Francisco Duran

Arlington Superintendent Francisco Durán

More than four times as many Arlington parents want their students back in classrooms full-time as want them kept out of the classroom altogether, with another group wanting something in between, based on a survey conducted by the school system.

That middle ground appears to be the plan, for now at least, as Arlington Public Schools on June 25 unveiled a hybrid proposal that likely will see most students in class a number of days per week at the start of the 2020-21 school year while learning the remaining time online.

The proposal, put forward by Superintendent Francisco Durán and set to be ratified on July 1, also includes an opt-out provision for parents, who will be permitted to have their students taught in an entirely non-school-based online environment, in some cases using contractors rather than county teachers to deliver the instruction.

(Parents will have until July 20 to make their choice; those who do not indicate a preference will be placed into the hybrid-model category.)

“There’s a lot of different moving parts,” Durán said of the plan, which is expected to be firmed up into a semblance of finality by the end of July. Staff and families need “clear communications” and “assurance of health and safety measures,” said Durán, who took over as superintendent of the 28,000-student school system in early June.

Under the plan, school officials aim to start classes on schedule in late August, splitting the student body – at least the part that opts for classroom instruction – into two groups:

• One will attend classes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, receiving online instruction the other days.

• The second will attend classes on Thursdays and Fridays, with online instruction the remaining days.

A survey of parents conducted by the school system suggests that a large percentage will opt for classroom instruction. A total of 79 percent of those responding to a school-system survey said they wanted at least some in-classroom instruction, and a majority of those (42 percent of all respondents) preferred exclusively in-person education, something that will be off the table until state education officials allow it.

Only about 10 percent of families said they preferred online-only learning, about the same percents as those (9 percent of respondents) who on another question said they were “not at all comfortable” returning to classrooms in the fall.

Durán told School Board members there is no way of knowing for sure whether those percentages will hold firm as parents make their choices in coming weeks, but that moving forward is dependent on the school system’s gaining a firm grasp of parents’ decisions.

“We really need to now know,” he said.

But simply determining who picks what option will just be the start.

“There’s still a lot more . . . to work out,” said School Board member Reid Goldstein, who compared the planning to “a machine with a lot of moving parts.”

“If there is a single point of failure – a cog in the machine that doesn’t work – then this entire machine doesn’t function,” he said, calling for safeguards “so that a problem, a breakdown, doesn’t bring the whole machine crashing down.”

School Board members will receive updates at meetings slated for July 1, 16 and 30, with information being posted on the school system’s Website at www.apsva.us.

The county school system scrapped classroom learning in March as the public-health pandemic hit. Under a directive from the School Board’s then-acting superintendent, teachers spent most of the fourth quarter going over previous material rather than providing new instruction.

Durán, who has intimated several times he is not a fan of that action, said efforts would be made in the first quarter of the 2020-21 school year to catch students up and then move them forward.

 

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