Arlington, VA

Peter’s Take is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

APS has promised a return to “as close to pre-pandemic normal as possible” for Fall 2021,  but the details regarding what “in-person” really means have not been revealed.

Will the pandemic-era Plexiglas barriers, 10-foot distancing at recess, untouched libraries and art rooms, and no group work remain? What about the expansive quarantine policies, shortened days, and no aftercare that extend time out of school?

August 30, 2021 — the best of Sept 1, 2019

“In-person learning offers our young people the best opportunity to develop their passions, bond with their peers, and thrive. Let’s safely get our schools re-opened.” US Education Secretary Dr. Miguel Cardona, April 27, 2021.

APS MUST provide five FULL length days with a teacher in the room for all students who choose it in the 2021-2022 school year. Children should be able to collaborate with and learn from each other, touch materials, and play together without restrictions.

APS must ensure that the full range of its programs are in-person and active in Fall 2021, including enrichment classes, sports with fans, and in-person after school and evening activities, many of which are some children’s only chance to feel successful outside the academic environment.

Having school as normal as possible is also the best route to helping children feel comfortable returning to normal life and to send the message that school is SAFE. In particular, APS should hold in-person open houses in August so that children can see the building and spend time in their classrooms to be comfortable.

Coming together to address the impact of the pandemic

The Arlington community must come together to address the disproportionate impact of pandemic education, particularly among our most vulnerable populations.

APS’s own statistics at the elementary, middle and high school levels establish that “Black and Hispanic students, English-language learning students, and students with disabilities are experiencing the deepest drops.”

This crisis should be addressed using Federal Recovery Act and local funding. APS must:

The current shortened elementary day and expansive quarantine policies exacerbates this year’s childcare crisis. APS must update its quarantine policy to reflect  CDC guidance, offer a full school day and aftercare to prevent additional childcare crises and lost learning time in Fall 2021.

“We cannot undo the past, but we can recover in a way that is truly different than the inequitable system we should leave behind.” Dr. Pedro Noguera USC Education School Dean, March 31, 2021

Restore a healthy screen-use balance–particularly for our youngest learners

APS must restore a healthy screen-use balance. Excessive screen time damages children’s mental and physical health at all age levels, but particularly for our youngest learners.

In 2019 — the last full year before APS shut down in-person learning — APS had decided to end its 1:1 digital device program for students in K-2. This was welcome news to parents who were insisting on less school time iPads and the bulk of their classroom time “personally interacting with others, manipulating objects, playing and exploring outdoors, and doing art and science projects.” But in this year’s operating budget, APS reversed course and funded a 1:1 device program for K-2.

Beginning with the Fall 2021 semester, APS must restore its 2019 practice of eliminating the 1:1 program in K-2 classrooms.

APS should pledge now also to eliminate 1:1 sequentially in grades 3-5 for in-person classrooms by the end of the 2024-2025 school year.

School Board accountability and responsibility

Access to a free, quality public education is a Constitutional right in Virginia. Voting by elected officials is a fundamental element of representative democracy and critical to sustaining open dialogue. But APS’s School Board has not taken a single vote on any aspect of Return to School. The Arlington School Board should vote this month on the Superintendent’s reopening plans for summer and Fall 2021, take every opportunity to ask questions, and push for a return to normal.

Peter Rousselot previously served as Chair of the Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission (FAAC) to the Arlington County Board and as Co-Chair of the Advisory Council on Instruction (ACI) to the Arlington School Board. He is also a former Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC) and a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA). He currently serves as a board member of the Together Virginia PAC, a political action committee dedicated to identifying, helping and advising Democratic candidates in rural Virginia.

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Peter’s Take is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

We’ve all seen mentally ill people on the street, often disheveled, perhaps speaking to no one in particular, seemingly unaware that they are ill and unable to care for themselves.

This may be the face of mental illness, but it shouldn’t be because recovery is achievable.

Recovery requires early detection of psychotic illnesses, followed by prompt and effective treatment to prevent the cognitive decline that occurs when psychosis goes untreated. Early intervention also prevents or limits substance abuse, involvement in the legal system, and other negative but all-too-common consequences of severe mental illness.

