Arlington County is considering a plan to host some children of working parents in community centers for supervised learning, while Arlington Public Schools readies its plan for a return to in-person learning.
The use of community centers would be a relief valve for families that are unable to have a parent stay home during the day and do not have the means to pay for daytime child care. It would serve as an interim step until APS again offers full-time, in-person learning — whenever that may be.
“There’s no one silver bullet that’s going to fix the whole situation for schools or for childcare,” Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey said at a virtual COVID-19 town hall meeting on Friday.
“We are looking at opening a couple of our community centers for children to have supervised learning when their parents have to be working,” Garvey continued. “I know that the school system and we too are interested in trying to get students back [to school] or get students into childcare who need it. We’re trying to do it in a priority order for those who are most at risk and having the toughest time with the current situation.”
Asked for more information on any such planning, Deputy County Manager Michelle Cowan issued the following statement to ARLnow.
The County has been exploring multiple options for care for school-aged children with APS and non-profit partners, with the initial priority being at-risk children. All options are being evaluated with the understanding that the County must comply with COVID and safety requirements when these types of services are provided in either County or APS facilities, and in many cases, child care licensure requirements. We are using some community centers for activities related to COVID (e.g., testing at the Arlington Mill Community Center) and for early voting; the County is working to ensure that the mix of uses is appropriate in light of COVID requirements.
Arlington’s public schools remain closed, but the school system is “continuing to plan for returning to hybrid, in-person learning,” Superintendent Dr. Francisco Durán said in an email to families on Tuesday.
Durán is expected to announce a similar plan at tonight’s School Board meeting.
The tentative plan is for some students with disabilities to return by the end of October; PreK-3 students, career and technical education students, and other students with special needs to return by “early to mid-November;” and for all students opting for a hybrid learning model — two days per week in classrooms — to return in early December.
The plan is contingent on there not being a deterioration of health metrics in Arlington County.
“Our teachers and students are doing incredible work to adapt to distance learning, and we are doing everything we can to support their efforts,” Durán wrote on Tuesday. “We are working to bring in small groups of students based on level of need and will define that further at this Thursday’s meeting.”
Superintendent Dr. Francisco Durán revealed the numbers at last night’s School Board meeting. The first-day enrollment on Tuesday was 27,109 students, 911 fewer than last year’s official September 30 count of 28,020, he said.
As of April, enrollment this school year was projected to be 29,142, a 4% increase over last year.
The final, official count will take place in just over two weeks, on September 30. Durán told the School Board that some families are continuing to register and the numbers will fluctuate between now and then.
During the public comment period of the School Board meeting, numerous parents called for in-person education to resume sooner rather than later, arguing that students are better off being back in school, even factoring the health risk from COVID-19. (At last check, APS was hoping to start a phased return to in-class instruction later this fall.)
One parent said he, as have others, declined to enroll his child in kindergarten this year, instead opting for a private, in-person program. That’s an option that is not available to working families with fewer financial resources, he said.
“Families like mine have significant means, and history tells us we will use those means to ensure and facilitate our children’s success,” the parent told the School Board. “Who do you think will find alternatives to your failure to uphold the social contract with schools?”
Others have similarly told ARLnow that they pulled their children from APS this year and enrolled them in private schools instead — or, for younger children, kept them in daycare — to ensure an in-person learning experience and to allow both parents to continue working.
During the School Board meeting, Durán also discussed this week’s technical difficulties and the school system’s meal distribution program.
Durán said most of the technical problems that prevented students from logging in to APS systems on the first day of school were solved that day. Other students continued to encounter problems on Wednesday, but Durán said those problems were fixed that night.
“Late Wednesday night we identified a software issue that was causing some further challenges for high school students using MacBook Airs. This was addressed and fixed as of Thursday morning,” his presentation said. “We are monitoring connectivity throughout this week to ensure all students can access learning and enhance the student experience.”
Durán also encouraged students who had switched from APS-issued devices to personal devices to switch back “so teachers can effectively leverage the resources and applications available on those devices.”
