Alexandria, VA

With Fairfax and Arlington’s school systems both announcing that they will be going fully digital in the fall, many parents are turning their attention to Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) to see if they’ll follow suite.

Superintendent Gregory Hutchings’ answer: ACPS still doesn’t know.

“In a little over three weeks, on August 14, ACPS will send its reopening proposal to the Virginia Department of Education,” Hutchings said in an email to the ACPS community. “I know that everyone — families, students and staff — are waiting to know what September will bring for the school division. I also know that so much of your lives revolve around the academic year and that means a lot of uncertainty remains until we have answers. This makes planning ahead for both staff and families very difficult indeed. Please know that I hear you and understand.”

As with the recent renaming of T.C. Williams discussion, Hutchings asked that the school community have patience and respect the process.

“I also know that expediting solutions can potentially cause unnecessary missteps and poor planning which is why we have been adamant about taking the methodical and informed approach to make our reopening plan the best for the health and safety of our families and staff, with the best information we have at this time,” Hutchings said. “Our engaged community is encouraging us to do a number of things differently and in a more innovative way. Acting in haste while under pressure may lead to making choices without feedback and input from our students, families and staff, which may need to be reversed and which would find us back at square one.”

The levels of percent positive testing is trending down in Alexandria, but that hasn’t always been consistent. In early July, when the city moved into the third phase of reopening, the city saw a brief uptick in cases.

A survey of ACPS families found that 60% of families preferred a hybrid approach with some online learning and some in-school instruction. The other 40% preferred a fully virtual approach. The survey noted that white families were more likely to prefer the hybrid model while 53% of Hispanic/Latino respondents preferred hybrid and only 48% of Black/African American families.

Nationwide, Latino and Black populations have had significantly higher rates of hospitalization and death from coronavirus, according to the CDC. In Alexandria, the city’s Latino population centers have seen particularly high numbers of coronavirus cases.

ACPS staff was asked how likely they would be to return to work, the likelihood of return was highest among the school’s support staff at 73% saying they would, and lower among school-based licensed staff and central office staff at 60%. Overall, 63% said they would likely return to work on-site in the fall.

As ACPS continues to mull its decision, the schools are planning to host more community forums to gather public input.

“We know that data does not present the whole picture and encourage you to add your voice to the planning process,” Hutchings said. “Community Chats for families and staff began on Monday and will run throughout the week. So far, I have been incredibly impressed with the level of participation. The questions we have received have been thought-provoking and greatly valued. Having a committed community means so much to the success of any school division.”

Top photo by Jay Westcott, survey responses via ACPS

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