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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Morning Notes

Arlington Startup Founder Going to Prison — “An Arlington start-up that promised to help people root out schemes and scams in their own lives was, nearly from the start, a cash cow for the founder’s extravagant lifestyle, start-up CEO Daniel Boice acknowledged in Alexandria federal court Friday… ‘It would be difficult to describe the havoc you created by your fraudulent actions,’ Judge T.S. Ellis III said before sentencing Boice to eight years in prison. ‘It’s an egregious fraud.'” [Washington Post, Dept. of Justice]

Bad Crash on GW Parkway — “A car split in half after crashing into a tree near the First Overlook [of the] George Washington Memorial Parkway Sunday morning, U.S. Park Police confirms. The driver of the car was the only one in the vehicle and was immediately taken to a nearby hospital. U.S. Park Police say their injuries are non-life-threatening.” [WUSA 9, Twitter, Twitter]

Pro-Reopening Parents Blast APS Superintendent — “During the Monitoring Report from Dr. Durán to the School Board, we heard that due to “monumental logistical challenges,” APS will remain hybrid for the remainder of this academic year… Arlington Parents for Education urges the School Board to vote on an urgent and rapid return to school plan when they meet again next — or, if not, propose a vote of no confidence in Dr. Durán for failing to deliver such a plan.” [Press Release]

Group Wants to Save Whitlow’s Building — “As you have seen in the news, Whitlow’s is planning to relocate due to being unable to renegotiate their lease at 2854 Wilson Blvd. However, the building is for sale and presents an investment opportunity and chance to keep Whitlows at its historic location. This form is simply to gauge interest in being part of a group to purchase the building, and is not a commitment to forming any business arrangement, putting up capital, or the like.” [Google Forms, Twitter]

Early Voting Locations for Primary Set — “Members of the Arlington Electoral Board on March 25 approved plans for two satellite-early-voting centers to be used in the runup to the June 8 Democratic primary. Walter Reed and Madison community centers previously had been designated as the locations for early voting by the County Board. The March 25 action set days and hours they will be in operation, although refinements could still be made.” [Sun Gazette]

Local Gov. Candidate Wants to Nix Income Tax — “Could Virginia’s next governor be from Arlington? It’s a longshot, perhaps, but there’s at least one candidate in the running. Arlingtonian Peter Doran on March 24 made his pitch to the Arlington County Republican Committee, saying new thinking is needed if the GOP is to end its drought in statewide elections… Doran pitched the idea of eliminating Virginia’s state income tax.” [Sun Gazette]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(Updated at 11:30 a.m.) For his first budget as Superintendent of Arlington Public Schools, Francisco Durán said he is proposing a conservative budget “that reflects our most urgent needs.”

The 2022 budget for APS, which he presented to members of the School Board on Thursday, comes to $704.4 million in expenditures and $661.9 million in revenue. APS, which has expected budget gaps in years past, is expecting a $42.5 million shortfall for its next fiscal year.

“We are facing very unique challenges as our school division works through the pandemic and what is to come,” Durán said. “Over the past year, we have seen the impact that this has had on our local economy and significant losses in revenue in Arlington.”

The county will be transferring $529.7 million to APS, which is $5.1 million higher than the 2021 fiscal year, according to a county budget presentation document. County Manager Mark Schwartz presented his proposed budget two weeks ago.

Durán said increases in local and state contributions will be lower they have been over the last three years. The county has increased its contributions by an average of $19 million a year, while the state increased its contributions by about $4 million annually, he said.

APS could make up some of the gap with funding from the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, Durán said. The school system is projected to receive $20.5 million in funding from the plan, which House Democrats passed last week and sent to the Senate.

The government will likely require the funds be allocated to health and safety and learning loss, he said.

This is the second consecutive year that APS is not proposing step increases for staff. Last year, the approved $670 million budget included a projected gap of $27 million, which led APS not to include these compensation increases.

Responding to a directive from the School Board to provide compensation for staff at all levels, Durán said he is making a 2% cost of living adjustment.

“A step increase would not provide a compensation increase to 35% of our full-time employees or to 100% of our hourly workers and substitutes,” Durán said. “A cost of living adjustment ensures that everyone will receive something.”

But, he added, “while I do believe there are many steps in the right direction, I want to acknowledge and recognize that it is not enough.”

Salary and benefits costs account for nearly 79% of the total budget and 95% of the school operating fund.

