Arlington Co. superintendent seeks vaccine progress before setting school return dates

The superintendent of Arlington County Public Schools in Virginia said the start of COVID-19 vaccinations for teachers is “exciting,” but he wants to see more shots administered before setting new dates for students and teachers to return to in-person learning.

Superintendent Francisco Duran heard public comments from some frustrated parents, as well as calls from teachers to hold-off on bringing more people back into school buildings for the time being, during a virtual meeting with the county school board on Thursday.

Duran said the process of vaccinating teachers began last weekend.

“We were able to administer 1,800 doses to K-12 staff,” Duran said. “While that was exciting, we also know that 1,800 is certainly not all of our staff.”

As with school systems throughout the D.C. region, Duran said demand for the coronavirus vaccine is dramatically higher than the supply.

“The public health department is continuing to work with the governor to identify additional vaccine doses. Because that’s the challenge our health department is having now, is having that vaccine availability,” Duran told the board members.

While encouraged by the start of vaccine administration, Duran told the board he wanted to hold-off on setting new return-to-school dates, while monitoring staff shots and health metrics.

Duran said he understands there are some teachers and staff who are frustrated that they have yet to be able to make an appointment for the vaccine.

Fewer than 100 students in a career training program will return to some in-person learning next week because the small number of students enrolled and staff will be able to maintain strict distancing requirements, Duran said.

The superintendent said teachers who have asked for permission will be able to hold the streamed lessons from their classrooms.

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One frustrated father said school children were being “held hostage” by the decision to delay returns to hybrid in-person learning.

“Those hysterical people who chant ‘vaccine or virtual’ and demand unattainable mechanical upgrades and continue to show irrational fear of improbable death are the fringe and fearmongers who have let panic take over their lives,” he said.

A mother, who said she and her husband have been working indoor during the coronavirus pandemic, said that while they support teachers being prioritized in receiving the vaccination, it is time for a return to in-person learning.

“When teachers are vaccinated, there are no excuses why classes cannot be returned to full-time, in-person, with normal operating hours,” she said.

Josh Folb spoke on behalf of 1,800 members of the Arlington Education Association teacher’s union.

“I am blessed to have been vaccinated on Monday, and will be fully protected two weeks after my second shot, and that will be March 2,” Folb said. “Stop, think, and vaccinate.”

Folb encouraged the board and Duran to continue working toward vaccinating all teachers and staff.

“Your staff are counting on your support to keep them safe in all aspects of their work,” Folb said.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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