Alexandria, VA

As Alexandria City Public Schools prepares to partially reopen its elementary schools to special needs students on November 5, more than 400 parents are coordinating a new messaging campaign to fully reopen the school system.

Parents with the Facebook group OpenACPS! just printed 1,000 “OpenACPS” signs to be displayed in front yards around the city. More than 600 signs have already been given away, said group organizer Kirsten Dougherty.

“Are you familiar with the capacity slide?” Dougherty asked, referencing a presentation recently made by ACPS Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. to the School Board. “There’s five desks in a classroom. If you look at that slide, there’s no desks against the wall. There’s no furniture moved out of the classroom, there are no creative solutions to get more children in that classroom and keep them six feet apart.”

Last month, the board approved allowing back 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.

The group said that ACPS leadership “can and must do better to solicit, propose, and meaningfully consider innovative approaches to safely getting our children back to school.”

Meanwhile, ACPS just released a video with a simulation of what reopening schools will look like.

“Schools begin reopening November 5 starting with our most vulnerable — the citywide K-2 program for students with autism and intellectual disabilities,” the video states.

Before leaving home students complete a health questionnaire, and school staff wearing protective gear meet students outside the building, escort them in and get their temperature taken. Desks are distanced throughout classrooms and separated by plexiglass screens, and students are required to wear face masks.

“As we transition some of our students to in-person learning, we must keep in mind that in-person learning during a pandemic is significantly different from our learning environment prior to closing our school buildings on March 13, 2020,” Hutchings recently wrote in ACPS Express. “It is important that we remain methodical and strategic with our transition into in-person learning with so many uncertainties. Our transition planning remains contingent upon staffing and building capacity.”

As previously reported, Hutchings and ACPS staff told the board that building capacity and staff shortages will prevent a phased-in approach. Hutchings said that the only feasible option is for students 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.

Kathryn Grassmeyer and four other parents rotate hosting duties for their five second grade children throughout the week.

“We’re trying to be creative parents,” Grassmeyer said. “We are really trying hard to make this work for our kids, and we’re trying to make it work for ourselves as parents. We truly want to support our schools and we just feel like we want the same level of effort from our leadership.”

Image via ACPS

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