Arlington Co. parent groups conflicted on when to bring students back to classrooms

Some parents in Arlington County, Virginia, say it’s past time to bring students back to classrooms, while others say it’s too risky.

It has been more than 300 days since schools went virtual, and the group Arlington Parents for Education said it’s time to get children back in classrooms.

It held a rally Saturday calling for schools to resume in-person learning as soon as possible.

“We’re facing a public health crisis that’s not about COVID,” said Deanna Caputo, a member of Arlington Parents for Education, parent of two elementary school students and behavioral psychologist.

She said the dangers of mental health issues outweigh the harm of health issues from COVID-19.

“Kids need connection, in person, regular daily social connection in order to grow emotionally, to understand what their feelings mean and to know how to react to situations,” Caputo said. “The constant extension of virtual learning is leaving kids that don’t already have the skills, anxious and depressed and having panic attacks.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said from April through October of 2020, mental health-related emergency department visits for children increased by 24% for those ages 5 through 11 and by 31% for those ages 12 through 17.

The superintendent of Arlington County Public Schools, Francisco Duran, said he wants to see more teachers get vaccinated before setting new days for a return to in-person learning.

“The balance between physical public health right and mental public health needs to be better set, and our children have waited their turn,” Caputo said.

Some other parents disagree, saying that more needs to be done to prepare teachers and buildings for a safe return to the classroom.

The current coronavirus caseload for Arlington County puts it in the highest risk category for reopening schools in a guide outlined by the CDC and the Virginia Health Department.

Christina Headrick, an Arlington parent of two who is on the leadership team for Smart Restart APS, said schools need to wait before bringing students back in person.

“Our view is that it would be really hard for schools to maintain operational stability, and that quarantines and exposures would probably make it difficult to operate at this particular moment in time,” Headrick said.

She said they had a major breakthrough this week as Arlington schools have committed to putting an air cleaner for filtration of small particles in every classroom.

The school system purchased 650 Blueair machines around the holiday break to test them out, and Headrick said on Friday the school system told Smart Restart APS that they would like to complete purchases for every classroom.

But Headrick said more safety measures like that and more vaccinations need to happen before she sends her children back.

“My kids would love to go back to school…but my children won’t be back in school, most likely until the fall, and until we’re sure that the high risk people in our family have been vaccinated, because we are caregiving for some older grandparents right now.

So we don’t want to take any chances,” Headrick said.

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Valerie Bonk

Valerie Bonk started working at WTOP in 2016 and has lived in Howard County, Maryland, her entire life. She's thrilled to be a reporter for WTOP telling stories on air. She works as both a television and radio reporter in the Maryland and D.C. areas. 

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