Early identification of psychotic illnesses

One highly effective program is Coordinated Specialty Care (CSC) for those with early episode psychosis (or First Episode Psychosis), a program based on extensive research with positive outcomes sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

In Northern Virginia, all of the localities except Arlington offer this evidence-based CSC model for teens and young adults experiencing early-episode psychosis. Arlington offers elements of this program, but it does not offer them in a way that adheres to the model and is intensive enough to effectively treat the most severely ill teens and young adults with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorders.

Without CSC what does Arlington offer?

Arlington offers an array of programs, what one parent calls a “patchwork,” but not CSC for those with the most severe illness. These teens and young adults either go untreated, isolating at home, often frightened by their symptoms, and falling further behind their peers, or receive in-home services from Arlington’s PACT (Program of Assertive Community Treatment), essentially, long-term care.

We are unnecessarily jeopardizing the possibility of recovery when we place young adults in long-term care, declare them disabled, and consign them to a lifetime of poverty living on Social Security Income (SSI). These are often young adults who showed promise in school or other pursuits and who still have potential. Arlington should be offering a program that conforms to the CSC model for those teens and young adults who need these very intensive but short-term (usually two years) services built around a goal of recovery. Recovery is what families and ill young adults want and deserve. Read More

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Peter’s Take is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Long before COVID-19 and during COVID-19, I have been critical of APS’s excessive reliance on digital devices.

I’ve cited many scientific studies documenting the damage that excessive screen use causes to students who are suffering the health impacts emotionally and physically, showing that overuse of digital devices also affects students’ educational growth and development. Even though some APS students are doing well in a virtual environment, COVID-19 has aggravated and increased substantially these previously documented harms.

Although these risks to students’ health pre-existed COVID-19, the increased impacts from remote learning are now alarming health professionals.

Health impacts from remote learning

Children are worse off than before COVID-19 as their screen use is constant. Sedentary for most of their day, many don’t have the opportunity to learn and play outdoors. The screen’s blue light may be impacting healthy sleep patterns- creating serious secondary impacts from sleep disruptions and associated mental health issues.

Childhood myopia was well established as a worldwide epidemic long before the lockdown. But the damage done by constant screen use and lack of outdoor play in the last year has created a “crisis” according to the American Optometric Association, which just held an ’emergency summit’ to address the growing health threat to children’s eye health and vision associated directly with increased screen use among children.

Children’s eyes are more vulnerable to the impacts of digital devices because they are still growing and haven’t developed the same kind of light protection that adults have, so they are more likely to be impacted by the blue light coming from the schools’ digital devices they are required to use.

That blue light suppresses the production of melatonin, which is needed to fall asleep.  As a result, children are now suffering more than ever from sleep disruptions, which impacts nearly every other aspect of a child’s health, from the ability to focus and perform in school, to the development of mental health issues.

Childhood obesity has long been rampant, but now is sky-rocketing due to increased sedentary time imposed by relentless screen use.

APS parents should insist on digital device safety in school

Fortunately, a new Virginia law addresses the health risks associated with the schools’ digital devices. The new law requires “the Department of Education (VDOE), in collaboration with the Department of Health and medical professional societies, to develop and distribute health and safety best practice guidelines for the use of digital devices in public schools no later than the 2021-2022 school year.”

On March 29, VDOE posted a draft of the mandated Health and Safety Digital Device guidelines for public comment, asking the public to weigh in regarding classroom digital device safety before April 28th.

Every APS parent should seize this opportunity to comment to VDOE and insist to their child’s principal that these guidelines be followed.

APS’s over-reliance on digital devices and virtual learning, particularly in K-5, was already a serious problem pre-COVID-19. Although APS labelled this “personalized learning,” it detracted from the genuine, in-person classroom interactions which are vital for the development of young children.