As for meals, Durán said that 4,356 students were served free meals on Tuesday and Wednesday. APS is serving free meals to all students 18 years of age and younger, at 10 drop-off locations and 21 school sites around the county.
The Arlington School Board is setting the stage for a process that would evaluate the Arlington County Police Department’s role in Arlington Public Schools.
The School Board heard an update from APS staff on the relationship between APS and ACPD’s School Resource Officers (SROs) last night.
The plan is to form a work group to evaluate how SROs have impacted APS since they entered schools in 1969, to listen to input from the community and the police department, and to ultimately provide a report to the School Board and Superintendent Francisco Durán with recommendations on ACPD’s operations in APS.
The proposed timeline has the group being formed throughout the fall, starting work in December and presenting a report by June 2021.
Since June 1, the School Board has received 265 messages from the public regarding the role of police in schools, according to a presentation given in the session. Attendees of the session said the concerns expressed in these messages, coupled with months of local and national calls for police reform, are what led to a work group being created.
“Due to our national narrative as well as much community input that we have received, we have decided it is time to evaluate and examine our partnership with ACPD and, specifically, to review our long-standing practice of School Resource Officers in our schools,” Durán said.
The group will have up to 48 members representing APS students, parents and staff as well as ACPD and relevant County advisory groups. Potential recommendations could range from making specific adjustments to APS’s Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with ACPD, which sets parameters for SROs, to removing all SROs from schools and ending APS’s relationship with the police department.
Eliseo Pilco, lieutenant of ACPD’s SRO unit, said that under the current agreement officers provide a variety of services to schools. He said duties include educating students on subjects like substance abuse, providing security for sporting events and evening school meetings, and acting as threat assessment supervisors.
Pilco added that officers help make schools more secure and provide a trusted point of contact for reporting drugs, violence or threats in school.
APS’s presentation described a racial disproportionality in student suspension rates during the 2019-2020 school year.
Hispanic students make up 28% of all APS students, but they received 45% of all suspensions. Black students make up 10% of all students, but received 26% of all suspensions. White students make up 46% of students, and received 19% of all suspensions. APS served 779 suspension in the school year, and all school discipline is the responsibility of school administrators and teachers, the presentation noted.
The work group will prioritize community involvement, with the first public hearing expected to take place in January 2021, according to the presentation.
“It is imperative that we have this conversation as a community, that we’re able to ask questions about whether or not our children feel safer now with the new revelations that are being seen across the county,” School Board Chair Monique O’Grady said.
Approving the work group will be an action item in the School Board’s September 24 meeting and, if approved, applications to be a part of it set set to open October 9.
Image via Arlington County
The policy, passed in a 5-0 vote, includes an overall equity belief statement and identifies governance, education, the workforce, and operations as key areas for APS to practice equity in.
“Equity is tied to everything that we do, and we are committed to eliminating inequitable practices in cultivating the unique gifts, talents and interests of every student so that success and failure are no longer predictable by student identity such as race, culture, socioeconomics, gender, or any other social factor,” Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer Arron Gregory said at the August 20 meeting, quoting the belief statement.
The School Board first directed APS to create an equity policy in August 2018. After two years of drafting and revisions based on APS and community feedback, the policy will now help guide APS action relating to inclusion, equity and diversity.
“Having this as an official policy is just part of the work that we need to do,” Superintendent Francisco Durán said in the meeting. “Moving forward to having an equity mindset, where we’re actually changing our practices and our actions and our thinking is really what we need to be moving forward with, and we are.”
The policy follows reported racial disparities in standardized testing results and student suspension rates within APS. The U.S. Department of Justice has previously alleged that APS provided inadequate help for students learning English.
Gregory said APS, when developing the policy, accounted for such disparities.
“APS acknowledged the historical and current impact of bias, prejudice and discrimination, and is implementing this equity policy, and subsequent implementation procedures, to address the impact discrimination has had on students and staff,” he said.
Monique O’Grady, Chair of the School Board, said the equity policy can help solve such issues if it is followed.
