Frequently Asked Questions: Virtual Plus +
What is Virtual PLUS+?
Virtual PLUS+ is the most feasible model for ACPS to adopt for the start of the 2020-21 school year.
As the most feasible model, it provides teaching and learning within virtual classrooms while providing additional support that students, staff and families will need to navigate the new content being taught, to build relationships with one another, and to stay connected to the school community. Our “PLUS+” includes:
- Enhanced and formalized social, emotional and academic learning supports
- Child care options with community partners
- Continued meal distribution
- Expanded technology resources
Is this the complete model or will it be expanded?
ACPS will continue to reevaluate how to expand services to build on this Virtual PLUS+ model. The Virtual PLUS+ model may have services added between now and Sept. 8. This may include additional supports for specific groups of students. We will be announcing these once the logistics have been worked out.
What is the difference between the Virtual PLUS+ and the 100% virtual model that other school divisions across the region are using?
Virtual PLUS+ is a robust online learning experience that will engage students 100% virtually and provide additional supports for students, staff and families. The virtual academic program will include a structured bell schedule, live instruction with teachers, and additional academic supports for some of our most vulnerable students, including one-on-one or small group tutoring.
Why are we doing a poll now if you already know that you will be using the Virtual PLUS+ model in the fall?
We want to refine the “PLUS+” and make sure that the supports we are planning to provide for the fall are the ones that families really need.
How long will the Virtual PLUS+ model be in effect for ACPS? Is it for the entire year?
Currently, ACPS will be using the Virtual PLUS+ model for the first quarter. The situation will be reviewed and analyzed every nine weeks. An assessment made at that time as to whether it would be feasible to transition to a hybrid or different model.
Why did ACPS not adopt a hybrid model for the fall?
There were two key reasons why ACPS deemed the hybrid model not feasible on Sept. 8:
- Complexities with adhering to the CDC and state guidelines and effectively operating our systems: The health and safety of our students and staff are our top priority and we need to be sure that we have sufficient time to be able to implement all CDC and state guidelines into every aspect of a school day across all our schools with fidelity. Key factors in the decision include: movement between classrooms; limitations on bus seat arrangements; the need to add bus routes and drivers; the need to add staff and time to clean buses and facilities; time needed to check and upgrade HVAC systems and access to personal protective equipment (PPE) for all staff and students.
- The practicalities of staffing our schools: Our surveys showed us that only 63% of our staff were likely to return in a hybrid model. Staff who are high-risk would find it hard to return in a hybrid model, as would staff who live in other school divisions and have children who attend schools in other school divisions that have already declared they will be 100% virtual.
What is the thinking behind the Virtual PLUS+ model?
Equity is the framework in which we make every decision and this was no different. The ACPS Equity for All 2025 Strategic Plan places racial equity at the heart of every decision. The “PLUS+” in the Virtual PLUS+ model enables us to provide additional supports for specific groups of students who may need it this fall. The PLUS+ ultimately stands for equitable supports for those who need it.
What services will be available for kindergartners, students with disabilities, English Learner students or those who were already identified as unable to keep pace with their peers academically under the Virtual PLUS+ model?
All students will have access to technology under the Virtual PLUS+ model. The virtual academic program will include a structured bell schedule, live instruction with teachers, and additional academic supports for some of our most vulnerable students, including one-on-one or small group tutoring. However, we are aware of the needs of specific groups of students and establish additional supports.
If the recreation centers can provide child care safely as they have this summer, why is it not possible for ACPS to provide some in-person instruction to our most vulnerable children?
Our Cross-Functional Planning Teams conducted a feasibility analysis including the evaluation of constraints, community/staff input, and alignment with our ACPS 2025 Strategic Plan to determine the most feasible reopening model for our schools.
How many hours per day will my child have access to live teaching? And how many days per week?
ACPS is planning for students to have four days of live instruction. Monday will be an independent study and asynchronous learning day for students as well as a planning day for staff.
