Alexandria City Public Schools has pushed back its planned partial reopening for young disabled students from Jan. 19 to Jan. 26.
Citing the increase in positive cases of COVID-19, the school system announced Monday (Jan. 11) that the students in kindergarten to second grade with disabilities instead go back to school on the date that is currently designated for special education students in grades 3-5, disabled students in grades K-5 and English learners in grades PreK-5.
“Due to our current community transmission levels and school impact level, we have made the decision to delay the transition of Students With Disabilities in grades K-2 a part of our Citywide Program on Jan. 19 using our decision matrix,” ACPS said in the announcement. “We will continually reassess the situation and inform the community of our latest decision for transitioning into our school buildings.”
The school system also reported that the number of cases over the last week is more than 650 and that ACPS staffing and capacity are at a strained level, operating between 50% to 75%.
Below is the new tentative timeline for the partial reopening of public school in Alexandria:
ACPS Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. indicated last week that the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, in addition to a rising number of cases in the community, put the Jan. 19 reopening at risk.
“If I had to make a decision today, it [school] would be 100% virtual,” Hutchings told the School Board last Thursday night. “This is based on community health metrics, staffing and capacity, and we’ve been saying that since the fall — people don’t want to hear it, but we’ve been saying — we want to open, but it’s based on staffing capacity community health metrics, and that still is the same message that we have to move forward.”
Also last week, School Board member Margaret Lorber supported a cautious approach to reopening and asked whether parents wanted their children alive or educated.
⚠️ 1/11/2021 Weekly Status Update: ACPS will remain 100% virtual for the week of Jan. 19.
Due to current community transmission levels & school impact level, we are delaying the reentry of students on Jan. 19. See the metrics used to make this decision: https://t.co/aGPxThOTKl pic.twitter.com/RGNrooYeNv
— Alexandria City Public Schools (@ACPSk12) January 11, 2021
This was a big week for Alexandria.
Our top story this week was the Alexandria School Board’s decision to reopen schools for students with disabilities, while the future reopening of school for elementary, middle and high schoolers remains in doubt.
Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. said that the only feasible option for reopening schools — based on distancing and staffing constraints — would be for students to rotate to in-person schooling only one day per week. Hutchings also appeared on CNN and said that ACPS is not likely to fully reopen until there is a vaccine for the coronavirus.
We also reported that the Alexandria City Council approved plans for Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus and the North Potomac Yard development plan, virtually paving the way for the college to open its doors to hundreds of students by 2024.
“This is a very significant set of decisions for the city, and is really going to shape, not just a portion of our city, but really the entirety of our city for a long period of time to come,” said Mayor Justin Wilson.
On the coronavirus front, there are now 75 deaths in Alexandria and there are now or have been more than 4,100 cases since the pandemic began in March. Latino residents continue to lead the case count.
Governor Ralph Northam and Virginia Transportation Secretary Shannon Valentine were in the city on Monday to unveil a team of new zero emission DASH electric buses.
We also reported that the City Council unanimously approved naming the 1000 block of Montgomery Street in Old Town “Earl F. Lloyd Way” in honor of the first Black man to ever play in the National Basketball Association.
Restaurant-wise, we spoke with one of the owners of a pizza and burger joint that is taking over the former location of Pizzeria Paradiso on lower King Street. The Chewish Deli is also now open in Old Town, and the owner of Del Ray Boccato says that his gelato shop will soon open.
Additionally, more than 175 people participated in our weekly poll. With the November 3 election around the corner, this week we asked about voting plans, and 65% of respondents voted by mail/absentee, 31% plan to vote on election day, and 4% are not voting.
