Alexandria, VA

After a unanimous vote at the Alexandria School Board meeting last night, the names T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School were voted out — with the replacements still to be decided.

Over the next few months, the School Board will seek public feedback before settling on a new pair of names. The new names will be chosen by the Board in the spring and go into effect at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year.

“I’m excited for this moment,” said Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, who recently threw his name in among supporters of the change. “It’s finally here. On behalf of our students: this is a historic moment for everybody. For many years people have been trying to have the name of T.C. Williams in particular changed… I want to commend the Board for allowing us to be able toe explore and get information from our community.”

T.C. Williams High School is the biggest public high school in Virginia, and is named after former ACPS Superintendent Thomas Chambliss Williams, who was an avowed segregationist. Matthew Maury Elementary School is named after an oceanographer and Confederate leader.

While efforts to rename T.C. Williams High School began in the 1990s, a renewed push this year was tied in with nationwide discussions about renaming honors to the Confederacy and other symbols of racial oppression.

“We can’t change history, but we can change what history we choose to honor,” said School Board member Michelle Rief. “The names were selected not because of their accomplishments, but as declarations of our community values in 1929 and in 1962. We have an opportunity to right that wrong.”

While the School Board members unanimously supported, others acknowledged that the symbolic change is far from the end of the discussion about eliminating vestiges of racism in the school infrastructure.

“T.C. and Maury no longer reflect who we are as a society, at least in Alexandria,” School Board member Heather Thornton said. “This is a symbolic step. Changing the name of T.C. is not going to do anything to eliminate systemic racism and barriers. It’s not going to solve anything. I hope people stay engaged and know this is a first step, but there are many things we need to have community engaged on.”

Thornton also pointed to disproportionality in suspension rates and graduation rates as lingering reminders of inequality in Alexandria City Public Schools, topics discussed later in the meeting.

“We can change the name all we want,” Thornton said, “but if we don’t change foundational issues I don’t think we will really achieve what we’re hoping to achieve as a school division.”

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Morning Notes

Alexandria Featured in Profiles on Region’s Oldest Homes — “One of the interesting aspects of the Ball-Sellers House is that some of the original roof is protected under a later roof. That’s also the case with the oldest surviving house in Alexandria: 517 Prince St., or what’s known as the Murray-Dick-Fawcett House. The oldest part of the house dates to 1772. There is access to the space between the old roof and the roof that was later built above it at a less-severe pitch.” [Washington Post]

West End Contractor Wins Big Missile System Contract — “The U.S. Navy awarded Alexandria-based Systems Planning and Analysis Inc. (SPA) an $85 million contract to provide technical support for the Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missile system, the company announced this week.” [Virginia Business]

ACPS Food Distribution Closed for Thanksgiving Break — “ACPS food distribution sites will be closed this Wednesday, Nov. 25 and Friday, Nov. 27 for Thanksgiving Break.” [Twitter]

Alexandria Regal Hiring Staff Again — “Floor Staff team members are classified based on individual theatre needs, and/or employee availability, as either variable hour, part-time fixed, part-time regular or full-time hourly employees whose primary responsibility is ensuring our guests receive exceptional service.” [Glassdoor]

George Washington’s River Farm Listed for Sale — “River Farm, the 27-acre property once owned by George Washington that now serves as the headquarters for the American Horticultural Society, was officially listed on the open real estate market at $32.9 million on Nov. 13.” [Alexandria Times]

Staff photo by James Cullum

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Staffing issues kept Alexandria City Public Schools from expanding in-person learning this week, as young special education students were told Tuesday that they wouldn’t be able to go back to school as scheduled.

Families received a note from ACPS on Tuesday morning stating that school for students with disabilities in grades 3-5 and who are in the citywide Special Education program would need to stay home.

“Unfortunately, we were not able to return students in the (grades) 3-5 program as part of our targeted date of November 17, as the superintendent has said that all of our plans are contingent upon staffing and building capacity issues,” Terry Werner, the ACPS executive director of specialized instruction told parents in a Zoom call on Wednesday night. “We ran into some issues around staffing and we were not able to staff classes to bring students back from our next phase of students are scheduled to return on 30th.”

