To the editor:
Virtual learning is failing the public school students of Alexandria.
Alexandria City Public Schools has pledged to provide an equitable, high quality education, accessible and engaging to all. As a parent of two ACPS students, one with a disability and one a kindergartner, this is not at all our reality. And what we were experiencing at home, we now have the data to prove.
Grades from the first quarter of the 2020-2021 school year reveal that, like many other parts of the country, ACPS students with disabilities are being left behind in the Virtual PLUS+ model.
Nearly 30% of our special needs middle schoolers and high schoolers are earning D’s and F’s, according to ACPS. Fifteen percent of students with disabilities are chronically absent from synchronous learning – the highest of any student population – likely because they rely so heavily on their parents and caregivers to facilitate their participation.
Our 11-year-old daughter, who has special needs, cannot focus on the computer screen for more than a few hours a day, despite the herculean efforts and work of the ACPS teachers. She needs one-onone, in-person education with her personal aide at her side.
Her aide is guaranteed to her through the individualized education program, mandated by the state of Virginia, as well as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The aide has offered to work with our daughter in person but is not permitted to by the district. Having an aide on Zoom does nothing to help our daughter.
My household isn’t the only one feeling the effects of virtual learning. Recently released grades show that the number of Alexandria Hispanic middle schoolers earning D’s or F’s has increased almost 30%.
In addition, D’s and F’s among Black middle schoolers has increased by 18%, and two-thirds of our Hispanic students are failing two or more subjects. Chronic absenteeism has tripled among Black and Hispanic students and among students living in poverty. This is unacceptable and should concern every resident of Alexandria, especially given the reticence of ACPS to return students to schools.
As an immigrant to the United States, what has always impressed me is the ability for people of all backgrounds, ideologies and beliefs to come together. We are the most generous nation in the world, and I’m constantly impressed by our ability to help our fellow man. Why are we not showing that kind of empathy toward our more vulnerable children in the middle of a pandemic?
The failure here is not on our students, our teachers or our parents – it is the virtual platform, which is neither equitable nor inclusive. It is time to bridge the gap, come together and re-open our schools.
-Hakan Ozsancak, Alexandria