School board talks fall and summer learning plans

School board talks fall and summer learning plans
(File Photo)

By Olivia Anderson |

With Alexandria City Public Schools decreasing distancing to three feet in classrooms on Monday and students with disabilities set to return for four days of in-person learning in May, school staff outlined the much-anticipated summer learning plan during the School Board meeting on April 22.

Running from July 6 to July 30, the summer session will involve four days of learning and will be available for all students, with specific priority groups of students targeted for the program. After the four-week summer session, there will be an entirely virtual two-week session from Aug. 2 to 12 to provide additional targeted support for students.

According to Terry Werner, ACPS executive director of specialized instruction, staff is taking a “three-tiered approach.”

The first tier will be for students who access the general education program, Werner said. Staff will provide special education teachers to support students with disabilities through the specialized curriculum, following the priority matrix. Both in-person and virtual options will be available depending on students’ general education program.

Tier two includes specialized reading and math interventions for students who require additional support in those areas, according to Werner.

“We are going to provide those programs in person when space constraints and other factors are in our favor,” Werner said. “If we are not able to provide some of those services in person, we will be providing them virtually.”

Finally, Werner said ACPS will provide its traditional Extended School Year program face-to-face. The ESY program works to provide a free appropriate public education to students with disabilities, according to the staff presentation. ESY services, which are part of students’ individualized education programs, vary in type, length of time and inclusion of related services, depending on the individual needs of the student.

“We’ve been working diligently to collect data and to review student progress and make recommendations for the tier of services that students might require,” Werner said.

In May, ACPS will release a survey to families in order to gauge their interest in either in-person or virtual summer learning, ACPS Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings Ed.D. said during an April 22 virtual community session.

The board also discussed the phased re-entry update on three-foot social distancing, which began on Monday in classrooms. Bus transportation transitioned to three-foot social distancing, and ACPS school nutrition and food services has expanded to prepare for the increase in additional students.

Even with the increase of in-person days for students with disabilities and reduced distancing, some parents said they still felt ACPS was not doing enough to reopen its doors.

One parent, Erika Melman, questioned why five days of in-person learning isn’t currently available for all students if it will be available in the fall.

“What will be different in the fall that can’t be changed now or could not have been planned for given that the City Council has said money is no object to fully reopen schools?” Melman asked.

Another parent, Kyle Martin, pointed out that of the 132 districts in Virginia, 96 offer an option for five days of in-person learning. Fairfax County Public Schools is currently open four days a week for in-person learning, while Falls Church Public Schools has transitioned fully to five days of in-person learning.

“ACPS, you are well-funded. You’re in a great place as far as community spread, yet you are not giving your students what they need,” Martin said. “I can only give ACPS a failing grade with respect to where we stand right now.”

Board member Ramee Gentry, though, rebutted this accusation and said that ACPS operates differently than other districts.

She noted that various conditions like student population, mixing up classes or even foregoing the three-foot distancing suggestion may have played a role in why certain districts were able to move to four days of in-person learning.

“Those circumstances are not really either viable or conscious decisions that ACPS has elected to take,” Gentry said.

“We’ve made the commitment to lean on the side of safety, safety and safety,” Terri Mozingo, ACPS chief of teaching, learning and leadership, added.

ACPS is currently planning for five days of in-person learning in the fall, while also providing an entirely virtual option – Virtual Academy – for families that opt for virtual learning. According to staff, ACPS will be sending out a survey in early May to confirm family preference for either in-person or virtual learning in the fall. There will be no hybrid option, according to the staff presentation.

ACPS’ Virtual Academy program will involve hiring new staff and teachers, depending on how many families opt for entirely virtual learning in the fall.

“We will have teachers teaching in-person, and we will have teachers teaching virtually. How many staff we’re going to need is going to be based off of that survey,” Hutchings said during the community session.

According to Hutchings, during the fall parents will be able to transition their virtual students to in-person learning, but that flexibility comes with changes in scheduling and teachers.