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Amid Covid surge, Alexandria City Public Schools presents plan to switch to virtual instruction on school-by-school basis

Alexandria School Board members say they want to keep in-person instruction going, but amidst a surge in Covid cases the Alexandria City Public Schools system now has an official plan to revert to virtual learning on a school-by-school basis.

“There may be cases in the future where we have to transition into a virtual learning setting due to that and we want to just prepare for that,” Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., told the Board Thursday night.

The ACPS Protocol for Transitioning to Virtual Instruction is a roadmap for how schools will operate based on COVID infections within a particular school. Like stoplights, the plan is broken up into three zones — green for in-person instruction; yellow for the consideration to transition to virtual learning; and the full-blown transition to virtual learning.

More than 15,000 ACPS students haven’t been back to school since Friday, Dec. 17. This week’s snowstorm prompted ACPS to take immediate action by reverting to virtual learning, like a test run in case schools have to do the same thing because of a rise in Covid infections.

“The decision to transition temporarily to virtual learning will be made after careful consideration of the factors that impact instruction and operations at each school on a daily basis as conditions warrant,” ACPS said. “Note that regardless of the instructional plan, all students will bring home their devices at the end of every school day.”

With Covid numbers surging since Thanksgiving, the Health Department expected cases to rise again after the winter break. That break was extended, so to speak, after in-person classes were switched to virtual all week after Monday’s snowstorm. Just prior to the winter break, 174 reported cases within the school system in December alone. There have been 411 positive cases reported within ACPS since school began in August.

“I strongly believe that it is of the utmost importance to keep our schools open for in-person learning,” Vice Chair Jacinta Greene told ACPS staff at the meeting. “But there are segments of our community that are truly afraid right now to send their their kids to school. And many we’re not going to send them back this week. You know, had we not had snow they weren’t going to send the kids back because of the extreme surge and Omicron cases.”

Greene asked about the possibility of hybrid learning (both virtual and in-person instruction) for families who are concerned about exposing their children by sending them back to school. Hutchings said that the hybrid model, which ACPS used in the fall of 2020, was not successful.

“The hybrid model, it was just not the best practice,” Hutchings said. “It was not providing for our students who are home, a lot of times (teachers) couldn’t engage with the students who were in class.”

ACPS also reported to the Board that, upon returning to school, all students and staff will get brand new N95 surgical masks.

“I am so exhausted by Covid,” said Board Chair Meagan Alderton. “I just look forward to this being over. I can’t emphasize enough the effect that this has had on our education system. It’s almost dumbfounding at times. I feel like I don’t have words anymore, but I just appreciate everyone for digging in. I appreciate families as well. The uncertainty causes a lot of anxiety, and you know the more that we are all in this together the end will come hopefully sooner rather than later.”

The full ACPS description of the plan is below the jump.

In-Person Instruction – can be provided when the school can operate with minimal staff absences, though it may require additional support to cover staff absences.  Additional support may be provided by a classroom monitor, classroom or staff reassignment, or a substitute teacher.

Asynchronous/Synchronous Virtual  Instruction – at a class, grade, department, or school level – occurs when the school does not have enough staff or resources to provide in-person instruction due to staff absences and will temporarily require asynchronous/synchronous virtual instruction. Additionally, this transition could occur when insufficient staffing in division-wide operations impacts school operations.

Consideration for Transitioning to Virtual Instruction

A feasibility discussion will be initiated once a school is in the yellow zone (staffing shortage of 10%). This discussion will include the superintendent, select members of the Superintendent’s Leadership Team, and building/department administration. They will consider current student and staff health metrics, projected absences, staff coverage, and other factors or options. Staffing availability will consider the following factors in determining the need for a transition to asynchronous/synchronous instruction:

  • Preschool and elementary schools: Homerooms
  • PreK-8 schools: Each grade level and homerooms
  • Secondary schools: Various departments and/or grade levels
  • All schools: Division-level staffing shortages with employee groups such as bus drivers and nutritional staff will trigger a similar review process to determine implications for the whole division transitioning to virtual learning.

After feasibility discussions, schools deemed as red zone schools will be placed in a red zone status and will transition to virtual learning. After day one, a decision will be made if asynchronous learning will continue or if a switch to synchronous learning is feasible. Feasibility discussions will be initiated daily by the school principal’s analysis of staffing and operational abilities and a review will be conducted to determine if additional support could be provided to make in-person learning possible. On an as-needed basis, this review will be conducted by a panel in the afternoon that includes members of the Senior Leadership Team and school-based administration. Any changes will be communicated to families in a timely manner.

Synchronous and Asynchronous Virtual Learning

Once a school has transitioned to virtual learning, the first day will have asynchronous instruction and then an assessment will be conducted to determine whether it is possible to transition to synchronous instruction. Communications will be shared after the first day to inform families about the virtual learning format going forward. Our top priority is to keep students learning as decisions are made to reflect an ever-changing situation. We appreciate everyone’s understanding and flexibility.

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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