Werner spoke with concerned parents with the ACPS Special Education Advisory Committee. Parents said that communication issues were the biggest problem with the school system.

ACPS reopened schools to kindergarten through second graders with disabilities at  Jefferson-Houston PreK-8 International Baccalaureate School on November 5. There are more than 60 students eligible to return to in-person instruction, but the school system only brought in six students.

“Nowhere has there been communication that you know only six students were able out of 60 were able to return,” one parent said at the SEAC meeting. ” I think we have a communication problem with parents.”

Werner said she has been working 14 hour days on the phone trying to convince staff to come back, and that ACPS still plans to reopen schools to early childhood special education students in grades K-5 on Nov. 30.

Additionally, ACPS is still working with this general timeline:

  • November 30: Expand to include Students with Disabilities in grades K-5 who receive self-contained Language Arts and Math instruction who opt into in-person learning
  • December 2020: Expand to include Students with Disabilities in grades 6-8 who are enrolled in the Citywide Special Education program who opt into in-person learning
  • January 2021: Expand to include all remaining students in grades PreK-5 who opt into in-person learning
  • February 2021: Expand to include all remaining students in grades 6-8 who opt into in-person learning

“We’re still trying to determine if we have teachers,” Werner said. “I have people from one day to the next say, ‘I’m not coming back.'”

Werner said that families should receive a family choice form on Dec. 2, and that the results of a staff “Intent to Return” form will be available for discussion at a School Board meeting on Monday.

Photo via ACPS

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In a joint work session on Tuesday with the Alexandria City Council, Alexandria City Public Schools laid out its side of upcoming cuts and compromises in light of what promises to be a strained upcoming fiscal year.

One of the large items was that the planned modernization for George Mason Elementary School and Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology will be delayed by one year.

Design work for George Mason, originally scheduled for 2023, will now start in 2024, with construction and renovation taking place in 2025. Modernization of Cora Kelly, originally scheduled to start design work in 2026, will now start in 2027 with construction starting in 2028.

The City Council and ACPS also discussed the more immediate overhaul of T.C. Williams High School following last year’s vote to keep Alexandria to one high school. Staff said the schools are planning to bring an architect onto the project in the next few weeks.

After years of clashes between the bodies over colocating facilities — construction of a school or other project that also includes space for other city needs — the tone was notably more cordial as ACPS started the conversation with the possibility colocating uses like affordable housing at the new campus. Staff said they were looking to the city for guidance on what facilities the city was hoping to see included with the new T.C. Williams campus.

“The first priority is school education requirements,” said City Manager Mark Jinks, “then we to look at remaining space and see what works best and what doesn’t.”

“A few years ago we started talking about colocation to get to this point, now talking about colocating on city sites,” said City Councilman John Chapman. “Getting to a place where we have this full blown conversation about what we can do at sites is important.

While ACPS was planning deferring some projects to help save money, Jinks noted that 2020 would be a good time to start looking at land to purchase for a new school.

“Princes are down now,” Jinks said, “but they’re going to go up again after [the pandemic].”

School Board Chair Cindy Anderson agreed, noting that Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School had been purchased at a good price due to an economic downturn.

One site will likely be an ACPS facility at Potomac Yard, but Superintendent Gregory Hutchings said the schools are still working through the logistics of the site. The new Potomac Yard school is not in the school’s 10-year CIP because there aren’t plans yet for the facility, Hutchings said.

Elsewhere in the school district, the Douglas MacArthur Elementary School rebuild had been facing a $5-7 million shortfall, which has now narrowed to $2-4 million. Staff said that ACPS will not be requesting additional funding from the city but will instead work to refine contingencies, space needs, and update the site layout while continuing to search for other options for financing.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Heading into a School Board vote on Nov. 23, Superintendent Gregory Hutchings had thrown his support in with those supporting changing the names of T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School.

Hutchings explained his support for the name change in an opinion piece in Tes, an educator trade magazine.

