ARLINGTON, Va. — Arlington County parents had a big decision Monday. Those Northern Virginia families had to decide how their children would be educated by the local school system later in the school year.
Arlington Public Schools decided late last week it would start the 2020-2021 school with full-time distance learning. However, the school system also urged parents to answer, by July 20, whether they would want their children to participate in a hybrid-model of learning or continue full-time distance learning after the district’s school buildings are deemed safe.
Arlington parent Erin Neal said she wished local parents got another option.
She believes the school year should have started with students getting the chance to receive in-person instruction, whether it be full-time or through a hybrid model of learning.
“I am concerned about the academic progress of our children and I am concerned about their social and emotional health,” Neal said.
She said her children did not fare well under APS’ distance learning program in the Spring. Neal said it did not advance her kids’ learning.
“They were so sick of the same things being drilled into them over and over again,” she said.
Neal added that while she is concerned about the coronavirus’ spread and the threat it poses, she is even more concerned about the damage that could be done to her children if they continue to learn under the distance learning model.
“It could be years before we have a widely available vaccine,” she said. “We can't afford to leave our children at home, learning to read from an iPad with their fingers for years."
But Arlington County parent Courtney Fox said she agrees with APS’ decision to start its school year virtually.
“I think [APS Superintendent Dr. Francisco Durán] is taking a hit for doing the right thing,” she said. “There is nothing more important than safety and there is community spread in Arlington. This virus is not under control in our country.”
As APS discussed how to handle its reopening in the fall, Fox organized a petition to support the “#OneAPS” plan, which promoted starting the school year with online learning for all students so they could be educated on the same playing field.
Fox said she is concerned about what could happen when the school district splits into two learning models later in the school year.
“Imagine the kids who are virtual who come back to their home schools a year from now and feel like outsiders, [and] the hybrid kids who are going to get less instruction,” she said. “To me, it just didn't make sense.”
Fox said she believed when APS does begin the process of reopening its schools to students, it needs to prioritize its more vulnerable students, like kids with disabilities, English language learners, and students who rely on school for their meals and social services.
But Fox added teachers should not be overlooked in APS’ plans either. She said she is concerned about how they could be affected when the school district splits between two models as well.
“If a lot more kids choose hybrid, even though we're all online, teachers will be forced into the hybrid option, even though we're all online,” she said.
Last week, Duran, in a statement said he was aware of the difficulties some Arlington families may have adjusting to the school district's plans.
"I want to emphasize that this decision weighs heavily on all of us," Duran stated. "We recognize that this change will present challenges to many of our families, and I hope that by informing you now, you will be able to make necessary adjustments to your plans for the fall."