Baby steps

Baby steps
A student washes their hands while a staff member looks on at Samuel W. Tucker Elementary School. (Photo Courtesy / ACPS)

Babies crawl before they walk, and they walk before they run. That’s how learning of all types occurs: We master one skill before moving on to the next challenge.

So, it’s no surprise that as Alexandria City Public Schools reopen for part-time, in-person learning, they are doing so gradually.

These tenuous first few weeks of in-person instruction will be a learning experience for all involved.

Families will adjust to the old yet new routine of getting children ready for school and out the door, with added tasks such as temperature checks and making sure children have masks and water bottles.

Teachers, who have been instructing remotely for a year, must shift back to classroom routines, which will be different than any they’ve experienced.

There will be logistical learning curves too, for safely distancing on school buses, how to handle recess in a safe but reasonable manner and how school monitors will be expected to interact with students.

While we don’t have current data on the overall number of teachers who have chosen to return to the classroom, kudos to those who have done so.

Parents who have opted to return their children to the classroom also deserve praise, as the disruption to their existing routines in the short run probably outweighs the benefit their children will receive from being back in the classroom part-time with all of the restrictions in place. These parents realize that crawling is, well, the first step.

This is all a dress rehearsal for this fall and the 2021-22 school year. Because come September, it’s imperative that ACPS return to full-time, in-person school with complete sports and after-school offerings.

This simply must happen. The intellectual and physical development of our children, along with the mental health of them and their families, depends on a full return to school this fall.

Our community and our country can’t endure another year like the last 12 months, and the widespread availability of vaccines in the coming months means we shouldn’t have to.

By this fall, all adults should be vaccinated. With new vaccines being approved, millions of additional doses will be available in the coming months. The new Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which rival pharmaceutical company Merck is going to help produce, is going to be a game changer. Even most children may be vaccinated by September.

By this fall, teachers should not have the option of not teaching in classrooms. We respectfully believe that ACPS teachers and staff members who are still unwilling to return to their schools after being fully vaccinated should find another line of work. ACPS Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D. and the Alexandria School Board need to have the courage to require teachers to return this fall.

We continue to believe this return to school should have occurred last September, when key health metrics were better than they are now. For instance, the seven-day COVID-19 positivity rate was 4.4% on Sept. 1, 2020, while it was 4.9% on Feb. 26. The seven-day average number of new cases was 12 on Sept. 1, 2020. It was 20 as of Tuesday.

But that’s in the past, and this week is about the future. Tuesday’s return to school created a palpable sense of excitement in Alexandria and it’s clear that more than a few tears of relief and joy were shed.

This phased approach is being taken one baby step at a time. This week was step one. Even by March 16, when students in all grades are eligible to return, it’s important to realize that classroom instruction will still be limited to two days a week only for those students whose families have opted for a return. The first step toward any goal is generally the hardest.