Here are ALXnow’s top stories this week in Alexandria:
- School Board Shelves Plan to Reopen Schools in 2021, Students with Disabilities Transitioning Back Next Month
- City Releasing Torpedo Factory Draft Action Plan Today
- City Council Approves Virginia Tech Innovation Campus and North Potomac Yard Development Plan
- Alexandria Student Called N-Word in Online Forum, and Not By Another Student
- Republican Jeff Jordan Running Uphill Battle Against Incumbent Rep. Don Beyer
- The Chewish Deli Opens New Location in Old Town
- One Arrested After Attempted Armed Robbery in Alexandria’s West End
- Report: ACPS Superintendent Sends Child to Bishop Ireton High School
- Female Suspect Flees, Nothing Taken in Attempted Old Town Bank Robbery
- Alexandria and Arlington Want a New Future for the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center
- Alexandria Courthouse Deep Cleaned After Employee Tests Positive for COVID-19
Have a safe weekend!
Alexandria City Public Schools are not likely to fully reopen until there is a vaccine for the coronavirus, Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. told CNN on Wednesday. The interview with Jake Tapper was hours before the School Board tabled a proposal to phase in kids from kindergarten to eighth grade in January and February.
“I think having all of our students at one time in our classrooms, it definitely, probably won’t be until a vaccine occurs,” Hutchings told CNN.
The school board on Wednesday shelved a proposal to bring back students from kindergarten to the eighth grade starting in January and February. The board did approve sending kindergarten through second graders with disabilities to Jefferson-Houston PreK-8 International Baccalaureate School on November 5, and expand to include all citywide special education students by December.
Hutchings and ACPS staff told the board Wednesday night that building capacity and staff shortages will prevent a phased-in approach. Using a single 24-student first grade classroom at Samuel L. Tucker Elementary School as a model, Hutchings said that the only feasible option for students would be for them to attend school one day a week, hire a significant number of additional teachers and find more classroom space. Additionally, 44% of teachers already said they are very or somewhat unlikely to go back to school in the event of facilities reopening with COVID restrictions.
“This is going to be another challenging transition for our children, and I want folks to really understand what that in-person learning for students is going to look like,” said School Board Member Michelle Rief. “This means that the instructional model is going to change. The teacher might actually have to teach your child in person and other children virtually at the same time. There’s a chance your child may change teachers or your child may not even be in the same school building that they are familiar with. And if the case counts rise, we may have to pivot again back to 100% virtual, not to mention being prepared for all the quarantine that may have to happen in response to people’s exposure.”
Hutchings said that the only way that in-person schooling could work is if teachers conduct virtual and in-person instruction at the same time.
“You can’t continue to keep adding more and more professional learning and expectations on top of a stretched staff already,” Hutchings told the Board. “There’s also limits, like how much further can you take them? They have gone from overnight being in a classroom… having to now do virtual lesson planning, having to do breakout sessions, having to figure out how to do classroom management and engagement virtually, and they have been doing a bang-up job.”
Board Member Veronica Nolan said that the one-day-per-week model “isn’t very doable,” and it was not fiscally possible to hire significantly more teachers.
“It just seems still insurmountable,” Nolan said.
One concerned parent of an ACPS child said that the school system needs to get more creative.
“It’s seems like to me that last night’s meeting was a three hour presentation of what we can’t do,” the parent said. “I’d like to hear more of what we can do. ACPS has made it clear that they cannot get our children back into schools. It’s time to get creative and work toward something we can do safely. I think learning pods and family/neighbor learning co-ops for our younger kids is something that should be encouraged and explored.”
"I think having all of our students at one time in our classrooms, it definitely, probably won't be until a vaccine occurs," Alexandria, Virginia superintendent Gregory Hutchings tells @JakeTapper.
"It is clearly impossible to have all of our students back." pic.twitter.com/K2uuv6h3TM
— The Lead CNN (@TheLeadCNN) October 21, 2020
What a week it’s been in Alexandria.
Our top story this week was the report that Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. sends one of his children to Bishop Ireton High School. In case you missed it, the story first broke in Theogony, the T.C. Williams High School newspaper.
Hutchings also presented his plan for a phased reopening of ACPS starting next month. The results of a survey over virtual schooling were also released, revealing that screen time and childcare were among the top concerns of students, staff and families.
