ACPS staff detail new safety measures, rules around outdoor eating and play

ACPS staff detail new safety measures, rules around outdoor eating and play

By Allison Hageman | 

With Alexandria City Public Schools set to bring back all students who have opted for hybrid in-person learning on March 16, district staff provided an update on the division’s hybrid learning plans at the March 4 School Board meeting.

Terri Mozingo, ACPS chief of teaching, learning and leadership, stated that about 1,000 students transitioned to the elementary schools during the first week of hybrid learning, which began on March 2. According to Mozingo, there will be slight changes to ACPS’ hybrid reopening plans in the weeks ahead. 

“Students that were scheduled and families who chose hybrid returned this week, so it is something to really celebrate,” Mozingo said. 

Dr. Stephen Hearing, director of the Alexandria Health Department, said that, all things considered, the broader community is still at high risk for transmission but that the number of new cases per 100,000 in Alexandria over the prior seven days has been trending down. According to data reported by the City of Alexandria, the case count of three consecutive Thursdays showed a decrease in cases overtime. On Feb. 18 there were 36 COVID-19 cases reported, 30 on Feb. 25  and 5 on March 4. 

Haering added that ACPS is currently doing everything in alignment with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, which means there should be a low risk of transmission within the classroom.

“It’s going to be ‘when’ there [are] cases in school and not ‘if,’” Hearing said. “That doesn’t mean doomsday because from what I am seeing, everything the schools [are] doing, there should be a low risk of transmission within the school setting.”

“As Dr. Hearing stated, our health and safety mitigations at the school level are solid,” Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings Ed.D. said. 

The Alexandria Health Department is offering a town hall to parents the week of March 22nd to answer questions about transmission in schools, masks, social distancing, and case investigations. The exact date is still to be determined. 

According to Mozingo, ACPS will continue to prioritize the foundations of its reopening plan – school schedules, reopening checklists, PPE and vaccination data – while expanding its approach to include increased family communication, transportation plans and classroom monitors, Mozingo said. 

For the next phase of reopening on March 16, ACPS Executive Director of Facilities and Operations Alicia Hart said the school division will continue using its daily symptoms checker and implement scanners that take the temperatures of everyone who enters school facilities. It was not specified at the meeting if the scanners are at all ACPS locations. 

“We understood it would help improve efficiency and remove the barrier of having too many people gathered in one place trying to get their temperature screened if we kept a manual process,” Hart said. 

Meal service will be provided in a grab and go set up, with lunch served in classrooms, according to Hart. 62 buses were used for student transportation the week of March 2, and ACPS is continuing to reassess how many buses will be needed based on the number of students returning for hybrid, Hart said.  ACPS will complete its first assessment of bus routes the week of April 5. 

Stephen Wilkens, ACPS chief of staff, provided an update on the hiring of classroom monitors, new staff who assist teachers who have opted not to return for in-person learning. As of March 3, ACPS has brought on 120 classroom monitors, 24 health annex monitors, 22 temperature screeners and 14 specialized instruction contract staff. 

School Board member Veronica Nolan inquired about ACPS’ status on opening windows in the classroom. 

Hart replied that ACPS has taken the stance of not opening windows. She added that ACPS wants to control the internal temperature of schools and that opening a window mimics how the HVAC systems work. 

“Opening windows brings in outdoor pollutants, it causes your system to work overtime to filter the outdoor air,” Hart said.

“I thank Ms. Nolan for asking this for the community as well as the staff to know, but … we are not going to put our students and staff in an environment that is unhealthy and unsafe,” Hutchings added. 

School Board member Michelle Reif brought up the issue of eating outdoors and students’ use of playground equipment.

Hutchings shared that the school is not in a place where these activities can occur. He said the implementation of specific guidelines and outdoor dining facilities are needed to accommodate a whole classroom of students. For eating outside, Hutchings said staff and students need to be able to wash their hands and sit and eat properly without their food being contaminated. Updates on recess will be shared next week, according to Hutchings. 

“There are guidelines we have to follow. We can’t just have a picnic anymore. That’s not how school works like it used to,” Hutchings said.