Surrounded by about 100 other protestors outside of Alexandria City Public Schools’ Central Office, Kathryn Grassmeyer started to cry.
The mother of three wants schools to reopen to four or five days a week, and got emotional when talking about some of the difficult choices she and her husband have made regarding their children’s education.
“It puts parents in a horrible situation,” Grassmeyer said. “I had to choose which child needed to be in school more, so we went to a private school for one of them, and my other child is home every day, and then I have a toddler at home.”
The Monday evening rally was organized by the Open ACPS! group and coincided with the joint City Council/School Board Subcommittee meeting.
In that meeting Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. did not announce any change in his plan to keep two days per week of in-person hybrid instruction for students for the remainder of the year.
“There will not be a hybrid model over summer or in the fall,” Hutchings said. “We’re continuing to solidify efforts… to transition as many students as we can into classrooms over the next few weeks.”
ACPS is also requesting access to some recreational centers adjacent to schools to set up as temporary classroom spaces. While the required distance between desks in classrooms has gone down to three feet, there are still pandemic restrictions that ACPS says will require more space than some of the schools have.
Since the pandemic began, 16,000 ACPS students have alternated between completely virtual and two days per week of hybrid instruction. In the meantime, neighboring Fairfax County Public Schools are operating four days per week of in-person instruction, and Falls Church City Public Schools expanded in-person offerings to five days a week.
Erika Melman says it’s not too late to get her two children back to four days per week of in-person instruction.
“They’re just moving too slowly,” Melman said. “The year’s not over.”
While the hybrid model — where students attend both in-person and virtual classes — won’t be sticking around, schools will still be divided between between students who are in classes in-person and those attending virtually. Hutchings said students will be in either virtual or in-person classes, depending on what they state as their preference, but not both the way they are now.
Hutchings said there will be some flexibility for parents who start virtually to switch to in-person classes, but said the school will be up-front with parents that changing from one to the other will involve changing schedules and changing teachers. Over the summer, all students will be offered four-day-per-week of summer learning programs.
“We will have in-person and virtual open for all students,” Hutchings said. “We’re going to be targeting students who need to be in-person for summer.”
One advantage of using facilities adjacent to schools, staff said, will be that the schools won’t need to utilize transportation options like DASH bus.
“We’re scheduling walkthroughs next week of the spaces and looking at what we’d have to modify,” said Alicia Hart, director of educational facilities for ACPS. “Nothing permanent, because their primary use is as recreational space. [But] we’re looking at how many desks we’ll need, how much furniture. From a timeline perspective, we know we have a short window to make these modifications.”
That window is even shorter than it typically is, as Hutchings noted that this is the first year that school will be starting in August rather than September. Hutchings said it will be important to get parents all the information they need well in advance of school starting to allow them time to make a decision.
“It’s not binding, but we need to know what families are going to do,” Hutchings said. “We can’t wait until August for that. It’s important for families to give us some idea of what they’re going to do, and why we need to make sure families know the implications.”
Parent Hakan Ozsancak said that there has been an erosion of trust with the school system.
“We believe in science, but over the last year we’ve tried to have a better dialogue, and we’ve just been looked at as parents who are just pushing for the kids to get out of the house,” Ozsancak said. “We’re not crazies, you know.”
Vernon Miles and James Cullum contributed to this report