By Randy Arrington
LURAY, Aug. 17 — Last week, the Page County School Board made more adjustments to its “Return to Learn” reopening plan for the 2020-21 school year after considering feedback from staff and parents.
The county’s initial reopening plan for schools was presented and approved on July 16. Eleven days later, the school board adjusted the weekly schedule to keep Groups “A” and “B” together two consecutive days — Monday/Tuesday and Thursday/Friday, respectively — rather than have both groups inside school buildings before a “deep cleaning” takes place each Wednesday and on weekends.
On Thursday, the school board made further adjustments by adding more in-person instruction for younger student and more remote learning for older students. Instead of the same schedule and approach across the board among all grade levels, the following was approved last Thursday night:
- PreK- 2nd grade — Face-to-face learning 4 days a week and 1 day remote (Wednesday), or full remote 5 days a week;
• 3rd – 8th grade — Face-to-face learning 2 days a week (AA/BB schedule) and 3 days remote learning, or full remote 5 days a week;
• 9th – 12th grade — Full remote 5 days a week;
- Page County Technical Center programs — Face-to-face learning 2 days a week (AA/BB schedule).
“The message here tonight is, the majority of the instruction will be delivered in a remote model,” PCPS Assistant Superintendent of Instruction, Innovation and Accountability Eric Benson said during last Thursday’s meeting.
Benson conducted a Q&A session about scheduling and learning options for the upcoming school year on Sunday afternoon via an online Zoom meeting for parents, students and the community. The cutoff was Sunday evening for parents to decide whether they wanted remote-only or a mix of remote and in-class instruction.
Last Thursday, school board members and administrators heard from six speakers and read about two dozen written comments into the minutes of the meeting. While some called for remote instruction only in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, many who addressed the board wanted just the opposite — full, in-person instruction for all students.
“I want to urge you to put our students first,” Luray Councilman and parent Joey Sours said last Thursday. “Classroom education is imperative… Unless you’re ready to shut down during flu season, what are we doing?”
Sours cited the CDC’s recommendation to send students back to school, as well as other advantages of having kids in classrooms. He recommended that the school board consider five days of in-person instruction.
“We do not live in fear, and we cannot live in fear,” parent Amanda Green said. “Our children need socialization… They want to go back early. They actually want to go to school. They will wear a tent if they have to, to go back to school.
“A packet is not an education,” Green added, referring to distance learning. “I might as well home school.”
In making their decision on the latest adjustments to the scope of in-person and distance learning, the school board listed the following items that were considered in a notice posted on the school system’s website:
• Staffing — ability to ensure all instructional positions necessary were covered;
• Facility — ability to provide adequate space for social distancing and a safe environment for students and staff;
• Technology — ability to provide devices, Internet access, and remote learning;
• Safety — ability to adhere to VDH and CDC guidelines;
• Transportation — ability to adhere to VDH and CDC guidelines to ensure a safe ride to and from school;
• Nutrition — ability to provide food services to all students.
“We have had a plan in place [for several weeks], but now we are reacting to feedback,” Superintendent Wendy Gonzales told school board members and the public last Thursday. “We voted on a plan, and we continue to look at what’s changed. We are looking at guidelines from the CDC and VDH, we’re looking at what other counties are doing, we’ve heard from parents and the community, we’ve heard from staff… that’s the reason we’re having this discussion — we’re being responsive to people’s comments.”
Parents can expect paper packets to be sent home with instructions as the school year begins. School officials were clear that all students need to receive the same material until the technology gap is bridged. However, once laptops are distributed to all students, video instruction will be incorporated.
Benson said there are not enough laptops to go around at this point, and new computers that have been ordered to utilize a new software system will not be in until possibly December.
“The timeline on the new technology is second semester, but we will roll it out as soon as possible,” Benson said last week. “If folks are honest with us, it will help out this whole school division. If they already have a device, then they don’t need one [provided by the school system].”
Uncertainty remained last week, as the big questions on the minds of school board members, administrators, teachers, staff, students and parents are when will things go back to normal, and even more important, what happens if the pandemic worsens?
“We all have to be fluid,” Dr. Gonzales said.
“I don’t think there is a perfect plan for reopening schools,” Benson said. “Since the March closing, things don’t look a lot different.”
School administrators stressed that conditions may continue to change on a regular basis, and the school system will need to make adjustments accordingly during the school year.
“There may be instances where certain schools may be shut down and other schools are open,” Benson said.
Health screenings, including temperature checks, will be conducted daily at each school, for both students and staff. Students will also be required to bring a signed notice from their parents each day, stating they have been checked and have not shown any symptoms of COVID-19 that day before entering a school building.
The school division has protocols in place if a case of COVID-19 is reported in a certain school. In some instances the school could be shut down for two to five days for cleaning, or longer if more cases are discovered. If a case of the coronavirus is found in a school, other students, teachers and staff may be asked to quarantine for 14 days, if they were exposed to a positive case.
If the pandemic weakens and reported cases continue to decline, then the school system may consider bringing more students back into the classroom with the same logic they used to make the latest adjustment to remote-only versus in-class instruction.
“As we looked to bring more students back, we looked at what age groups could handle remote learning,” Benson said at last week’s meeting.
“If conditions approve, we will bring the middle school students back, and then the high school… but not all at once, we will phase them in,” Dr. Gonzales said. “I don’t see [a situation] where everyone is coming back on the same day.”
For those concerned about school lunches being delivered to homes or served in school, the superintendent responded that, “We have always been feeding our children, and we will continue to feed our children.”
Teachers will be expected to report to school every day during the school year, but students will likely continue their chosen remote-only or mixed learning schedules throughout the first semester. Despite some discussion about potential changes after the first nine weeks (first quarter), Benson said last week it is unlikely that local schools will alter their schedule and instructional plans until the beginning of the second semester.
However, school officials note that conditions could change quickly if the pandemic worsens.
“Is it fair to say that in a week or two, it could change again?” District 2 school board member Rolf Gubler asked last Thursday.
“It could,” answered Lance Moran, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources and Building Operations. “It is constantly changing every day or two.”
“Every day is a new day,” Benson added.
CLICK HERE to see the full “Return to Learn” reopening plan for the 2020-21 school year