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ACPS to Return to In-Person School on March 16

Alexandria City Public Schools will reopen its doors to students on March 16, after being shut down for a little more than a year due to the coronavirus, Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. told the School Board on Thursday.

“Now it’s time, and we will be returning back to our school buildings,” Hutchings said. “We are now ready. It is now time for this pivot to occur.”

The students who opted to participate (about half of students) in hybrid learning will be able to go back to school on March 16. On March 2, the school system will allow back special needs students in kindergarten – fifth grade. They will be followed by special education students in grades 6-12 on Tuesday, March 9.

The reality is that we really don’t know how long COVID is going to continue to affect our community,” said School Board Member Michelle Rief. “This is gonna be a big transition and it may it may be a little bumpy, but my hope is that we’ll work together to get through this challenge, and just remain flexible, too, because we really don’t know what the future is gonna hold.”

The news comes as Virginia Governor Ralph Northam is calling on school systems across the Commonwealth to open for some form of in-person learning by March 15.

Hutchings said that coronavirus community transmission levels have been downgraded to a sufficient level by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Virginia Department of Health. The planned reopening of school has been pushed back numerous times this year due to staffing shortages and increased community transmission numbers.

“We are seeing a consistent decline in our community health measurements, which is huge,” Hutchings said. “This is a big deal. This is why we are now at the point where we are looking forward to our transition over the next six weeks.”

At T.C. Williams High School, which is the largest public high school in Virginia, Principal Peter Balas is working out how students will transition between classes. Students will be required to have their temperatures taken, socially distance and wear face masks.

“One of the things that we are carefully planning around is that transition from class to class,” Balas said. “That’s definitely still in the planning phase.”

Many parents were relieved to get the news.

“I’m excited that ACPS has gotten to the point of a firm date,” an ACPS parent told ALXnow. “After a year of uncertainty, any sort of clear forward momentum feels good. I hope they follow the data and apply this new decisive and determined approach toward an on time in person opening for the 2021-2022 school year as well.”

But some parents have caused a bit of a controversy in recent days. The Facebook Group Open ACPS! recently published information it acquired through the Freedom of Information Act on staffing levels at schools. The posts, which have been removed, included emails on ACPS classroom sizes, and included employee identification numbers that were not redacted.

Hutchings has repeatedly said that staffing resources have been strained because of the pandemic and that the school system will need to hire additional employees to accommodate in-person learning.

“It’s unfortunate that that occurred,” Hutchings said. “It was just a disruption, and was really a breach of trust, which I personally don’t take lightly at all.”

The group responded that it was not at fault when ACPS released the information.

“The board and superintendent didn’t own up that the mistake was on their side,” Open ACPS told ALXnow. “ACPS gave this information to a parent through Freedom of Information Act. ACPS failed to remove any sensitive information. Yet a parent was chastised for ACPS’ mistake.”

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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