Center project was put back in the Board’s FY2022-24 CIP, but without the number of seats to be added and with funding listed as “TBD.”

How many additional high school seats are needed is a fundamental question and a moving target.

The CIP adopted this past June was based on enrollment this fall of 29,633 students, growing to more than 30,000 students by next fall, and peaking at more than 31,000 in the fall of 2024. But actual enrollment as of the first day of school this year was 26,932 students — 2,701 fewer students than projected.

How much money the School Board can spend on additional high school seats is another fundamental question.

This depends on how much revenue the county has because debt service — the amount of money the School Board spends to repay interest and principal on the bonds issued to pay for capital projects — is capped at not more than 10% of general expenditures.

Because of the limits on capital expenditures, the CIP involves making hard choices among competing needs to renovate existing buildings and add new seats in elementary, middle and high schools. Deciding how much to spend on the Career Center this fall, outside of the normal CIP process, risks not having sufficient funds for other projects when those are considered in the spring.

In its year-end report to the School Board in June, the Advisory Council on School Facilities and Capital Programs (FAC) cautioned the Board not to rush the Career Center project and to include it in the next CIP, after considering a range of options. The FAC report notes the uncertainties in critical variables needed to make decisions, including enrollment and revenue projections as well as increasing construction costs during the pandemic.

The FAC is correct. The Board will not have the best available information on which to base decisions about the Career Center until this winter and spring, when it has updated enrollment projections, updated revenue projections and the list of other needed capital improvement projects. Doing so before then will add to the fraught history of Career Center planning.

Abby Raphael served on the Arlington School Board from 2008-2015, including two terms as Chair. She also led the Washington Area Boards of Education for two years. Currently she co-chairs the Destination 2027 Steering Committee, is a member of the Board of the Arlington YMCA, and works with Project Peace, the Community Progress Network, and Second Chance.

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Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Arlington is the home of the Pentagon, headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense, and of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, which comprises three main installations that were combined during the last round of Base Realignment and Closure: Fort Myer (Army), Henderson Hall (Marines), and Fort McNair (Army). Many of the students living on and off JBMHH attend Arlington Public Schools.

The Virginia Purple Star Designation is awarded to military-friendly schools that have demonstrated a major commitment to students and families connected to our nation’s military. Disappointingly, despite its proximity to the heart of the military, only one APS school (Discovery Elementary) earned the Purple Star designation in 2019-2020. None has earned it for 2020-2021. By contrast, 34 Fairfax County public schools and 21 Prince William County public schools earned the Purple Star designation between 2018-2021. In the other military mecca, 59 Virginia Beach City public schools and 11 Norfolk public schools earned the Purple Star designation between 2018-2021.

To qualify for the Purple Star designation, a school must have a staff point of contact for military students and families who, (i) serves as the liaison between the military family and the school; (ii) completes two online Virginia Department of Education training modules titled “Supporting Our Military-Connected Children in School Settings: Moving them from Risk to Resilience;” and (iii) conducts school-wide professional development that informs staff of the unique needs of and supports available to military-connected students.

In addition, the school must maintain a student-led transition program to include a student transition team coordinator. This program should provide peer support for newly enrolled and withdrawing students to include those that are military-connected. Finally, the school must maintain links to an APS division-wide page dedicated to military student and family supports that includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Clear and concise information on the enrollment and remote registration process for persons to whom public schools shall be free, including enrollment of military children living in temporary housing
  • Information on educational records requests and transfers
  • Information on gifted services, advanced academic programs and application deadlines, graduation requirements, diploma options, and home instruction
  • Information on the Compact Rules and their application under the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunities for Military Children
  • Information on Special Education services and parental rights, including parental consent
  • Other important information such as Impact Aid Student-Parent Survey (Impact Aid programs and grants are designed to assist local school districts that enroll federally connected students), PTA membership, school advisory committees, participation in extracurricular activities and local community support

In addition to the aforementioned site-based requirements, APS would need to assign a central office staff member to be the contact for the school-based liaison and military families and complete at least one of the following:

