Your Views: Data indicate schools are safe

Your Views: Data indicate schools are safe

To the editor:

ACPS must re-open schools immediately following Gov. Ralph Northam’s issuance of new guidance issued on Jan. 14. If ACPS does not act in a meaningful way, Alexandria risks the residents of this city moving and an exodus of families leaving for private schools, allowing only those that can afford it an escape from the dysfunction of ACPS.

Last year’s letter from Mignon Anthony, the outgoing Chief Operating Officer of ACPS, laid bare what the parents of Alexandria are facing from ACPS on the issue of re-opening and Dr. Gregory Hutchings’ leadership when she said, “And although community criticism may escalate, ultimately, citizens and parents will have to take what they can get and hope for the best.”

James Baldwin, an American activist and writer, once said, “Those who say it can’t be done are usually interrupted by others doing it.” In September, as ACPS was still shuttered, many states and all the private schools in Alexandria began the hard work of re-opening, many of them five days a week.

Since then, an enormous body of data based on the thousands of school districts that did have the foresight to re-open is accessible for the nation to digest. We now know that opening elementary schools is extremely safe within the schools and does not cause community spread, while mitigation tactics can also make higher grade openings safe.

Yet the parents of this community are constantly told, “No, it can’t be done” by the ACPS administration. Even more disheartening, at a recent school board hearing, an elected official told parents their choice was to have their children educated or alive without any evidence or even anecdotal stories to illustrate her position that schools were unsafe.

The World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics both agree that so long as children are masked, three feet of distance is perfectly acceptable for in-person learning. Spacing desks three feet apart, like the private schools in Alexandria are already doing, would go a long way in teaching kids in person more than just the two days a week planned under the hybrid model.

If Hutchings is going to insist on six feet, then ACPS needs to start looking for new space so our children can get back into classrooms – they have had close to a year to do so!

Following his vaccination photo opportunity, Hutchings has already said that teachers will not be required to return to in-person learning, despite receiving vaccine priority, and many have already said they will not return. In fact, ACPS is hiring room monitors so the two days a week our children might be in school they may just be learning virtually in classrooms, which is absurd.

No community metric, no social distancing amount and not even a vaccine will be enough to get our kids back in school based on Hutchings’ leadership, or lack thereof. Although I applaud his desire to take care of teachers at all costs, the data does not bear out the assertion that teachers are in danger.

We as citizens of Alexandria must insist on a re-opening five days a week come September.

–Kate Tagert, Alexandria