In the official 2022 proposed budget, Durán wrote that the primary drivers of the budget are:

  • $10 million for student enrollment growth, including staffing, opening the neighborhood school at the Key site and moving three other schools
  • $9.5 million to restore funding for one-year reductions used to balance the FY 2021 budget
  • $9.2 million for a 2% cost of living adjustment for all staff
  • $2.2 million for special education needs such as additional interpreters and Pre-K assistants
  • $3.5 million to support network infrastructure and student access to the Internet

The investments in special education and English language services are part of continuing compliance with a settlement with the U.S. Dept. of Justice.

“It seems clear to me that we are putting our emphasis on equity, equity for our students, equity for our staff in terms of the way that the proposed compensation is coming forward, and equity when it comes to our concerns about our students’ social-emotional needs,” School Board Chair Monique O’Grady said during the meeting last Thursday. “Those are major things that have been borne and laid bare because of the pandemic.”

School enrollment in the fall, meanwhile, is expected to rise well above figures from two years prior, after a big pandemic-caused dip this school year. Enrollment now projected to peak and start a slight decline mid-decade, after more than 15 years of growth to date.

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Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Francisco Durán announced return-to-school dates Tuesday afternoon, nearly 11 months since schools first closed at the outset of the pandemic.

Students will start trickling into their buildings by grade level on Tuesday, March 2. By Tuesday, March 16, all students who have chosen to be in-person will be able to go to school twice a week, either Tuesdays and Wednesdays or Thursdays and Fridays.

Teachers and staff, who have been re-entering their classrooms in phases since last week, will return one week before students, Durán said. This month, APS will end or scale back the programs currently providing some students with limited in-classroom instructional supports.

“I am encouraged by recent improvements in the health metrics, with case positivity rates and other indicators currently decreasing in Arlington and neighboring communities,” Durán told APS families via email. “Over the past two weeks, staff have returned to our buildings to prepare for the upcoming transition and to further strengthen our mitigation efforts.”

The superintendent was set to announce these dates during next week’s School Board meeting, but his plan changed last week, in response to a press conference in which Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam urged school systems to reopen by March 15.

More than half of APS staff members have received a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to date, according to Durán, with new appointments being added “all the time.” Staff who received the vaccine in mid-January are now scheduling their second dose appointments, he added.

Durán said families will be receiving further communication from APS regarding in-person days, the instructional model, transportation and any changes to teachers or classroom assignments.

He urged the school community to be “vigilant and work together,” after a year marked by protests and counter-protests over the ongoing closure of Arlington schools. Some APS families and many teachers have opposed the reopening of schools until more vaccinations could be administered.

“Our ability to continue moving ahead depends on all of us wearing masks, staying home when sick, and following all the other mitigation strategies recommended by Public Health to reduce the spread of the virus,” Durán said.

Durán added that he will share more information at the Feb. 18 School Board meeting.

The back-to-school scheduled announced today is below.

March 2-5:

  • PreK-2nd grade students
  • All students enrolled in Countywide Elementary Special Education Programs (PreK-5th grade – mini MIPA, MIPA, Life Skills, Communications and Deaf and Hard of Hearing – in person four days a week, Tues-Fri)
  • Elementary students enrolled in Interlude

March 9-12:

  • 3rd-5th grade students
  • 6th and 9th grade students
  • All students enrolled in Countywide Secondary Special Education Programs (6th-12th grade – MIPA, Life Skills, Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Shriver Program – in person four days a week, Tues-Fri)
  • Secondary students enrolled in Interlude and PEP program

March 16-19:

  • 7th-8th grade students
  • 10th-12th grade students

Special programs will end or be scaled back on the following days:

  • Friday, Feb. 19: five-day instructional learning supports for identified students at four elementary schools will switch to Mondays only.
  • Friday, Feb. 19: the seven meal drop-off locations that are not school-based will cease operating.
  • Friday, Feb. 26: the “work space” program for secondary students will stop running.

Image via APS/Twitter

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Arlington Public Schools has asked nearly 6% of all staff who have reported in-person for work to stay home temporarily because they tested positive for COVID-19.

Among in-person students, the percentage who have been kept out of school after testing positive is 5%.

APS Superintendent Francisco Durán presented data on those excluded from school based on reported positive tests or contact with positive cases during the School Board meeting last night (Thursday). These new data, for the period from Nov. 1, 2020 to Jan. 21, 2021, come after weeks of teachers and staff asking for more transparency regarding coronavirus tests and exclusion rates.

