Alexandria, VA

Alexandria City Public Schools will reopen its doors to students on March 16, after being shut down for a little more than a year due to the coronavirus, Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. told the School Board on Thursday.

“Now it’s time, and we will be returning back to our school buildings,” Hutchings said. “We are now ready. It is now time for this pivot to occur.”

The students who opted to participate (about half of students) in hybrid learning will be able to go back to school on March 16. On March 2, the school system will allow back special needs students in kindergarten – fifth grade. They will be followed by special education students in grades 6-12 on Tuesday, March 9.

The reality is that we really don’t know how long COVID is going to continue to affect our community,” said School Board Member Michelle Rief. “This is gonna be a big transition and it may it may be a little bumpy, but my hope is that we’ll work together to get through this challenge, and just remain flexible, too, because we really don’t know what the future is gonna hold.”

The news comes as Virginia Governor Ralph Northam is calling on school systems across the Commonwealth to open for some form of in-person learning by March 15.

Hutchings said that coronavirus community transmission levels have been downgraded to a sufficient level by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Virginia Department of Health. The planned reopening of school has been pushed back numerous times this year due to staffing shortages and increased community transmission numbers.

“We are seeing a consistent decline in our community health measurements, which is huge,” Hutchings said. “This is a big deal. This is why we are now at the point where we are looking forward to our transition over the next six weeks.”

At T.C. Williams High School, which is the largest public high school in Virginia, Principal Peter Balas is working out how students will transition between classes. Students will be required to have their temperatures taken, socially distance and wear face masks.

“One of the things that we are carefully planning around is that transition from class to class,” Balas said. “That’s definitely still in the planning phase.”

Many parents were relieved to get the news.

“I’m excited that ACPS has gotten to the point of a firm date,” an ACPS parent told ALXnow. “After a year of uncertainty, any sort of clear forward momentum feels good. I hope they follow the data and apply this new decisive and determined approach toward an on time in person opening for the 2021-2022 school year as well.”

But some parents have caused a bit of a controversy in recent days. The Facebook Group Open ACPS! recently published information it acquired through the Freedom of Information Act on staffing levels at schools. The posts, which have been removed, included emails on ACPS classroom sizes, and included employee identification numbers that were not redacted.

Hutchings has repeatedly said that staffing resources have been strained because of the pandemic and that the school system will need to hire additional employees to accommodate in-person learning.

“It’s unfortunate that that occurred,” Hutchings said. “It was just a disruption, and was really a breach of trust, which I personally don’t take lightly at all.”

The group responded that it was not at fault when ACPS released the information.

“The board and superintendent didn’t own up that the mistake was on their side,” Open ACPS told ALXnow. “ACPS gave this information to a parent through Freedom of Information Act. ACPS failed to remove any sensitive information. Yet a parent was chastised for ACPS’ mistake.”

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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Morning Notes

Seminary Road Saga Continues — Despite suggestions “that the Alexandria Fire Department had significant input into the Complete Streets Design Guidelines and whether to narrow Seminary Road, documents obtained by city residents under the Freedom of Information Act reveal this was not the case.” [Alexandria Times]

Sushi Restaurant Coming to ‘West Alex’ — “Sushi Jin Next Door, which opened its first restaurant in Silver Spring in 2006 and now has a second location in Woodbridge, is opening a third location in Alexandria, Virginia. The new location will be part of the West Alex mixed-use development at King Street and North Beauregard Street.” [WTOP]

New Glass Recycling Bin Now Open — “Alexandria residents wanting to recycle glass now have a fifth bin as an option. MOM’s Organic Market at 3831 Mt. Vernon Avenue is the location of the new purple recycling bin. The city ended curbside glass recycling on Jan. 15, citing increasing recycling costs and the lack of glass-sorting facilities in the region.” [Patch]

ACPS To Buy Five Electric School Buses — “Under the terms of the grant, Dominion Energy will pay the additional costs towards each of the five buses that ACPS was already scheduled to buy this summer, allowing ACPS to upgrade them to electric vehicles. The goal is to have the new electric buses on the roads in time for the start of the 2020-21 school year in September.” [ACPS]

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Alexandria is one of more than a dozen localities in Virginia — including Arlington, Fairfax and Prince William counties — that will be receiving electric school buses by the end of 2020, Dominion Energy announced today.

The first phase of a project to replace diesel-powered buses entirely will start with distributing a total of 50 electric school buses to 16 school divisions spread out across the state. It’s unclear how many buses Alexandria will receive.

Dominion said the locations were selected based on the benefit the bus batteries would bring to the electric grid. Per a press release:

The electric school buses will serve as a grid resource by creating additional energy storage technology to support the company’s integration of distributed renewables such as solar and wind. The “vehicle-to-grid” technology leverages the bus batteries to store and inject energy onto the grid during periods of high demand when the buses are not needed for transport. The buses also provide environmental and health benefits through reduced emissions and reduce operation and maintenance costs for schools by up to 60 percent.

The press release noted that Thomas Built Buses, a North Carolina-based company that specializes in building school buses, was chosen as the vendor for the first phase of the project.

The second phase of the project would, with state approval, expand the program to 1,000 additional buses by 2025. Phase three would replace 50 percent of all diesel buses by 2025 and 100 percent by 2030.

Photo via Thomas Built Buses/Facebook

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