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Peter’s Take is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

A new report called Spending Growth and Real Estate Taxes by Dr. John Huntley of Arlington Analytics explains why Arlington real estate taxpayers will be hit by sharply rising tax bills over the next ten years. Such increases will disproportionately drive out of Arlington the most vulnerable, diverse residents the County claims to value.

Arlington’s long-term structural operating budget deficit

These tax bills will be rising sharply because the costs of many different County operating expenses are increasing at faster rates than County revenues. There is a long-term structural deficit built into Arlington County government’s operating budget. APS enrollment growth is a major driver of Arlington’s structural operating budget deficit.

The new report’s analysis of the County’s operating budget is based on Arlington’s own 2019 Multi-Year Financial Forecast, development projections that include anticipated revenues from Amazon-related growth, APS’s 2022 proposed operating budget, APS’s enrollment projections, and historical real estate assessment growth rates across different categories of properties.

The report documents the results of simulations in which real estate assessments are projected to increase at their historical rates to determine how the additional real estate tax burden will be distributed among Arlington homeowners. The report concludes that expensive detached single-family homes will see the greatest dollar increases in taxes. Duplexes and side-by-sides, with rapidly growing assessed values, also are likely to pay far higher taxes (both in percentage and dollar terms).

By 2031, real estate revenues (adjusted for inflation) must increase by $255 million compared to 2022 to meet County and APS spending needs. $100 million will come from residential property owners of townhomes, duplexes, condos, and detached single-family homes. $155 million will come from taxes on business real estate, which includes commercial properties, apartment buildings, hotels, and office buildings.

The report explains how these higher real estate tax revenues affect the individual tax liabilities of 10 illustrative homeowners of a variety of residence types, prices, and locations in the County (Report pp. 7-8). The largest tax increases, from several hundred to more than $2,000, will be paid by owners of detached single-family homes, duplexes, and side-by-sides.

Such real estate tax increases could imperil Arlington’s much prized 50-50 split between business and residential tax burdens by shifting greater burdens to residential homes.  A permanent teleworking increase could reduce office space demand and also increase this shift. Read More

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Peter’s Take is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Arlington residents’ lives have been upended by COVID-19: parents have struggled to juggle virtual schooling and work responsibilities; many restaurants, hotels and small businesses have disappeared. The County budget has been battered. Yet, County government has been moving full speed ahead to help builders and developers of high-end housing fatten their bottom lines.

Arlington’s Missing Middle (MM) Housing study is a heavily subsidized County government initiative pre-ordained to reach a “solution” to a non-existent problem. The housing types on which this study focuses already are plentiful in Arlington. Many more already can be built by right.

As my colleagues at Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future (ASF) demonstrate, up-zoning to enable construction of even more of this MM housing will NOT provide affordable housing for those most in need.

Missing middle housing is high-end, not affordable, housing

County staff have abandoned earlier claims that their MM study will yield affordable housing. Cloaking themselves in the language of civil rights advocates, they now argue these MM housing types are “under-represented.” A current Green Valley project demonstrates why increasing the representation of MM housing will boost the supply of high-end housing while accelerating the loss of racial, ethnic, and economic diversity, exacerbating our long-term budget deficit, and further damaging our environment. County Board members should renounce these bad community outcomes.

Dr. Jon Huntley of Arlington Analytics (along with ASF’s Mary Glass) recently completed a study of the Towns of 24th townhomes project in Green Valley. This project will provide townhome units in two fourplexes, replacing two single-family homes valued at $675,000 each. Marketing materials show each luxury townhome “starting at $800,000,” meaning owners will need to make $138,977 per year to get a mortgage.  

The County — with no factual evidence to support its claims – says MM homes will be a pathway to diversity. Yet consider 2014-18 U.S. Census data cited in Arlington’s Missing Middle Research Bulletin #2, which shows these Arlington average annual household incomes:

  • African-American – $58,878/year
  • Hispanic – $77,743/year
  • Non-Hispanic white – $134,723/year

Based on these averages, Towns of 24th owners are more likely than not to be white, and in any event, wealthier persons of any race/ethnicity whether relocating from within or outside Arlington. Other data show the townhome price range falls well above income levels of current residents who are over 65, occupy federal or county government jobs, or who are single parents or immigrants.

