Arlington, VA

A giant photograph of four Black children who made history in Arlington was just installed in the new wing of Dorothy Hamm Middle School (4100 Vacation Lane), which is close to being completed.

The mural honors Ronald Deskins, Michael Jones, Lance Newman and Gloria Thompson, who set foot in Stratford Junior High School on Feb. 2, 1959, officially ending the practice of segregation in Arlington Public Schools.

“What a beautiful tribute and celebration of four amazing APS students!” School Board member Barbara Kanninen said on social media.

“It’s such an awesome, hopeful story,” said Ellen Smith, principal of the new Dorothy Hamm Middle School.

Smith is excited for her students to see history come to life at their school, which opened in September 2019 while construction on a new addition continued. Once the last touches on the wing are finalized, the school will be 100% complete.

The middle school weaves in history through its name — after Dorothy Hamm, a key figure in the charge to integrate Arlington Public Schools — plus installations recounting the history of racial integration, Smith said. Gone is the old identity as a segregated school named after Stratford Hall, the plantation where Confederate general Robert E. Lee spent his childhood.

From the beginning, the architectural team and Arlington Public Schools wanted to incorporate into students’ experience the idea that kids and the community advocated for integration, she said.

“The retelling and knowledge of this story is part of our mission as a school,” Smith said. “I expect it to be a part of students’ lived experiences every year.”

A new commemorative walk outside will have illustrated panels retelling the story of integration. Inside, historical artifacts from the Hamm family will also be on display.

Smith plans to recognize the first day of school for Deskins, Jones, Newman and Thompson every Feb. 2. Additionally, the school curriculum will include the topics of integration, civil rights and social justice, she said.

Although the building has changed uses since the four entered it 61 years ago — most recently housing the H-B Woodlawn program since the 1970s — the interior configuration has largely stayed the same, Smith said. The biggest upgrades include the new name and a new wing to the west of the school, which is a few finishing touches away from being completely done.

After the H-B Woodlawn program moved to Rosslyn, work began to convert the building into a neighborhood middle school. Construction started in early 2018 and continued after Smith opened the school last September. Just seven months later, students were learning remotely due to the pandemic, and the pace of construction has accelerated without students present, the principal said.

The new wing features a new library, a small gym and 15 classrooms, including a family consumer sciences (previously known as home economics) classroom and a makerspace.

“The architectural team did a fantastic job: It’s very bright, geometric and light-filled,” Smith said.

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Wakefield High School has opened its doors to a handful of students in search of better internet connectivity, a quiet place to study or a trip out of the house.

From 8 a.m.-3 p.m., up to 30 students can study at socially distanced work stations in the school’s vaulted atrium, featuring a glass wall that overlooks a courtyard. In the space, students can study without the distractions or demands of family life and they have access to technicians if their computers break.

It’s comparable to a co-working office, but for high school students.

“If you’re having WiFi issues, if you need a quiet study place, or if you simply are going stir-crazy and you need to get out and find a place to study, you’re welcome to come,” Principal Christian Willmore said.

Students seem to enjoy the space, with up to seven coming on average, he said. A few are regulars, while the rest come as needed.

“Honestly, it’s not to the degree that I had hoped, but we’re still trying to get the word out of what it is and what it looks like,” Willmore said. “I’m hoping more students access it, if they need it.”

Wakefield debuted its program on Nov. 5, one day after students with disabilities became the first to return to school. Wakefield had 12 students return for in-person learning, and 20 staff assigned to them, Willmore said.

The pilot is distinct from Arlington Public Schools’ return-to-school plan, which opened school buildings for students with disabilities in its first phase, also called “level one.” Future levels have had their return delayed until 2021, but APS did identify and start providing supports to an additional 150 four to 11 year olds this week.

Other principals are working with Willmore to eventually bring the program to their buildings.

“We want to see how it works at Wakefield first because we’ve been working out the detailed procedures,” Willmore said. “We’ve been able to refine practices and procedures, documents, processes so that people aren’t reinventing the wheel.”

Kids are screened and monitored by staff at the front door and to limit exposure, they cannot leave and come back later. To prevent them from roaming the building, only one bathroom and one drinking fountain are open and running. Students sign up one day in advance on Canvas, APS’ learning management software, affirming they have not been recently exposed to or sickened by the coronavirus.

The day-long study option also allows school staff to connect with students who do not log in for full periods or have fallen behind on work.

“Those conversations are hard to have, so it was nice to have them in person,” Willmore said.

Photos courtesy Frank Bellavia/Arlington Public Schools

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(Updated at 10:40 a.m.) A fill-in-the-blank question during a science class at H-B Woodlawn has caused an uproar.