  • Division-wide professional development regarding special considerations for military students and families or
  • The School Board passes a resolution publicizing the school division’s support for military students and families or
  • The school division hosts a military recognition event designed to demonstrate a military-friendly culture across the school division community

The average child in a military family will move six to nine times during a school career. That’s an average of three times more frequently than non-military families. The majority of moves occur over the summer months, even as late as August. A number of military families shared the following challenges with me:

  • Missed deadlines for Extended Day, resulting in a childcare crisis
  • Missed opportunities for desired electives. APS doesn’t allow students to select their electives or classes until fully registered, so electives may be unavailable
  • Missed deadlines for high school sports tryouts and/or missed leadership opportunities on sports teams and clubs. No reciprocity for prior experience
  • Although SB 775 allows incoming military students to fully register for school based on the zone the family intends to reside in (with documentation provided within 120 days), some APS families have been asked to meet onerous requests for documentation before registering their children
  • Lack of social-emotional supports: (i) No dedicated counselors equipped to support students with issues of deployment, combat, PTSD, etc.; (ii) no cohorting of military peers to support each other; and (iii) no special recognition or celebration of military students for Month of the Military Child
  • Having to start over with a new Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 plan. No reciprocity given for an IEP or 504 from the last school district
  • Difficulty keeping track of (or meeting) the additional classes/credits needed for an advanced diploma
  • Enduring additional disruptive school changes with boundary changes or program moves while on temporary orders

Many of these challenges could be resolved if APS was a Purple Star school district to better support the children whose parents are laying their lives on the line for us. Let’s do better by our military families.

Symone Walker is a federal attorney and an APS parent. She is Vice President of the Arlington Special Education Advisory Committee (ASEAC), serves on the Commonwealth Attorney’s Community Advisory Board, and is an Executive Committee Member of the Arlington NAACP and Co-Chair of the NAACP Education Committee. Symone is a former candidate for the Arlington school board.

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Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

The Virginia Department of Education has released the results of the 2020-21 Standards of Learning (SOL) tests. It is no surprise that pass rates for Arlington Public Schools (APS) students have declined significantly and gaps in student achievement between different groups have increased. These test results are consistent with trends in Virginia and nationwide.

In a recent APS press release, Superintendent Francisco Duran stated that the results show “where we need to focus our attention.”

In Arlington, English learners had the lowest pass rates on the recent subject area tests in English, math and science and some of the largest declines in scores compared with the last SOL test administration in 2018-19. White students had the highest pass rate of all student groups on these tests and had the smallest decline in scores.

Test results for other groups of students are cause for concern as well. 2020-21 math pass rates are: 35 percent for students with disabilities, 36 percent for economically disadvantaged students, 38 percent for Hispanic students and 46 percent for Black students, compared with 82 percent for white students.

For English, the pass rates were a bit better, but large gaps persist: students with disabilities — 47 percent, economically disadvantaged students — 51 percent, Hispanic students — 53 percent and Black students — 61 percent, compared with 91 percent for white students.

The fact that APS returned to in-person learning this week will be a significant factor in improving student achievement for all students.

Addressing the learning loss that has occurred during the pandemic is a daunting task. Dr. Duran has stated that accelerated learning and support will be a focus this year, which he has described as teaching current grade level material while reinforcing skills and concepts from the previous level.

As APS works to improve student achievement and close gaps, it should be transparent and focus its attention on:

Data

The APS press release about the SOL results cited one increase in a test result and did not include any data about gaps in student achievement or significant declines in scores. And in last week’s School Board meeting, SOL results presented did not compare data of different student groups with white students, the group with the highest pass rates on the 2020-21 SOL subject area tests.

American Rescue Plan Act Funds

APS expects to receive nearly $19 million from the Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief III Fund, part of the American Rescue Plan Act. These funds are intended to help school divisions address learning loss that occurred during the pandemic.

A summary of how these funds will be spent is posted on the APS website. It is expected that the initial estimate of more than $10 million and 111.50 full-time employees for the Virtual Learning Program, which as of July 12 had 891 students enrolled, will be reduced. APS should make clear how funding will be reallocated to support in-person learning.