In higher income or more expensively priced areas either in South Arlington or North Arlington, the market values of new MM housing will require owners to have much higher incomes than the $138,977 in the Towns of 24th example.

By contrast, analyses presented to County staff as part of the current 5-year review of Arlington’s Affordable Housing Master Plan, demonstrate that Arlington’s greatest need for affordable housing is for those who earn 60% or less of Area Median Income (AMI). Sixty percent of current AMI is $68,040 (Slide 8).

Arlington lacks long-term infrastructure financing plans

Arlington has forecast that about 63,000 new residents will move here between 2020 and 2045 under existing zoning. As documented in an ASF presentation (Slides 2-5), Arlington has failed to develop long-term plans to pay for the new infrastructure needed to support these anticipated new residents, let alone the additional residents beyond the 63,000 who would be newly enabled to live here under MM up-zoning.

Arlington lacks long-term environmental impact plans

Arlington also lacks long-term plans to address the severe impacts on our environment of the current hyper-development that ASF’s Anne Bodine describes, let alone the incremental adverse environmental impacts of the arrival of 63,000, or even more, new residents.

Conclusion

Missing Middle housing is high-end housing not affordable housing. MM housing will accelerate gentrification, but will not help those in greatest need.

Before proceeding further, the County government first must:

  • Perform site-specific fiscal impact analyses for new, multi-unit residential projects
  • Release all existing long-term operating budget forecasts
  • Prepare these three sets of County forecasts comparing current zoning with any and all proposed MM up-zoning: (1) Long-term operating budget; (2) Long-term environmental impact; (3) Long-term household income by quintiles, showing projected disparities among different household groups compared to the national average

Peter Rousselot previously served as Chair of the Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission (FAAC) to the Arlington County Board and as Co-Chair of the Advisory Council on Instruction (ACI) to the Arlington School Board. He is also a former Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC) and a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA). He currently serves as a board member of the Together Virginia PAC, a political action committee dedicated to identifying, helping and advising Democratic candidates in rural Virginia.

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Peter’s Take is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Historic numbers of Virginians voted in the 2020 Presidential election. Virginia Democratic legislators have introduced important new voting rights legislation which deserves to be enacted. The 2021 Virginia Legislative Session is expected to adjourn about February 28.

Virginia Voting Rights Act

The Virginia Voting Rights Act is a centerpiece of these 2021 Democratic voting reform initiatives:

[I]t is designed to prevent last-minute poll closures and other election changes that could disproportionately affect voters of color. … Backers say it’s partly a response to a 2013 Supreme Court decision that effectively stripped the federal government’s close oversight over elections across the South, including Virginia.

The House of Delegates version of this legislation is HB-1890.

HB-1890 prohibits:

  • any standard, practice, or procedure related to voting from being imposed or applied in a manner that results in the denial or abridgment of the right of any United States citizen to vote based on his race or color or membership in a language minority group.
  • at-large methods of election from being imposed or applied in a locality in a manner that impairs the ability of a protected class, defined in the bill, to elect candidates or influence the outcome of an election, by diluting or abridging the rights of voters who are members of a protected class.

Certain unlawful actions, including knowingly communicating false information to voters, that are currently subject to criminal penalties will create civil causes of action under the bill.

The bill also authorizes the Virginia Attorney General to commence civil actions when there is reasonable cause to believe that a violation of an election law has occurred, and the rights of any voter or group of voters have been affected by the violation. Civil penalties are payable into a Voter Education and Outreach Fund established by the bill.

The sponsor of HB-1890, Delegate Cia Price (D-Newport News), noted:

[T]here are still attacks on voting rights today that can result in voter suppression, discrimination and intimidation. …We need to be clear that this is not welcome.

Price also said she has compiled examples of voter suppression ranging from moving polling places off public transit lines, or from a community center to a sheriff’s office. Read More

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Peter’s Take is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

March 2020: the COVID-19 pandemic forces APS to shut down in-person instruction. APS is caught with many students, many digital devices, but no real plan to continue meaningful learning virtually. Teachers are left to create virtual lessons, delivering inconsistent curriculum and outcomes.

