‘We don’t know what we’re doing on Jan. 4’ … it’s ‘wait and watch’

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By Randy Arrington

LURAY, Dec. 17 — Toward the end of the Page County School Board meeting Monday night, Superintendent Wendy Gonzalez addressed a question on the minds of students, parents, teachers, coaches and staff alike — what do we do beyond the current closure of schools through Jan. 4?

Do we return to a blended model of instruction that includes in-person instruction, or do we stick with remote-only learning through the end of January and the conclusion of the first semester? Or do we do something in-between those two options?

With COVID-19 cases in Page County currently at their highest sustained levels of the pandemic and models showing the projected peak for Virginia in late January or early February, school officials are in a “wait and watch” mode, according to Dr. Gonzalez.

“We don’t know what we’re doing on Jan. 4,” the superintendent told the school board Monday night. “We will be monitoring the situation over the next few weeks. We are regularly in contact with our peers in surrounding counties, and we are all in a wait and watch mode.”

Governor Ralph Northam has repeatedly stated that decisions related to school operations — both public and private — will be left up to the individual localities and school divisions.

Page County Schools have made several adjustments to its reopening plans that began to form in June and July. After initial adjustments based on community and staff feedback in August, the Return to Learn plan initiated in September saw grades pre-k through second in classrooms four days a week, 3rd through 8th grades receiving in-person instruction two days a week on an AA/BB schedule and remote-only learning for high school students. On Nov. 16, high school students were allowed to re-enter classrooms two days a week. That lasted only three weeks — a total of six instructional days — before the entire division reverted to remote-only learning after a surge in coronavirus cases in the county.

During Monday’s discussion, Dr. Gonzalez laid out several options for operations on Jan. 4 and moving forward:

  • Continue remote-only instruction for two additional weeks;
  • Continue remote-only instruction through the end of January and the conclusion of the first semester;
  • Return to a blended instructional model incorporating in-person instruction in the classroom;
  • Makes decisions school-by-school.

School board members did not give the superintendent any specific direction on how they were leaning, so the superintendent stated that administrators would continue the “wait and watch” approach for now, with regular updates provided to the school board.

“We have to be ready to pivot at any time,” Dr. Gonzalez said.

The superintendent warned parents to check their student’s health closely before sending them to school when in-person instruction returns. Positive cases within school buildings — from either staff or students — can put others — both staff and students — out of school for up to 14 days for contact tracing and/or quarantine purposes.

Daily health checks (slips signed by a parent or guardian) will return to Page Schools when students return to classrooms based on a recommendation and consensus of school board members on Monday.

Several school board members urged the administration to make a decision about Jan. 4 as soon as possible because “parents need to know.” Administrators will be reaching out to faculty and staff prior to Jan. 4 to check their health and ability to report for duty in-person on Jan. 4 and beyond.

The superintendent stressed the need for both staff members and parents to share news of positive cases with them, so that they can take the necessary precautions to protect the school community as a whole.

“[The Virginia Department of Health] is overwhelmed,” Dr. Gonzalez said, “so we need people to tell us.”

The local school division has issued 34 public notices since Sept. 4 about COVID-19 cases surfacing in county schools. Those notices break down by-school as follows:

  • 7 — Stanley Elementary (Sept. 10; Nov. 27, 29 and 30; Dec. 2, 3 and 10);
  • 6 — Shenandoah Elementary (Sept. 4; Nov. 2 and 10; Dec. 2, 6 and 16);
  • 4 — Luray Elementary (Sept. 14; Nov. 2; Dec. 8 and 16);
  • 4 — Luray High School (Nov. 30; Dec. 3, 8 and 10);

• 4 — Page County Technical Center (Sept. 26; Oct. 12; Nov. 2; Dec. 6);

  • 3 — Page Middle (Nov. 27; Dec. 4 and 10);
  • 3 — Springfield Elementary (Nov. 18; Dec. 7 and 16);
  • 1 — Luray Middle (Dec. 10);
  • 1 — Central Office (Dec. 7);
  • 0 — Page County High School.

Per its health plan, Page County Public Schools has pledged to notify the public of any positive cases relevant to the school system among staff or students.

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