Enrollment

The School Board’s approved budget for this school year is based on an enrollment of 29,108 students. This is significantly higher than the pre-pandemic September 2019 enrollment of 28,020 students and the September 2020 enrollment of 26,895 students. If the fall 2021 enrollment does not meet projections, APS will need to lay out its plan to reallocate teachers to improve student learning and reduce gaps.

The Superintendent is right to conclude that the 2020-21 SOL test results show where we need to focus our attention. In the coming months, APS should make clear how it is allocating resources to improve student learning and reduce gaps.

Abby Raphael served on the Arlington School Board from 2008-2015, including two terms as Chair. She also led the Washington Area Boards of Education for two years. Currently she co-chairs the Destination 2027 Steering Committee, is a member of the Board of the Arlington YMCA, and works with Project Peace, the Community Progress Network, and Second Chance.

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Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that requires that a free appropriate public education (FAPE) be provided to eligible children with disabilities and ensures special education and related services to those children. Despite those requirements and assurances, special education (SpEd) students in Arlington Public Schools are in crisis. The system that should be supporting and reinforcing them is broken.

Often, a parent must wait for their child to fail in order to get school administrators, referred to as the Local Education Agency (“LEA”), to refer their child for an evaluation. Preventive measures are virtually nonexistent. This “wait-to-fail” model results in extensive collateral damage to students academically, psychologically, emotionally and physically. The fallout is not only borne by these students and their families, but also by their teachers and classmates. Everyone is impacted — directly or indirectly.

Some assessments APS conducts to identify whether a student has a learning disability are incomplete, outdated, not comprehensive or not aligned with best practices and as such, are inferior to private evaluations. Resulting determinations about eligibility are therefore inaccurate or flawed. This presents an enormous equity issue. Parents who can afford a private evaluation (3K-5K avg.) will have a deeper, more comprehensive lens into what is going on with their child and what academic support and accommodations are recommended. Parents who cannot afford this get whatever APS presents them with, unless they know to request an Independent Education Evaluation (IEE) at public expense. Even then, APS significantly limits which assessments and costs they will approve, often leaving parents to pay the difference if they want more.

How hard a parent must fight to get an evaluation and how much pushback a parent receives from LEAs are grossly inconsistent from school-to-school, down to the quality of assessments and expertise of the school’s psychologist. It is quite literally, “the luck of the draw.” None of this is standardized or consistent. What is consistent is the utter anguish and stress many APS parents endure trying to hold APS accountable to its legal obligation to provide FAPE.

Once a student is found eligible for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), the “wait-to-fail” model then shifts to one of “continue-to-fail” in order to retain SpEd services. In many cases, when the student stabilizes or improves given the appropriate supports, or is seemingly doing well, APS will try to remove those supports on the premise that they are no longer needed. At triennial reevaluation meetings, some parents are misled to terminate their child’s IEP altogether or transition to a 504 plan instead, based on the narrative that “special education isn’t designed to be permanent,” or being congratulated that their child is doing so well, they no longer needs special education.

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Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

In recent months, parents across the country have disrupted school board meetings and threatened school board members.

The issues drawing the ire of parents include wearing masks, school reopening, transgender student policies, and critical race theory.

There is no doubt that these are hot button issues. Parents have been under great stress during the pandemic and they are passionate about what is right for their children. But this is no excuse for these behaviors.

For example, in Utah 11 people have been criminally charged with disrupting a public meeting after they chanted about masks and approached school board members at the dais, causing the meeting to be adjourned.

Private security officers have been hired in Columbia, Missouri due to safety concerns as some parents have come to school board members’ homes to object to their positions on issues.

The Board of Education for the Blue Valley schools in Kansas recently cancelled an in-person meeting and met virtually following reports of threats by parents.

Similar incidents are happening in our area as well.

The Loudoun County School Board recessed a meeting in June to restore order after parents booed, jeered, and chanted. One person was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.

Police in Fairfax launched an investigation of complaints that flyers were delivered to homes with antisemitic, homophobic, and threatening language towards school board members.

ARLnow reported on an Arlington School Board meeting in April that required the Chair to make repeated calls for order during public comments about the return to in-person learning and that another Board member characterized as having an unprecedented level of vitriol.

