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Botetourt County Schools plans hybrid return to school, new start date

Botetourt County Schools plans hybrid return to school, new start date

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Botetourt County students will return to the classroom two days a week under the return to school plan approved last week by the Botetourt County School Board. The plan, the same across all grades, calls for students to attend either Monday and Thursday or Tuesday and Friday, with remote learning taking place the other three days. Families can also opt for 100% remote learning.

The school board with little comment voted unanimously to approve the plan, which interim Superintendent Larry Massie said was “challenging” to create. The district will return to full in-person learning as soon as “it’s safe to do so,” Massie said, and the district will also be prepared to shift to solely remote learning if needed.

The board also voted to change the first day of school to Aug. 10 from Aug. 11 to accommodate the new schedule.

The district had a 91% response rate on a survey asking families whether they preferred a hybrid option or 100% remote, according to Massie. Approximately 85% indicated they preferred a combination of in-person and remote learning, he said.

“That doesn’t mean 85% of our parents endorse this plan 100%,” Massie said. “All of us ... would prefer to go to school every day 100% in-person. That’s what we want. And that is our goal to do so.”

Students from the same families will be scheduled for classroom learning on the same days, according to the plan. Individual student schedules will be released later in July once transportation plans have been finalized.

Face coverings will be optional when 6-feet of physical distancing is maintained, but they will be required on the bus. Students, unless they’re from the same family, will sit one per seat on the bus, for which district officials plan to file an “intent to vary” form with the Virginia Department of Education.

Chair Michelle Crook praised the plan for being thorough and reasonable. She said board members received parent comments ranging from wanting students back in school five days a week to wanting classrooms to remain closed.

“We can’t please both of those parents,” she said. “That’s not going to happen in our job. So our job, although it’s not going to make everyone happy, we have a job to do, and this is the hard part of our work.”

Massie said that after collaborating with numerous groups, organizations and people, including the district’s insurance group and health officials, the proposed plan represented the safest option.

“We have come up with the safest plan we can come up with and still have instruction face-to-face,” Massie said.

Botetourt County’s plan differs slightly from ones already released by nearby Montgomery and Roanoke counties. Montgomery County’s school board approved a plan to send students to the classroom four half-days a week. Roanoke County’s proposed plan, which has received vocal push back from part of the community, would send at least pre-K through second grade students to the classroom daily, with the possibility of third graders; older students would attend in-person twice a week. Roanoke’s school system is still developing its plan.

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