“This year’s exclusion to date for in-person instruction is the most detailed information we can provide,” Durán said.

Durán assured School Board members that APS monitors for high concentrations of cases in a single building, though he declined to reveal building-level data.

APS meets with Arlington County Public Health Division twice weekly to go over case rates and cross-check numbers, APS Emergency Manager Zachary Pope said. Since COVID-19 is spreading through community transmission, he said it is hard to tell if it spreads inside or outside a school.

“The data provided by APS doesn’t answer the burning questions we all have: are our mitigation strategies actually working? Are our rates the same as or higher than community rates?” a Yorktown High School teacher said. “They have obscured the data by lumping together all staff.”

She said she wants APS to find the infection rate among in-person, student-facing staff.

Durán anticipates releasing more granular data after APS rolls out a new app for reporting health metrics. He anticipates it will be ready for teachers next week and for families later on.

Meanwhile, 192 students enrolled in select Career and Technical Education courses will be returning next week. Their teachers are already reporting to the Arlington Career Center building, Durán said.

Students will be split up into multiple groups to keep down the number of students on the bus and in the building, said Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Bridget Loft. All will have access to lunch.

More teachers are expected to return to their buildings for two days next week, but School Board member Reid Goldstein suggested holding off until community health statistics improve and more staff are vaccinated.

“Both those things are likely to be accomplished in likely not much longer,” he said. Nearly 1,800 APS employees received vaccine doses this past holiday weekend.

Goldstein and other School Board members recalled President Joe Biden’s call for unity as APS works to get everyone back in-person, while addressing online and emailed vitriol.

“I’m calling on everyone to stop this uncivil behavior,” he said, of anger on the part of both teachers and parents.

Meanwhile, both sides — parents who want in-person classes to resume, and teachers who want the opposite — have been holding demonstrations and protests.

This Saturday, a number of Arlington parents and students plan to participate in a public, outdoor event organized by Arlington Parents for Education. The group says it will “highlight calls from parents, teachers, concerned community members and most importantly students, in support of a safe-reopening of Arlington Public Schools.”

Last Saturday, about 85 cars, with more than 100 parents, school staff and students, rallied in favor of continued virtual learning. They honked horns and drove around the Washington-Liberty High School parking lot, advocating for improvements to ventilation, vaccinations for staff before they return, transparent infection data from APS, better accommodations for at-risk staff, outdoor-only lunches, and 100% masking indoors.

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Arlington Public Schools is holding off on announcing future dates for returning students to school.

Sending back students and staff together is unsafe, Superintendent Francisco Durán told the School Board during a meeting on Thursday. For now, APS will focus on its timeline for returning staff to their buildings, he said.

Students with disabilities have been learning inside school buildings since Nov. 4. Shortly after, APS began providing learning supports — but not instruction — to additional elementary students at four schools, and “work space” programs at five high schools.

But before more students return, Durán said it is important that staff have “a buffer so they can prepare, feel confident, air any concerns with us… and acclimate to teaching from their classrooms.”

Further, he said he does not want to make promises he cannot keep regarding getting kids in the building.

“I don’t want to have to give dates that we have to take back,” he said, adding that both Fairfax County and City of Falls Church public schools have had to do just that, as the latest pandemic wave still rages.

The return-to-school schedule for staff is as follows:

  • Week of Jan. 25: preschool through second-grade teachers, and all countywide teachers and staff for elementary special education programs (dates for third through fifth-grade teachers will be announced “at a later date”)
  • Weeks of Jan. 25 and Feb. 1: Central Office staff
  • Week of Feb. 1: secondary teachers, staff, and all countywide teachers and staff for secondary level special education programs

The first in-person School Board meeting is set to be held on Feb. 4. More information on the staff return plans will be released during the Jan. 21 meeting.

Meantime, APS will launch a COVID-19 app that allows employees and families to complete health screening questions about symptoms and exposures in multiple languages.

Temperature checks will still be completed at school, he said.

“The platform will enhance the process for reporting exposures and positive tests, to assist with the speed and efficiency of our contact tracing process,” Durán said.

He also acknowledged the “many, many times” staff requested more granular data on the number and location of cases in school buildings. Previously, staff told ARLnow that they would learn only through word-of-mouth if an outbreak occurred in their building.

Depending on the number of reported cases, COVID-19 statistics will now be broken down by building or facility, or division, he said.

The superintendent also welcomed the news from Gov. Ralph Northam, announced on Wednesday, that K-12 teachers are included in the state’s second phase of the vaccine rollout.

