Sept. 1 Return-to-School Update

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Dear APS Families,

Next Tuesday, we will officially kick off the 2020-21 school year. While the start of this year will certainly look and feel different than previous years, we are all excited to welcome students back for distance learning and to start connecting and building relationships in new ways.

Our first days of school will be focused on helping students get to know their teachers and classmates and creating new routines. Teachers will spend a lot of time helping students practice new technology, engage in virtual classrooms, and understand how to navigate different learning platforms.

I know how challenging the present circumstances are for everyone and especially for working parents who are supporting students’ learning at home. We are here to support you. Know that we are in this together and will emerge stronger because of it. Please join us in reinforcing the importance of flexibility, empathy, kindness, patience, and keeping an open mind as we start the year.

Yesterday, I sent all families a message linking to parent guides for distance learning. They are available here: Elementary School , Middle School and High School. The guides provide information to prepare for school in a distance learning environment, including sample schedules, student expectations, attendance, social-emotional learning, parent resources, and specialized services for students with disabilities, English Learners, and gifted students.

I want to take a moment to express my gratitude for the support and feedback we have received from our staff and families. Since joining APS as your Superintendent just three months ago, I have observed first-hand the resiliency, passion, and commitment of the Arlington community to support quality education. The feedback you have provided has directly shaped our plans, and I would especially like to thank the members of our Return-to-School Task Force. They spent countless hours reviewing plans and meeting weekly to provide feedback and challenge our thinking. We held our 12th and final meeting yesterday, focused on cleaning and air quality (presentation available here), as we prepare to return safely in person when possible.

Please take time to review the information in the School Year 2020-21 section of our website, as it will help to answer questions about the start of school, as well as plans for the remainder of the school year. Also, take a moment to view a few reminders in my back to school video in English and Spanish. Below are additional back-to-school updates:

Meal Service During the School Year – Extending Free Meals for All Students
Yesterday, we were very excited to learn of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) decision to extend the summer food program waiver, allowing schools to continue providing free meals for all students through December 31, 2020. This is a positive development since it will allow us to provide free meals for all students without requiring a student ID, and we are currently awaiting guidance from the Virginia Department of Education and USDA regarding how to proceed. The USDA had not provided information to state agencies in advance of the public announcement yesterday, so they are working to get this to us as quickly as possible. We expect this information later this week and will communicate any changes to the previously announced food pickup procedures as soon as we have clear guidance.

NEW Help Desk Coming Sept. 8, Updates on Device Distribution and Connectivity
I am excited to announce that we will be launching a Help Desk with a new phone line and online portal to provide direct technology assistance to students and parents, Monday – Friday, from 7 a.m. – 9 p.m. in English and Spanish. More details will be provided via School Talk tomorrow.

Additionally, many schools are organizing device pick-up times at schools this week and are working to ensure every student has a device that is ready to go on Day One. If you do not yet have a device, please contact your child’s school to make plans to pick one up by Thursday. Additionally, families should have received a School Talk message last week, and a letter in the mail this week, with instructions on how to receive a promo code for Comcast Internet Essentials. Once the school year begins, if you experience an outage or other challenges preventing you from connecting to distance learning on any given day, contact your student’s school or teacher by phone before 11 a.m. if possible.

Share Your First Day with Us!
Sept. 8 will be a first day to remember. Share with us images of your first day, at home learning spaces, your virtual classrooms and your first day of school photos. Share them on social media using the hashtag #APSBack2School or #APSInThisTogether and we will compile them all to share on our social media channels and as part of our first day recap highlighting great moments across the school division.  

Reminder about Immunization Requirements
Students new to APS and rising 7th graders are still required to have their physicals, TB test/screen and immunizations before the start of school on Sept. 8. Despite the fact that students will not be physically in school initially, the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), have not changed or delayed school health entry requirements. Please see full message on our website. 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. 

Looking Ahead
While we understand that Distance Learning cannot replicate all the experiences of in-person instruction, we look forward to the exciting opportunities this new environment offers. More than ever, we are all in this together. Please join us in reinforcing with our students that this unique start of school is something to look forward to and is a chance to reconnect with friends, teachers, and mentors. Sending my gratitude and best to all of you as we begin.

Sincerely,

Dr. Francisco Durán
Superintendent