“[The policy] will help us make decisions that can help all students reach their highest potential without placing opportunity gaps in their way,” O’Grady said. “This is necessary to continue addressing disparities that exist in our country, in our state, and, yes, even in our own system.”
Photo via Arlington Public Schools
Arlington Public Schools says any in-person return to classrooms will be phased, bringing back certain student groups before others.
That was revealed in a School Talk message sent to APS families on Tuesday. Officials also announced plans to help connect working families in need of childcare during remote schooling with local options.
The email, sent by Superintendent Francisco Durán, said students with disabilities would be the first to return once APS determines that it’s safe to resume some in-person instruction. Students in Pre-K through 3rd grade, as well as English Learner students, would phase in next, followed by all other students who opt in to the hybrid model of two in-person instruction days per week.
To decide when a hybrid model can safely begin, APS is looking at metrics like family and employee preferences, global availability of PPE and custodial supplies, and COVID-19 health metrics at local to national levels, according to APS spokesman Frank Bellavia.
“As we prepare for distance learning, I want to reiterate that we remain in close contact with state health officials and the Arlington County Public Health Division to monitor health data and evaluate opportunities to gradually phase in hybrid, in-person instruction,” Durán wrote. “I will notify you well in advance as plans progress and circumstances change.”
The letter also said Arlington County’s Department of Human Services (DHS) has identified 328 available slots in childcare centers and family day care homes located throughout the county.
These facilities are not affiliated with APS and families would have to pay to send their children there. The department is currently looking for additional slots and ways to expand options for low-income families.
“APS is providing childcare for staff only in our buildings. We are not providing childcare for families in our facilities,” Bellavia said. “Instead, APS is working with Arlington County to identify current childcare centers and in-home childcare facilities that can accommodate additional children.”
DHS is working for a way to prioritize children and families with the highest need when filling these slots, according to Bellavia.
More from Durán’s letter:
We know childcare is a major challenge for working families. We are working with the County to make some options available. The Department of Human Services has been working to expand availability among existing childcare providers, encouraging closed centers to reopen, and helping potential providers overcome obstacles such as licensing and land use processes. Through this work, DHS has identified more than 300 available slots through existing providers, based on numbers reported at the end of July:
- Childcare Centers (63 total): 32 currently open with approximately 145 slots available
- Family Day Care Homes (120 total): 109 currently open with approximately 183 slots available
More than 20 of these providers have indicated interest in expanding their hours and age ranges to accommodate school-aged children. DHS is supporting those efforts and creating a process to prioritize available slots to support children and families with the highest need. We are also working with the YMCA and other local non-profits and to expand options for low-income families. More details and how families can access these childcare options will be communicated through APS and the County as this work progresses.
The new school year is set to start online only, on Tuesday, Sept. 8. In July, Durán said he hoped to start transitioning students back in-person instruction in October.
Staff photo by Jay Westcott
Arlington Public Schools is expanding its “one-to-one” digital device program to students in kindergarten, first grade and second grade.
K-2 students will be getting Apple iPads from the school system this fall, helping to assist with remote learning. APS is also buying new iPads and MacBook Air laptops to replace aging devices for older students.
In all, the school system is ordering 11,312 Apple devices, including 7,114 iPads for elementary students, 2,174 iPads for middle school students, and 2,024 MacBooks for high school students, a school spokesman tells ARLnow.
“We are providing devices for all students this year,” said Frank Bellavia. “Previously only students in grades 3-12 received devices.”
The program for supplying school-owned digital devices to students is popular with students but controversial among some parents. During the pandemic, however, it has given students from families of all income levels an opportunity to participate in electronic learning from home.
Superintendent Francisco Durán provided additional information about the new devices in a School Talk email to families last night.