The chemistry question, asked Tuesday during what ARLnow is told was a 10th grade class, references the police killing of George Floyd.

“George Floyd couldn’t breathe because a police officer put his _____ George’s neck,” the question reads. The answer is “neon,” the element that sounds like “knee on.”

Classes are currently being held virtually at Arlington public schools. Shortly after the class, a screenshot of the question started circulating on social media, and parents started calling the school.

“There is no diversity in my school and apparently there was a bunch of white silence when this happened this morning,” a student’s social media post said. “White students were making excuses or seemed ‘too tired to talk about it’ shame on those people that’s disgusting.”

The teacher “tried to pass it off as something ‘everyone would know/easy to get,'” the post adds.

H-B Woodlawn’s student body is 4.4% Black, according to civil rights statistics published by Arlington Public Schools. That’s well under the 11% average across all APS high schools.

In a letter to families sent Wednesday, H-B’s principal said the secondary program — once known as “Hippie High” for its liberal approach to education — “does not tolerate any form of cultural or racial insensitivity.”

“We will be meeting directly with the students in the class, and will work with all of our H-B Woodlawn students to process the incident,” the letter goes on to say. “Our Student Services Team will be available for individual counseling and students can reach out directly to me as well.”

On Thursday, Superintendent Francisco Durán weighed in, with an email sent to all APS families.

“The content referenced the killing of George Floyd in an unacceptable and senseless way, which hurt and alarmed our students, staff, families, and the community,” Durán wrote. ‘The reference showed extremely poor judgement and a blatant disregard for African American lives.”

“The teacher has been relieved of classroom duties while an investigation related to this matter takes place,” Durán continued. “I want to assure everyone that this situation will be handled in accordance with our policies, and all staff are held to the highest standards of professional behavior.”

The principal’s letter, obtained by ARLnow, is below.

The H-B Woodlawn community does not tolerate any form of cultural or racial insensitivity. We prioritize making H-B Woodlawn a safe and inclusive space for all students, staff, and parents. Yesterday an incident occurred that conflicts with our core values of respect, trust, social justice, and diversity.

During a class presentation a teacher shared an example that showed significant racial insensitivity. It was unacceptable. We will be meeting directly with the students in the class, and will work with all of our H-B Woodlawn students to process the incident. We will use all of the HBW and APS resources at our disposal to do so. Students should reach out to a trusted adult at HBW if they want to discuss this matter further. Our Student Services Team will be available for individual counseling (emails below) and students can reach out directly to me as well.

Though this is an ongoing matter, and we cannot provide additional details, we appreciate all the students, parents, and alumni who have reached out — for their concern, and their thoughts and ideas on productively moving forward. We will continue to update the community on the steps we are taking both in the short-term and long-term. Every student deserves a positive educational experience where they feel safe, secure, and have a strong sense of belonging.

Casey Robinson

Principal

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(Updated at 4:40 p.m.) Even a limited return to classrooms has some Arlington Public Schools employees worried, amid questions about safety protocols and the benefit of the in-person activity.

Thirty-three schools opened their doors last week for students with disabilities, as part of “Level One” of the return-to-classrooms plan. Classroom assistants are helping the students to participate in distance learning activities, within school buildings, while teachers remain remote.

“The catch is that they’re still learning virtually,” said one assistant, who spoke with ARLnow among a group of other assistants, all on the condition of anonymity.

Some school staff members also say they walked into buildings with spotty adherence to the protocols.

Several assistants told ARLnow that they cannot be physically distant from students, who need one-on-one care. There are also reports that not all staff are staying home if they feel ill, and the system is not providing employees enough information on cases among staff, according to the Arlington Education Association, a labor group representing APS employees.

The assistants, who have been with the school system for a combined total of 22 years, decided to speak up because APS is not following through on its protocols, she said.

“We’re just trying to get the word out there because we don’t think it’s fair we’re back,” she said. “Numbers are rising. We’re here risking our lives to watch them learn virtually. We want to be back when it’s safe and to the fullest extent.”

In response, APS spokesman Frank Bellavia emphasized that the return-to-school plan is still in the early stages and said adherence is being examined.

“Students have been in school for a week and we are working through making sure our protocols are followed,” he said in an email.

The assistants’ assignments are based on student need, Bellavia said. While students need teachers to support distance learning, they need assistants for one-on-one support.

On Tuesday, AEA President Ingrid Gant said her organization does not have confidence in APS’s return-to-school plan.

