Following Gov. Ralph Northam’s June announcement in which school division can phase into reopening in the fall, Tidewater school divisions grappled with how they will handle welcoming students back amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In order to reopen, school divisions will follow a similar trajectory as business and restaurant reopenings following a three-phase process.
Armed with Virginia Department of Education guidelines and public and staff comments, school divisions weighed in on their options and after weeks of deliberations, several have issued their Phase 2 and 3 reopening plans and outlined how the school year will look in the fall.
King and Queen
Planning to reopen at a later date, the King and Queen Public School division is set to welcome students back Sept. 8.
According to Superintendent Carol Carter, the later start date will provide additional time for staff to prepare their instruction for their newly adapted hybrid in-person and remote learning model.
Dividing its preschool through seventh graders into two groups, the school plans to follow an A/B schedule. Group A will report to their designated schools on Monday and Tuesday and will work from home Wednesday through Friday.
Likewise, Group B will work from home on Monday and Tuesday and will receive on-site instruction Thursday and Friday.
The division will set aside its Wednesdays as teacher workdays in which staff will plan and the schools will undergo extensive cleaning.
Additionally, elementary school student will end their school days at 1 p.m. The earlier dismissal will provide extra time to clean, disinfect and sanitize each facility, Carter said.
Students in grades eight through 12 will follow an A/B/C schedule. Eighth graders will follow Group A, 10th and 12th graders will follow Group B and ninth and 11th graders will follow C.
Designating each weekday as an A, B or C, students will attend one of every three days on a rotating cycle and then work remotely for the rest. A schedule will be provided to parents at a later date.
Parents and guardians who do not feel comfortable sending their children to school will also have the option to enroll their children in 100% virtual learning. Students will receive all of their instructions through a virtual platform.
Additionally, all students enrolled in hybrid learning will participate in daily health screenings before entering school. Anyone showing COVID-19 symptoms should stay home and anyone with an above-normal temperature will be sent home immediately.
“While the goal of King and Queen Public Schools to bring students back to school, in person and at 100% capacity, Monday through Friday, King and Queen Public Schools recognizes the ongoing concerns regarding the safety and health of both students and employees,” Carter said in a release. “The School Board and I will monitor and reassess the reopening plan on an ongoing basis.”
King William County Public Schools plan to reopen Aug. 24 and plans to offer an alternating day schedule, Superintendent David White said.
Splitting students into two groups, group 1 will attend Monday and Wednesday and group 2 will attend Tuesday and Thursday. Students will engage in distance learning on the days they are not physically in the building.
The division will use Fridays as a teacher workday for staff to focus on lesson plans as well as additional cleaning and disinfecting classrooms.
While the division has not designated which students will be assigned to which group, White said the division is considering instructional needs of students, the number of students in classrooms, gender distribution and addresses to decide.
For parents who are not comfortable with sending their students back to school, the division will offer a 100% virtual option.
For all grade levels, reliable internet access is crucial for at-home virtual learning. In order to accommodate this, the division is working to offer personal hot spots to take home, but there is a limited quantity available.
The division plans to train teachers on various online platforms in order to offer adequate student learning. This year, students will focus primarily on four core areas of instruction: language arts, math, science and social studies. While electives will still be offered, they may be reimagined in order to meet standards.
In ensure students’ safety, the division plans to take additional precautions in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Students will undergo extensive health screenings before they are allowed into the schools. Additionally, they will have to sanitize before coming into school and before and after recess.
Facilities, buses and playground equipment will be sanitized throughout the day. Staff will be required to screen at home before coming to work. Students’ temperatures will be taken as buses are unloaded. If a student’s temperature is more than 100 degrees, they will be sent to the clinic for further evaluation.
Visitors will be asked to self-screen and must wear a mask before entering the building. Hallway traffic will be limited and markings will be placed on the floor to ensure social distancing.
According to Superintendent Laura Abel, the division plans to re-open on Sept. 8 in order to further assess their options. Following feedback from parent and staff surveys, Abel said the division is crafting several potential options in order to best accommodate parents, students and staff.
To date, the division has not issued any plans. According to Abel, the School Board has scheduled a retreat in order to decide on their plan and it will then be shared with the community.
A decision and a plan will not be released until Aug. 4, Abel said.
Following its July school board meeting, the New Kent school division introduced its Plan to Return options.
Assessing their options, the division looked at different options in a risk-based guide, with the lowest risk option including a 100% virtual learning environment.
But, with limited internet access in the county, the division is considering a hybrid learning plan.
The hybrid plan would see students returning with limited days at school and then virtually at home.
Additionally, the division is considering transportation needs as buses are limited as to how many students can ride at a time. Likewise, the division is also considering child care needs. With students needing at-home, virtual learning, the need for child care could be an issue for working parents.
To date, the division has not issued its reopening plans.
Emily Holter, email@example.com, 757-256-6657, @EmilyHolterNews.
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