Are we concerned about the impact of screen time on children? According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, five year-olds should not have more than an hour of screen time per day, two hours per day for older children.
We recognize that this is a concern. Adopting the Virtual PLUS+ model is not a choice, but is the only option that is feasible for our school division at this time. We will be conducting interactive time using electronic tablets for students in grades preK-2 and other learning activities for our youngest learners.
How will Spanish immersion work at Mount Vernon Community School and John Adams Elementary School, particularly in the early grades? Has consideration been given to halting this program until we are back in school buildings?
The Spanish immersion program will continue online. The principals at those schools will be working closely to develop ways to ensure that our younger children get the supports they need to be able to thrive in this program.
What is the timeline for the release of information around the Virtual PLUS+ model?
The plan will be presented for approval to the School Board on Aug. 7. There are two public hearings on Aug. 6 and 7, ahead of the Board’s vote. The plan will be submitted to the Virginia Department of Education on Aug. 14. In the meantime, from Aug. 7 onward, aspects of the plan will be shared out with parents, staff and students as they are completed. This will include the technology plan, technology access for parents and students, technology support information, student schedules, food access plans, and the curriculum for all grades for the fall.
Are there metrics on community spread and positivity rates that you are watching that could make it feasible to get children back in the classrooms?
ACPS works closely with the Alexandria Health Department and closely monitors the data around the number of cases and community spread in Alexandria. We will continue reviewing the situation regularly.
Will ACPS also be subscribing to paid versions of educational apps such as ABC Mouse, Room Recess, Abcya, and Renzuli, which could enhance/increase a young child's educational progress when not in virtual school?
ACPS is looking to streamline its technology platforms for the fall to help alleviate parent and student confusion. Our Technology Services Department will be sharing the names and list of the platforms we will be using within the next two weeks. You will be able to access all of them under one simple portal called Virtual PLUS+ Access.
How big will the online classes be?
Can schools allow the children who are grouping up, whether in homes or child care centers, to be placed in the same class? If those children can be in the same class (based on grades) then providers can stream the live lessons on one TV.
The goal of the Virtual PLUS+ model is to ensure that equity is at the heart of our fall instruction. While this kind of scenario may sound practical, it does not always ensure equity. To ensure equity, we need to ensure that every student gets what they need and not just what may be convenient. Some students may need additional supports, while others around them may not.
What kind of child care options might be available to parents?
We are exploring options for child care with our partners. This includes the City’s Recreation Center program and Campagna as well as local child care providers.
What options are there going to be for peer interaction in a safe way?
We will be looking at virtual recess and lunch breaks. We will also be exploring virtual after-school activities.
How will Virtual PLUS+ handle grading and SOLs?
We will resume grading practices for students beginning this fall. The VDOE has not waived any SOLs for the 2020-21 academic year at this point; however, we will keep our staff and families updated on any changes once received.
I am curious about vocational high school classes. For example, Automotive Technology requires cars to repair and tools to make repairs. Culinary Arts requires a kitchen and food tasting. Will these courses be canceled or will those students focus on academic aspects until these classrooms can be opened?
Most programs are able to adapt to a virtual model. There may be some hands-on experiences, however, that will need to wait until students are back in the classroom. These are unprecedented times and unfortunately there will be some compromises.
Does Virtual PLUS+ mean that students with special needs will have in-person sessions?
While we are unable to start the fall with students in school in-person, we will review the situation frequently and look to transition as soon as it is feasible. However, we are aware of the needs of specific groups of students and this will be part of the review.
Will the first quarter academic calendar be modified to remove the early release for parent-teacher conferences? Has any thought been put in to remove the “snow days” built into the calendar?
These are all details that are being worked out right now. More detailed plans will be shared between Aug. 14 and Sept. 8.
When will schedules and teacher assignments be provided so parents can make child care arrangements?