On the health front, Alexandria exceeded 4,000 total cases of COVID-19 since the first case was reported on March 11.
Additionally, more than 200 people participated in our weekly poll on traveling this holiday season, and 56% reported they will not travel, 27% still plan on traveling, and 17% still haven’t decided.
Crime-wise, we reported that a woman was assaulted in Arlandria on October 11; an arrest was made after an attempted armed robbery in the West End; a West End gas station was robbed of $1,700 in tobacco products; a woman ended up not being charged after firing a warning shot at a man in the 4300 block of Duke Street; and the mother of a man whose truck was stolen in Del Ray received an unexpected phone call from the thief.
There was some good news.
The southern entrance of the Potomac Yard Metro station is really taking shape, at least on paper. This week, the final plans going to the city were made public. The Board of Architectural Review will look at them at their meeting on Wednesday, October 21.
Here are ALXnow’s top stories this week in Alexandria:
- Report: ACPS Superintendent Sends Child to Bishop Ireton High School
- Police: Illegal Drugs Sold in West End Via Snapchat During Pandemic
- Republican Jeff Jordan Running Uphill Battle Against Incumbent Rep. Don Beyer
- BREAKING: Suspect Arrested for West End Murder
- ISIS ‘Beatles’ Held in Alexandria Jail, Charged with American Murders in Syria
- Here’s What the Potomac Yard Metro Station’s Southern Entrance Will Look Like
- Superintendent Proposing Phased Reopening of Alexandria City Public Schools Starting in November
- A Dozen Restaurants are Participating in Old Town Oyster Week
- VIDEO: West End Murder Victim Identified
- ‘Brewski’s Barkhaus’ is Opening This Saturday
- Old Virginia Tobacco Co. Moves Directly Across Street from Longtime Old Town Tobacconist
Have a safe weekend!
It hasn’t been an easy start to the 2020-2021 school year in Alexandria, and parents should expect the Alexandria City Public Schools system to make frequent changes to its VirtualPLUS+ program.
“I can feel everybody’s anxiety and pain, growing pains, as we make it through this,” ACPS Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. told the School Board at last Thursday’s meeting. “I can totally feel and understand your pain.”
Parents of younger kids say they are de-facto teacher’s assistants, and that requiring kids to sit through more than six hours of daily screen time is excessive.
“We’re concerned about the structure of this for our youngest learners,” a parent of an ACPS kindergartener told ALXnow. “It seems to be an extreme amount of screen time — 8:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. is an extreme amount of time for a kindergartener. The lack of flexibility puts strain on working parents.”
ACPS will send out a survey to parents on Friday to rate their experience so far this year. Hutchings said that the school system will hold off on making division-wide changes to VirtualPLUS+ after receiving feedback from the community.
“There will be adjustments that are made based on concerns that families are having right now,” Hutchings said. “The division-wide expectations or refinements, they won’t be happening until after we get a clear idea of what is working after three weeks of VirtualPLUS+.”
Hutchings also said that attendance has been high, with 93% of students checking into online classes, and that attendance tracking won’t completely be in order until the end of the month.
“It’s not just something that’s because of COVID-19,” he said. “This is a typical situation for us that our data doesn’t really look clear in regards to attendance and making sure all the right students are in our system until the end of September.”
The Alexandria City School Board on Thursday (September 17) will consider moving forward with changing the name of Matthew Maury Elementary School, which is named after Confederate leader and noted oceanographer. The placeholder name would be “The Parker-Gray Rosemont School.”
Maury was the first Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Observatory and the first hydrographer of the U.S. Navy. He was also special agent for the Confederacy during the Civil War and has a statue in Richmond. The School Board received a petition from at least 100 signatures from city residents on August 6, less than a month after the board unanimously directed Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., to begin the name change process for T.C. Williams High School.
“Matthew Fontaine Maury was a confederate officer who fought in support of slavery,” states the petition, which was signed by Del. Charniele Herring, Del. Mark Levine, City Councilman Canek Aguirre, Councilman John Taylor Chapman and Councilman Mo Seifeldein. “While his efforts in oceanography were noteworthy, his actions surrounding the Civil War and slavery were indefensible.”