Parents have many appropriate ways to express their strongly held opinions. These include lawful protests outside of school board meetings and speaking at school board meetings, following board guidelines for public comment. They can write letters to the editor and meet with school board members.

Another avenue is working through parent-teacher associations (PTAs). While PTAs cannot engage in partisan, political activities, they can advocate about a wide variety of issues.

In Arlington, the County Council of PTAs has done just that, sharing concerns and making recommendations to school officials about issues such as virtual and hybrid learning, school resource officers, and the school boundary process.

PTAs have elected leaders and have by-laws consistent with the National PTA. Their mission is “to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children.” Their values include collaboration, respect, and accountability. All of this helps PTAs promote civil discourse as they address contentious issues.

Many parents are working outside of PTAs to advance their causes. For example, Parents Defending Education encourages parents to create organizations to push back against “destructive and radical ‘woke’ curricula.” Its website details how to create an anonymous Instagram account to document instances of “woke indoctrination” at schools.

The website of the Arlington Parent Coalition suggests that parents check the social media of their children’s teachers and “like” and “follow” them, as well as to do internet searches of the teachers to see what their views are on social and political issues.

The Open Fairfax County Public Schools Coalition is seeking signatures on petitions to remove duly elected Fairfax County School Board members from office related to their views on school reopening.

Parent voices are an important part of school board decision-making. As parents advocate for their children, they also should model for their children — and for all children — how to engage in civil discourse about high-stakes matters. This means at a minimum focusing on the issues, not engaging in personal attacks, and not disrupting school board meetings.

Abby Raphael served on the Arlington School Board from 2008-2015, including two terms as Chair. She also led the Washington Area Boards of Education for two years. Currently she co-chairs the Destination 2027 Steering Committee, is a member of the Board of the Arlington YMCA, and works with Project Peace, the Community Progress Network, and Second Chance.

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Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Schools should be teaching the truth. Truth, as fact and reality, is not theory. The attack on truth is percolating in Arlington.

At the June 24 School Board Meeting (at the 19:56 mark), a former APS parent implored the board to reject not only Critical Race Theory (CRT) — which APS doesn’t even teach — but specifically to reject anything rooted in equity, social justice, anti-racism and culturally responsive teaching.

You read that right. I was alarmed, but since there was only one such speaker and our Board meeting didn’t devolve into the melee that occurred just two days earlier at the Loudoun County School Board meeting, I convinced myself that this was an isolated effort in Arlington by a lone wolf, and I thought to myself, “thank God I don’t live in Loudoun.” I couldn’t have been more misguided.

Parents Defending Education (PDE), a seemingly innocuous group by its name and mission statement, deceptively masquerades itself as a “grassroots” nonprofit organization. Their website — plastered with stock photos of Black and Brown students in staged “diverse” school settings, fooling no one — misleadingly purports that: “Parents Defending Education is a national grassroots organization working to reclaim our schools from activists promoting harmful agendas. Through network and coalition building, investigative reporting, litigation, and engagement on local, state, and national policies, we are fighting indoctrination in the classroom — and for the restoration of a healthy, non-political education for our kids.”

In fact, PDE is a national movement funded largely by political right wing moguls like the Koch brothers and the Walton family. By their own standards, PDE is a case study in hypocrisy. They exist to accomplish the very ends they are purporting to subvert.

PDE is engaging in political activism. PDE is promoting the harmful agenda of whitewashed history. PDE is indoctrinating its members to believe that CRT is being taught in APS and is about teaching students to hate. This is hypocritical race theory. It’s an attack on the truth.

On June 9, PDE’s Director of Advocacy filed a FOIA request with APS seeking documentation about the procurement and distribution of the book Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning and speaker fees paid to co-author Jason Reynolds.

Armed with that data, PDE lambasted APS and Amazon for the $16,000 it spent on the books and speaker engagement fees “instead of donating hot spots for remote learning.” Now, there are a plethora of legitimate reasons to be critical of Amazon and APS, but this one isn’t credible. It’s laughable. Perhaps if the PDE leadership lived here and paid taxes to Arlington, they would have known about the $500,000 grant APS received to provide MiFis to low-income families. They will not stop at this though. We need to be paying attention.