“Dr. Durán, the lives of our students, staff, and teachers are at the forefront, while the number of cases in Arlington and surrounding districts continue to increase,” Gant wrote in a letter to Superintendent Francisco Durán. “The delaying of Level Two returns proves you are putting our school system first. However, any references to the APS Engage page at this time cannot give answers to our needs and pertinent concerns.”

The AEA wants the school system to test every room for adequate air transfers; communicate anonymous information related to cases, hospitalizations and deaths; ensure staff can stay distant while students eat; and provide staff with four N95 masks a week.

Bellavia responded that HVAC testing, communication to staff regarding COVID-19 cases, lunch periods and PPE are being done or have already been addressed in previous communications to staff.

“We are committed to the health and safety of staff and students and are following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Virginia Department of Health,” he said.

Meanwhile, the group of assistants said they cannot keep their distance because kids need help using their iPads. Complicating the close contact is that many cannot wear masks, as a result of their disabilities. While students should have doctor’s notes supporting their exemption, many do not, they said.

Others cannot regulate bodily functions such as drooling, spitting and biting, and need assistance going to the bathroom.

“It’s not the students’ fault,” said the assistant. “We understand they have these difficulties.”

Physical distancing may not be able to occur at all times, due to the student’s disability, Bellavia confirmed.

“The Office of Special Education has provided guidance and appropriate methods of providing support that incorporates mitigation measures to continue to support students with disabilities,” he said.

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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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Bishop O’Connell High School went fully virtual on Friday, and will remain so until December, out of an abundance of caution after two positive cases came to administrators’ attention.

The two cases were traced to what head of school Bill Crittenberger called “an off-campus gathering” with “quite a few young people” on Halloween (Oct. 31).

The two cases, one confirmed and one presumed, were reported to the school on Wednesday. The second case was confirmed on Thursday. The two students likely came to school on Tuesday, with the 500-student cohort that comes Tuesdays and Thursday, though it’s also possible one or both were in on Wednesday, with another 500-student cohort comes in on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Given the uncertainty and the number of students at the gathering, administrators decided it made more sense to go virtual than to quarantine specific individuals.

“We felt like it’s not as simple as flipping a switch, but staff was seasoned from having done it in the spring,” Crittenberger said of moving to virtual learning. “I’m really proud of how O’Connell transitioned in less than 24 hours,” he said.

The school, in Arlington’s East Falls Church neighborhood, does not itself provide tests for students. Both families independently got tested and notified the school.

Although some schools may be more explicit about asking students to agree to COVID-19 norms, he said the expectation at DJO is that students follow Catholic social teaching and the commandment to “love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

“To be fair, some of the things that this gathering were about put folks in a spot that wasn’t ideal,” said Crittenberger.

Otherwise, everybody has been extraordinarily compliant about social-distancing and wearing masks, he said.

The students and faculty will be fully virtual for two weeks, which leads into the Thanksgiving break. Their first day back will be Dec. 1, a Tuesday.

Crittenberger said the response to the closure was fairly minimal and largely positive, with some suggesting that the virtual learning be reduced to one week.

“We’ve tried to be lockstep with the community,” he said.

Arlington public schools, meanwhile, will remain virtual for most students through the end of the year.

Photo via Facebook

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(Updated at 4 p.m.) While many schools in Virginia will start their winter sports seasons next month, Arlington Public Schools will not follow suit.

Some parents and a School Board member urged Superintendent Francisco Durán to reverse course on this decision during the School Board meeting held that night. They argued that other jurisdictions in Virginia — including neighboring Fairfax County — are gearing up to play sports, and that not participating harms students in the short- and long-term.

“We’ve already taken school away from our kids,” said Megan Newfeld, a parent of a high school aged-son who plays golf. “It’s now enough.”

Not providing public school sports makes it harder for kids who cannot afford private or travel teams to improve, she said. Further, she added that all students who are competitive and looking to get recruited by colleges will be at a disadvantage.

Durán said the Virginia High School League (VHSL) allows each district to determine whether to participate in winter sports, which include swim and dive, basketball, wrestling, and indoor track and field. APS declined because it would not align with the return-to-school plan, he said.

“Participating in sports while continuing distance learning does not send a consistent message,” Durán said.

APS will revisit the metrics to see about participating in “season two” sports — sports like football, cross country and golf, which are usually played in the fall and which mostly are played outdoors — he said. Winter sports, by contrast, are mostly played indoors.

School Board member Tannia Talento asked Durán to reconsider the decision, in part because students are already doing conditioning on school grounds.

“These students are in these places already and doing work, and it’s at the high school, where they are more aware of conditions,” said Talento.

Although it is not consistent with the return to school plan, which is on hold, she said “we have to weigh everything individually and holistically and make compromises where we can.”