“Inexplicably, it has taken until today, 55 years since the school opened, to see a committed renaming process that may finally remove him and his legacy from the only public high school in Alexandria, a small but influential Virginia city in the shadow of Washington, D.C.” Hutchings wrote.

The announcement comes after a presentation on Monday by The Identity Project, an initiative formed by ACPS to examine the issue. The project gathered community feedback from students, faculty and alumni, which found that 75% of responders agreed with changing the name.

T.C. Williams High School is named after Thomas Chambliss Williams, a superintendent who fought against integrating schools. Matthew Maury Elementary School is named after Confederate leader and oceanographer Matthew Maury.

“On Nov. 23, 2020, the School Board will vote on whether or not to change the names of T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School.,” ACPS said in a newsletter. “This comes after the start of The Identity Project, an extensive community discussion, which culminated in a presentation to the School Board (PDF) this past Monday, Nov. 16. In this presentation, Superintendent Dr. Hutchings presented his recommendation for the School Board to approve changing the names of both schools.”

In his essay, Hutchings references petitions that circulated around Alexandria earlier this year to get the name changed.

“In August, when I was informed that a petition with the requisite number of 100 signatures from anyone in the Alexandria community to begin the conversation had been submitted, I remember thinking this was our carpe diem moment,” Hutchings wrote. “Soon after, a second petition was submitted to change the name of one of our division’s elementary schools named after Matthew Maury, an oceanographer who also happened to be a Confederate who lobbied for the Confederacy in Europe, attempted to negotiate a slave trade with Brazil, and encouraged those with like-minded beliefs to migrate to Mexico following the civil war.”

Hutchings also recognized complaints from members of the community that things weren’t moving quickly enough.

“In the weeks and days that followed those submissions, there was frustration in our highly diverse school community — which comprises families from 120 countries speaking 121 languages — that things were not moving quickly enough,” Hutchings said. “But from where I stood, there was much work to be done to ensure a transparent, thorough and fair public engagement process.”

Hutchings didn’t include a recommendation for what the new name would be, a process likely to follow in early 2021 if the name change is approved.

“Later this month, the school board will vote on whether to change those two school names,” Hutchings said. “Among the suggestions circulating as alternatives are Boone-Yoast High School, named after coach Hermon Boone and assistant coach Bill Yoast from that famous ’71 football team, and Nolan Dawkins High School after the first African American judge in our city’s history. Other suggestions have included simply Alexandria High School.”

Both Boone-Yoast and Nolan Dawkins could generate their own controversies, with Boone’s role in the integration of T.C. Williams agreed to be somewhat exaggerated and Dawkins facing some public pushback earlier this year after it was revealed that the suspect in a murder had been out on bond approved by Dawkins.

Image via ACPS

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After weeks of speculation, ACPS announced today that the school’s winter sports season would be cancelled.

The cancellation will include this year’s boys basketball, girls basketball, wrestling, indoor track, gymnastics, ice hockey and swim and dive competitions.

“After consulting with the Alexandria Health Department (AHD), ACPS has decided not to participate in the Gunston District scheduled games or any Virginia High School League (VHSL) Championship events this winter,” ACPS said in a newsletter. “See the Recommendations/Guidance on Sports and Activities (PDF) from Dr. Stephen Haering, AHD Director.”

ACPS leadership had previously said any sports that could not maintain ten feet distance would likely be eliminated.

“ACPS is aware that this decision differs from VHSL Return to Play guidelines, which do not require athletes to compete with face coverings when within six feet of others,” ACPS said. “However, we believe the need to continue to comply with CDC guidelines for anyone on school property or in our buildings is a priority. We have a shared responsibility to ensure we are limiting the spread of the coronavirus and need to focus our energies and staff time on returning students to the classroom when feasible.”

