Arlington Superintendent Francisco Durán

Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Francisco Durán.

Just days after unilaterally canceling the winter sports season for public schools in Arlington, Superintendent Francisco Durán reversed himself under pressure.

On Monday evening, Durán told coaches that after concerns voiced by “students, families and School Board members,” he had rescinded his decision.

His original action, announced Nov. 5, touched off a firestorm of complaints, not only for eliminating winter sports but also for the way in which it was done – without coordination with coaches, parents or neighboring jurisdictions.

“How out of touch could they have been?” said one Fairfax County school official, shaking his head as the chaos unfolded.

School leaders from across the region have not firmly committed to holding a truncated winter sports season, but aim to do so if public-health conditions permit. In Arlington, wrestling and cheerleading seasons will not take place, but others could.

Durán assumed office in June after a tenure in Fairfax. The events of the past week might be a reminder, if he needed one, that decision-making in Arlington schools often is from the bottom up rather than the top-down approach practiced in Fairfax, and trying to replicate the Fairfax model in Arlington seldom proves effective.

The original article, as posted Nov. 5, 2020:

The decision by Arlington Public Schools’ leadership to cancel its winter sports season may not have been unexpected, but a lack of communication with coaches left some fuming nonetheless.

“I’m not saying it’s the wrong decision, but why couldn’t we have been included in the conversation?” said one veteran head coach at a county high school, who as with other coaches interviewed asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter and the potential for repercussions.

“I wish they could have at least tried to have a winter season,” the coach told the Sun Gazette. “Then if it didn’t work out, shut it down then. But at least give it a try.”

The school-system leadership on Nov. 5 – two days after an election in which two School Board seats and a school bond were on the ballot – unilaterally killed the winter sports season, in part because students – who were supposed to be coming back into class this month – instead face the prospect of a lengthy “virtual” learning experience under the zig-zag policy of Superintendent Francisco Durán

(As of early this week, there were some signals that, because pushback to the decision had been so vociferous, it was being re-evaluated by those at the top of the school-system leadership chain. But as of press time, the season was still off.)

The winter high-school sports season had tentatively been set to begin in mid-to-late December and end in last January or early February, a truncated campaign owing to the COVID pandemic.

The winter campaign traditionally includes girls and boys sports of basketball, swimming and diving and indoor track and field, along with wrestling, girls gymnastics and rifle. Club ice hockey, which is not affiliated with the school system, plans to continue its seasons, which began in recent days.

The decision to cancel took a number of head coaches by surprise, so they weren’t able to talk about the situation ahead of time with their athletes and the parents of the athletes.

“My players and their parents are texting me tonight like crazy,” one Arlington coach said in the aftermath of the Nov. 5 decision. 

The question now is will other nearby counties, like Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William, follow suit and cancel their winter campaigns, as well.

“It could be a domino effect,” one Arlington coach said.

The Virginia High School League, which has a degree of oversight of public-school athletics, has laid out plans for winter sports seasons to proceed. But it has no power to force individual school districts to participate.

(Students who find themselves shut out of public-school athletics are increasingly gravitating to club sports, which are fielding competition under public-health guidelines.)

Arlington Parents for Education, an advocacy group pressing to get students back in class safely, said the decision is emblematic of the lack of leadership of the school system’s new superintendent.

“Durán’s only rationale on not allowing athletic competition is ‘consistency,’ which is a self-fulfilling argument that, since APS is failing to provide the in-person support and instruction many of our children need for academics, it may as well do the same for sports,” the organization said.

“The only ‘consistency’ here is that APS continues to fail its students,” the organization sniffed.  

Private schools in the local area, like Arlington’s Bishop O’Connell, have yet to make any final decision about their winter seasons. But unlike the region’s public schools, most private schools have managed to reopen their classrooms to students, at least on a hybrid basis, with students rotating in and out during the week.

The fall sports season for public schools throughout Virginia was canceled because of COVID, and postponed until the early spring. A decision on the future is likely not to come until after the start of 2021.

[Sun Gazette Newspapers provides content to, but otherwise is unaffiliated with, InsideNoVa or Rappahannock Media LLC. CLICK HERE for an Editor’s Notebook column related to the sports-season controversy.]



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