About 2,000 students who left Arlington Public Schools after buildings shuttered in March 2020 have indicated they will not be returning this fall, according to APS staff.
This enrollment information — which could alter the budget for the 2021-2022 school year — landed in the laps of the Arlington School Board and school administrators during a budget work session Tuesday evening.
The problem? School Board members are slated to vote on the $700 million budget tomorrow (Thursday) and APS administrators say they do not have enough time to draw meaningful conclusions about how the budget will be impacted.
During the work session, however, School Board members asked staff to try anyway. They said recalibrating the budget for 2,000 fewer children could knock down the $11-$15 million budget deficit that APS is facing and could determine how the board votes to compensate staff.
(Since the School Board adopted a proposed budget in early April, which then included a $14.9 million deficit, Superintendent Francisco Durán and board members have proposed changes lowering the deficit to $11 million.)
“Our budget is funding for at least some students who we assumed would be part of our enrollment who are not,” Vice Chair Barbara Kanninen said. “We can’t not do anything with this information. I don’t know how we’re going to pull it off that quickly, but we have to: We owe it to the taxpayers of Arlington and we owe it to our staff, not to lowball them on compensation because we couldn’t figure out where the students will be.”
Durán cautioned against using the information to cut down on staffing without knowing more information. He vowed to provide more details tomorrow.
“We still need a deeper analysis to understand what the implications are,” he said.
APS previously projected 29,653 students would be enrolled in the school system next year. On multiple occasions, staff members have said they calculated the increase based on numbers from 2019, as 2020 was too irregular of a year given the pandemic.
But Lisa Stengle, Executive Director of Planning & Evaluation for APS, said the new survey responses are just one piece in a bigger puzzle of figuring out what next school year’s enrollment will look like.
“This number is about students who left, but we also have the intent-to-return surveys, we have new families not counted in this, and five years ago, we had the largest number of births to Arlington parents in quite a period of time,” Stengle said. “There are a lot of other factors. We need time to work all of those through. This is trying to estimate human behavior in a pandemic that we don’t have patterns for.”
Board member Reid Goldstein, however, said it is public knowledge at this point that members of the board believe 29,653 students is an overestimation. During the budget process, board members asked APS to calculate the savings if enrollment dropped to 28,500 students; staff said APS would save $5.9 million under such a scenario.
“This new information about 2,000 students planning not to come back is really giving me a lot of heartburn, given the budget that’s a day and a half away,” he said.
Kanninen brought up the enrollment news halfway through the meeting, which, up until then, had included a lengthy discussion on the myriad employee compensation plans the board will have to choose from.
Taking into account one compensation plan and the several million dollars in new budget cuts, APS faces an $11 million budget deficit. Meanwhile, a plan that provides a 1.5% cost of living increase at the start of the year — favored by a number of APS teachers and staff — would increase the deficit to $13.9 million.
Another option would provide a state-recommended 2% cost of living increase to all staff and would make APS eligible for $657,783 in state funding. Some School Board members said they want to take advantage of this funding and supported this option which would increase the deficit to nearly $16 million.
Board member David Priddy said by his math, the enrollment drop would save APS $8.3 million, and would cover any of the compensation plans.
“I think that we should pursue that,” he said.