Yorktown High School boys basketball coach Joe Reed lamented the decision in a tweet, writing the his “heart goes out to my players, especially the seniors.”

An online petition calling for APS to reverse its decision has garnered more than 1,250 signatures as of 3:45 p.m.

“The benefits of team sports go far beyond exercise — improved academics, teamwork, leadership, positive mentorships and overall improved mental health,” the petition says. “For this school year, these factors are even more important as many Arlington teenagers are at home struggling with virtual learning and missing out on the normal activities of their high school years.”

“As the superintendent and school board of a county with large disparities of wealth, it is even more important that APS offer sports for those who cannot afford to play elsewhere,” the petition adds.

Late Friday afternoon, the pro-school-opening group Arlington Parents for Education also weighed in with a statement.

“Not only is VHSL proceeding with the season, but thousands of Arlington children have been participating in youth, club and travel sports all fall with absolutely no outbreaks,” the group said. “Durán’s only rationale on not allowing athletic competition is ‘consistency, ‘which is a self-fulfilling argument that since APS is failing to provide the in-person support and instruction many of our children need for academics, it may as well do the same for sports.”

The VHSL, 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.

“Keeping our student athletes safe is critical during this pandemic,” Northam said. “I know I join many parents in looking forward to the safe return of school sports.”

VHSL Executive Director Dr. John W. “Billy” Haun welcomed the news, saying in the statement that the amendment “clears the way for all of our sports to play.” The league drafted guidelines for playing sports that include limits on attendees, cleaning and disinfecting recommendations, masking and social-distancing.

File photo

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(Updated at 9:20 p.m.) At long last, some children in Arlington Public Schools were able to walk the halls and see their teachers.

Wednesday was the first day of in-person school for about 230 children with disabilities in 33 APS buildings and programs, and administrators were happy to see them back. The day went smoothly, from health and safety protocols to transportation and technology operating as planned, said Superintendent Francisco Durán.

“We were very excited to welcome our first group of students back for in-person learning,” Durán said. “Principals and staff at each school enthusiastically welcomed our students as they arrived and helped ensure a safe and successful transition.”

But the scene may be bittersweet for some of the PreK, early elementary, and career and technical education students — and parents. Those students were initially slated to return next Thursday, but APS decided return dates set for 2020 would be delayed until 2021 due to rising cases.

The news was announced in an email from Durán on Monday, but he informed parents last Tuesday that delays should be expected.

“We continue to see the case incidence rate in our area increasing, not decreasing,” Durán wrote. “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.”

But on Wednesday morning, some smiles were evident through the masks.

On social media, scenes of students at schools prompted a response from a local group advocating for a return to in-person education.

“Can’t imagine how happy they are to be back,” tweeted Arlington Parents for Education. “Now onto the rest!”

Durán said pausing the plans allows APS to see if its mitigation measures are successful with the first group of students, and gives the school system more time to solidify staffing plans.

In a statement, Arlington Parents for Education said it will continue to advocate for students to return.

“At some point, we have to learn to live in a world where COVID-19 exists and children are allowed to attend school. There is no such thing as a zero-risk environment for anything,” the organization said. “Arlington’s children will feel the effects of this decision for years to come.”

In June, before a rise in cases later in the summer, only 10% of families that responded to an APS survey said they preferred an online-only start to the 2020-2021 school year.

The clamor from some parents for kids to return spilled over during a COVID-19 virtual update with County Board members last Friday. About 95% of questions from the public during the Q&A portion of the call concerned schools reopening, County Board member Katie Cristol said during the meeting.

“To the members of our community who are looking to the County Board to provide a different answer on school reopening than the one they’ve gotten from APS to date, we can resonate with that frustration,” Cristol said. “But I’m sorry, we’re not here to give you different answers than the ones you’ve gotten from Superintendent Francisco Durán and the School Board.”

She affirmed the school board’s jurisdiction over managing public schools.

“It keeps accountability with those who can make decision, and keeps decisions in partnership with the superintendent that have to do with students and workforce, groups of people that the County Board does not have as much insight into,” Cristol said.

Arlington County sent $10.15 million of its CARES Act funding to APS, including a $500,000 grant for providing home internet access to low-income households. Another $1.65 million went toward wireless network deployment and $340,000 went to food programs. The food programs also received $1.125 million from other sources of state and federal funding.

Photos courtesy APS

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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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A group of Arlington Public Schools parents has organized to vote ‘no’ on the $52.65 million school bond.

In recent days Vote No Arlington launched a last-minute online campaign against the county’s 2020 public school bond, to voice their frustration with how APS is handling the return to school.

