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Arlington Public Schools pauses virtual learning program next school year

Girl attends virtual learning. (7News/File)
Girl attends virtual learning. (7News/File)
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The Arlington School Board met Thursday night and decided to pause the school district’s virtual learning program for the next school year.

School leadership said the current program is falling short of Arlington Public School’s vision of a “full range of academic and social-emotional services” for virtual students.

Parents also fear the Virtual Virginia Outreach Program will feature too much instruction that does not involve a live teacher, and will not be the same quality as the Arlington program.

“Right now he has an Arlington teacher who is certified, he sees her every single day, he sees the same students every day, they’re all Arlington families and Arlington students,” said Laura Keneally, who is immunocompromised and whose eight year old son Ethan is high-risk.

“We’ve been able to control our environment. We haven’t worried about whether people are masking or not masking, which kids are vaccinated, which kids are not vaccinated. Going back would be incredibly nerve-wracking for us.”

But Keneally fears going back could wind up being her only option since it’s unclear whether her family would qualify for a medical waiver for the state program if Arlington’s program goes away.

RELATED | Arlington schools superintendent presents masking opt-out on March 1

In a proposal, APS made these points:

  • We voluntarily developed the current model for the VLP in response to the pandemic for the 2021-22 school year, funded with one-time ARPA funding.
  • We need time to engage in planning and program development to propose a comprehensive framework for a future Virtual Learning Option Program.
  • Students who are not able to return to in-person instruction due to their own medical condition or due to the medical condition of an individual who resides in the household full-time will be able to apply for an exemption from returning to instruction in person.
  • Documentation of medical conditions must include evidence of ongoing treatment by a certified health care provider of issues related to the health of a student, or a member of the student's immediate household, that may be significantly impacted by potential exposure to COVID-19 and which could be mitigated by the student's participation in virtual learning.

Any student who has the medical exemption to continue with virtual learning would enroll in the Virtual Virginia Outreach Program. That program is designed to assist Virginia public school teachers and students by providing access to online learning modules. Online classes are taught by Virginia-certified teachers.

SEE ALSO | Virginia schools must comply with masking opt-out by March 1, Gov. Youngkin signs bill

Here is the timeline APS is giving:

  • Feb. 18: Applications available for families to apply for medical exemption to return to in-person learning and receive Virtual Instructional Learning Services.
  • March 7: Window to apply for medical exemption closes. Notification of approval of medical exemption will be communicated within two weeks of completed applications unless additional verification is required.
  • Aug. 22: Courses for Virtual Virginia begin.
  • Aug. 29: First day of school for the 2022-2023 school year

Arlyn Elizee is a parent whose children are currently doing virtual learning with APS. She also is an organizer of the VLP Parents Coalition.

Elizee feels there is no data to back halting the current virtual learning program, which currently serves nearly 600 students.

SEE ALSO | 'We need to follow the science': Educators urge masking to continue in schools

“These are the most marginalized and vulnerable groups out there,” Elizee said. “With 570 students in the virtual learning program, it’s the same size as an elementary school and they would never announce that they want to close an elementary school and only give two weeks’ notice before a final vote.”

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She said this is not fair to the kids “to have to suffer with incomplete data and a rushed job to choose.”

By doing this pause, they are making our kids now would be three years in a row, every year, starting a new program,” Elizee said. “New classmates, new teachers, that is the equivalent of if you have a child moving to three different states, three different schools in three years in a row. Nobody would do that, no body, not voluntarily, because that’s just not fair to a child.

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