The nearly 4,000 students in Salem’s school system will have attendance options when schools reopen Aug. 31 as the city’s school board voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the district’s hybrid plan that allows for in-class and online learning.
Salem’s plan calls for pre-kindergarten through second-grade students to be in school five days a week, third through 12th graders will be in school two days a week. Additionally, students in grades 3-12 will receive three days of online learning.
All students will have the option of staying home and receiving 100% online learning rather than returning to classrooms.
Salem’s vote came as school boards in Roanoke, Radford and Pulaski County reviewed their reopening plans Tuesday, and Roanoke County’s board is poised to vote on its plan Wednesday.
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Gov. Ralph Northam, who closed schools to all but virtual, online instruction in March in light of the coronavirus pandemic, reiterated in a news conference Tuesday that the details of reopening schools will be up to localities to decide based on the state’s guidelines.
Salem’s plan is flexible enough to accommodate any future disruptions to the school year if the pandemic worsens, Assistant Superintendent Curtis Hicks told the board. Likewise, if conditions improve, he said, the school district can quickly transition to in-person learning for all grades.
“We’re not afraid to make changes as the information becomes clear. … We hope we can get back to 100% [in-classroom] participation sooner rather than later,” he said.
Board Chairman David Preston praised the division’s leadership team: “This plan gets the teacher-to-student relationship started back as the children need.”
Salem’s plan divides students into four groups in order to make scheduling easier. Those groups — called simply groups A, B, C and D — will be assigned to attend schools on specific days of the week. Students in grades 3-12 who are in groups A and C will attend school in person on Mondays and Thursdays. Students in groups B and D will attend Tuesdays and Fridays.
All grades 3-12 students will use online learning on Wednesdays.
Salem students and teachers will be required to wear face coverings and will be asked to practice physical distancing when attending in person. The school system has the ability to keep students separated because most of the buildings will be at less than capacity.
Radford plans a hybrid system that will see half of its 1,600 students come in two days a week, with virtual learning the other days.
Wednesdays will be reserved for cleaning the facilities and possible online or in-person tutoring for students who may need extra help, according to school officials. The first day of school will be Aug. 13.
The school system also will have an option for students who do not feel safe to come into school to remain on a completely virtual schedule, according to Superintendent Rob Graham. Those students will still be able to participate in extracurricular activities.
All students will have access to laptops, and students who rely on school food will still receive breakfast and lunch five days a week, he said.
A decision to go virtual would be based on a range of factors, including guidance from the New River Health District throughout the school year, according to Graham. He said the school system is able to go to a completely virtual learning model if needed.
Graham said students will be given gaiters — masks that cover the neck and can be pulled over the face — to use when they are within 6 feet of another student.
Pulaski County officials presented a hybrid model for the first month for elementary and high school students when school starts Sept. 8, culminating in 100% in-person instruction four days a week by the end of September if the state remains in phase three of its reopening plan.
“Masks have to be worn for this model to work. … I know it’s a hot-button political issue. … We are educators and will follow the science. … But this is nonnegotiable,” Superintendent Kevin Siers told the school board.
Middle school students will participate in virtual learning until Sept. 18, because the new middle school building project is behind two weeks due to three workers testing positive for COVID-19 in mid-June, Siers said.
Middle school students will begin following the same timeline as the rest of the school system beginning Sept. 21.
If the state returns to phase two of its reopening plan, the county will revert to a hybrid model similar to Radford’s current plan for kindergarten through third grade, and virtual instruction for other students, according to the plan. All students will have access to laptops.
Pulaski County’s sanitation and protective gear guidelines were similar to those Radford outlined in its presentation, including extra cleaning and monitoring the health of its students.
The county has approximately 4,100 students.