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Nearly half the students whose families have opted to keep them in virtual learning for the new year had a bumpy start through no fault of their own, Arlington school officials acknowledge.

But, Superintendent Francisco Durán told School Board members, efforts are moving forward to calm the roiled waters.

“Let’s roll up our sleeves. We want to make this work,” Durán said, after reporting that 340 of the 711 Arlington Public Schools students opting for virtual learning were not receiving full instruction at the start of the year, for a variety of reasons – from technology issues and to a lack of teachers.

“We are still not where we need to be. It is unacceptable,” Durán said in presenting a report in the start of the 2021-22 school year on Sept. 9. The school year began Aug. 30.

The sloppy rollout comes after the school system already faced criticism for spending an inordinate amount of money – much of it showered down from the federal government – on an online-education regimen that few apparently wanted.

Only about 2.8 percent of Arlington’s 26,932 students in classes at the start of school in late August were attending virtually. Families of the rest decided to send their students back to classrooms five days a week, something denied to Arlington students in the 2020-21 school year, which started in an all-virtual environment and then slowly rolled out to several days a week in classes.

One challenge school officials continue to work through is recruiting teachers for the online-education initiative. As of Sept. 9, there were still 15 vacancies to be filled; substitutes have been called in to hold down the fort in the interim.

APS’s first-day-of-class attendance figure of 26,932 reported by Durán is 37 students higher than the official 2020-21 count, but down about 4 percent from the pre-COVID attendance figure of 27,996 reported in September 2019, as some parents abandoned Arlington’s public schools for private school, home-schooling or another locality.

Parents had to decide over the summer whether they wanted their children back in class or in an online environment for the coming year. “A few” families who had signed up for in-person learning have switched to online because they “had not felt comfortable with the conditions,” Durán told School Board members.

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