What Arlington Public Schools students can expect when they return to classes

Arlington Public Schools students return to their Virginia classrooms for in-person learning Aug. 30.

School officials detailed what students can expect during a virtual town hall Wednesday evening.

“We are very ready and excited to welcome back our students in person,” Superintendent Francisco Durán said. “And I know certainly that I speak for all of APS staff when I say how much we are looking forward to a new year, a new year being together, and to be able to provide the support and learning that is needed for each and every one of our students.”

Durán said the system is opening for in-person instruction five days a week. There will not be concurrent or hybrid instruction. Meals will be provided free.

See the reopening plans for D.C.-area schools.

“And I want everyone who’s listening tonight to know that we are opening in-person safely, and our schools will not close or revert to virtual instruction, unless there is a statewide mandate to do so” from Gov. Ralph Northam, Durán said.

The superintendent added that a plan is in place to ensure that “our students will have what they need to transition back to school gradually and to learn and to grow.”

“We also are aware that the trauma that many of our students and our families and our staff have experienced during the pandemic, due to isolation and due to COVID-19, is an area we also need to focus on.”

Durán said the school system will build on health and safety protocols from over the spring and summer.

“We’re doing everything we can to ensure that all the proper protocols are in place, and we are going to be announcing more and more to make sure that we keep our students and our staff safe, but it is something we will do, 100%,” he said.

APS will require masks in buildings and on buses, regardless of vaccination status. Masks will not be required for outdoor recess.

The school system said it will operate on the “honor system” in regards to individuals reporting symptoms.

There is an accelerated learning and support plan, which includes a four-week assessment to make sure students who need support are identified.

“Our instruction, the needs of each and every student, is the primary focus for us as we start the new year. We must — we must — we must pay close attention to their academic needs in an accelerated manner,” Durán said.

APS Chief of School Support Kimberley Graves said the system would be “remiss” if it didn’t recognize the impact the COVID closure has had on students.

“And so many of our schools, along with our student support teams, have been working to ensure that students will have opportunities to have check-ins … opportunities to work with their school counselor, the substance abuse coordinators, and more importantly their classroom teachers who will be the first tier of support the students will receive,” Graves said.

She added that families and students will have access to resources to assist them in addressing trauma that they may have experienced and reconnecting as a school community.

APS Emergency Manager Zachary Pope outlined the procedure in the case of a positive COVID-19 case in a classroom.

“Students who are deemed immediate proximity through the contact tracing process will be considered a close contact, and be excluded or quarantined, except under new conditions provided from the CDC,” Pope said.

“Students and staff who are fully vaccinated will be exempt from the quarantine, and that will be verified through the contact tracing process. Students in 3- to 6-feet proximity may not be considered close contacts, as long as both students are wearing masks and the schools’ other prevention strategies are in place.”

Students who are confirmed cases will need to quarantine for 10 days from a positive test or the date symptoms arise, based on the contact tracing process and their conversation with a health provider or the health department, Pope said.

Students 3 feet or closer to a confirmed case will need to quarantine, regardless of mask usage.

“Individuals who are identified as a close contact, if they choose to participate in the APS testing program, and test negative on day five, six or seven will be able to return to school on calendar day eight,” Pope said.

Those who do not participate in the APS testing program, or choose to do otherwise, will be required to complete the entire 14 day, CDC-recommended quarantine, according to Pope.

APS also announced Wednesday that it is launching a Spanish-language Facebook page Aug. 23, as well as a new family support helpline, which will also launch Aug. 23.

Video from the town hall is available on the APS Facebook page in both English and Spanish.

Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Writer/Editor for WTOP.com. He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

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