Quite frankly, I am growing tired of the political bastardization of CRT, how it is being efficiently misused as both boogeyman and straw man to distract and disarm us in a disguised quest to destroy truth and score political points. This kind of gaslighting is the mortar that has cemented white supremacy for over 400 years. We cannot afford to ignore this fake controversy or take it lightly. We must fight back. We must defend and protect our teachers and administrators who are teaching the truth.

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Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Tonight, the Arlington School Board is likely to vote to remove School Resource Officers (SROs) as a daily presence in schools.

SROs are Arlington County Police Department (ACPD) officers whose primary role is to promote safety and security in schools, including acting as a deterrent to crime by their presence, according to the 2018 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between ACPD and Arlington Public Schools (APS).

A decision to remove SROs from schools would be consistent with the recommendations of Superintendent Dr. Francisco Duran and the SRO Work Group, which was created in December 2020 to address community concerns about the relationship between ACPD and APS.

The Work Group report states that law enforcement functions can be provided to APS without SROs stationed at schools, with ACPD to be available when called upon to respond to situations such as active shooters and serious crimes. For the non-law enforcement functions that SROs provide — such as counseling, coaching, teaching and mentoring — the Work Group recommends that APS invest in additional staff and training to meet these needs.

Like localities across the country, Arlington is considering best practices for policing in our community. In making decisions from these important discussions, the School Board should focus on the facts and circumstances in Arlington — not what is happening in other school divisions.

One concern raised by community members about SROs is that a school to prison pipeline exists in Arlington. Data does not support this.

In Virginia, school administrators are required to report to law enforcement a limited number of criminal offenses alleged to have been committed by students on school property. In the 2018-19 school year, APS reported 106 cases to law enforcement, which was nine percent of all crimes documented to have been committed in Arlington schools that year, according to a January 23, 2020 presentation to the School Board.

Of those 106 cases, 16 were referred to the juvenile court with 8 cases resulting in diversion instead of prosecution and 8 cases prosecuted. Police took no action for 50% of the 106 cases. Thirty-five percent of the cases reported were documented, and no charges were brought.

Data presented at the January 2020 School Board meeting also show that arrests of Arlington youth are happening mostly outside of schools, with a total of 227 arrests in 2018, down 32% from 2017.

The Work Group acknowledges administrator support for SROs in schools and the “good work” that they do. But it recommends that this good work can and should be done by those who don’t carry “a badge and a gun.”

ACPD Deputy Chief Wayne Vincent, head of the new Community Engagement Division, told me that SROs want to be in the schools. He said:

The primary mission of the SRO Unit has always been to ensure the safety and security of students and staff. However, over our 40-plus year relationship with APS, the program has evolved as SROs have fostered lasting relationships with students and parents through youth programs/camps, teaching, mentoring and coaching.

He added that if the School Board adopts the Superintendent’s recommendation, ACPD “will continue to work with APS to support students, parents and administrators while reimagining our role in supporting our youth throughout the County.”

If the School Board votes to remove SROs from schools, the MOU between ACPD and APS will be revised. It will need to address how ACPD will respond to APS requests to maintain the safety and security of students, staff, and visitors at schools. In addition, APS should have its staff take on the non-law enforcement roles of SROs, as the Work Group recommends. But without funding for additional staff or training in its FY 2022 budget, this will be a challenge.

Abby Raphael served on the Arlington School Board from 2008-2015, including two terms as Chair. She also led the Washington Area Boards of Education for two years. Currently she co-chairs the Destination 2027 Steering Committee, is a member of the Board of the Arlington YMCA, and works with Project Peace, the Community Progress Network, and Second Chance

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Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

May 17 marks the 67th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the landmark Supreme Court case that overturned the doctrine “separate but equal,” which became law in 1896 when Plessy v. Ferguson upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation laws for public facilities, as long as the segregated facilities were “equal” in quality.

In Brown, the Court unanimously held that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” and violated the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment. However, the Court declined to specify remedies for school segregation, asking instead for further argument.