The petition continues, “He attempted to negotiate a slave trade from the United States to Brazil in order to help his fellow southerners who would lose a great deal of monty if they lost their ability to sell their slaves. He invented an early version of the torpedo which was used by the confederates to sink Union ships. He tried to create a New Virginia Colony in Mexico after the Civil War where slave labor would continue with a new label of indentured servitude. He convinced nearly 4,000 confederate soldiers to defect before his plan was thwarted by unrest in Mexico.”
The T.C. name change will go before the board next spring, and the board will have to decide on a timeline for a public engagement process and a public hearing for the potential Maury name change.
“It looks feasible to run the two processes together (in the spring),” ACPS Executive Director of Communications Helen Lloyd told ALXnow. “However, the board and the superintendent will have to make that decision.”
Photo via ACPS
Alexandria City Public Schools said the renaming of T.C. Williams High School is a conversation that must prioritize the school’s Black voices.
At a school board work session last night (Thursday), the board expressed universal approval of the planned vote on a name change for T.C. Williams High School later this year, but also pushed back against the vocal advocates for the change who accuse the school system of dragging its feet.
“There’s a lot of discussion about ‘why can’t we change it now,'” said Superintendent Gregory Hutchings. “What I’m hoping we’re able to do is allow for our community to be educated around who Thomas Chambliss Williams is, and how that makes them feel – and have the Board hear voices of our community to make the decision.”
The meeting also covered other issues of inequality in the school system, some officials argued could prove more impactful long-term for students than a name change, but the discussion about the T.C. Williams High School name was the elephant in the room.
The superintendent also noted that Black students, rather than white supporters within the school and the broader community, should be the more prominent voices in the discussion about the potential name change. Hutchings invited the two student representatives, Lorraine Johnson and Ashley Sanchez-Viafara, to share their views on the issue. Johnson said with the current controversies around the Black Lives Matter protests and the Trump administration, changing the name of the school was one wrong that could be fixed on a local level.
“There are lots of wrongs to right, but changing the name is the first,” Johnson said. “I understand there’s people who want it taken down immediately, but with that much at stake, we have to get this right. Before the name is taken down, we at least need to be on the same page moving forward for what we’re going to name the new high school. We need to be a united front when we go to the public about what we name it.”
Johnson also said she supported the students who have been covering up the name of the school on the marquee, an act ACPS and T.C. Principal Peter Balas had previously threatened to pursue legal action over. Johnson said the tarping is partially the result of students not feeling as though they have a day-to-day platform to speak on the issue.
A recurring theme of the discussion was ensuring that white allies don’t override Black voices in the discussion.
“White ally-ship is important, but students of color should be on the front lines of that work,” Johnson said. “This is our fight.”
“When we give black and brown children a platform… the sky is the limit,” said Hutchings. “When the history book is written about this historic moment that I hope happens in December 2020, [I hope is says] that the students at T.C. Williams were the ones that led this. That’s not to say we don’t need everyone else, but our Black and brown students’ voices matter.
School Board members rallied behind the idea that delaying the discussion to December, rather than taking immediate action,
“It’s an understandable frustration,” said School Board member Christopher Suarez, “but at the end of the day it’s important that we go through a process that allows Black and brown students to be heard and allows students who are going to be the future leaders in this high school express their voice.”
Noting that the school board mostly seemed in agreement that the name needed to be changed, Suarez predicted the harder fight ahead will be on what the new name will be.
Photo via ACPS
The program will include a structured bell schedule, live daily instruction with teachers, and some one-on-one or small group tutoring. Students in pre-K through first-grade classes will also receive age-appropriate technology, ACPS said, while students in grades 2-12 will receive Chromebooks.
