Nine-year-old Luis Aleman had a hard time learning at home, and was happy to be back at Mount Vernon Community School on Tuesday.
It was a far from ordinary school day for the fourth grader, with plexiglass screens at desks that are spread apart, kids distancing from each other, and even walking a socially distant mile for recess instead of playing on the monkey bars.
Aleman said learning at home was tough with two siblings, and that he was glad to go back to school and see his teachers in person.
“It was tough,” Aleman told ALXnow. “When you have siblings, it’s tough, because they mess around with you.”
On Tuesday, Aleman joined about 1,200 special needs students in kindergarten through fifth grade in going back to Alexandria City Public Schools, marking the first time that in-person public instruction has been allowed since March 13, 2020.
“Now, every desk is six feet apart, and we have to be six feet apart, and we have to wash our hands every time we touch,” Aleman said.
About 60% of ACPS staff have been able to go back to school for in-person learning, although not all of them have been vaccinated.
Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. could not confirm the number of staffers who have been completely vaccinated, but said that vaccination is not a prerequisite to go back to work. He recently got his second vaccine dose, and said that the side effects temporarily left him with flu-like symptoms.
“We’re back. I’m glad that we finally got to this part, honestly,” Hutchings said outside MVCS on Tuesday. “I want to thank our team for all their hard work that they’ve done over the past year to prepare for this moment. And, it’s showtime.”
MVCS Principal Liza Burrell-Aldana said that the school can handle unforeseen emergencies.
“We have a 63% of our staff who are returning hybrid,” Burrell-Aldana said. “If we have to an emergency happen, we need supervision last minute, we’re gonna just go in there and do what we do.”
Hutchings said that ACPS is evaluating grading practices for students who may have been traumatized by the pandemic.
“We have a grading committee that is looking at our grading practices, which need to be revamped,” Hutchings said. “This has been a traumatic experience for kids, and we have to take that into account.”
ACPS will open on March 9 for special education students, and then fully reopen its doors to hybrid learning for students on March 16.
Hutchings said that the school system will continue to monitor the situation in individual schools to determine if they will stay open. In the meantime, he said that it looks like students will go back to in-person schooling for two days a week for the rest of the year.
“We will be working through each individual school, monitoring how many cases, and when you get to a spread that’s more than two within a building and following what the guidance from the Alexandra Health Department and looking at our contact tracing to determine if we need to remain open or closed, but we’re going to use those metrics just like we were using before we opened our doors,” Hutchings said.