To the editor:
Your editorial in last week’s paper, “Time for a true vaccine mandate,” rightly critiqued the Alexandria City Public Schools administration for failing to implement a meaningful COVID-19 vaccine requirement for teachers and staff. Now that the FDA has granted full approval to Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, all ACPS employees must get the shot. Universities, businesses and other institutions across the country are implementing vaccine mandates, and our schools should do the same.
But vaccination isn’t the only area where ACPS has demonstrated a lack of foresight and planning in ensuring a safe and sustainable reopening of our schools. ACPS has fallen well short of neighboring school districts in implementing two other important measures necessary to minimize the risk of outbreaks: testing for unvaccinated students and safe distancing for unmasked students during lunch and mealtimes.
Testing is an important part of a layered prevention strategy to reduce the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks in schools. The CDC recommends that schools in areas of moderate to high transmission implement screening testing for unvaccinated students. By testing a sample of asymptomatic students, schools can identify infection clusters early on, isolate infected individuals and prevent larger outbreaks. Neighboring school districts in Arlington and D.C. have implemented testing of asymptomatic students as a best practice in prevention. But not ACPS.
Even more perplexing is the failure of ACPS to take steps to ensure safe lunches for students – the only time during the school day when students cannot remain masked. As the Delta variant surges, packing large numbers of kids into indoor cafeterias for meals when they cannot mask greatly increases the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks in our schools.
As the parent of two children in ACPS, I am frustrated with the inadequacy of the system’s COVID-19 safety measures and the administration’s failure to implement the layered protection strategies that can best ensure the safety of our kids and the sustainability of in-person learning.
It’s true that implementing screening testing and developing a safe approach to school lunches require our school administrators to navigate logistical, staffing and other challenges. But the challenges are surmountable and cannot be an excuse for inaction.
ACPS has had months to plan for a safe reopening and has received federal funding to support its efforts. If neighboring school districts can implement these measures, we can too – and we must, to ensure the health of our kids and our community and safeguard a successful year of in-person learning.
-Loren McArthur, Alexandria