Football is still possible next year given that the fall seasons sports were pushed back to February or March 2021

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Morning Notes

ACPS Virtual Helpline Extended to Next Year — “When the Virtual PLUS+ Helpline began in August 2020 to help our families transition into an unconventional school year, it was expected to be a short term endeavour, over in a matter of weeks.” [ACPS]

Volunteers Clear Mount Vernon Trail Bridge — “Friends of Mount Vernon Trail volunteers are the greatest people on earth. Today volunteers removed kudzu from the power plant bridge to improve sight lines and prevent bridge damage.” [Twitter]

Washingtonian Profiles Reception to “National Landing” Name — “Amazon, Arlington, and Alexandria delivered a sharp shock to the world on November 13, 2018, when they announced that not only would Amazon’s much-desired “HQ2” land in Northern Virginia, but that Crystal City and parts of Alexandria would make up a largely theoretical new neighborhood called National Landing.” [Washingtonian]

ACPS Seeking Media Library Specialist — “The Library Media Specialist facilitates the efficient operation of the school’s library services. This position reports to the Principal.” [Glassdoor]

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Morning Notes

The Loop Opens in Old Town — “The Loop at 215 (located at 215 N. Payne St. in Old Town) is finally open now. The mission is to help companies and individuals ‘work better, be better, and do better.’ The co-working space has a mixture of serviced private offices and open flex workspaces.” [Alexandria Living Magazine]

Three ACPS Students are National Merit Scholar Finalists — “Earlier this month, the T.C. Williams High School seniors discovered they had all been named National Merit Scholarship semi finalists after outstanding results in the PSAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test last October.” [ACPS]

Alexandria Voters Make Eclectic Write-In Choices — “But let’s be honest, you’re reading this to read about the weird votes. Kanye West was the most electable representative of the world of entertainment for Alexandria, receiving 17 votes for President (including one impressively misspelled as ‘Kanye Wert’) and one for Senate. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson received three votes, and Sterling, Virginia’s own Patton Oswalt received one vote for President, as did ‘Babe the Pig.'” [Washingtonian]

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What a week full of news in Alexandria.

With city offices closed due to Veterans Day on Wednesday, there were still a number of big stories.

For the second week in a row, our top story was on a fraudulent mailer that was sent out to a number of residents before election day. In the story, households with Joe Biden signs posted in front yards were sent letters with a Northern Virginia postage mark stating that Biden is a pedophile.

On Monday, we reported the third murder in the city this year. Yousef Tarek Omar, a 23-year-old Texas man, was shot to death in the West End on the afternoon of Saturday, Nov. 7. Police have released few details of the incident, except the victim’s name, the general time of the incident and that it occurred in the 4800 block of W. Braddock Road.

City Councilwoman Del Pepper announced on Tuesday that she will not seek reelection. Pepper has been on the Alexandria City Council since 1985.

“There’s really not much to say,” Pepper told ALXnow. “There’s a time for everything, and I just felt this was my time. I have enjoyed every minute that I’ve served on the City Council.”

We also covered the city’s recovery plan for parts of the city devastated by the pandemic, and it lists a number of programs and strategies for impacted residents and businesses.

On the coronavirus front, Alexandria surpassed 4,500 cases since the beginning of the pandemic in March. The number of fatalities is still 76, and Latino residents have the highest number of infections.

Additionally, our weekly poll got a lot of attention this week. This week we asked about Thanksgiving plans, and 60% of respondents said they were eating at home with their household, 30% are planning a small gathering with at least one guest, and 10% are planning a large gathering of family/friends.

  1. Alexandrians with Joe Biden Yard Signs Get Anonymous Letters Saying Biden is a Pedophile
  2. BREAKING: 23-Year-Old Shot to Death in City’s Third Murder of the Year
  3. ‘Clyde’s at Mark Center’ and Other Businesses for Sale in Alexandria
  4. Del Ray Staple Al’s Steak House for Sale After Owner’s Death
  5. The Waypoint at Fairlington to Break Ground Next Month
  6. Councilwoman Del Pepper Announces She’s Not Running for Reelection
  7. City Council to Consider Publishing Names of Delinquent Real Estate Taxpayers
  8. Upcoming Signage Plan Could Subtly Shape New Potomac Yard Skyline
  9. One Person Injured in West End Carjacking
  10. Alexandria Parents Start #OpenACPS Sign Campaign as School System Begins Partial Reopening
  11. Alexandria Surpasses 4,500 Cases of COVID-19, Counts Now Rising at Summer Pace

Have a safe weekend!

