In early evidence of how the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic may linger in education, officials with Alexandria City Public Schools said they have begun planning for some families who will want to remain all-virtual in the 2021-2022 school year.

The Northern Virginia school system of 16,000 is forming teams of staffers to ponder what that remote-only option would look like, Terri Mozingo, Alexandria’s chief of teaching, learning and leadership, said at a board meeting Thursday. She said employees also will start sketching out how to offer summer instruction that helps make up for pandemic-driven learning loss.

“We do know that some families will have an interest in and will choose virtual learning” for the next academic year, Mozingo said. “We will bring [more] information back to the board in the future.”

Superintendent Gregory C. Hutchings Jr. said much of April and May will be devoted to strategizing for the fall.

In Fairfax County Public Schools, meanwhile, the board voted to temporarily adjust a school policy that required students to reside in the county to attend school. Under the new rules, families who are moving outside the county permanently will be allowed to keep their children enrolled in Fairfax schools — either remotely or in person — through the end of this academic year.

The adjustment is meant to minimize disruption for children in an already horribly disrupted year, said board member Tamara Derenak Kaufax. She noted that some Fairfax families who are relocating are doing so because of pandemic pressures.

“As we all well know, the covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a number of changes that have impacted both adults and children in multiple aspects of their lives,” Kaufax said. “We want to provide [our students] with the opportunity to have stability in their school life” at least, she said.

The revision passed unanimously, and Superintendent Scott Brabrand said he is thrilled to be able to offer parents and students more flexibility.

“We don’t think it will be a huge number” who take advantage of the adjusted policy, Brabrand said. “But for those families, this will be a lifeline through the end of a school year like no other.”

Ramping up in-person learning

In Alexandria, most of the board meeting focused on the details of what hybrid learning will look like, as the school system prepares to ramp it up rapidly in coming weeks. Alexandria is in the midst of a return-to-school program that promises to send all children who choose it back into classrooms for some form of in-person learning by mid-March.

This week, the school system took a big step forward in that process, sending 1,291 kindergarten through fifth-graders — mostly students with disabilities and those whose first language is not English, known as English learners — back to classrooms. The next big return date is March 9, when 474 students with disabilities and English learners in grades six through 12 will head inside school buildings.

On Thursday, Hutchings and his staffers spelled out what that return will look like at the high school level. Officials played a video that guided the audience through a day in the life of hybrid, pandemic schooling.

In the clip, set to upbeat music, students completed a mandatory health pre-screening before hopping on a bus — one student to a row — and arriving at school, where they submitted to temperature checks. They later attended class while sitting at desks cocooned behind transparent plastic barriers, which also was where they ate breakfast and lunch. The teenagers regularly wiped down their desk surfaces and made frequent use of hand sanitizer.

At the end of the day, students lined up six feet apart to wait for the bus again. “We’re super excited to see you,” the video script announced, “but no loitering after school.”

Hutchings and his staffers also ran through various preparations the school system has undertaken — from repairing HVAC systems to installing air purifiers to hiring 120 “classroom monitors” who will help lead in-person classes for which teachers are continuing to work remotely.

Alexandria officials also explained that if a child becomes ill at school, he or she will be sent to a health annex and assessed by a school nurse. If the child doesn’t have any kind of preexisting condition that explains the illness, the child probably will be sent home.

If it turns out the student has the coronavirus, that classroom will be closed for at least two days to allow for proper and safe cleaning, and perhaps for longer depending on how contact tracing proceeds.

New school names

Also on Thursday, Hutchings revealed his recommendations for new names for the schools formerly known as T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School. The former honored a segregationist, racist former superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools, and the latter honored a naval officer and oceanographer who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War.

Based on student and community feedback, Hutchings is suggesting the high school be renamed Alexandria High School, and the elementary school be renamed Naomi Brooks Elementary School. Alexandria officials will hold a public hearing on his recommendations on March 18, and the school board is slated to vote to choose new names in early April.

Brooks, a Black woman who died in 2020, was born and raised in Alexandria and attended segregated schools as a child. She received a degree in elementary education from Virginia State College, becoming the first person in her family to attend college.

Then she returned to her hometown to teach and spent the rest of her life as a beloved teacher at Charles Houston Elementary School and Cora Kelly Elementary School.

“This right here is the epitome of an Alexandrian,” Hutchings said of Brooks. “She is Black excellence for and from the city of Alexandria.”