With COVID-19 cases on the rise and the holiday travel season upon us, the Alexandria School Board on Monday approved a recommendation by Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. to delay an in-person plan bringing students back to school until January 2021.
Specifically, the move delays bringing back kindergarten through fifth graders with disabilities who receive self-contained Language Arts and Math, which was planned for Nov. 30, and middle schoolers in the citywide special education program in December. No new set dates were presented, and Hutchings told the Board on Monday that he is following the advice of the Alexandria Health Department and does not want to act impulsively.
“This global pandemic is not getting better,” Hutchings said. “We could be entering the most deadly phase of this pandemic, with all the travel that’s happening right now in Thanksgiving, as well as the travel that’s going to happen over the winter break.”
COVID-19 cases in Alexandria reached 5,051 on Tuesday, an increase of 41 cases since the previous day. The rise in cases is similar to what was seen in April and May, according to Alexandria Health Department Director Dr. Stephen Haering.
“We’re seeing increases across the board,” Haering said. “It’s an all age groups. This department, the city, I think everybody is really focused on reducing the transmission in order to prevent this from affecting our most vulnerable population — our elderly and those with underlying conditions that can put them at severe risk.”
ACPS staff also presented the board with results from its intent to return form, which was completed by 100% of ACPS employees. Out of the 2,601 respondents, approximately 55% of staff are able to return to work on-site at this time, while the remaining 45% of staff are impacted by COVID-related concerns.
Earlier this month, staffing issues kept Alexandria City Public Schools from expanding in-person learning for students with disabilities in grades 3-5 and who are in the citywide Special Education program.
The school system is currently evaluating several learning models for the future, including “concurrent teaching,” which would allow in-person and virtual classes to be held at the same time. If a teacher is not able to return under this model, they could still appear via video from home, while an adult supervises the classroom.
“The teaching will still occur from from that instructor, regardless of where the teacher is so they can be at home,” Hutchings said.
The School Board approved Hutchings’ plan to bring back in-person schooling last month. Staff reported that they are still working on bringing back kids to school, although ACPS presented no new timeline. The previous timeline is below.
- November 30: Expand to include Students with Disabilities in grades K-5 instruction who opt into in-person learning
- December 2020: Expand to include Students with Disabilities in grades 6-8 who are enrolled in the Citywide Special Education program who opt into in-person learning
- January 2021: Expand to include all remaining students in grades PreK-5 who opt into in-person learning
- February 2021: Expand to include all remaining students in grades 6-8 who opt into in-person learning