During this School Board race, I’ve urged voters to cast their ballots based on the full range of significant, long-term issues we need to address over the next four years.
But I also understand that many voters are interested in knowing how I would be handling the return-to-school issue if I were currently on the School Board. That’s a fair question. Here’s my answer.
I want our students back in school as quickly, fully, and safely as possible. I want those students who need to remain in the virtual learning program to have the highest quality instruction and maintain strong connections to their school communities. I support following CDC guidance and prioritizing higher student needs.
Like every other parent in Arlington, I’m counting on APS to deliver a five-day, in-person option in August as well as a terrific virtual program. Earlier this month, I outlined a set of critical factors that will need to be in place for this to happen.
Now let’s talk about the remaining weeks of this school year. This is my position:
1. First and foremost, APS must clear the waitlist of students who are fully virtual and want to switch to the hybrid model. I say “first and foremost” because I am committed to equity and I believe we have to make sure that every child who wants in-person instruction has the opportunity to access it.
2. APS has to manage the last eight weeks of the school year without losing sight of the urgent need to plan and budget for August (budget gets approved on May 6), so that we are absolutely sure we’ll be ready for the fully in-person model and the fully virtual model for next school year.
3. As APS does #1 and #2 above, I believe it could also expand the number of in-person days for students and families who want this option, particularly at the elementary level and in alignment with the March 19 updated CDC guidance. For equity reasons, APS should not require that families provide their own transportation in these cases.
During the March 25 School Board meeting, I heard Dr. Durán say that expanding the number of in-person days would for some students require a class schedule change or teacher reassignment. Many students in that category might not want to experience such a disruption for the remaining weeks of the school year. For that reason, I believe the expansion of in-person days should be opt-in instead of automatic for all hybrid students. And I believe there’s a way to make that happen (see below if you’re interested in the steps I think we can take.)
Many APS parents are pointing to Fairfax County, which has recently expanded the number of in-person days available to students. “Why not in Arlington?” is a fair question to ask, and I would like to hear Dr. Durán and the other APS leaders answer it during the next School Board meeting.
How I would handle the expansion of in-person learning days:
1. Identify the number of additional students who can safely be accommodated in each classroom and school (in common areas and during lunch) in accordance with March 19 CDC guidelines. Make this data publicly available.
2. Immediately clear the waitlists of virtual students who want to return for at least two days of in-person instruction in those classrooms.
3. Then promptly notify hybrid families of any open spots in those classrooms. For example, if my student attends school on Tuesday and Wednesday in Mr. Ramirez’s class, then I would be notified that there are spots available on Thursday and Friday in Mr. Ramirez’s classroom. This outreach should happen via multiple methods (including email, text, WhatsApp, and via bilingual resource coordinators) to ensure every family knows about this opportunity.
4. Families interested in expanding the number of in-person days would opt in. If there are more families interested in doing so than there are spots available, a lottery should be held. In doing so, APS should identify which circumstances, if any, would assign priority to certain students (e.g., academic needs identified by teachers; mental health needs identified by families; etc.).
5. This is obviously more complicated at the middle and high school levels given the number or class changes each student has. Thus, it likely makes sense to prioritize implementing this at the elementary level and for students with disabilities who need and are able to return for more days. This would allow APS to pilot-test some of its plans for next school year to ensure that things will go as smoothly as possible.
6. Encourage parents to transport their own students whenever possible. When it’s not possible, APS should fill school buses to safe capacity and then arrange for additional, temporary busing. This is the kind of expenditure that federal relief funding is meant to support.
I hope this message will say as much about my general approach to leadership as my problem-solving around the questions many of us are raising about how and when to open up schools further. I’m showing my leadership by walking you through the issues that we must tackle, now and before August; paying careful attention to how different student groups and families might be affected; and laying out a strategic and safe path forward.