“Following months of research, community engagement and strategizing, Superintendent Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr. is proposing a feasible model that brings the classroom into the home and aligns with the 2025 Strategic Plan, which places equity at the center of every decision,” ACPS said in a newsletter. “Our most feasible model, Virtual PLUS+, is a robust online learning experience that will engage students 100% virtually and provide additional supports for students, staff and families.”
Introducing our fall reopening model Virtual PLUS+, a robust online learning experience that will engage students 100% virtually & provide additional supports for students, staff & families. More in ACPS Express: https://t.co/CMGoAuICCe pic.twitter.com/UqqOkWcyYj
— Alexandria City Public Schools (@ACPSk12) July 31, 2020
“After much careful consideration of the facts as they stand today, we feel confident that Virtual PLUS+ will provide a quality educational experience worthy of our children while keeping the health and safety of our students, staff and families in mind,” Hutchings said. “This model places equitable access for all at the heart and ensures that we can build a framework that addresses the needs of specific groups of students to ensure they stay on course this fall.”
ACPS said it will also work with community partners to offer childcare options who families who need it, with more details to come. The program will also include a continuation of earlier meal distribution programs.
“We are working collaboratively with our community partners to provide more specific details about these child care options and will share additional information over the next couple of weeks,” ACPS said.
The Alexandria City School Board will hold two online public hearings on the ACPS proposed feasible model for the…
Whether ACPS can move toward in-person schools will be reevaluated every nine weeks, ACPS said.
I believe Alexandria is the last close-in jurisdiction not to announce its plans for the new school year
— Andrew Beaujon (@abeaujon) July 30, 2020
The Alexandria City School Board will conduct virtual public hearings on the matter on August 6 and 7. The board will vote on the measure on August 7 before it goes to the Virginia Department of Education on August 14. The school year is scheduled to start Sept. 8.
Photo via ACPS/Facebook
In a video posted yesterday, Alexandria Superintendent Gregory Hutchings described the school’s approach to educating students at home and how those plans have evolved and will evolve throughout the pandemic.
“Our continuity of learning plan is how we teach and learn from home,” Hutchings said. “It ensures all our students are learning while we’re at home. The plan was initially meant to take us through spring break, but as you know… [Gov. Northam] decided all schools will remain closed through the academic year.”
Hutchings said the school is currently in the middle of what he called Continuity of Learning Plan 2.0, a plan that includes both synchronous — video classes between teachers and students — and asynchronous education — lessons students can pursue on a timeline that works for individual families.
“There are a lot of younger students are involved with [asynchronous learning],” Hutchings said. “They might check in with the teacher, it might be one-on-one, or might see a lesson on TV or online at a time convenient for the family. That’s important because all of our schedules are different.”
Hutchings said his own family was no different, saying he was trying to find a time to record the video in a house full of family members using zoom for various meetings and lessons at all hours of the day.
Moving forward, Hutchings said Plan 3.0 focuses on summer academic support.
“We’re going to be sharing that with staff and families on May 22,” Hutchings said, so families can have a better understanding of what summer will look like for students.”
The final (for now) version of the continuity of learning plan — 4.0 — is about preparing for reopening schools for the next academic year.
“More information on that will be coming soon,” Hutchings said. “We’ll be releasing that at the end of June, on June 26. That will provide and opportunity for family and staff to understand the multiple plans for opening schools in the fall. There may be multiple scenarios.”
Hutchings said the other question he hears a lot is whether students will be penalized for not completing their assignments from home.
“If students don’t do the assignments will they be held back?” Hutchings said. “Students won’t be penalized, but students grades 6-12 will have the opportunity to improve their grade if they do their assignments.”