All this happens despite APS’s insistence — pre-COVID-19 — that APS already had adopted “Personalized Learning.” APS claimed that its version of personalized learning (heavily dependent on digital devices) ensured “instruction, curriculum and outcomes are connected to our learners’ unique talents, skills and interests and [use] technology to provide flexibility and choice for our learners.”

The pandemic exposed a very different reality: Failing grades — despite really hard-working teachers and staff. Critically missing: in-person interactions among teachers and students. Overall: declining test scores and inconsistent supports for students most in need.

May 2020: APS superintendent Francisco Durán inherits this chaotic and challenging situation. Since then, much of our community’s focus appropriately has been on when, where, and under what safety protocols APS should re-open for in-person instruction.

But for years before Dr. Durán arrived, and continuing today — whether our students are trying to learn in or out of a school building — APS has dropped the instructional ball. Dr. Durán and the current School Board now own it and must fix it.

APS must refocus on instruction, especially remediation for learning losses suffered by at-risk groups, and adopting evidence-based resources, particularly for reading, writing and math.

ATSS

Instructional challenges have been exacerbated during the pandemic version of virtual learning, with no solid countywide remediation plan in place. The Arlington Tiered System of Support (ATSS) was a pre-COVID-19 program created to provide time each day to help with interventions in areas like reading, writing, and math: “Research does show that in order for an intervention to be effective targeted instruction should range from 20-40 minutes 4-5 days a week.” But this program has gone radio silent since March 2020. Why isn’t APS prioritizing the continuation of this program and creating small groups to remediate the learning deficits of those children who need ATSS services (regardless of school)?

Literacy

As ARLnow.com has reported, at the elementary and middle and high school levels, more students are struggling to make passing grades this year: ” Black and Hispanic students, English-language learning students, and students with disabilities are experiencing the deepest drops.”

Over half of rising 6th graders are reading below grade level. Black and Hispanic students, English-language learning students, and students with disabilities are seeing literacy declines, with inconsistent or no interventions to address pre- and current pandemic-related academic concerns.

Dr. Durán’s February 4, 2021 presentation (Slides 22-31) displayed this Fall’s DIBELS reading scores for grades 3-5, underscoring the urgency for intensive reading interventions for at-risk students.

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Peter’s Take is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Arlington is flying blind regarding the costs of future critical capital expenses, including seats to accommodate APS enrollment growth and the increase in the ratio of Arlington’s population to permeable green space available for parks and storm water absorption.

The County Manager has warned correctly that our budget is under severe stress from COVID-19 impacts, and some of these impacts may be transformational.

The Manager has concluded that it is too difficult to engage in long-range fiscal planning in these dire circumstances. But during five pre-COVID-19 years, he resisted utilizing fiscal planning tools to measure development costs versus anticipated revenues.

The Manager recently revealed that County government is working to develop a model to measure fiscal impacts of development–but only by retroactively combining many different projects. It’s unclear whether this model will enable prospective measurement of the fiscal impacts of any single project or how useful it will be otherwise.

Merion Pike West project demonstrates the utility of advance single-project analysis

In November 2020, the County Board unanimously approved Phase 1 of the Merion Pike West site-plan development at 843 S. Greenbrier St.

The Board authorized the developer to build new apartment buildings containing 400 units. The new buildings will replace older buildings containing 90 market-rate-affordable units.

Local consultant Arlington Analytics prepared a fiscal analysis of this project, concluding:

  • This development will increase county spending $32-$37 million between 2022 and 2031.
  • The bulk of this new spending arises from the incremental cost of educating just over 100 additional APS students.
  • Incremental revenues, principally from real estate taxes, will increase by about $14.5 million over the same time period due to the higher assessed value of the property.
  • The County will need to tap revenues from other sources between $17 and $23 million through 2031 to cover the anticipated budget shortfall.

