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Arlington schools superintendent proposes postponed start, virtual learning for 2020-21 year

Superintendent Francisco Durán said that after a virtual start to the school year, officials would target early October to begin integrating back inside schools.

ARLINGTON, Va. — Arlington Public Schools officials are holding a virtual town hall to discuss their plans for the students in the upcoming 2020-21 school year. 

APS Superintendent Francisco Durán is planning to propose a postponed, virtual-only start to the school year to the school board Thursday night.

The proposed start would be Tuesday, Sept. 8, and all students would begin with full-time distance learning, Durán announced Tuesday afternoon.

“Throughout our planning, the health and safety of our staff and students has been our top priority, and beginning the year with a virtual model allows us to continue to monitor the situation until we are confident it is safe to return,” Durán said in the letter to parents.

Duran elaborated that after a virtual start to the school year, officials would target early October to begin integrating some students into buildings for in-person instruction.

“Our goal is to have hybrid in-person instruction in place for all families that have selected that model by the beginning of the second quarter, based on health data and in consultation with health officials,” Duran said.

Durán urged families who have not yet selected their students’ preferred instructional model to do so by July 20.

More information about this proposed change and the health data informing it will be announced at the Town Hall for families Tuesday evening, and Durán’s presentation to the school board on Thursday. 

On July 6, the Virginia Department of Education published new guidance for physical distancing, group gatherings, and transportation in public schools, pre-K through 12th grade.

In the Superintendent of Public Instructions’ letter, it said the guidance for Virginia schools are based on the “best public health guidance and recommendations available” and are “intended to reduce, but not eliminate, the risk of transmission of COVID-19 in school settings.”

It goes on to share detailed advice for school districts to get students back to learning in the classroom while keeping students and staff safe.

It’s broken into three phases that are in line with Governor Ralph Northam’s “Forward Virginia Blueprint.”

All of the guidance is also set up to follow CDC recommendations for schools, which still suggests using face masks/coverings, physical distancing, monitoring symptoms, hand-washing, and cleaning surfaces often.

For Phase 1, the guidance recommends mainly remote/virtual learning.

Childcare, for working families, and special education programs can continue in schools.

No extracurricular activities will be offered and school buses should be limited, to 10 people per bus “to the extent possible.”

Other physical distancing recommendations include restricting mixing classes and group gatherings and closing communal spaces.

During Phase 2, schools can offer “limited in-person instruction,” to preschool through third grade and English Learner students.

Extracurricular activities can be offered if physical distancing is included. However, school sports are not recommended unless participants can keep physical distancing the whole time. 

During Phase 2, the CDC recommends that people keep six feet apart from one another, if possible, but the World Health Organization recommends schools keep a distance of at least three feet, between everyone at school.

Face coverings are recommended in any space closer than three feet if the person doesn’t have COVID-19 symptoms.

Also, during Phase II, VDOE recommends distance between the students on school busses. That means limiting the capacity, to keep students three to six feet away from one another, while wearing face coverings.

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Communal spaces will stay closed, and gatherings of more than fifty people won’t be allowed, but limited outdoor activities will be allowed.

While in Phase III, in-person instruction can be offered to all students, with physical distancing. 

Remote learning and teleworking for people at high risk of getting sick will still be offered. The guidance suggests a “multi-faceted instructional approach,” for this phase.

Physical distancing guidance still applies in schools and on school busses. 

Larger school gathers are limited to 250 people, per group and school sports can happen if people can stay 10 feet apart from one another.

After Phase 3, school divisions can return to normal.

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