The following year, in Brown v. Board of Education II, the Court remanded future desegregation cases to lower federal courts and directed district courts and school boards to desegregate schools “with all deliberate speed.” Although Brown has been the law of the land for much longer than Plessy was, little has changed in our schools vis-à-vis segregation and inequality.

To commemorate the 67th anniversary of Brown, the Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights and the Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division considered it paramount to host a joint symposium, Brown 67 Years Later: Examining Disparities in School Discipline and the Pursuit of Safe and Inclusive Schools, to highlight strategies for addressing racial and other disparities in the administration of school discipline.

Three panels composed of legal and education experts discussed the impact of exclusionary school discipline policies and practices such as suspensions and school-based arrests on students of color, students with disabilities, and LGBTQI+ students. They shared strategies for addressing harmful and discriminatory school discipline practices and creating more positive school climates.

Two main strategies emerged for achieving this; removing School Resource Officers (SROs), and implementing restorative practices, neither of which APS has managed to accomplish yet as neighboring districts have. As a result, Black students are suffering irreparable harm. The school board has convened a community-based SRO Work Group to consider and recommend in June whether to keep SROs.

APS’s 2019-2020 suspension data in a partial pandemic year shows that Black students accounted for 27% of all out-of-school suspensions despite comprising 11% of APS’s population. By contrast, white students accounted for 16% of suspensions despite comprising 41% of APS’s population.

The 2018-2019 suspension data, more consistent with the 10-year average, shows that Black students accounted for 34% of all out-of-school suspensions despite comprising 10% of APS’s population. By contrast, white students accounted for 18% of suspensions despite comprising 44% of APS’s population. The disparities by school are even more stark.

Not surprisingly, the word “restorative” does not appear anywhere in APS’s discipline policy (J-7.4) or its accompanying policy implementation plan (PIP) (J-7.4 PIP-1), nor does it appear in the Draft Student Rights & Responsibilities: Code of Conduct Handbook. When these documents were circulated for revision and amendment, stakeholder groups deemed them retributive in tone and advised that restorative practices be added. The discipline policy is scheduled for “action” by the school board in August. Whether the school board will adopt the recommendations remains to be determined.

Notwithstanding Restorative Arlington’s Strategic Plan, there is no-one in the county with expertise in school-based implementation. While APS blithely promised a one-year pilot, that promise remains unfulfilled as APS disregards the only operational restorative practices program for school-aged youth in Arlington — Promoting Empathy through Equitable Resolution (PEER) — operated by a community-based organization.

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Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

On April 12, the Arlington School Board presented its nearly $700 million proposed FY 2022 budget to the Arlington County Board. The proposed budget includes a deficit of $14.9 million.

During the meeting, County Board member Christian Dorsey asked if this deficit is a result of a structural problem with the Arlington Public Schools (APS) budget.

The answer is yes.

For years, it was the practice of the School Board to direct the Superintendent to propose a balanced budget, with expenditures equal to revenues. However, this year’s budget direction lacks that requirement, which was last included in the FY 2017 budget cycle.

APS Superintendents began proposing budgets to the School Board that included significant deficits beginning in FY 2020, with a proposed deficit of nearly $9 million. For FY 2021 the deficit was more than $27 million and for FY 2022 it was more than $42.5 million.

After receiving the Superintendent’s proposed budget and holding numerous budget hearings, the School Board adopts a proposed budget. Typically, that proposed budget is a balanced one — but not this year.

Compare this process with that of the County Board, which includes in its budget guidance to the County Manager a requirement that his proposed budget is balanced.

A structural problem with the School Board’s budget process is that it delays the hard choices that must be made to cut expenditures to produce a balanced budget, which ultimately the School Board adopts each year. It also leads the School Board to ask the County for more money than is provided by the informal revenue sharing agreement between the boards. This year, the School Board asked the County Board for $2.8 million more than the $527.1 million in ongoing funds that the County Manager recommended.

To address this problem, the School Board should amend its policies on budget direction and budget development to require that the Superintendent propose a balanced budget and that the School Board adopt a proposed budget that is balanced. This would allow more time, and citizen input, for consideration of reducing expenditures. In addition, if APS believes that it is underfunded by the County, it should propose changes to the revenue sharing agreement.

