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ACPS will go to 3 feet distancing in classrooms on April 26

Alexandria City Public Schools will shift to three-foot distancing in classrooms on Monday, April 26, Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. told the School Board on Tuesday night.

The change will be implemented five weeks after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed their guidance for classrooms from six to three feet. Between now and April 26, principals will be making adjustments to the change, while keeping the six-foot distancing in place in the cafeteria and during lunch.

The school system will also be bringing back 3,000 more students to two days a week of hybrid instruction over the next couple of weeks. That will make about 8,000 students back in school out of the 16,000 student population.

“We were already, kind of, prepared to pivot (to three-foot distancing),” Hutchings told the Board in a virtual retreat. “We were really just trying to focus on the most recent pivot we were doing prior to spring break, which was bringing back additional students on April 20, and additional students on April 27.”

Hutchings will provide the Board with an update on the distancing change on Thursday, April 22. He also said that the school system is preparing for four-day-per-week summer school and five days a week of in-person instruction starting this fall.

Last week, the School Board approved the distancing change, reversing a since-deleted statement on ACPS Express that the school system is “maintaining six feet of physical distancing throughout the remainder of the school year.”

Hutchings was heavily criticized last week for not advising the Board on a decision to keep all students at home to study virtually a full week after spring break, in addition to the distancing message, which was made without Board advisement.

I’m going to be honest,” School Board Member Ramee Gentry said in last Thursday’s meeting. “In my five years on the School Board, this is probably the most frustrated I’ve ever been. I feel there is a real disconnect in the communications and a real breakdown in the process… We have heard a lot of frustration from the community, and I quite frankly share that frustration.”

Member Chris Suarez said last week that he was “blindsided” by the extension of virtual an extra week after spring break.

“To come back from spring break and see this announcement and frankly be blindsided by it, you know, it was very concerning from a procedural standpoint,” he said.

Meanwhile, neighboring jurisdictions like Fairfax County Public Schools recently expanded to four days a week for in-person instruction and Falls Church recently returned to five days a week.

School Board Member Margaret Lorber said that it was unrealistic for ACPS to quickly adapt to three-feet distancing, and criticized the media for coverage.

“I knew we had not made a decision as a Board to stick with the six feet until the end of the year,” Lorber said. “However, I knew that there were a lot of teachers who were hesitant to even move from virtual to in-school for those a lot of questioning on our staff, still a lot to discern about safety issues about just the work, the fact that they had put so much into creating a virtual system.”

Lorber continued, “I think we have to be aware, the press loves to pick up on sensational language, so I guess that’s my point. And I wish we could have all kept our language, you know, a little less sensational so they wouldn’t have such a story.”

Hutchings said that the superintendent job is a lonely one, and that he was very grateful and values the personal relationships he has with School Board members.

“This is probably one of the loneliest jobs out there right now,” Hutchings said of his position. “It’s a pretty lonely place, but I never genuinely feel alone because I know I do have nine other people (the Board)… that I could call on when needed, in that we can talk through our challenges, so I just appreciate that.”

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