Image via Arlington Public Schools
Free Cinco de Mayo Rides — “Offered by the nonprofit Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP), the 2021 Cinco de Mayo SoberRide program will be in operation beginning at 4:00 pm this Wednesday, May 5, 2021 (Cinco de Mayo) and operate until 2:00 am on Thursday, May 6, 2021 as a way to keep local roads safe from impaired drivers during this traditionally high-risk holiday.” [Press Release]
Extra ACPD Traffic Enforcement — From the Arlington County Police Department: “As part of the regional Council of Governments StreetSmart campaign, officers conducted high visibility speed enforcement along Lee Highway today. With warmer weather upon us, there is increased pedestrian and cyclist traffic in the County. Remember to slow down, obey posted speed limits and remain alert for other travelers.” [Facebook]
School Board Hopefuls On Math Controversy — “With the Virginia Department of Education under attack – fairly or unfairly – for what critics say is an attempt to dumb down math instruction across the commonwealth, the two candidates for the Democratic endorsement for Arlington School Board gave state officials neither a rousing endorsement nor a ringing denunciation in a recent forum.” [Sun Gazette]
Critic Praises Local Restaurant — “Every once in a while, a restaurant comes along that checks off so many boxes, you wonder if it had taken a poll of diners’ wishes. Right now, that restaurant is a place in Arlington that combines a warm welcome with good food in a spot that locals might recall as a former paint store or a chocolate factory… Ruthie’s All-Day.” [Washington Post]
Covid Concerns for Local With India Ties — “Singh, a 28-year-old consultant, walked her dog in her Arlington, Va., neighborhood where people lined up to get inside a rooftop tiki bar and a group pedaled by on a party bike, drinking beer. She returned to her apartment and stayed up until 2 a.m. scouring Instagram for phone numbers of Indians who might have oxygen and getting no replies to a flurry of messages. Singh is among thousands of Americans struggling to help Indian relatives survive a catastrophic coronavirus surge that has caused the health care system to collapse.” [New India Times]
Nearby: Fairfax Co. Lowers Tax Rate — “Fairfax County adopted a budget Tuesday that lowers the residential property tax rate… the tax rate drops by a penny to $1.14 per $100 of assessed value. Prince William County officials also recently shaved a penny from their tax rate, now at $1.115 per $100 of assessed value. Loudoun County lowered its rate by 5 .5 cents, to $0.98 per $100 of assessed value, while Arlington County froze its rate at $1.013 per $100 of assessed value.” [Washington Post]
An attempt by Arlington Public Schools to balance enrollment without resorting to a boundary change did not go as planned.
This year, the school system encouraged families to apply to transfer from Abingdon Elementary School in Fairlington, which is projected to be at 119% capacity this fall, to Drew Elementary School in Green Valley, which is projected to be at 76% capacity. The schools are about two miles apart.
The application window closed two weeks ago, and so far, only 12 students are taking the “targeted transfer” option, which includes transportation to the new school, APS project planner Sarah Johnson said during last week’s School Board meeting.
Families can still apply and the school will admit families on a case-by-case basis, administrators said. If the option does not yield more transfers, APS will likely begin discussions this fall to modify the two schools’ boundaries, said Gladis Bourdouane, another project planner with APS.
These changes would come on the heels of the smaller-scale boundary process the board approved in December and ahead of a projected, larger-scale boundary process planned for as early as 2022.
In 2018, another boundary process proved controversial after parents at Abingdon and Henry elementary schools objected to proposed boundaries that would have sent some students at both schools to Drew.
Responding to the lack of interest in transferring this time around, School Board members urged administrators to review the voluntary transfer effort. They were divided, however, over whether this option could work in the future.
“I find this targeted transfer thing wholly inadequate,” Board Member Reid Goldstein said, adding that as far as he is concerned, it has “fallen on its face.”
Goldstein said he was “extremely distressed” when the boundary process last fall did not include Abingdon, despite being overcrowded for years. Instead, he said, the boundary changes last fall mostly adjusted neighborhood schools in the northern half of the county and did not take into account overcrowded schools in South Arlington.
“Twelve students are not going to go a long way toward balancing the huge overcapacity at Abingdon and the under-capacity at Drew,” he said. “I’m going to ask you, [Superintendent Francisco] Durán, to try and put some more aggressive measures in place to try and beef up only 12 students who are going from our most overcrowded school to our least crowded school, and not wait another two years before they get relief.”
As of now, administrators have no plans to keep advertising the transfer option, said Lisa Stengle, the executive director of planning and evaluation for APS.
The school system’s marketing efforts included setting up a website and releasing School Talk messages, while the two schools published information on their websites and mentioned the option during back-to-school events, Johnson said.
“We did make significant outreaches to the Abingdon families,” she said.
Despite the closed application window, APS is still encouraging families to apply. Whether students are accepted will depend on school capacity, staffing and finances, and not every family who applied thus far was eligible, she said.
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.
