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ArlingtonIf school sports stay canceled, should county rec programs be, too?

If school sports stay canceled, should county rec programs be, too?

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Arlington’s newest School Board member opened her tenure by intimating that, if the county school system’s ban on athletics and extracurricular activities is extended past its current Jan. 14 deadline or resurrected later, the county government should follow suit and shut down park programs for adults.

A “consistent and community-wide commitment” should be considered, board member Mary Kadera said at the School Board’s Jan. 6 meeting, her first since taking office on Jan. 1.

Kadera, who succeeded to the seat occupied for a single term by Monique O’Grady, noted that county-government recreation programs continue to run full blast, leading students to wonder why “adults in our community are able to avail themselves of all their regular recreation” while student-athletes are not.

(Kadera did not, however, flip the coin and ask publicly why Arlington school leaders shut down athletics and other programs while neither the county government nor surrounding jurisdictions felt it necessary or prudent to do so.)

Superintendent Francisco Durán imposed the “pause” in extracurriculars on Dec. 29, setting it to expire on Jan. 14 unless extended.

The edict ultimately had little practical effect last week, as the school system was shut down all five days due to weather and, later, staffing issues.

Speaking to School Board members in a public forum for the first time since his decision, Durán seemed to drop hints that he did not plan to extend the ban on extracurriculars past Jan. 14. He aims to announce a decision on Jan. 12.

Durán’s Dec. 29 action took heat from many in the community, including students, given that athletics and other extracurricular activities were left unmolested by many other school districts in Northern Virginia to start the new year.

In his Jan. 6 comments, Durán tried to downplay the impact of his fiat. “This is just a short pause,” he said.

“This is something we do not take lightly, I do not take lightly,” the superintendent said of the decision.

In another outlier approach, Arlington school officials mandated tests among athletes for COVID exposure on a daily basis, leading to higher positivity rates than reported across the region. Going forward – unless the rules change again – local student-athletes who test positive for COVID will, once sitting through a quarantine period, not be required to test again for 90 days, due to the likelihood of false positives, school officials said.

Over the course of his 18 months as superintendent, Durán has taken what supporters say is a prudent, and critics say is an unnecessarily restrictive, bordering on punitive, approach to athletics.

In late 2020, he announced plans to cancel the entire winter sports season, only to be forced to retreat after a community revolt. (He did ban wrestling, although larger neighboring jurisdictions did not.) Durán also initially refused to allow several high-school teams from taking part in state competitions in early 2021, although in at least one case relented after public pressure (and below-the-radar threats of legal action) from parents.

This week will end with the inauguration of an incoming governor – Republican Glenn Youngkin – who will be bringing with him new leadership at the Virginia Department of Education and other executive departments, which could result in a shift, perhaps significant, in how the state government approaches dealing with COVID and how much latitude localities are allowed to assume for themselves.

Given that most political power in Virginia is concentrated at the state level, the change at the top could end up limiting the amount of autonomy that Northern Virginia school districts, whose leadership skews Democratic, will receive going forward.

School systems across the commonwealth already are banned from retreating back to online-only learning this school year, although exceptions exist if individual schools see major levels of COVID infection.

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