Master schedules are currently in the process of being developed and schedules and teacher assignments will be sent out as soon as work has been completed. These are usually shared in mid-August and, while they may be slightly later than usual this year, they should arrive in plenty of time for the start of school.
How will the school division ensure that students in TAG programs get what they need?
The Virtual PLUS+ model ensures that equity is at the heart of our fall delivery of instruction. This model is designed to ensure that every student gets what they need to be successful this fall. Our staff will provide necessary supports and enrichment when needed.
By what date do parents need to decide whether they will either complete registration or withdraw their children from ACPS schools?
The deadline for home schooling applications for the 2020-21 school year is Aug. 15, 2020.
Will teachers have the option to work from their classroom?
Our planning teams are aware of this request and are looking into it as an option.
What does ACPS mean when they talk about a standard bell schedule?
A bell schedule specifies the start time and duration of one or more instructional periods on each school day. During Virtual PLUS+ a typical school day will run from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for elementary students, from 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. for middle school students and from 8:30 a.m. to 3:10 p.m. for high school students.
How will ACPS better engage all students in an online class in the instruction?
The Virginia Department of Education is holding Districts accountable for attendance and student learning. ACPS will be taking attendance and students will be graded. In addition, ACPS is applying lessons learned from both the Spring and Summer sessions and believe Virtual PLUS+ will be an engaging learning experience for students.
Will there be a uniform curriculum and expectations across the City?
In the Spring we went into a virtual world without any experience, now we have six months experience and starting with Virtual PLUS+ the expectation is to teach new material, for kids to learn and for us to assess that learning with tests and grades. In order to create a consistent and equitable learning environment, the Division is preparing a common curriculum across the school division, so regardless of where you are in Alexandria, what school you attend, you will be learning the same thing as everyone else in your grade on the same day. We will be providing that training for teachers on the curriculum and the pacing of delivering instruction when they return on August the 24.
Will ACPS consider having breakout sessions with smaller groups of students during classes?
Live instruction is integral to Virtual PLUS+ and break out sessions are being built into the schedule every day at elementary, middle and high school. For example, a teacher may provide group instruction for 30 minutes and then rotate through small group break out rooms. When students are not being engaged in their large or small group, they would be spending asynchronous time for the remainder of the instructional block.
Will there be a uniform expectation for teachers to communicate with parents and students?
ACPS is developing consistent communication expectations for teachers to implement with students and parents.
Will there be more than one hour a day of instruction for students at all grade levels?
There will be more and consistent times for synchronous learning under Virtual PLUS+. There will be multiple hours of live instruction for students at elementary, middle and high school. Teachers will engage the entire class as well as work with smaller groups of students in break out rooms during the school day.
Will electives such as orchestra be offered under Virtual PLUS+?
Virtual PLUS+ elective offerings will include orchestra and band.
What screening measures is ACPS using to assess spring and summer learning losses?
Much has been written about the learning loss that happened last spring when schools had to quickly pivot to online learning. In an effort to capture any resulting learning losses, ACPS will be using a brief test, called MAP that takes less than 30 minutes to administer. The resulting data will inform families, staff and students of current student academic strengths and weaknesses. It will also help us identify any needed supports for students.
Where are the specific supports for Special Education students outlined?
As we start the 2020-2021 school year in a virtual setting, ACPS will provide services to students with disabilities as outlined in each student's Individualized Education Program in a virtual environment. For those students who access instruction in the general education setting, they will receive specially designed instruction aligned with the Virginia SOLs and students who access their instruction in an adapted curriculum setting will receive specially designed instruction aligned with the Virginia Alternative SOLs.
As we develop IEPs will there be opportunities for families to pick up assistant technology they may need, magnifiers for reading, noise cancelling headphones?
Most of our students that use specific AT devices took them home with them last Spring. We will always consider what a student needs to access learning. In addition, ACPS is working to bring special education students back to the classroom, It is our hope to phase students back into the school setting and many who would need those tools will hopefully be back in the classroom with us.
