Aug. 18 Return-to-School Update

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Dear APS Community,

School starts three weeks from today, and we are excited to welcome all students back for distance learning on Tuesday, September 8. Our teachers and other 10-month employees are returning virtually next week to engage in professional learning and make final preparations. Whether you are new to Arlington Public Schools or returning, we look forward to welcoming you.

Starting the year in distance learning means that all students will meet and connect with their teachers and classmates online, according to their school’s regular start and end times. Details regarding student schedules will be provided by your school before the end of August.

The Return-to-School Task Force met yesterday to review our Social-Emotional Learning plans for students, families, and staff. We know that many have experienced trauma and that providing mental health and social-emotional support is a key foundation for learning. It was a productive meeting with lots of great ideas from teachers, staff, students, parents, and community members about how we can strengthen our connections with students in the online, distance learning environment. You can view the presentations here.

As we prepare for distance learning, I want to reiterate that we remain in close contact with state health officials and the Arlington County Public Health Division to monitor health data and evaluate opportunities to gradually phase in hybrid, in-person instruction. When we determine it is safe to begin this transition, we will prioritize phasing in in-person instruction for students with disabilities first, followed by students in grades PreK-3 and English Learner students. We will then work toward transitioning all families who select the hybrid in-person model. I will notify you well in advance as plans progress and circumstances change.

We are committed to making sure all students have a positive learning experience and have the resources they need to learn, grow, and succeed. Below are other updates to help you prepare:

Setting Up Your Distance Learning Space
Families have reached out for guidance on setting up learning spaces at home. Try to prepare a quiet location in your home where your student can spread out their device and other learning materials on a table or desk.

School Supplies
All APS PreK-8th grade students will receive educational materials in their “Distance Learning Toolkit” by the middle of September. These materials are the essential tools needed to engage in learning at home. More information regarding distribution of these materials will be coming from individual schools. Your student’s school will also be providing more information regarding traditional school supplies such as paper, glue, scissors, pencils and crayons.

How to Help – Purchase Supplies for Families in Need
APS is providing a second kit with basic school supplies for students who need them, at cost, and have set up an online store where community members and partners can support this effort. If you would like to purchase a kit of school supplies for families in need, the online store allows you to contribute now through September 1. More details are available on the APS website and you can donate directly using this link. Supply kits will be shipped directly to APS and distributed in September. Thank you for all the generous offers of support from our community.

Special Education Services
APS will provide additional communication devices for students who require American Sign Language (ASL)/Cued Language Transliterator (CLT) interpretation services. This will allow the students to have both a device for communication and a device for instructional needs.

As APS moves into Distance Learning, IEP teams will be able to discuss flexible instructional support for students to include smaller chunks of instruction, recorded synchronous sessions so students can view them at a later time, and flexibility in scheduling needs. Families are encouraged to work with their IEP team to determine what is best for their student(s).

There will be a Town Hall hosted by SEPTA this Wednesday at 7 p.m. to answer several questions from the community on Special Education supports. We welcome all families. Please register here to receive a link to the meeting.

Additionally, the Office of Special Education has posted the revised Student Support Manual. The revision incorporates feedback from families and staff. In the Fall of 2019, APS developed a streamlined process for supporting student learning and processes to support students’ academic, social emotional or behavioral needs. Some revisions include enhanced information on supporting English Learners; updates on Assistive Technology in APS; and a flow chart describing initiation of special education processes for Arlington residents and out of county residents who attend private schools located in Arlington. To learn more about the Student Support Process, please contact the Parent Resource Center (PRC) at 703-228-7239 or prc@apsva.us.

Regular communication about services for English Learners, students with disabilities, and gifted students will be provided in a separate communication coming soon from the Department of Teaching and Learning.

The APS Parent Academy
As a reminder, we are re-launching the APS Parent Academy, beginning next week. The Parent Academy will begin with pre-recorded courses and resources to help parents navigate distance learning and support students, addressing commonly asked questions such as how to access and use different learning applications, instructional delivery for Career and Technical Education, and the delivery of specialized services and supports. Initial videos will be pre-recorded and shared on a dedicated Parent Academy Program page on our website prior to the start of school, and we will provide interactive Parent Academy sessions for parents as we begin the year.

Childcare Options for Families
We know childcare is a major challenge for working families. We are working with the County to make some options available. The Department of Human Services has been working to expand availability among existing childcare providers, encouraging closed centers to reopen, and helping potential providers overcome obstacles such as licensing and land use processes. Through this work, DHS has identified more than 300 available slots through existing providers, based on numbers reported at the end of July:

  • Childcare Centers (63 total): 32 currently open with approximately 145 slots available
  • Family Day Care Homes (120 total): 109 currently open with approximately 183 slots available

More than 20 of these providers have indicated interest in expanding their hours and age ranges to accommodate school-aged children. DHS is supporting those efforts and creating a process to prioritize available slots to support children and families with the highest need. We are also working with the YMCA and other local non-profits and to expand options for low-income families. More details and how families can access these childcare options will be communicated through APS and the County as this work progresses.

Meal Services
Our grab-and-go meals service will continue through next Friday, Aug. 28, which will include meals for Monday, August 31. The national Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) ends on Aug. 31, so we will pause meal service during the week of Aug. 31 and will resume on Sept. 8 when we will be operating under the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). Under NSLP, we are committed to ensuring that ALL students can easily access healthy meals with the following changes:

  • APS will be expanding from the current nine sites to 21 school locations.
  • Food will be available for ALL students, and families are encouraged to pick up meals Monday, Wednesday and Friday at the school most convenient and closest to them.
  • All students who qualify for free and reduced-price meals will continue to receive free breakfast and lunch.
  • Students who are not eligible for free or reduced meals are encouraged to use their lunch accounts to purchase meals.

I presented this update to the School Board last Thursday and you can view the full presentation and list of the 21 locations here. We will also be providing meal delivery and distribution to 10 locations throughout the County using APS vehicles. We are working to ensure we have permission to distribute meals on those properties we have identified for meal delivery.  We will provide those locations and full meal service details next week.

Applying for Free and Reduced-Price Meals
To receive the Free and Reduced-Price Meals benefit, families need to submit a new household application at the start of each school year. Families that were eligible for meals last year will have until October 19, 2020, to reapply without losing benefits.

Paper applications will be available at APS meal sites next week, and online applications are available on the APS website. Families that are receiving SNAP, TANF or Medicaid may not have to fill out an application. The APS Office of Food & Nutrition Services has begun processing students who are directly certified to receive free meals in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), and families will begin to receive eligibility notifications in the mail beginning tomorrow, Wednesday, August 19. Families that receive notification of direct certification do not need to apply.

The Community Eligibility Provision is a non-pricing meal service option for schools that meet the income requirements for the program. This year, five schools meet the criteria for this program, which entitles ALL students at those schools to receive free meals, including: Barcroft, Barrett, Carlin Springs, Dr. Charles R. Drew, and Randolph. Families with students attending these schools do not need to complete an application. Full details will be communicated to all families next week.

Upcoming School Board Meeting
The final regular School Board meeting prior to the start of school will take place this Thursday, August 20, and I will provide a full Return-to-School update on these items and more at that time.

I hope you view this meeting and share your feedback and questions through the APS Engage online feedback form. Visit the APS website for the latest updates and responses to frequently asked questions.

Stay safe and take care!

Best Regards,

Dr. Francisco Durán
Superintendent