Open Letter to the County Board – October 22, 2020

Dear Chair Garvey and Board Members:

APS had projected that it would be transitioning level 1 students to the hybrid (2 days in school) model, commencing on November 12 and level 2 students in early December. Yet, as I look at today’s Virginia Department of Health CDC metrics for school re-opening, Arlington County is trending in the wrong direction, i.e., upwards, with 149 new cases of COVID-19 in the last 14 days, which puts us squarely in the orange “higher risk” category of risk for returning. Our teachers and staff fear for their safety. While virtual learning is working for some students, many are suffering, and others are losing ground they may never regain, especially students with disabilities, English Learners, and our youngest learners – Pre-k – 5. The impact to our economically disadvantaged students is even more dire. These are our high-priority students. This is an equity issue of great magnitude with lasting adverse impacts.

Board members have stated ad nauseum, that re-opening is “up to APS” and that the county “doesn’t have the authority” to make reopening decisions or tell schools what to do. I am well aware of that, and I am not writing to debate the legal authority of the county board’s governance of our schools. We are clear there is none. What I am asking for, actually begging for, is that our county board get emotionally and fiscally invested in the safe re-opening of our schools. APS having to remain virtual is not the result of schools being the direct source of new infections, but because the levels of community transmissions, as in the graphic below, warrant extra measures to keep our students, staff, and the families safe. Schools alone cannot bear this burden. The county must take all feasible measures to keep this virus from spreading in the community.

If our schools remain closed, it will ultimately result in a greater financial burden to the county and tax payers, as illiteracy and poverty will rise, as will cases of abuse and neglect. The impact will last for years. We need ALL HANDS ON DECK to get us through this crisis. We need APS to do its part. We need the community to do its part. We need the county to do its part, but that will require the leadership of the county board to set the parameters and expectations for the community. To that end,

*We need the county to DO MORE by way of enforcement of masks and appropriate 6ft distancing in public spaces. There is no reason that you can’t implement strict and consistent enforcement measures.

*We need the county to crack down on crowded gatherings in bars and restaurants, and mandate appropriate distancing and ventilation in these spaces.

*We need the county to commit to PARTNER with APS to provide testing and/or funding for testing. This is critical for stopping the spread by people who are asymptomatic and will pass ordinary screening. The county is already providing testing for the community, and could help coalesce specific school-based testing.

*We need the county to provide a nurse for EACH school building that will reopen for school.

*Coalesce resources from, and partner with, our resident corporations like Amazon and others, to help. I believe they want to help, but the ask needs to come from you.

*Do not wait for APS to come to you; they are overwhelmed and overcome by the magnitude of figuring out how best to educate our students.

We are in a crisis like none of us have ever seen. Please, I beg of you, step up and regard our schools as the precious jewels that they are. Make APS your top priority, and let Arlington be the leader that we know it can be in this regard. Finally, create a lasting legacy–one for the history books–of how a county and a school district came together to make it through this pandemic. We have no leadership on this in the White House. We have poor leadership on this from the state. All we have is you.

Sincerely,

Symone

cc: Arlington School Board

https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/…/pandemic…/school-metrics/(be sure to select Arlington in the drop down menu).

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