How soon will Special Education services be available to students?
The preponderance of instruction will be in a virtual setting on a virtual platform. ACPS goal is to make sure every student with an IEP has a strong beginning to virtual instruction. The majority will access their IEP through the general education curriculum and direct instruction from their teacher. Students with disabilities will then go to a Zoom breakout room with their special education teachers. ACPS will be using small group stations to promote co-teaching and to ensure students receive their special education services in their general education setting. In addition, students who receive speech and language services, occupational or physical therapy, will be able to access those services through a robust teletherapy model.
How soon will Special Education students be able to access in-person learning?
ACPS is working diligently to get students with disabilities back into face-to-face instructional settings. We are planning to do this in phases, starting small with strict protocols that will ensure student and staff safety. ACPS expects to begin the process in late September and early October with our PreK-2 students and city-wide students. We then hope to phase in grades 3-5 students on citywide services, as well as direct reading and math services, then we would like to begin phasing in our secondary students. .
How will students be tested for Talented and Gifted programming under Virtual Plus?
During Virtual PLUS+ any new students referred for TAG services will build a digital portfolio during the first semester for review as part of the TAG identification process. Details about the portfolio components and scoring will be forthcoming and communicated out during the first quarter of the school year. All testing related to new referrals for TAG will take place when in-person learning resumes.
How will Differentiated Educational Plans for TAG be communicated?
Homeroom and Honors teachers will share DEPs with parents online through email or on CANVAS during the first week of October and then at the end of each grade reporting period throughout the school year.
How will instruction for TAG students be differentiated under Virtual Plus?
Each school will determine the schedule for TAG students receiving General Intellectual Aptitude (GIA), Specific Academic Aptitude (SAA) and Young Scholars services. GIA and Young Scholars instruction may be delivered as part of the regular classroom instruction or in a break out room on ZOOM. TAG 4th and 5th grade reading and math services will continue to be delivered by the TAG teacher.
What is ACPS current thinking on learning pods?
It is every family’s prerogative to do what they believe is best for them, but learning pods can cause inequalities and exacerbate the achievement gap. ACPS is putting in place a common curriculum and common set of assessments so that regardless of where a student attends school they will be engaged in high quality instruction. ACPS is doing this because if we did not have a common delivery of instruction it would lead to significant inequities.
Is ACPS considering supporting learning pods for K-5 students?
Through Virtual PLUS+, ACPS will be providing live small group instruction in a virtual setting that is equitable and based on what each student needs. This model is live teaching that is virtual, that everyone can access and includes small group learning experiences to support all our students.
When will details about Virtual PLUS+ be available to the public?
On Friday, August 7, ACPS School Board approved Virtual PLUS+ as the most feasible model to deliver instruction beginning on September 8, 2020. We are moving as quickly as we can to work through the details and when we do we will communicate them to our students and families.
When will families get their students class schedules?
We usually begin this process in April and deliver schedules to homes a couple weeks before school begins. This year, we are working at a rapid pace to get schedules to our families as soon as possible.
What will a typical school day look like for students and parents?
ACPS is preparing a video to describe what a school day during Virtual PLUS+ will entail for elementary school, middle school or high school students. Sample schedules are being shared this week.
Who will be eligible for the Social Emotional Academic Learning supports that ACPS will offer during Virtual PLUS+?
Every student in every grade will have access to SEAL every day. Supports are being built into the first 20-30 minutes of each school day. ACPS believes it is important during this global pandemic to connect with each student before teaching and learning begins.
Who will be eligible for more robust SEAL supports?
It is important that our students have time to adjust to this new, virtual way of learning. After the first couple of weeks, ACPS will screen students to identify those who may need Tier 1 and Tier 2 supports.
Will ACPS use a Social Emotional Assessments to identify student needs?
