Southwest Virginia’s second-largest school system on Thursday unveiled its plan to return to school in August, which will involve daily in-person instruction for pre-K through second grade students and twice-a-week in-person instruction for third through 12th graders. Roanoke County’s plan is based on the state being in Phase 3, which Virginia enters on Wednesday.
The Roanoke County School Board is expected to approve the plan at its July 2 meeting, but district officials presented their recommendations during a special Thursday night work session. Board members seemed to support the plan’s overall arc, though
Superintendent Ken Nicely said it was “critical” for the county’s youngest students to receive daily in-person instruction.
“I want us to commit to this, and I think we can do this,” Nicely said.
Third through 12th grade students will be split into two groups under the plan to attend at 50% capacity. One group will attend school on Mondays and Thursdays; the other group will attend Tuesdays and Fridays. Families with multiple children will attend on the same schedule.
“Even though we want 100% capacity, other school divisions in our area are saying they can only start out with 25% capacity,” Nicely said, saying the district pushed for as much classroom instruction as possible.
He cautioned, though, that these plans are contingent on families helping with transportation. That is the one topic that’s currently “a big question mark” because fewer students can fit on a bus, he said. Face coverings will be required for middle and high school students.
Parents can also opt for 100% remote learning.
Vinton District representative Tim Greenway requested that at a minimum, fourth and fifth graders also attend daily in-person, saying he wanted to minimize students falling behind.
Executive Director of Elementary Instruction Stephanie Hogan said elementary students will have 40 minutes of recess each day, and lunch will be served in the classroom. Because students will be spending more time in the same classroom, schools will dismiss an hour early to give teachers planning time. Middle and high schools may dismiss an hour early, too.
Individualized Education Plans will be followed and vulnerable learners’ needs will be prioritized, said Executive Director of Administration Rhonda Stegall.
The district will buy Plexiglas shields for classroom desks for pre-K through second grade students. It will cost $168,000, which the board plans to fund through its Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act monies.
To mitigate spread of the coronavirus, there won’t be field trips, and nonessential school visits will not be allowed, Stegall said. Daily health screenings will be conducted. And perhaps to the chagrin of students who never miss school, perfect attendance awards won’t be offered to discourage attending school when sick.
The return to school recommendations from the governor’s office and Virginia Department of Education are not mandates. School districts “are ultimately responsible for deciding whether/how to operationalize this guidance,” according to the VDOE. Districts that plan to deviate from health recommendations or plan to offer more in-person instruction than what is recommended should submit an intent to vary form with the VDOE.
Greenway, who previously pushed to vary from the state’s reopening recommendations, voiced gratitude for the district staff who created the reopening plan.
“I think y’all are absolutely amazing,” he said. “We’re so far ahead of the curve … but there’s no substitute [for the classroom].”