Staff photo by Jay Westcott
Teacher Runs 20 Miles to See Students — “My daughter really misses school and interacting with her friends and teachers, so when Ms. Shannon surprised her Ellie was overwhelmed with excitement. She couldn’t believe that it was actually Ms. Shannon in person.” [Zebra]
T.C. Williams Class of 2020 Making Documentary — “The class of 2020 is making Titan history. Across the city of Alexandria, Titan seniors will be recording their stories all on the same day, May 1. Here’s how it will work: On May 1, anytime between 12:00AM-11:59PM, seniors will answer these questions in 3 short videos of up to 60 seconds each: What do you love? What do you fear? What do you hope for?” [ACPS]
The Greater Alexandria Virtual Community Job Fair Starts at 1 p.m. — “No need to dress up and leave your house to look for a job, with our virtual job fair we bring the employers to you!” [Indeed]
Sheriff’s Office Swears in New Deputies… At a Distance — “Congratulations to our new deputies who were sworn in today and many thanks to their families who joined us remotely. Sheriff Dana Lawhorne congratulated the recruits and thanked their families, and Clerk of Circuit Court Greg Parks emphasized the tremendous responsibility that comes with public service. He then administered the oath of office to Deputy William Powell, Deputy Dianna Gethers, Deputy Daniel Canniff, Deputy Austin Grant, Deputy Francis Laigo, and Deputy Michael Spitzer. Welcome and good luck to all!” [Facebook]
Pork Barrel BBQ Delivers 50 Meals to Alexandria Hospital — “Thanks to @porkbarrelbbqdelray and @feed_the_fight_alx for sending 50 meals to our heroes at @inovahealth Alexandria!” [Facebook]
DASH Employees Undergo Additional Safety Measures — “We’ve implemented temperature checks for all DASH employees before they start their shifts as an extra precaution to protect the health of our staff and passengers. Stay home. Stop the spread. Buses are for essential travel only.” [Facebook]
ACPS Superintendent Virtual Q&A Today at 3 p.m. — “As we embark on our new journey learning and working remotely, I want to let you know that you are not alone at this difficult time. We will provide you with updates, information and tips every day so that you have the resources to help ensure the continuity of learning among our young people.” [ACPS]
T.C. Student Wins Category in State Science Fair — “Congrats T.C. Williams High School junior Michaela McCormack, winner of the Behavioral and Social Sciences category at the Virginia State Science and Engineering Fair. Her research, “Too Cool for JUUL,” tested how sleep and risk-taking are affected by pod-based e-cigarettes (vaping) in both humans and fruit flies. Michaela competed virtually against hundreds of Virginia students from 12 regions across the state.” [Facebook]
ACPS School Nurses Send Message to Kids in Photo Collage — “Ask any student, school nurses are some of the most loved members of our ACPS staff. To remind students just how much they are missed, ACPS created this cheerful photo message. Please share with your children!” [Facebook]
The Hyatt Centric is Still Open in Old Town — “We are open and serving those who need a hotel during this time. We miss our guests and can’t wait to see you soon.” [Facebook]
WEBA Hosting Virtual Business Training at 11 a.m. — “Recovery will be different for each business, we need to start planning now.” [Facebook]
Lawyer Launches Soap Company — “About 18 months ago, she decided to leave law practice and pursue making solid soap bars in environmentally-friendly packaging – and that was how ‘Do Good Soaps and Suds’ was born.” [Alexandria Living]
The Old Town Shop Offers Virtual Tour — “Need to get “out” of the house today? Take a virtual walk through The Old Town Shop & check out our vast array of unique local gifts! Mother’s Day is coming up soon, too. 🌷🌸 We offer safe in-store shopping, over the phone orders, curbside pick-up daily from 12-5pm & shipping.” [Facebook]
It’s Poem In Your Pocket Day — “City of Alexandria Poet Laureate KaNikki Jakarta invites residents to read poetry in celebration of the National Poem in Your Pocket day. The 2020 ‘DASHing Words in Motion’ Poets have also been invited to read their winning poetry that will be displayed on the DASH buses and Trolleys throughout the month of April.” [Facebook]
Wholistic Hound Academy Offering Online Dog Training — “Arousal: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly is a timely 3-session class that can help you and your dog to better co-exist while you work from home, while the kids are home from school, and at a time when your lives are a little more stressed and chaotic during this temporary new normal.” [Facebook]