The Department of Information Services is hard at work getting the students’ devices ready for the start of school. This year, APS is expanding the 1:1 program to include all students, grades PreK-12. Students in grades PreK-8 will receive iPads; middle school students will also receive iPad cases with keyboards; and students in grades 9-12 will receive Macbook Airs. When combined with our enrollment growth, APS will be providing devices to almost 10,000 additional students this year, in addition to providing middle school students with keyboard cases. As you might imagine, vendors are having difficulties filling orders quickly. Fortunately, APS placed its orders early:
- The iPads have all arrived and are currently being set up.
- We have received some of the MacBook Airs, and expect the rest to ship shortly along with the keyboard cases for 6th-grade students.
- Keyboard cases for the 7th and 8th-grade students should arrive before the start of the 2nd quarter.
- Depending on when shipments arrive from our vendors, 6th and 9th grade students may need to start the year with their existing devices. The goal is to have all devices ready by the end of August. If your student does not already have a device, you will receive information from your school in the next few weeks about how and where to pick up the device and learning tools for your student.
Arlington Public Schools is planning on paying workers whose job cannot be moved to telework through at least the first academic quarter, which ends on November 2.
Superintendent Francisco Durán laid out plans at the July 30 School Board meeting to have bus drivers and attendants, custodians, food service workers and Extended Day staff receive pay and a regular schedule during full-time distance learning.
“We honor and value all of our employees, and to strive and retain them as an excellent workforce during these unprecedented times, I am recommending that we continue to pay these employees throughout the first quarter of the school year… while we assess our long-term needs based on the changing situation and whether or not we return in hybrid,” Durán said in the meeting.
Durán also listed goals for shifting these staff members to different, temporary roles while APS buildings are closed.
New roles could include “providing direct support to connect with students and families regarding access and engagement” and aiding in “virtual social-emotional learning student activities and support,” slides in Durán’s presentation said.
Some Extended Day staff will also provide childcare for teachers and staff at cost in designated school facilities.
Paying these workers is estimated to cost $3,072,000 for the entire first quarter. Bus drivers and attendants are already included in APS’s Fiscal Year 2021 adopted budget, so are costs from Extended Day and food service employees.
Durán said this expense can be mitigated by revenue from the services that staff would provide, as well as from federal funds.
“This cost may be partially reduced for those who may provide childcare and meals,” Durán said. “Fees [for childcare] would cover the cost of staff providing childcare. Revenue and federal reimbursement would cover the cost of the food service staff working to provide meals to students.”
APS is now contacting impacted staff to clarify plans and next steps. Schools have been closed since March 13.
Photo via Arlington Public Schools
It’s official: Arlington Public Schools will now open on Sept. 8, and classes will be held entirely online.
Superintendent Francisco Durán announced his decision to host online-only classes on Tuesday, at least for the first half of the fall semester, and spoke in more detail about the plan at a School Board meeting yesterday (Thursday).
School Board chair Monique O’Grady said that the decision to go online-only fell within the superintendent’s domain as an operational decision and would not be voted on at the meeting. What the School Board did unanimously agree to was pushing the start date back from Aug. 31 to Sept. 8 for students.
The change was suggested by Durán, who said that if the it was approved the teaching staff would still start on Aug. 24 for training and professional development. The implementation of a hybrid in-person model would be delayed.
“The health and safety of our students has driven our decisions,” said Durán. “Beginning virtually allows us to monitor COVID-19… I believe it is the right thing to do for the health and safety of our students and staff.”
Durán said APS is still committed to resuming in-school instruction as soon as it was safe, which he said the schools were currently eyeing as the beginning of the second quarter of the school year, provided the COVID-19 situation has sufficiently improved by then.
“As of Monday, there is still community-wide spread of COVID,” Durán said. “We are definitely far from normal. Given that information, really important we pause and ensure the safety of all is at the forefront.”
Durán said that instruction will all be live with students graded on their work and attendance taken. That contrasts with the last quarter of the 2019-2020 school year, when schools closed and students engaged in remote learning activities but were not taught new material.
While the School Board did not vote on Durán’s plan to go all-online, O’Grady said the decision had the support of the School Board.
“[The Board] honors and values experience the experience of the superintendent and has hired him to make those decisions,” O’Grady said.