“With the arrival of a vaccine in Arlington, I hope we will be turning a corner in how we manage and get through this pandemic,” the superintendent said.

Some teachers, however, have expressed concern about returning to school buildings.

“APS is not a jail system, but for the teachers who will be forced to come to work without any guarantee of safety, it is not an inappropriate comparison,” one H-B Woodlawn teacher said in an email to ARLnow. “The only reasons school statistics are not
comparable to prison statistics are because of cancellations and virtual options that have allowed teachers and students in APS to stay safe. Undoubtedly, coming back to school will result in higher infection rates in Arlington.”

“I understand there are many pressures for action from conflicting positions, but I implore them to make the choice that errs on the side of safety and a value for life,” the teacher wrote.

Meanwhile, a distance learning task force — focused on improving instruction and social-emotional learning — had its first meeting on Wednesday, Durán said. The force has 65 members, representing teachers, administrators, students and parents.

After its final meeting on Feb. 17, it will recommend specific steps to be taken “immediately,” Durán said.

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Morning Notes

Arlington’s ‘Bachelorette’ Contestant Talks — “For me, I like the hole-in-the wall bars. Just like, a dive bar where I can just like, grab a beer. Like I love drinking Guinness or some sort of Allagash White or something like that. If I were to go to a bar in Arlington to watch a game, I don’t know — maybe like, First Down in Ballston or like Spider Kelly’s.” [Washingtonian]

CaBi Comes to DCA — “The Capital Bikeshare station at National Airport is live! Traveling to the airport just got a whole lot easier.” [Twitter]

National Landing BID Expanding — “The National Landing Business Improvement District (BID) today announced two new executive appointments and three promotions within the organization.” [National Landing BID]

Fmr. Interim Superintendent Leaves APS — Arlington Public Schools staff wished goodbye to Cintia Johnson, the long-time school staffer who recently served as interim superintendent. [@APSVirginia/Twitter]

Chamber Continues Supporting Dillon Rule — “As part of its 2021 package of legislative priorities, the Chamber of Commerce is continuing its position that the ‘Dillon Rule’ needs to be maintained, and urged members of the General Assembly to do nothing that would lessen it. Leadership of the business organization comes and goes and other policy positions evolve over time, but the Chamber’s support for the Dillon Rule has remained steadfast over the decades.” [InsideNova]

Hospital CEO Staying On, For Now — “Virginia Hospital Center is experiencing some leadership changes — and holding off on others. VHC president and CEO Jim Cole, who’s held the position for 25 of his 35 years with the Arlington hospital, has continued and will remain in the top slot for now after announcing a year ago his intention to retire in September 2020.” [Washington Business Journal]

‘Section 230’ Explained With ARLnow — So what is Section 230, exactly? Per cybersecurity law professor Jeff Kosseff: “[An] example is that I go to my favorite local news site, @ARLnowDOTcom, and post a terrible, defamatory rumor about my neighbor… Neighbor can sue me, but a suit against ARLnow would fail because ARLnow was not responsible in whole or in part for creating or developing my defamatory post.” [@jkosseff/Twitter]

Nearby: Bethesda Encouraging ‘Streeteries’ — “A fund with $1.25 million from federal aid money might help. The county is considering using that money to give outdoor ‘streeteries’ — blocked-off streets filled with tables and chairs for patrons to eat outdoors — tools to prepare for operating during winter, such as heaters.” [Bethesda Magazine]

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Arlington Public Schools will proceed with all but two winter sports, with some modifications, after talks with staff and neighboring school systems.

Swimming and diving, gymnastics, track and field, basketball, rifle and dance will proceed, but not wrestling — given the close contact that wrestlers engage in — or winter cheer, since competitive cheer can be offered outside later in the year, Superintendent Francisco Durán said in an email to families.

The decision comes after public outcry over the weekend to APS’s decision not to participate, which was announced on Thursday. People pointed to other school systems, which are allowing students to participate in winter sports.

“I have received many emails from students and families regarding my decision not to participate in Season 1 Winter athletic competition, due to current health metrics and safety concerns related to indoor sports,” Durán said.

The decision was discussed in the School Board meeting on Thursday, during which a few parents and School Board Member Tannia Talento asked him to reconsider.

Durán said he decided not to allow APS to participate in sports because it would not align with the return-to-school plan, which has been put on pause until 2021.

But with new modifications, such as a ban on in-person spectators and limited to no use of locker rooms, Durán said winter sports can move forward.

