We have now completed two full weeks of virtual school, and it is not working for many of our students. To add to the challenges of learning on a virtual platform, technology failures abound with the Global Protect VPN and MS Teams platform. The inconsistencies in classroom experiences on MS Teams are prolific.
While there are some students who are thriving, many more are floundering. My philosophy is that we should teach to those in the margins, and everyone will benefit. Too many of our students are stuck in the margins of virtual learning. I acknowledge and understand the anger, frustration, and anxiety many parents are feeling. It is valid, and I hear you.
I am deeply concerned about our students with disabilities for whom virtual learning is inadequate and who are actually losing ground and regressing as a result. Some of these students require in-person therapies and intervention. Some require the physical environment of a classroom to maintain focus and attention.
I am concerned about our youngest students, particularly Pre-K-3rd who don’t have the stamina to remain engaged with an iPad for hours. These are our VPI (4 year olds), our Montessori Primary (3, 4, & 5 year olds), our Community Peer PreKs, our kindergarteners, and our 1st – 3rd graders.
I am concerned about our financially vulnerable students and those who are in unstable home environments who will be left alone at home while parents work, or for whom home is not a safe or ideal learning environment. For these students, learning may not be occurring even if they are logged on.
I am concerned about our students of all ages, who may be slipping further into depression, experiencing anxiety, or feeling isolated. The human connection with peers is vitally important.
And yes, I remain very concerned about the spread of COVID-19 amongst students, staff, and the community. Nevertheless, I support a phased-in return of high priority students first, done in accordance with scientific principles and recommended safety protocols.
Until APS can retrofit schools with appropriate safety mitigation measures (e.g., open windows, air purifiers, appropriate ventilation, PPE, COVID testing, screening, etc.) to safely bring back every student who elected the hybrid option, I would like to see APS take more immediate and affirmative steps to consider all feasible interim options to bring back the high-priority students. These options include physical distancing in outdoor classrooms (at least while the weather is still mild), physical distancing in indoor classrooms with open windows and air purifiers, and of course enforcing masks, handwashing, eating lunch outside, etc. We have enough buildings and county facilities to spread out small cohorts of students to meet physical distancing requirements. The County Board confirmed that they are willing to earmark needed park and county facilities to APS to help accomplish this.
I would like to see APS communicate metrics, a plan, and progress for in-person return more clearly and frequently so parents know what to expect, what to look forward to, how to plan, and how to help. We desperately want APS to succeed.
The decision to return in person must continue to be optional for both families and teachers. Every family has a different risk tolerance and need which must be respected. However, I would like to see APS leverage the teachers and families who feel safe enough to weigh the risk in favor of return, by creating the space and the opportunity for them to do so.
Finally, I would like to see our Arlington County officials be equally invested in the reopening of APS. Having watched the County Board update today, I am acutely disappointed in the seeming lack of urgency by the County Board and the reluctance to take ownership of or have any buy-in on the reopening of our schools. Instead, the sentiment seemed to be that “it’s up to APS,” “that’s not us,” “we’ve given them resources,” “it’s up to them,” etc. Our county government needs to stop this “us vs. them” mentality re APS and begin to act like we are #OneArlington. Schools not reopening is not just an APS problem, it is very much an Arlington problem.
Please join me in writing to our Superintendent, School Board, and County Board to respectfully request that they work together to prioritize leveraging all feasible options to safely return our high-priority students to school sooner rather than later. I believe there is unity amongst all of us in the ultimate goal of having our students be able to safely return to school. This is the common thread that binds us together.