Almost one year to the day that schools closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, Norfolk could bring back some students for in-person learning.
Norfolk had planned to reopen school buildings only after the city hit certain health metrics. But following pressure by Gov. Ralph Northam, who has leaned hard on districts like Norfolk that aren’t yet in-person, the School Board appears poised to approve a new plan Wednesday night that would let elementary students return mid-March on a hybrid schedule.
“We would want all of our kids in school right now under ideal conditions,” Superintendent Sharon Byrdsong said.
The “all” part isn’t possible yet, she said, but the district can make “some” work.
Byrdsong’s proposal, which received no opposition when she presented it Wednesday afternoon, calls for teachers and staff to return to school buildings on March 1. The board will take a formal vote to approve the plan Wednesday night.
Students would start returning to buildings March 15 on a hybrid schedule in which part of the class attends in-person Mondays and Tuesdays and the other part attends Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays will remain an independent learning day for students.
The first phase includes students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, along with students with disabilities in self-contained classrooms and those learning English in any grade.
On April 12, middle school students will return, followed by high school students April 26.
Virtual will remain an option for any family that does not want to return in-person. About 21% of students have already picked the virtual-only option for the second semester, but Byrdsong said the district will accommodate families that want to change their preference.
The proposal includes changing some school start times by about 15 minutes to allow for cleaning buses between routes. The 8:15 a.m. start time will move to 8:30 a.m., the 8:55 a.m. start will shift to 9:15 a.m. and the 9:30 a.m. will move to 9:55 a.m.
School board members received the new plans warmly and asked for families’ patience.
“Everything’s not going to go perfect. This is a new experience for all of us, with the pandemic. I hope everybody will take a deep breath,” board member Lauren Campsen said.
Sara Gregory, 757-469-7484, firstname.lastname@example.org