With the School Board’s final vote on its budget scheduled for May 6, little time remains to determine how to balance this year’s budget. The $42.5 million deficit proposed by the Superintendent has shrunk because of nearly $19 million in federal emergency relief funds, as well as higher than initially estimated County and state revenue. In addition, the County Board agreed to provide the additional $2.8 million that the School Board requested, reducing the deficit to just more than $12 million.

That deficit could be cut in half if APS adjusts its enrollment projections for next year. The Superintendent’s proposed budget projects an enrollment next school year of 29,653. This is 3,154 students more than the 26,499 students enrolled in APS in March of this year, and 1,503 more than the 28,150 students who were enrolled in March 2020 when APS closed its school buildings.

If the projected enrollment for next year were reduced to a more realistic number of 28,500 students, the budget savings would be $5.9 million. The School Board’s Budget Advisory Committee (BAC) recommends that the enrollment estimate be revised downward, along with other cost-saving measures.

The School Board’s proposed budget includes a projected deficit for FY 2023 of $64.7 million in FY 2023, $91.4 million in FY 2024, and $111.1 million in FY 2025. This is untenable. The School Board needs to address the structural problems with its budget.

Abby Raphael served on the Arlington School Board from 2008-2015, including two terms as Chair. She also led the Washington Area Boards of Education for two years. Currently she co-chairs the Destination 2027 Steering Committee, is a member of the Board of the Arlington YMCA, and works with Project Peace, the Community Progress Network, and Second Chance

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Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Esther Cooper started the Arlington branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1940 to fight for educational equality of Black students in Arlington Public Schools (APS).

Under her leadership, the NAACP sued the school board challenging the inequalities in the county’s Black high schools. In Carter v. School Board of Arlington Co. (1950), the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, ruling that Arlington’s separate high schools constituted unlawful discrimination.

Today, 81 years after Ms. Cooper began her advocacy, 71 years after the Carter decision, and 67 years after Brown v. Board of Education, we still don’t have education parity for Black students, or fully integrated schools.

Over the decades, both the county and the school board have intentionally, through policies and boundaries, kept our neighborhoods and schools segregated. Consequently, Black students have been redlined out of education parity by neighborhood, by school, and by classroom.

Not surprisingly, the academic gap has not closed in decades. In fact, the literacy gap between Black and White students increased within the last decade. The fact is, we have Black students entering high school reading on a third grade level, or below. The inability to master all five pillars of reading (phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension) adversely impacts a student’s ability to access the curriculum in all other content areas, causing the gaps to widen as students “progress” through school.

Through a prolonged practice of social promotion and failing up, APS has a sordid history of graduating generations of Black students who are functionally illiterate. Many of these students grew up in Arlington, attended APS schools, and are now relegated to low-wage jobs — some in the very schools that failed them.

This is the school-to-poverty pipeline.

While there are many Black students who excel academically in APS, there are far too many others who do not. For the 13 years I have lived in Arlington, I haven’t heard any school board members or school board candidates acknowledge this problem, let alone commit to addressing it — not even the ones who purport to be “educators” or feign concern about “equity.” Instead, year-after-year, decade-after-decade, superintendent-after-superintendent, and school board-after-school board, APS continues to fail Black students with impunity.

This miseducation of Black students is the school-to-prison pipeline.

APS is miseducating Black students by under diagnosing learning disabilities and misidentifying them with emotional and intellectual disabilities;

APS is miseducating Black students by failing to utilize the most current and recommended psychological testing for accurate evaluations;

APS is miseducating Black students by under-identifying them for gifted and twice-exceptional (“2e”) services;

APS is miseducating Black students by underfunding training and procurement for evidence-based literacy instruction and intervention;

APS is miseducating Black students by tracking them into low-level courses in pursuit of standard versus advanced diplomas;

APS is miseducating Black students by allowing disparities in opportunities to persist;

APS is miseducating Black students by levying harsher discipline and disproportionate referrals to law enforcement;

APS is miseducating Black students by failing to sufficiently recruit and hire teachers that look like them;

APS is miseducating Black students by perpetuating a culture of low expectations and unchecked bias;

APS is miseducating Black students by downplaying or ignoring acts of racial violence perpetuated against them; and

APS is miseducating Black students by failing to talk about and recon with all of this.

