August 4 Return-to-School Update

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Dear APS Families,

I hope you had a wonderful weekend! I presented an update on return-to-school planning during last Thursday’s Board meeting that you can watch here. During the meeting, we announced a new School Board Work Session on Return-to-School Planning scheduled for August 13, in addition to the update I will provide during the regular School Board meeting on August 20.

We are all looking forward to a new school year beginning virtually on September 8. I have received feedback from many families regarding your experiences with distance learning in the spring. I want you to know that I have heard your concerns and understand that many of our families and students did not have a positive experience with the distance learning provided last spring. I am committed to providing an improved, high quality distance learning experience this fall. You can expect an engaging virtual learning environment in which our students will learn new content, connect regularly with teachers and classmates, and have their social and emotional needs met.

With just over a month until the new school year begins, I know all are eager for more information about instruction, schedules, and other back-to-school details, and we are working to answer all questions as soon as we can. All of this takes time to develop and work through, and I appreciate your patience and collaboration. Our communications team is preparing additional back-to-school resources to help families prepare, and we will share those when ready.

Below are some key highlights to expand on what was shared at the Board meeting and to address frequent questions from our families:

Update on Class of 2020 Events
In spring, we communicated the possibility of holding some in-person graduation picnics and events to celebrate the Class of 2020, in addition to the virtual ceremonies organized by each school. We have made the difficult decision not to move forward with those events as a school division, due to health and safety and the present circumstances. I know some schools will be sending additional communication about this and know that we have all worked hard to honor the accomplishments of graduates safely in every way possible.

Scheduling
School counselors and administrators are working diligently to develop master schedules. Schools will provide this information to families later this month. Developing class assignments and schedules is a complicated process which balances many factors to support student progress and meet the social, emotional, and academic needs of each student. It is our intention to align survey responses and the preferred options when possible in anticipation of transitions to in-person learning at some point in the year, but recognize that a perfect alignment will not be possible, especially given that this is a fluid situation and both families and staff have another opportunity to change their selections.

Phasing in the Hybrid Model
Our primary focus now is to prepare a successful full-time distance learning start back to school for all students. We will continue to evaluate future opportunities to gradually phase in hybrid in-person instruction for some students, based on student need, family selections, health metrics and other factors I have previously noted. Our goal is to prioritize in-person instruction for specific groups, including early learners in grades PreK-3, special education students and English Learners, and we will keep you informed as plans progress and circumstances change.

APS Position on “Pods”
We have received questions from both staff and families regarding whether APS can support “pods” that are being formed to help manage distance learning and childcare for small groups of students this fall. While we recognize the significant challenges that families are facing in arranging schedules, the decision to form a pod is a parenting decision that is outside of our purview and separate from the work of the school division. APS cannot assign or reassign students based on pods that have been created, nor can we share names of students, class assignments or other personally identifiable information with families.

Given the staff and student preferences, among other complexities involved with planning, schools cannot accommodate specific pod requests, nor can a teacher employed with APS serve as a tutor for students they work with or take on outside work during the school day in support of pods for pay. Our goal is to get scheduling information to you as quickly as possible to help you prepare.

Childcare
Childcare planning for both staff and families was the sole focus of our Task Force meeting yesterday. The presentation is posted on our website, along with past Task Force presentations here. About 27 percent of staff have indicated that childcare is a barrier to meeting work responsibilities and we are working to provide childcare for APS staff at cost, utilizing some existing Extended Day staff.

Our childcare services will prioritize staff members with children ages 4 to 11 who must physically report to work and will be limited to very small groups of children in designated facilities. Cost for childcare services will be based on demand and staffing requirements. Safety measures and social distancing will be maintained; health screenings will be conducted prior to entering school buildings; and face coverings will be required, unless there are medical exemptions.

We are working with the County to provide childcare for families who need it most, in partnership with outside providers. When reviewing our plans with the Task Force, we received feedback from both staff and parents regarding prioritizing family care for students with specific needs and families who must work outside the home. Additional details will be shared as new information is ready and this important topic will be a focus at the August 13 School Board Work Session.

Distribution of Devices and Technology Access
All students will have devices and internet access for the start of the school year. While many already have devices, our Department of Information Services is coordinating with schools to provide devices to students who do not have one right now, so they are ready for school. Once we are confident all students have devices, we will begin replacing the 6th and 9th grader’s devices. Below is a reminder of devices provided by grade level:

  • Elementary: All PreK-5th grade students will receive iPads.
  • Middle: Rising 6th graders will receive a new iPad with a Keyboard Case. In addition, we have ordered keypads for 7th and 8th grade students to use with their iPads.
  • High: All high school students receive MacBook Air laptops.

For rising 6th and 9th grade students, schools will communicate when to return the device they already have. Additional information will be mailed this week about the Comcast Internet Essentials Partnership and how all families can obtain a code to apply. Details can be found at https://www.apsva.us/internet-service/. 

Immunization Requirements
Earlier today we sent a clarification on updated immunizations required for all students enrolling in APS for the 2020-21 school year even though school begins online for all students. These requirements apply only to kindergarten students and all students who are new to APS this school year. Additionally, parents of rising 7th graders should submit a record of Tdap vaccine if they have not already done so. If your student is up to date with immunizations and you have previously submitted them to your school, no action is needed at this time. The full message is available here.

Continue to stay informed and share your feedback and questions through the APS Engage online feedback form. Visit our website for the latest updates and responses to frequently asked questions.

We are all looking forward to a new school year. Please stay safe and take care.

Sincerely,

Dr. Francisco Durán
Superintendent