ACPS staff have identified a screening tool that has been developed by the University of California in Los Angeles that has COVID-19 specific questions to identify Post-Tramatic Stress Disorder. We have received permission to modify this screening tool for elementary and secondary students. ACPS will also continue to use the RULER assessment.
Will ACPS provide headphones for all students?
ACPS is investigating hardware and software tools that will help our teachers and our students to teach and learn virtually.
How will families know about the helpline?
Information about the Virtual PLUS+ Helpline will be shared via our usual communication channels. Information will also be included in the Virtual PLUS+ Back-to-School Packets that will be sent home to families on August 31. The helpline is meant to support parents with any questions they have as we embark on Virtual PLUS+.
Will ACPS consider using trailers or “cottages” to expand learning space and accommodate students in K-2 for the second semester?
ACPS will continue to explore every feasible option to accommodate students and allow for in-person education. ACPS will be reassessing what is feasible every nine weeks with the goal of returning staff and students to the classroom as soon as it is possible to do so safely.
How will we identify families who participate in Free and Reduced Price Meals?
When school begins in September, regulations will require families participating in the free meals program to show ID card to access meals. ACPS is currently considering a card that will provide the needed information. INformation on this card or provided via this application form will be confidential and protect the privacy of participating families.
Are we planning on creating data based workbooks to help when we reassess every nine weeks that allow us to focus on inequalities and make sure there is alignment with the ACPS Strategic Plan?
Virtual PLUS+ is going to require a paradigm shift for staff regarding how we teach, what student engagement looks like and how we learn in this different environment. We will have some baseline data and we will be sharing data and analysis in specific areas to help as we consider transitioning every nine weeks. Progress will be monitored throughout the school year.
Who will be able to access child care services during Virtual PLUS+?
ACPS will be using similar criteria used for eligibility for the summer camps when families most in need of these services were given the first spots. After that, the program was opened to others in our community. Our most vulnerable families include those whose parents’ livelihood could be impacted without child care options. We also looked specifically at students with special needs, English Learners as well as those performing below grade level. It is important to note that some of our families do not want their children in a school or at a child care location due to the pandemic. We will be using the survey data to assess the areas of need.
Will ACPS have difficulty with the logistics of working with 30-40 partners to provide child care?
These are the same partners we already work with on our before and after care programs, on our sports and recreation programs. We also work with our community partners every summer with all camps we offer in the City of Alexandria, that partnership and collaboration is not new and will enable us to implement our child care options in a timely manner.
Will there be fees that families for care will have to pay or that ACPS will need to pay?
ACPS is collaborating with our partners and with the City, we are also looking into grant programs so that we can offer it free or offer help to families who cannot afford the fees. ACPS is turning over every stone to make sure we are serving the most needy families and students and that child care is affordable for our families to take advantage of.
Will ACPS provide our buildings for child care?
In addition to spaces with off-site child care providers, ACPS is examining how much space can be provided or set aside for child care in our buildings. Even though students are not being instructed in the schools the buildings are still being accessed and used for onsite registration, meal distribution, and construction projects. We have a number of small groups utilizing our facilities. In addition, adhering to CDC guidelines on social distancing and cleaning will also reduce capacity. Unfortunately, space will be restrictive at our partners locations and within ACPS buildings. ACPS has created a matrix, a framework to expand child care with the goal of filling the gap for our most vulnerable families and students. The survey of our families' needs that closed on Sunday, August 9 will help us determine what the needs are and how much of it can be addressed.
When will ACPS begin to offer the child care services?
Our goal is to have it in place the first day of school on September 8, 2020. Once we know the need then we can assess what, how and when we can deliver.
Some staff have children at home, what will be the professional expectations for these staff?
ACPS has staff working in other school districts and many have children at home and that is one of the reasons the Virtual PLUS+ model was the most feasible at this time. The expectation is that staff will be able to work their full contract hours from their home environment.