In the 81 years since Esther Cooper commenced her fight for equality for Black students, APS and the school board have dodged accountability and maintained the status quo. How much longer must we wait for them to course correct? How many more generations of Black families will be lost to poverty or prisons in the meantime? APS deserves no more grace. The time for change is now.

Image courtesy of Project DAPS, Arlington Public Library, Community Archives

Symone Walker is an Arlington Public Schools parent and federal attorney. She is an At Large Executive Committee Member of the Arlington NAACP and Co-Chair of the Education Committee. She serves on the Arlington Special Education Advisory Committee, Superintendent’s Advisory Committee for Equity and Excellence, School Resource Officer Working Group, Destination 2027 Task Force, and the Commonwealth Attorney’s Community Advisory Board. She is a former candidate for the Arlington school board.

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Ed Talk: The 36 Percent

Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Arlington Public Schools (APS) has opened for hybrid learning for students from pre-kindergarten through 12 grade whose families have chosen that option, one year after it closed its doors due to the pandemic.

Sixty-four percent of APS students have opted for the hybrid model and attend school two days per week. Thirty-six percent of APS students — 9,611 of them — have remained with full distance learning.

APS data show the impact of distance learning on academic achievement. That impact has not been the same for all students. Test scores and grades for Economically Disadvantaged students, English Learners, Black students, and Hispanic students have declined the most.

For example, scores for Black students in kindergarten through grade two on a literacy test known as PALS dropped from 87.1% in the fall of 2019 to 78.6% in the fall of 2020. However, scores for White students fell only from 93.8% to 91%.

An APS analysis of second quarter grades shows that the percentage of economically disadvantaged middle school students who failed classes nearly doubled from last academic year to this year, increasing from 6.3% to 11.53%. This compares with middle school students overall, whose failing grades increased from 2.46% to 4.92%.

In high school, failing grades for English learners increased from 16.1% to 25.72% during distance learning, compared with an increase from 6.2% to 9% for high school students overall.

In light of this learning loss, it is important to know which students have not returned to school. Who is missing out on the benefits of in-person learning and why have they made that choice?

But APS has provided no demographic data about this.

Fairfax County Public Schools reported this week that 37% of Black parents intended to send their children back to school, compared with 52% of Hispanic parents, and 57% of White parents, according to a March survey.

A study of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) conducted last summer found that Black and Latino parents were more concerned about sending their children back to school than were White parents. The study suggested that for minority parents, the fear of poor health outcomes as a result of COVID-19 outweighs the benefits of in-person learning.

Those fears are well-founded. COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on minority communities. The gap in life expectancy, for example, has increased between 2019 and 2020.  According to a recent report of the CDC, life expectancy decreased by 2.7 years for the Black population, 1.9 years for the Hispanic population, and .8 years for the White population during this period.

During the March 11 School Board meeting, Superintendent Dr. Francisco Duran commented that a large number of parents of English learners have opted to continue with distance learning. It may be that they — and Black and Latino parents in Arlington — like those surveyed by the CDC, fear sending their children to school because of the impact of COVID-19 on their communities.

In Arlington, the highest number of COVID-19 cases is in the 22204 zip code, where the percentage of the Black and Hispanic populations is about twice that of Arlington overall. In addition, the rate of cases per 100,000 residents in this area is much higher than the County average, according to data on the County’s website.

With 64% of students in the hybrid model, APS must not lose sight of the 36% of students who continue with full distance learning, and especially those students whose grades and test scores have declined the most.

APS should report on the demographics of the 9,611 students who remain in full distance learning. It also should set targets for improvement in grades and test scores such as PALS. This accountability is necessary to start to reverse the trend of greater learning loss during distance learning for minority students.

Abby Raphael served on the Arlington School Board from 2008-2015, including two terms as Chair. She also led the Washington Area Boards of Education for two years. Currently she co-chairs the Destination 2027 Steering Committee, is a member of the Board of the Arlington YMCA, and works with Project Peace, the Community Progress Network, and Second Chance

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