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There will be no high school sports this year in Alexandria unless they can adhere to 10-foot distancing as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr.

As of Friday, ACPS was determining which sports will be allowed in the school system, and a decision is expected to be released in ACPS Express on Monday.

With case counts rising in Northern Virginia, Alexandria has 180.7 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people within the last 14 days, according to the Dr. Stephen Haering, director of the Alexandria Health Department. That means that residents are at a high risk of infection.

Haering told Hutchings and the Virtual Plus Learning Advisory Team on Wednesday (Nov. 11) that Virginia High School League requirements allowing fall and winter high school sports to continue do not meet CDC guidelines, particularly athletes not distancing or having to wear masks while competing.

“If it’s an outdoor track event where people are staying 10 feet apart, I believe that would be okay,” Haering said. “As long as you don’t have spectators.”

VHSL released guidelines for public schools to return to sports last month, and they include no handshakes between teams, cheerleaders must be distanced and the first row of bleachers must be empty.

Hutchings said that he has “very serious concerns” regarding sports, and that VHSL guidance is contradictory since sports like wrestling are permitted without face masks.

“Even with trying to keep the 10 feet guidelines that have been recommended by the CDC, that is going to limit the number of winter sports that are available, so I am going to follow the guidance that you have provided,” Hutchings told Haering at the meeting. “If there are any winter sports that can afford us to be 10 feet apart and to follow those guidelines, then of course we will adhere to that and we will be able to participate in those particular sports.”

Hutchings acknowledged that he will likely get emails and calls from the community on his decision.

“What I’m trying to do is make sure we are following those CDC guidelines and adhering to them at all times and not when we think it’s convenient,” Hutchings said.

As previously reported, T.C. Williams High School has been gearing up for cheerleading and basketball to start on Dec. 7, followed by winter sports (indoor track, wrestling and swimming) on Dec. 14. The VHSL schedule for public schools also has football games set for February and spring sports (soccer, tennis, baseball, softball, outdoor track and lacrosse) beginning in April.

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It was a historic week in Alexandria.

Alexandrians overwhelmingly helped reelect U.S. Senator Mark Warner and Congressman Don Beyer, and 80% of voters chose Democrat former Vice President Joe Biden for president over incumbent Republican President Donald Trump.

Out top story this week was election-related. It turns out that before election day several Alexandria households with Joe Biden signs were sent letters with a Northern Virginia postage mark stating that Biden is a pedophile. The Chair of the Alexandria Democratic Committee advised that anyone who receives such notes should call the police. The police, in turn, are sending along the information to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

Additionally, 91 people participated in our weekly poll. This week we asked about election night plans, and 65% of respondents said they were staying home to watch the results, 24% had no eleciton night plans, 10% planned to protest that evening, and 1% were going to an election night event.

School News

Alexandria City Public Schools were back in action this week — sort of. While the ACPS opened in-person classes on Thursday, fewer than 10 students made it to class. There were about 60 students eligible to go back to school, since only kids with kindergarten through second graders with disabilities were allowed to attend Jefferson-Houston PreK-8 IB School.

It was the first in-person public schooling in Alexandria since the pandemic shut down schools in March. ACPS plans to expand opening for all citywide special education students by December. Meanwhile, however, hundreds of parents want the school system to open and have started the #OpenACPS messaging campaign.

Also in school news, a two-year-long court battle was settled with the city and 15 Alexandria homeowners were settled regarding the addition of stadium lights to Parker-Gray Stadium at T.C. Williams High School.

The Week in Crime

The week started with news that there were two shootings in Alexandria over the weekend.

The was also the story of a 17-year-old on the run since last month after allegedly stealing a car in the West End. The juvenile, who later admitted stealing the car, was seen by the victim — a federal law enforcement officer — driving past his house, and the victim got into another of his cars and followed the suspect. The victim got the juvenile out of his car and held him at the scene until police arrived, and the juvenile left the area after being charged.