As part of the Board’s review of the project, this fiscal analysis was presented by Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future (ASF). Both staff and Board disregarded the conclusions, and did not present any comparable County government analysis because Arlington doesn’t engage in this type of planning.

Arlington needs to adopt new planning tools to ensure its sustainable future, and pump the brakes on gentrification.

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Peter’s Take is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Arlington County Board member Christian Dorsey was in the news last year after he accepted, and much later returned, a $10,000 campaign contribution from Metro’s largest labor union.

Dorsey’s original acceptance of this contribution violated Metro’s ethics rules, and led to Dorsey’s resignation from the Metro board.

Near year’s end, a federal bankruptcy trustee made a formal finding that “Dorsey overstated his debt obligations in ‘an act of overt misrepresentation.'” (Dorsey denies overt misrepresentation.)

Last year’s debate over Dorsey’s conduct did nothing to rectify severe weaknesses in Virginia’s and Arlington’s rules defining ethical behavior. Until these rules are strengthened, it’s inevitable that other situations like Dorsey’s will be repeated.

Unless the Dillon Rule is significantly relaxed, many of the major ethics improvements necessary must be enacted by Virginia. Nevertheless, there also is a lot more that Arlington County government should do now to demonstrate that ethical behavior is a high priority.

Virginia ethics reform

Virginia should broaden the scope, and more vigorously enforce, its conflict-of-interest law.

Virginia’s current Ethics Advisory Council lacks critical enforcement powers.

Virginia needs a new ethics body with:

  • resources to conduct investigations
  • power to assess substantial fines
  • authority to make referrals to the Virginia Attorney General and local Commonwealth’s Attorneys

Virginia should create a new, independent Ethics Review Commission with subpoena and enforcement powers like Massachusetts, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania.

The Massachusetts Ethics Commission can impose substantial civil penalties for violations of its conflict-of-interest laws.

Virginia campaign finance reform

Virginia is one of only 5 states with no campaign contribution limits. Virginia’s campaign finance laws were ranked 47th out of 50 in America, and received a grade of “F” from a state integrity investigation.  

We need to prioritize Virginia campaign finance reform. According to an NPR report:

Virginia’s campaign finance laws are far more permissive than most other states. They’re also lenient compared to the rules for running for U.S. Congress, where the Federal Election Commission limits individual contributions to $2,800 per candidate, per election. …Virginia requires only that candidates disclose the source of their funds.

Virginia should renew efforts to pass legislation similar to an unsuccessful bill introduced in the 2019 legislative session that would have prohibited “individuals and political action committees from making any single contribution, or any combination of contributions, that exceeds $10,000 to any one candidate for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, or the General Assembly in any one election cycle… .”

But wouldn’t such new Virginia contribution limits violate the U. S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision? Maybe not. In 2019, the Supreme Court declined to review a federal appeals court ruling upholding Montana’s campaign contribution limits on the grounds that those limits were a reasonable way to prevent corruption while still allowing candidates to raise enough money.

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Peter’s Take is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

On December 4, ARLnow documented APS’s conclusions that:

Black and Hispanic students [in K-2] dropped off the most [with respect to foundational literacy skills] during remote learning, while students with disabilities continue to perform far below neurotypical children and the overall student population.”

Former School Board candidate Symone Walker correctly observed that “COVID-19 exacerbates a problem that has persisted for years, one she said is partially rooted in inconsistent methods of teaching literacy.”

In pre-COVID-19 columns, I highlighted why independent experts concluded that APS should:

The current upsurge in Arlington COVID-19 community spread may be great enough to require APS temporarily not to provide in-person instruction widely, but independent experts and APS’s own data establish that virtual learning causes serious harm to thousands of children, especially our community’s youngest and most vulnerable.

These are the critical steps that both APS and Arlington County government must join together to take NOW to address our community’s instructional crisis:

  • make virtual learning much better
  • adopt a plan to open schools safely ASAP in 2021 for students whose parents choose in-person learning

Make virtual learning much better, especially for the most vulnerable

APS must make virtual learning the very best it can be. But for many thousands of our community’s children, in-person learning will always be infinitely better.

