Your Views: School board should put children first

Your Views: School board should put children first

To the editor:

I write this with respect for our school board members. They put in long hours and are well-intentioned people trying to navigate an incredibly complex time.

Any school must serve multiple constituencies: students, educators, staff and administration among others. However, of all these constituencies, students’ needs must always be at the forefront. After all, the core mission of any school is to serve children. In Alexandria, anger and frustration about board decisions is pervasive. Time and again, parents in our community see ACPS’ actions and wonder: Who are these decisions serving?

While ACPS has done an admirable job with virtual education, the data is clear that virtual school is not as beneficial as in-person school, particularly for students of color and special needs students. That is why the American Academy of Pediatrics has stressed the importance of children returning to school.

Yet today and for most of the school year, ACPS is not educating a single student in an in-person school setting even though Alexandria preschools, private schools and other public-school systems in Virginia are providing in-person learning options in accordance with CDC guidance. ACPS prides itself on striving for “Equity for All.” While closing the schoolhouse doors to all treats everyone the same, it certainly is not equitable to many.

As someone who led a task force on reopening a local preschool during the pandemic, I understand that ACPS cannot fully reopen and follow the CDC guidance. However, I am confident that ACPS can reopen at some level consistent with the CDC guidance. With leadership driving innovation on a reopening plan, we should have reopened in some form last fall.

Educators have been given the privilege of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Our educators have been rightly prioritized because policymakers understand the importance of having children back in school. Yet, ACPS is undercutting the reasons behind the policy.

ACPS’ decision-making on when to reopen includes no direct consideration of vaccination levels of its workforce. Soon, all ACPS employees who chose to will be fully vaccinated, yet ACPS does not take this critical fact into account in its reopening decisions. Rather, ACPS looks only at community spread and the workforce’s willingness to come back.

Moreover, ACPS provides no incentives for fully vaccinated teachers to return to the classroom. Total risk elimination cannot be the deciding factor. Risk mitigation with accommodations for unique circumstances should drive decisions. Again, ACPS needs to act with leadership and innovation.

Shockingly, the city is spending taxpayer dollars to examine locating affordable housing on school grounds. Given the overcrowding in our schools and that we redistricted schools just a few years ago and literally made children who live near one school bus to another in the name of overcrowding, why would we even consider adding housing on school grounds? The school board should have stopped this fiasco the moment it heard about it.

On these issues, and a host of others, many in the community would like to see board leadership that challenges ACPS bureaucracy. Reflexively supporting the bureaucracy is the opposite of leadership. If nothing else, at least ask the question: Is this action in the best interest of our children? Such focus will provide clarity every time.

-Chris Yianilos, Alexandria