“We are exploring opportunities to livestream some competitions for spectators and will share information once arrangements have been made,” he said.

If community health conditions worsen, APS may modify or suspend athletics activities in consultation with health experts, he said.

“We will continue to monitor health metrics and work with school athletic staff and other school divisions to protect our athletes, coaches, employees, and families,” Durán said.

Tiffany McAvoy, the author of a petition to reverse APS’s decision, urged those who signed to email Durán and the School Board over the weekend.

“We want to fill up their inboxes so we can’t be ignored,” she wrote in her update to the Change.org petition.

In the first day after she created the petition, more than 1,800 people signed, she said in her update. Since then, the total has grown to 2,100 people as of Tuesday afternoon.

Student athletes and families will receive additional guidance closer to the start of the season, which begins Dec. 7.

“Our plans are evolving with the current conditions, and we will be flexible and responsive to the needs of our students whenever possible, assessing all options to safely support our students’ academic successes, mental health, and social-emotional well-being,” Durán said.

The Virginia High School League, a statewide sports league comprising public and private high schools, approved a Championship + 1 schedule in September that would allow students to play 60% of their sport’s regular season schedule, starting in December, with modified regional and state championships.

On Oct. 29, Gov. Ralph Northam signed an executive order that allows the proposed VHSL schedule to begin in December as scheduled. In a statement published by VHSL, Northam said the league been a partner during the pandemic and has drafted thoughtful guidelines for reinstating sports.

File photo

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(Updated at 10:30 p.m.) Most Arlington Public Schools students will not return to classrooms until 2021.

Superintendent Dr. Francisco Durán announced today that the planned “Level 2” return for younger and technical education students “will pause through the remainder of this calendar year.” On the other hand, the “Level 1” return for students with disabilities will proceed as planned this coming Wednesday.

The delay follows an increase in local coronavirus cases.

“I have made the decision to pause Level 2, which we had projected to begin November 12,” Durán wrote in an email to APS families. “We continue to see the case incidence rate in our area increasing, not decreasing. Level 2 comprises significantly larger numbers of students and staff. Moving too quickly to Level 2, while case levels are still rising, represents a safety risk and could cause further disruption to schedules.”

Durán said the school system will continue “to solidify staffing plans and capacity for Level 2 students” and will provide regular updates through December.

Arlington Parents for Education, a group advocating for opening schools for in-person learning, said in a statement that “Arlington’s children will feel the effects of this decision for years to come.”

The full email from Durán is below.

APS Community,

With in-person learning for Level 1 beginning on Wednesday and with November 12 fast approaching, I am providing my weekly Return-to-School Plan update today instead of tomorrow.

Last week we received interim guidance for schools from the Virginia Department of Education and Virginia Department Health. We will be making modifications to the APS COVID-19 Dashboard this week to reflect the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention primary and secondary indicators for schools. Our dashboard reporting will continue to show the regional weekly transmission information from the Virginia Department of Health in addition to these core indicators.

Based on our review of the updated guidance and latest health metrics, we are proceeding with Return-to-School Level 1 beginning on November 4. We are prepared to provide in-person learning support to the 236 students in Level 1, using every recommended health and safety protocol to make this transition safely. Schools have communicated details regarding this transition to Level 1 families, and transportation information for Level 1 students is available in ParentVUE.

I have made the decision to pause Level 2, which we had projected to begin November 12. We continue to see the case incidence rate in our area increasing, not decreasing. Level 2 comprises significantly larger numbers of students and staff. Moving too quickly to Level 2, while case levels are still rising, represents a safety risk and could cause further disruption to schedules.

We will pause through the remainder of this calendar year. This decision allows us to carefully monitor the effective implementation of all CDC mitigation strategies, while continuing to solidify staffing plans and capacity for Level 2 students. I will provide continuous updates on our planning and progress through my regular weekly messages and in our School Board Monitoring Reports on November 5, November 17, December 3, and December 17.

As we plan for in-person learning, we continue to strengthen our distance learning offering. Teachers, students, and classes have established meaningful routines together during the first quarter of the school year, and our teachers and staff are working harder than ever to provide a quality distance learning experience. We remain committed to providing all students the best educational experience possible, with the academic and social-emotional support they need to learn and grow during these challenging times.

Thank you for continuing to work collaboratively with us to support all students, by sharing your questions, comments, and ideas.

Sincerely,

Dr. Francisco Durán
​​​​​​​Superintendent

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