Covid Testing Unit Coming to Marymount — “The mobile testing unit, operated by Quest Diagnostics, will operate at the university in the parking lot by Reinsch Library, from April 19 – May 7, open Monday-Friday from 9 AM – 4 PM. It will offer no-cost, no-appointment COVID-19 testing to the general public, as well as Marymount students, staff and faculty.” [Arlington County]
School Board Candidate’s Emails FOIAed — “Arlington School Board candidate Mary Kadera said a political opposition-research effort is unlikely to turn up any dirt on her. In a note to supporters, Kadera (one of two candidates in the upcoming Democratic caucus) noted that a local resident had submitted a request under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act in order to gain access to all the e-mails she has sent to School Board members over the past two years.” [Sun Gazette]
Wakefield Alums Push for Accountability — “Members of the Wakefield High School community are pushing for more accountability and action in the wake of a March 5 football game where players on George C. Marshall High School’s football team allegedly used racial slurs against Wakefield players. In a letter sent Wednesday, alumni, parents and staff members at Wakefield — one of four public high schools in Arlington County — said they were ‘horrified’ by the events that occurred at the March 5 game.” [Patch]
Rosslyn Developer Dies — “Stanley Westreich, a commercial real estate developer whose projects helped define and shape Rosslyn’s skyline, died April 11 at his residence in San Diego. His cause of death was not disclosed. He was 83. Westreich and Westfield Realty… helped establish the Arlington neighborhood with 10 projects, most notably the Gannett and USA Today towers, now known as the Towers at 1000 and 1100 Wilson Blvd.” [Washington Business Journal]
No Founding Farmers at DCA Yet — “It turns out that Founding Farmers won’t open a restaurant inside Reagan National Airport’s new 14-gate concourse, though it is still weighing one elsewhere within the complex. The Kensington-based company has scrapped plans… [it] was expected to join other restaurant and retail tenants there including Elevation Burger, Mezeh Mediterranean Grill and Timber Pizza Co.” [Washington Business Journal]
Nearby: Murder Outside Skyline Target — “A man was found dead this morning inside a parking garage in Bailey’s Crossroads. Officers responded around 3:30 a.m. to the 5100 block of Leesburg Pike after 58-year-old Hernan Leiva, of Falls Church, was found suffering from apparent stab wounds and blunt force trauma to his upper body… [a 22-year-old Alexandria man later] returned to a parking lot near the scene and turned himself into police.” [Fairfax County Police, Twitter]
Flickr pool photo by C Buoscio
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.
New Irish Pub Now Open in Pentagon City — “If your notion of an Irish pub is a static menu of fish n’ chips in a shamrock-decked bar, chef Cathal Armstrong wants to change that perception with Mattie and Eddie’s. The James Beard-anointed chef, who championed seasonal Irish cooking over 14 years at Alexandria’s Restaurant Eve, just opened the gastropub with a large outdoor patio in Pentagon City.” [Washingtonian]
Extended Power Outage in Barcroft — A driver crashed into a utility pole at S. Buchanan Street and 6th Street S. in the Barcroft neighborhood Sunday, initially knocking out power to thousands. Hundreds of homes were still in the dark until early this morning. [Twitter]
Candidate Comes Out Swinging At Dem Meeting — “[Chanda] Choun, who is attempting to unseat sitting Democrat Takis Karantonis in a June primary, did not pull many punches in an April 7 kickoff speech before the Arlington County Democratic Committee rank-and-file. ‘Takis was not the best candidate to represent Arlington’ during a politically and racially charged era, Choun said… If elected, Choun said he would be an elected official who ‘goes beyond the platitudes and buzzwords’ to promote an aggressively left-leaning agenda. One example: Choun said he wanted the county to establish a ‘truth and reconciliation commission’ to focus on equity issues.” [Sun Gazette]
School Board Advances Budget Proposal — “The School Board adopted its FY 2022 Proposed Budget at its April 8 meeting. The proposed budget expenditures total $699,919,805. The School Board amended the Superintendent’s FY22 Revised Proposed Budget by reducing the budgeted expenditures by $6,796,056 and 35.00 FTE and replacing the 2% cost of living adjustment with Compensation Option 1. Compensation Option 1 provides different compensation models by employee scale to ensure that every employee in the school division receives a compensation increase.” [Arlington Public Schools]
Pentagon Police Officer Faces Murder Charges — “Takoma Park police have charged the off-duty Pentagon Force Protection Agency officer they say shot and killed two men Wednesday morning in Montgomery County, Maryland. The officer has also been charged for an alleged assault that happened last year. David Hall Dixon, of Takoma Park, has been charged with two counts of second-degree murder, two counts of use of a handgun in commission of a felony and reckless endangerment.” [WTOP]
Don’t Hang Up on 911 — From Arlington County: “Oops, did you call 911 by mistake? It’s OK, just stay on the line and tell the friendly dispatcher it was an accident. That way, they can confirm there’s no emergency… Otherwise, we’ll have to call you back, taking away a dispatcher who could help someone who needs it.” [Twitter]
Cardinal Elementary School is the official name of the new school under construction at the Reed site in the Westover neighborhood.