Students with disabilities are being left behind by APS’s shelve-them-in-classrooms approach. These children currently go to school where only an aide monitors them logging on to an iPad. They need so much more in-classroom, in-person professional help. Why isn’t APS providing it?

APS needs to work with parents to adjust significantly the current virtual school day. Sitting online for a full school day is not developmentally appropriate for K-5. Children in this cohort need maybe 2 hours of instruction in math/reading/writing to stay on track. The rest of it should be optional. Many excellent suggestions by Sal Khan of Khan Academy are here.

Adopt a crash program to open APS schools safely ASAP in 2021

January 6, 2021 marks 300 days since the vast majority of APS students were in school.

APS and the Arlington County government must collaborate to plan NOW to open schools safely ASAP in 2021 for parents who choose in-person learning. That plan requires a specific reopening target date.

When to reopen schools is among the most important educational policy decisions currently facing the School Board. That board’s claim that this decision is purely an “operational” decision (entirely up to the Superintendent) is just plain wrong. Dr. Durán (and tacitly the School Board) continue to default always to the wrong message: schools will not reopen.

But the message that thousands of parents and residents want to hear is: we are working day and night to develop a plan to reopen schools safely. The School Board also needs to direct Dr. Durán to articulate more clearly APS’s air quality and lunch arrangement plans.

The County Board must step up

The County Board has a vital role to play in helping the School Board open schools safely. The County Board’s current claim that this decision is entirely up to APS also is a cop out. In our health emergency, the County Board must step up.

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Peter’s Take is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

APS continues its record of flawed planning with the 2020 Elementary School Boundary Process. The latest recommendations typify years of ineffectual boundary planning.

In 2018, APS recognized it had a problem: a mis-match of the geographic locations in which its elementary students resided and the locations of schools.  Further, APS identified the planning corridors (Rosslyn-Ballston, Columbia Pike, and Route 1) as the locus of the future enrollment growth, but the next new facility — Reed — was not being constructed where seats were needed.  Therefore, APS began internal deliberations to adjust county-wide elementary school boundaries (for school year 2021-22).

The objectives included:

  • create Reed and Science Focus (ASFS) attendance zones
  • address overcapacity at schools
  • maximize building capacity
  • make efficient use of existing facilities and resources
  • adhere to walk zones and balance demographics when possible

Last February the School Board voted to move Key Immersion to ATS, ATS to McKinley, and McKinley to Reed. Although this was and remains very controversial, the net result moved Option programs closer to areas with excess seats and freed up neighborhood seats at the Key site. However, because APS decided to limit additional stress during the pandemic, it hastily decided to abandon a first principle of any boundary process–to balance enrollment.

APS objectively has defined “preferred maximum” numbers of students at each school using Virginia guidelines. But APS has ignored its own analysis and excluded schools like Abingdon. Abingdon is projected to reach 930 students in 2022-23 with a preferred maximum of only 742. Other schools like ASFS, with a preferred maximum of 637 students, are included, yet ASFS is projected to enroll 662 in 2022-23 with the strong potential that up to an additional 80 will enroll if they elect not to move with Key Immersion. Others like Dr. Charles Drew–adjacent to Abingdon–has approximately 400 preferred maximum unfilled seats. And schools like Ashlawn and Tuckahoe (in this boundary process) have 200+ combined preferred maximum seats available through 2022-23.

The “minimal” boundary changes now proposed are unfair

Even for the small number of schools involved, APS’s latest proposal does not maximize flexibility nor does the proposal minimize impact on families as a foundation for the 2022 process. APS proposes moving several planning units from Ashlawn to ASFS even though future flexibility is needed there. At the same time APS proposes moving some students from McKinley to Ashlawn.  These moves should be delayed until 2022 to preserve flexibility.  Finally, APS leaves Tuckahoe well under-capacity. APS should use Tuckahoe’s excess seats to balance capacity from Ashlawn along the southwestern boundary of the County where future flexibility is less important.

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