A majority of students in Arlington County, Virginia, are slated to return to the classroom in March.
The head of Arlington County Public Schools talked about the phased-in return to the classroom plan at Thursday’s school board meeting.
For the last few months, the school system has been hosting small groups of students, generally those with disabilities, in the classroom.
Earlier in February, some career and technical education students started going back to the classroom too.
“At this point we are moving forward with confidence in our mitigation measures and our ability to implement them,” said ACPS Superintendent Francisco Duran.
“With that in place, with the resources we put in place, the planning we’ve done over several months, we do believe this is the time we can … begin to return our students in place.”
The process will begin the week of March 2. Students enrolled in prekindergarten through second-grade, as well as all elementary special education students, will start returning to the classroom.
The week of March 9 will see students in grades 3 through 5, as well as grade 6 and high school freshmen, and all secondary special education students begin to return.
The week of March 16, students in grade 7, grade 8 and high school sophomores, juniors and seniors will start returning.
“Our countywide [special education] program students will meet four days a week,” said Duran. “Our other students will meet two days a week, either Tuesday-Wednesday or Thursday-Friday.”
That means teachers will be teaching half their classes virtually and the other half in-person, and that comes with a new set of complications and potential pitfalls they might not be ready for.
Duran acknowledged teachers will need more training and support in executing the concurrent learning model the county will be using, on top of what they have already been provided.
“We know that’s not enough. We know we need to continue to support staff in that,” he said.
But Duran said planning for the return of students took all of that in mind, including the prioritization of which student cohorts will be in the building based on the Virginia Department of Health’s and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s own reopening guidance.
“This has been a long process of planning and preparation by many departments and employees,” according to Duran.
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He repeatedly stressed that the guidance from the VDH and the CDC are being adhered to closely.
“This really involves looking at, holistically, the implementation of mitigation strategies, our readiness and our capacity at the building level to do that, any indication of virus spread among those supporting in-person,” Duran added.
Students and employees will also take part in a pre-screening each morning.
The county will send out emails or text messages every day at 5:30 a.m., including weekends, and everyone will have to report any coronavirus symptoms.
Responses will be required each day a child is involved in an in-person or virtual activity.
What that means is if a student isn’t doing any school activity on the weekends, they wouldn’t have to fill out the form. Otherwise, it is expected that they will answer the screening questions.
The return to the classroom begins even though not all teachers and staff in the county’s schools have received the vaccine.
But full vaccination “is clearly not what we’ve heard from the guidance from CDC or VDH,” said Duran. “Not a prerequisite for opening schools, but we are certainly going to make sure we do everything we can to make sure our staff gets access to vaccines that want them.”