In the immortal words of Sheriff Buford T. Justice in “Smokey and the Bandit”: “Oh, you can think about it. But doooooooooon’t do it.”
That’s the pre-emptive message being sent to leadership of Arlington Public Schools by an advocacy group, warning the school system against closing down in the wake of increasing COVID caseloads and moving back to “online learning” – a phrase some would argue is a contraduction in terms.
“Students belong in school. Closing school buildings did nothing to reduce or mitigate spread the first time we tried it, and caused extensive harm that has yet to be remedied,” said Arlington Parents for Education in a Dec. 21 statement.
Prior to departing on a two-week holiday period, school-system leaders gave no inkling that a return to online-learning was anticipated, although Superintendent Francisco Durán did encourage families to behave responsibly over the holidays so schools could remain open in the new year.
The Prince George’s County school system already has made a switch back to online classes through mid-January – getting flak from many political and education leaders in the region, but perhaps giving cover to other school districts that wish to follow suit.
Arlington schools were shuttered in March 2020, and in a controversial move, the school system opted to provide no instruction of new material to students for the remaining three months of the school year, citing equity concerns.
The school system stayed in a mostly online environment to start the 2020-21 school year; perhaps to no one’s surprise, several thousand students whose parents could afford to make the move ended up in private or parochial schools (which mostly did open classroom instruction) or being home-schooled.
It wasn’t until much later in the school year that most Arlington Public Schools students returned to classrooms, often for just several days a week. Elementary-school students, for instance, had the equivalent of just 25 days in classrooms out of a school year that typically lasts 180 days.
“In-person school, sports and extracurricular activities can be done safely,” Arlington Parents for Education said. “What happened in APS in the 2020-21 school year . . . must never happen again. Canceling children’s activities will not help end the pandemic any faster, and harms children in the process.”