The only concerns about the plans voiced by the School Board were from Reid Goldstein, who said he didn’t like the idea of putting out the information item and taking action in such a short timespan, but also added that he recognized that “sometimes exigent circumstances require taking action more quickly.”
Approval of pushing the start of the school year back to September was approved in a 5-0 vote.
More on the decision, below, from a School Talk email sent to APS families this morning.
Arlington Gets Federal Arts Grant — “Arlington Cultural Affairs will receive a $35,000 Art Works award from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)… [Arlington] will use the grant to support a multi-cultural artist residency project serving the Columbia Hills and Columbia Grove affordable housing communities.” [Arlington County]
Justin Trawick to Play ‘Secret’ Show — “We just got approval from Arlington County to present ‘Common Good on The Block’ benefiting the Arlington Food Assistance Center. Join ‘Justin Trawick and The Common Good’ for a secret street show with the full band on August 1st. This will be a socially distanced event and there are only 60 tickets available.” [Twitter]
Armed Robbery Near Ballston — “At approximately 11:45 p.m. on July 7, the victim was outside his residence when he was approached by two male suspects, one of whom was displaying a firearm. The suspects forced the victim back inside of his apartment, assaulted him, and demanded money. The victim was forced into the bathroom while the suspects ransacked the residence, then stole the victim’s vehicle, a 2005 Chevrolet Equinox with Virginia tags, and other items of value.” [Arlington County]
APS Superintendent to Hold Virtual Town Hall — “Dr. Durán will be hosting a community virtual Town Hall on Tuesday, July 14, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., to address the family selection process for choosing an instructional model for students. The Superintendent will address questions already received and take questions during the live event using Microsoft Teams or Facebook Live. The event will provide simultaneous interpretation in 5 languages (more details to come), including ASL, and closed captions in the streamed video.” [Arlington Public Schools]
Nearly 1,000 people have signed an online petition calling on Arlington Public Schools to require masks for in-person instruction in the fall. They’re in luck: that’s precisely what APS is planning to do.
“Moving forward we will be requiring all staff and students to wear face coverings while in school and at work as medically appropriate,” Superintendent Dr. Francisco Durán said in a presentation on Wednesday, adding that APS based its mask policy on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control.
Don’t have a mask? No problem.
Durán revealed that APS has placed a large order for three-layer cloth masks: two for every student, and four for every school employee. The shipment is expected to arrive in August, ahead of the scheduled Aug. 31 start of the school year. Clear masks have also been ordered to help those who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Mask-wearing, he said, will be “very critical” to making in-person instruction possible while coronavirus remains a threat.
APS is currently planning a “hybrid” model for the return to school, with most students spending two days per week in schools, and other students able to opt for a distance learning-only program. The distance learning-only group, according to Durán, will be taught by a different group of teachers than the other students.
Durán said the hybrid model — with one cohort of students in classrooms on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and the other in school on Thursdays and Fridays — is necessary to allow social distancing in schools and protect the health of students and staff.
“Physical distancing, as we said for quite some time, is key and it is the main reason we’re pursuing a hybrid in person model as one of the two options,” the superintendent said. “On order to maintain that six foot distance, we have to reduce the number of students on buses and in classrooms.”
APS is also planning daily health screenings, including temperature checks before boarding bus, entering school, or participating in sports. Both students and employees will be checked with new infrared thermometers the school system has purchased.
Other measures APS is taking, according to Durán’s presentation:
- “Enhanced cleaning and disinfecting of frequently touched surfaces”
- “Clear, documented procedures will be provided for a presumptive or confirmed COVID case”
- Seating students on every other seat on the bus
- Furniture in classroom set up to maintain six foot distancing
- Visitors allowed only in the main office for drop-off and pick-up
- In-school volunteer work suspended
- Plexiglass shielding for high-traffic areas like offices
Durán also noted that APS is looking at additional ventilation and filtration measures to help prevent viral spread.
“I want to reiterate that the health and safety of students and staff is of the utmost importance to us,” he said.