“Right now is a very emotional time,” Vote No Arlington founding member and APS parent Geoff Olinde said. “People feel they are not being served well by APS, and this is one of the few avenues to get APS’s attention.”

The $52.65 million bond will be on the ballot on Nov. 3. According to APS, the bond would fund four major types of capital improvements, which range from increasing space to accommodate projected higher enrollment rates to renovating kitchens.

But Olinde said the middle of an economic downturn is not the right time to take on $52 million of additional debt that will burden taxpayers. Furthermore, enrollment projections went “out the window” due to COVID-19, and many children may stay in private schools, he said.

Olinde — who earlier this week was a guest on the Larry O’Connor show on WMAL radio — said he is far from being a political activist, but the breakdown in education due to COVID-19 motivated him to get involved. He said he has supported previous bonds, and would have supported one that was specifically to support schools reopening.

According to APS, this school bond does focus on the short term as well as longer-term capital needs.

“The 2020 School Bond funds will address immediate needs by providing best-practice security entrances to schools that do not yet have them, expanding kitchens to better serve more students, and upgrading older HVAC systems for healthier school environments,” according to the district.

Alexandra Bocian, who also has supported school bonds in the past, said now is the time to focus on returning kids to school, not brick-and-mortar improvements.

Voting ‘no’ is the only way her voice for reopening schools will be heard, she said. Bocian said teachers and parents who prefer virtual learning have a voice, but parents who want to return are not being heard. She also worries that a ‘yes’ vote would note get her children any closer to returning to school.

“I can talk until I’m blue in the face, but if I hit you in the pocketbook, maybe you’ll listen,” she said.

As a Black working mother of three children, Bocian said she knows what her children can obtain being educated face-to-face, as opposed to online — and said the current solution is not equitable. Instead, it favors wealthy families, who can afford small tutoring groups called “pods,” which can cost up to $2,000, and those where a parent or both parents are home to help their kids.

While countries like France are exempting schools from lockdown orders, APS is just beginning to figure out who returns to school and when, and that is also not equitable, Bocian said.

“How do you think those kids who are going to get to school feel versus those who don’t?” she said. “That causes an issue.”

The school bond is being supported by the Arlington County Democratic Committee. Supporters say the funding is needed to address important school needs.

More information on the planned use of the APS school bond is below.

The $52.65 million will be used for the following projects:

  • Planning and design to meet 10-year projected capacity needs at all school levels $24.3 million*
  • Major infrastructure projects such as HVAC replacement for schools $15.4 million*
  • Building refreshes and kitchen renovations at ATS, Key and McKinley $7.65 million
  • Security entrances at Taylor, Gunston, Jefferson, Williamsburg, Wakefield $5.30 million *Additional funds for these projects will be included in future Capital Improvement Plans
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While students with disabilities are still set to return to classrooms next week, further return-to-school phases are now on hold.

Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Francisco Durán made the announcement in an email to families Tuesday evening.

“Currently, the health and safety metrics are not where they need to be to proceed with Level 2, Phase 1 Return on Nov. 12 for PreK, Kindergarten, and Career & Technical Education (CTE) students,” Durán wrote. “Compared to Level 1 [for students with disabilities], Level 2 brings a significantly larger group of staff and students into our buildings and classrooms, and that is why the metrics are set to a more rigorous standard.”

“To begin phasing in Level 2 students, we need to see further improvement in the metrics,” Durán continued. “We will continue to monitor the data at the end of this week and, in consultation with Public Health, will make a final determination about next steps for Level 2 by next week.”

Among the key metrics that APS is monitoring to determine when to advance to Level 2 of the return-to-school plan and beyond are the county’s rate of increase of coronavirus cases and teacher preferences for whether to return to in-person instruction.

The Case Incidence Rate per 100,000 people currently stands at 9.4, and advancing to Level 2 calls for it to be between 5-6. The latest teacher survey found that only 39% want to return, compared to the 70% or greater set as the criteria for Level 2.

(Level 2 includes PreK-5 and Career and Technical Education students. The criteria for Level 3, which would bring all other students who opt in back to classrooms two days per week, includes a Case Incidence Rate between 4-5 and a teacher preference for in-person instruction above 95%.)

The rate of new coronavirus cases in Arlington has been fluctuating over the past couple of weeks, at a higher level than September, but the county has not seen the kind of surge currently taking place elsewhere in the country.

Students with disabilities are still set to return a week from Wednesday, Durán said.

“Based on my review of the data and in consultation with Public Health, the current health and operational conditions allow for us to provide in-person learning support for Level 1 students with disabilities, beginning on November 4,” the superintendent wrote.

The full letter is below.

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