Norfolk’s school year will start virtually and continue online at least for the first nine weeks of the year, the city’s school board decided Wednesday.
Online learning could extend beyond that, but the board decided only to address the start of the school year given the constantly changing health forecasts.
Though not initially one of the options Superintendent Sharon Byrdsong presented to the board, she strongly endorsed the 100% virtual start on Wednesday, pushing back on a desire by some to bring in a limited number of students for in-person instruction.
“Make this a decision around health and not education,” Byrdsong said. “If we believe that the health conditions … of our locality are not conducive to children reporting to school, I would just caution you about deciding which groups it would be safe (for).”
The vote for a fully virtual start was 6-1, with Vice Chairman Rodney Jordan opposed. Jordan had advocated for some in-person instruction for groups of students for whom distance learning, in national research and the district’s own data, has shown to be more challenging.
Norfolk, with roughly 30,000 students, is the first Hampton Roads district to announce a fully virtual start. Other large districts in the state have made similar plans in recent days, but most in Hampton Roads won’t make final decisions until next week or August.
Epidemiologists have said there is no one metric school leaders should use when deciding when to reopen for in-person classes, but the extent of community spread, measured by the percent of positive tests, is one that should be taken into account.
In the last few weeks, Norfolk’s had the highest or one of the highest rates in the region. The percent of positive tests in the city has dropped a little since the board met last week, but at 15.4%, it is still three times higher than the World Health Organization says is safe for reopening. All Hampton Roads localities are above the state’s less stringent 10% guideline.
Sara Gregory, 757-469-7484, email@example.com
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