Today we riterated that masks will be required, additional equipment is being purchased based on a public health matrix, amongst many more. We are committed to the health & safety of our students & staff. Start now w your student and yourself w wearing a mask for 8 hours a day. pic.twitter.com/R0DyqDvbMQ
— APS Emergency Management (@APSReady) July 1, 2020
Arlington’s new superintendent says Arlington Public Schools is focusing on a potential hybrid model for the return to school in the fall.
Dr. Francisco Durán is scheduled to update the School Board on back-to-school planning on Thursday. He said an APS Task Force this week “is reviewing hybrid instructional models that blend in-person and distance learning for student.”
“We are also planning for a distance-learning-only option for students who are in high risk health categories or are not comfortable returning to school in person,” Durán added.
Nearly three-quarters of families said in a recent APS survey that they would be comfortable sending kids back into classrooms this fall, with a plurality preferring only in-person instruction over a hybrid model (42% to 37%). Only 10% of survey respondents preferred keeping students out of classrooms altogether to start the school year, according to an email Durán sent to APS families Tuesday afternoon.
Fairfax County, meanwhile, plans to give families two options to start the school year: entirely virtual online learning or a hybrid in which students would be in class at least two days a week.
Last month interim superintendent Cintia Johnson said distance learning to start the school year was “very probable.”
The full email from Durán is below.
Dear APS Community,
We continue to develop our plan for returning to school this fall based on the state’s guidance, working in collaboration with the Task Force, regional superintendents, and the Arlington County Public Health Division. This week, our team is reviewing hybrid instructional models that blend in-person and distance learning for students, assuming Virginia enters Phase 3 by the start of school.
The Task Force has already reviewed many possible instructional models and is now focusing on three that best meet APS needs and align with neighboring school divisions. We are also planning for a distance-learning-only option for students who are in high risk health categories or are not comfortable returning to school in person.
I will share more details on our work and present the recommended instructional model at the School Board meeting this Thursday. Deciding on the model will allow for us to begin to make decisions regarding staffing, budget, childcare, transportation, and other elements of our plan.
The results are in from the staff, student and family surveys on distance learning and reopening, and I would like to thank everyone who participated. Your input is invaluable as we work to plan for the upcoming year. We will post the complete results on our APS Engage webpage by this Friday. In the meantime, here are a few highlights which are informing our work moving forward:
- 37% of families preferred reopening school with a hybrid combination of in-person and distance learning; 42% preferred in-person instruction only; and 10% preferred distance learning only.
- 73% of families said they are comfortable sending students back to school with no concerns or some concerns; 9% were not at all comfortable.
- 38% of staff said they are comfortable returning to school/workplace with no concerns or some concerns, while 39% said they were not at all comfortable returning.
- The top factors influencing the level of comfort in returning for both groups were whether public health regulations will be followed, disinfection of facilities, and availability of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).
- 35% of families reported that their students will not continue to ride the school bus, and 28% are uncertain if their students would continue to ride the bus.
We are developing health and safety plans to address these concerns to make sure students and staff are learning and working in a safe environment.
In terms of distance learning feedback, a few highlights:
- Families (52%), students (43%) and staff (62%) all preferred a combination of live, synchronous distance learning and self-directed, asynchronous distance learning.
- Students indicated that they know how to contact their teachers and get technical help when necessary (68% for both).
- Staff indicated that they mostly felt “somewhat prepared” to connect with students, provide social-emotional support, and provide instructional supports to students (Special Needs, English Learners, and Gifted); further questions allowed them to specify what professional development and supports they would need.
This input will help inform our work in developing professional supports for staff, providing training as needed, and making sure that the 2020-21 school year is a success for all.
I hope that you will continue to follow updates on APS Engage and that you can join me at 7 p.m. tonight for the final Community Town Hall in this initial series of virtual events I have held this month. I also encourage you to view the School Board meeting on Thursday, June 25, as I present the recommended instructional model along with other important details and next steps.
Dr. Francisco Durán
Arlington Public Schools