We also covered the story of the ‘Beltway Bank Bandit’. Freddie Lee McRae, 34, of Washington D.C., pleaded guilty to three counts of brandishing a firearm during a series of bank and shoe store robberies in and around Alexandria in 2018 and 2019. He will be sentenced on February 23, 2021, and faces up to life in prison and a mandatory minimum of 21 years in prison.

Health and Business

As of Friday there were 76 deaths attributed to the coronavirus in Alexandria, and the case count stands at 4,444, according to the Virginia Department of Health. Latino residents continue to lead the case count.

We also reported that longtime Del Ray staple, Al’s Steak House, is for sale since the owner passed away.

This week also saw fewer continued and initial unemployment claims in Alexandria.

Here are ALXnow’s top stories of the week in Alexandria:

  1. Alexandrians with Joe Biden Yard Signs Get Anonymous Letters Saying Biden is a Pedophile
  2. Del Ray Staple Al’s Steak House for Sale After Owner’s Death
  3. Republican Jeff Jordan Running Uphill Battle Against Incumbent Rep. Don Beyer
  4. Braddock West Project Headed to Planning Commission Later This Year
  5. Identity Released of Old Town North Suspect Killed in Shootout
  6. Soft Opening for New Chicken Joint in North Old Town Today
  7. Alexandria Parents Start #OpenACPS Sign Campaign as School System Begins Partial Reopening
  8. Juvenile Allegedly Steals Car and is Tracked Down by Victim in the West End
  9. BREAKING: Massive Power Outage Reported in Alexandria
  10. The Alexandria Drive-In Just Kicked Off an Encore Series on Halloween
  11. Did You Know: The Tall Ship Providence Encountered a Ghost Ship in 1777

Have a safe weekend!

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Updated at 10 p.m. on Nov. 5: Alexandria City Public Schools partially reopened today (Nov. 5) for less than 10 students with disabilities, and Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. told parents that this is but the first step of the reopening process.

When asked on social media how many students attended, ACPS responded that it was fewer than 10 students.

“It was under 10,” ACPS wrote on Facebook. “Many of the staff and students who initially indicated they wished to return, have since changed their ability to return. We are trying to accommodate as many students as we can, while adapting to changing circumstances every single day.”

This is the first in-person schooling in ACPS since the pandemic forced the school system to shut down on March 13.

“This morning, we had the opportunity to welcome back the first of our ACPS students at Jefferson-Houston PreK-8 IB School,” Hutchings wrote parents in an email Thursday morning. “While this was just a small group, we want to make sure we have thought through all health and safety measures before we expand our in-person learning to more students.”

The School Board board last month approved allowing back kindergarten through second graders with disabilities to Jefferson-Houston, and then expand to include all citywide special education students by December.

“We are working through all the pieces to get all our students back in school as soon as possible,” Hutchings wrote.

Hutchings also wrote that not all school staff will wear as much protective gear as seen in a recently released ACPS simulation.

The full note from Hutchings is below.

ACPS Families,

This morning, we had the opportunity to welcome back the first of our ACPS students at Jefferson-Houston PreK-8 IB School. While this was just a small group, we want to make sure we have thought through all health and safety measures before we expand our in-person learning to more students.

We are working through all the pieces to get all our students back in school as soon as possible.

We also wanted to provide some clarity regarding the simulation we shared with you in ACPS Express yesterday. Please review the FAQ that will give you answers to some of the Frequently Asked Questions. Please note that the Specialized PPE worn by staff during the simulation is required only for certain staff, including those staff who are part of the citywide program for Students With Disabilities. These staff members are required to assist with restroom visits and feeding, in addition to instruction, and may not be able to maintain social distancing at all times.

If you have more questions about the health and safety guidelines for each particular group of students, please see the Virtual PLUS+ Phased Reentry Plan document we shared on Oct. 21. You can also see our Health and Safety Measures page, which outlines who will use Specialized PPE.

We will let you know how our first day of in-person learning went in ACPS Express next Wednesday.

Sincerely,

Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr.
Superintendent of Schools

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