During the Arlington School Board meeting Thursday night, members unanimously chose Cardinal, a name they expressed a preference for during a meeting in March.
Last month, a naming committee presented the School Board with two possible names: Westover Village and Cardinal. The former was a last-minute addition in response to feedback a naming committee received in a survey, through NextDoor and neighborhood email lists.
Board members did not debate the name options further last night. During the previous School Board meeting, they strongly opposed Westover Village due to the possible association with Westover Plantation. It was owned by William Byrd II, who founded the City of Richmond and was noted for the often cruel treatment of enslaved people on the plantation.
“The best way to learn from this history is to not continue to allow it to live in the names of our institutions, especially the names of our schools, where students are meant to learn,” Board Chair Monique O’Grady previously said.
When the naming committee first met to brainstorm new monikers, members initially nixed Westover on those grounds, too. The top five names were Cardinal, Compass, Exploration, Kaleidoscope and Passport.
The committee had also already ruled out names of people, living and dead. Members reasoned that it would be better to avoid names of people whose character could, later on, be called into question.
That meant the school site’s current name — for Dr. Walter Reed, an Army physician who studied and treated yellow fever — was out. The name had, however, been mentioned 133 times, according to a community survey.
The no-people rule also excluded McKinley. Most of the students who attend the new school, at 1644 N. McKinley Road, will move from McKinley Elementary School, with others moving from Tuckahoe Elementary School.
President William McKinley is associated with imperialist policies that hurt Indigenous people, such as buying the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico and annexing Hawaii.
Cardinal Elementary School will open this fall and will accommodate around 725 students.
From Monday, May 17 through Sunday, May 23, registered voters will be able to vote for one of two Democratic school board candidates securely from their computers, tablets or smartphones. Arlington Dems will provide assistance over the phone and two days of in-person voting help as well.
Registered voters will decide who Arlington Dems endorse in the Nov. 2 general election. Candidates are vying for the seat currently held by School Board Chair Monique O’Grady, who announced in January she will not seek re-election. Attorney Miranda Turner, and Mary Kadera, vice president of the Arlington County Council of PTAs, will be on the Arlington Dems’ caucus ballot.
According to local Democratic leadership, online voting is one way the organization looks to mitigate health risks during the pandemic.
“We’re excited to now be able to offer a secure and scalable Internet-based ballot delivery option that allows voters to eliminate or greatly reduce their exposure to COVID-19 as the nationwide vaccination effort continues,” said Alex Zins, Arlington Democrats School Board Caucus Director. “We strongly encourage all voters who can to take advantage of this electronic voting option to do so.”
The voting platform will be open 24/7 and the local party is encouraging Democrats with less reliable or no internet access to make use of the county’s online resources. It will provide in-person assistance to those who need help or do not have internet access.
This expansion is funded by a $59,000 grant from the nonprofit National Cybersecurity Center, which raises cyber awareness in the public and private sectors. Arlington Dems will be using Democracy Live, which leadership described as the largest provider of mobile and cloud-based voting technologies in the U.S.
Arlington will be the second jurisdiction in the D.C. area to partner with Democracy Live, which facilitated elections in 21 states last November.
“With this innovation, Arlington Dems continues to lead our community through the pandemic,” Arlington Democrats Chair Jill Caiazzo said. “By bringing electronic voting to the county, with a focus on digital equity, we will offer even more Arlingtonians easy, secure access to one of the most fundamental rights Americans exercise, while also reducing the risk of COVID-19 infections that the country continues to battle.”
Should Arlington Dems receive a grant again, the organization would “definitely” consider using such a platform in the future, she added.
Local party leadership emphasized the security of the system. Amazon Web Services hosts Democracy Live’s platform in the same cloud environment approved by the Dept. of Defense, Dept. Homeland Security and the FBI.
“The Democracy Live platform has never been compromised by hackers,” Arlington Dems said, adding that the software also produces PDF copies of ballots to leave a paper trail.
The platform could help reach underrepresented communities, Zins said. Ballots will be available in multiple languages and Democracy Live’s platform complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
This time last year, when Arlington Dems held a caucus for two open School Board seats during stay-at-home orders, the group organized the first-of-its-kind mail-in endorsement caucus, which brought in around 5,700 ballots.
More details will be available online on the Arlington Democrats School Board caucus website as additional logistics are confirmed. Party leaders say they will conduct social media and outreach campaigns to spread the word about the new system.
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.
(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.
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.