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'We're exploring every option': Roanoke schools leader explains decision-making process behind proposed reopening plan

'We're exploring every option': Roanoke schools leader explains decision-making process behind proposed reopening plan

Only $5 for 5 months

Roanoke City Public Schools’ proposed reopening plan that would send students back to the classroom four days per week was created based on feedback from families and the division’s needs, Superintendent Verletta White said in an interview last week.

At the time the plan was created, a majority of feedback centered around requests for a five-day plan, according to White. Students’ academic and social needs also played a key role in the decision. Achievements gaps, reading for young students, and social and emotional needs “suggests that there’s a greater need for the continuity of instruction,” she said. The plan could conceivably change between now and when the school board votes to approve it, likely sometime in early August.

“This was the plan that we thought we could manage, especially since the numbers at that time, percentages [of capacity], gave us an instructional model that we could reasonably handle, and also would give our parents a choice,” White said.

The division plans to operate at 70% capacity. An initial survey of families found 68% preferred an in-person hybrid option, while 31% indicated they preferred 100% virtual. That survey had a 60% response rate, which meant the division needed to find out what the other 40% wanted. A formal intent form closed Tuesday night.

White emphasized that the plan, unveiled July 14, was based on feedback and data at the time, and could change.

The four-day plan, which involves more in-person instruction than surrounding school division, has received both praise and pushback from parents. Families who praised the plan listed similar reasons White did: so students who rely on in-person instruction will have it.

But while the initial survey did not specify what a “hybrid” plan would entail, multiple parents told The Roanoke Times they felt misled because they didn’t think hybrid would include the possibility of four days in-person. They had in mind two-day plans neighboring divisions passed, including Roanoke County and Salem.

“That doesn’t feel like a hybrid plan to me,” said parent Laura Latham, who has a son about to start 10th grade. “That feels like full school week with one day off.”

Latham’s family originally opted for the hybrid plan in the initial survey, thinking it would mean two days a week. They’re sticking with the in-person option, for now, “with significant amount of trepidation” and the understanding that Latham’s son will move to the online option if anyone in the family becomes uncomfortable.

“It really is one of those things that there is no perfect solution,” she said, adding that she doesn’t want students to become further marginalized by not being able to go back to school, either.

White said she understands the perception families may have had.

“We explored [two days a week.] We’re exploring every option,” White said. “The model that we built, though, is flexible enough that if we need to go from four days to three, three days to two or two days to one, we can do that.

“What we had to do is look at the maximum number of days so that we could consider ‘What would be the logistics?’ since that was the call at the time: look at the maximum number of days that you can conceivably and reasonably, feasibly handle. And that was the plan that we created.”

White said it would be easier to downshift than to create a two-day plan and need to increase the number of in-person days.

White’s final recommendation to the school board won’t be based on a certain number of positive COVID-19 cases in the Roanoke Valley but rather looking at trends in case data and staff and family feedback.

New ways of teaching and learning

Teachers and staff have been training over the summer to use learning management system Canvas, which will house online learning for the division.

Spokesman Justin McLeod said teachers will receive 90 professional development points for completing the training, which go toward teaching license renewal.

White said teachers have filled out a form indicating their preference for online or in-person teaching. Teachers have also been asked to contact the human resources department with any specific extenuating circumstances or medical concerns.

Teachers who teach face-to-face Mondays through Thursdays will plan their lessons as usual while loading enrichment and remediation activities for virtual Fridays. They will also schedule office hours on Friday as needed for small groups or individual conferences, White said.

Virtual teachers will have their own class roster, similar to normal classes, and plan activities for those students, White said. Learning will be asynchronous, which means there will not be live instruction, and teachers will schedule virtual meetings with students.

The virtual academy will follow the same curriculum calendar as in-person instruction, which division officials say will make it easier to transition from in-person to online as needed. Families opting for the virtual academy were asked to commit for one nine weeks to avoid in-person capacity issues.

For those who opt for in-person, class lengths will not change, according to answers McLeod provided to a written list of questions.

Elementary students will not switch classes, though there will be opportunities for breaks, McLeod said in an email. Physical education will take place in the gymnasium or outside, and recess will occur outside when possible.

Students who participate in an accredited home school program during the 2020–21 school year will receive credit for high school classes, McLeod said.

Should schools close for snow and an in-person school day is scheduled, it will count as a snow day, McLeod said. Virtual work will continue if snow occurs on a virtual Friday.

Because the last day of school is now June 10 due to a calendar change, graduation is scheduled for June 11. It was previously scheduled for June 3.

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