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New Normal: ACPS fully reopens for first time since pandemic started

Beside the masks and the news crews flocking around the hallways, after more than a year of virtual or hybrid learning, the start of the 2021-2022 school year was strangely normal.

Children at George Washington Middle School clumped together into groups of either friends or convenient strangers headed to the same destinations. Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, School Board Chair Meagan Alderton, and Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) staff greeted students as they came into the building.

This is the first time that ACPS has fully reopened since the pandemic started in March 2020.

For many of the students, Hutchings said the constant mask wearing will be the biggest difference between this year and pre-COVID school years. Some students had been in schools for a hybrid learning program in the spring, but today marked the return to a five-day-per-week in-person school day.

“They have to wear it at all times,” Hutchings said. “We also have temperature checks every day and handwashing stations. The masks are helpful in regard to mitigation.”

Around 500 of the school system’s 16,000 students will remain virtual through the Virtual Virginia program.

Last week, the School Board voted to require staff to either be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing. A mandatory survey was sent out on Friday, and Alderton said staff are still sorting through the results.

“It’s so exciting to be back in the building,” said Wendy Gonzalez. “There’s an energy the kids bring back into the building.”