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School Board Shelves Plan to Reopen Schools in 2021, Students with Disabilities Transitioning Back Next Month

Alexandria City Public Schools are not likely to fully reopen until there is a vaccine for the coronavirus, Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. told CNN on Wednesday. The interview with Jake Tapper was hours before the School Board tabled a proposal to phase in kids from kindergarten to eighth grade in January and February.

“I think having all of our students at one time in our classrooms, it definitely, probably won’t be until a vaccine occurs,” Hutchings told CNN.

The school board on Wednesday shelved a proposal to bring back students from kindergarten to the eighth grade starting in January and February. The board did approve sending kindergarten through second graders with disabilities to Jefferson-Houston PreK-8 International Baccalaureate School on November 5, and expand to include all citywide special education students by December.

Hutchings and ACPS staff told the board Wednesday night that building capacity and staff shortages will prevent a phased-in approach. Using a single 24-student first grade classroom at Samuel L. Tucker Elementary School as a model, Hutchings said that the only feasible option for students would be for them to attend school one day a week, hire a significant number of additional teachers and find more classroom space. Additionally, 44% of teachers already said they are very or somewhat unlikely to go back to school in the event of facilities reopening with COVID restrictions.

“This is going to be another challenging transition for our children, and I want folks to really understand what that in-person learning for students is going to look like,” said School Board Member Michelle Rief. “This means that the instructional model is going to change. The teacher might actually have to teach your child in person and other children virtually at the same time. There’s a chance your child may change teachers or your child may not even be in the same school building that they are familiar with. And if the case counts rise, we may have to pivot again back to 100% virtual, not to mention being prepared for all the quarantine that may have to happen in response to people’s exposure.”

Hutchings said that the only way that in-person schooling could work is if teachers conduct virtual and in-person instruction at the same time.

“You can’t continue to keep adding more and more professional learning and expectations on top of a stretched staff already,” Hutchings told the Board. “There’s also limits, like how much further can you take them? They have gone from overnight being in a classroom… having to now do virtual lesson planning, having to do breakout sessions, having to figure out how to do classroom management and engagement virtually, and they have been doing a bang-up job.”

Board Member Veronica Nolan said that the one-day-per-week model “isn’t very doable,” and it was not fiscally possible to hire significantly more teachers.

“It just seems still insurmountable,” Nolan said.

One concerned parent of an ACPS child said that the school system needs to get more creative.

“It’s seems like to me that last night’s meeting was a three hour presentation of what we can’t do,” the parent said. “I’d like to hear more of what we can do. ACPS has made it clear that they cannot get our children back into schools. It’s time to get creative and work toward something we can do safely. I think learning pods and family/neighbor learning co-ops for our younger kids is something that should be encouraged and explored.”

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