Courtesy of Prince William County Schools
On June 9, Governor Ralph Northam shared the Virginia Department of Education’s (VDOE) Recover, Redesign, Restart 2020 plan for returning students and staff to school.
A few key highlights from their plan include:
- Learning and instruction must be provided for every student.
- In-person instruction can be offered for all students; however, strict social distancing measures must be implemented.
- Virtual instruction is also an option as well as a hybrid model allowing for both in-person and virtual.
- Remote learning exceptions and teleworking should be options for students and staff who are at a higher risk of severe illness. Under the current Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, this includes anyone 65 and older, and those persons with underlying health conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and those who are immunocompromised including those undergoing cancer treatments or on corticosteroids or other immune-weakening drugs.
- Per the state requirements, mitigation strategies may impact school operations and student capacity limits.
- Additional operational requirements mandated by the State include physical distancing, such as keeping students six feet apart, gathering limits and other mitigation strategies, including the use of face coverings by students and staff.
- The VDOE is requiring physical distance between children on school buses when possible, including one child per seat, every other row, and limiting capacity as needed to optimize distance between passengers. Children (such as siblings) living together may sit together on the bus.
- The VDOE and the state are also requiring physical distancing of at least six feet to the greatest extent possible in all buildings and classrooms. Other social distancing precautions should include, but are not limited to, restricting mixed classes and closing or staggering the use of communal spaces such as cafeterias, and limiting outdoor activities and recess to 50 people, with a priority on social distancing and restricting the mixing of classrooms.
- Large gathering limits will be determined by Executive Order in effect at that time. According to VDOE, athletics and extracurricular activities may continue with some mitigation measures. This includes limiting athletes’ contact with each other, perhaps only allowing for some sports training rather than competitions.
- Before entering Phase II or III, every school in Virginia will be required to submit to the VDOE a plan outlining their strategies for mitigating public health risk of COVID-19.
- Additionally, public school divisions will be required to submit a plan for providing new instruction to all students in the 2020-2021 academic year, regardless of phase or the operational status of the school at the time. This plan must also include strategies to address learning lost due to spring 2020 school closures and plans for fully remote instruction should public health conditions require it.
“While we agree that the safety of students and staff should be at the forefront, we also recognize this guidance is a significant unfunded mandate on our School Division, and places an immense challenge on our teachers, administrators, staff, students, and families both fiscally and logistically,” said Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Steve Walts. “We also recognize that the state’s directives are not aligned to the realities of our School Division’s scale, scope, or budget.”
Dr. Walts added that the physical distancing, bus, and building capacity requirements, and health considerations of staff and students, will unfortunately make it impossible to have all students and staff in buildings at any one time.
“We will have to implement some variation of distance learning, alternating schedules, and telework,” he said. “Despite these challenges, we are working hard to prepare for the fall. We have a number of plans that have been taking shape over the past few weeks.”
Furthermore, Walts said, the Division has multiple collaborative teams comprised of school-based instructional staff, including special education, and English learning, as well as school-based administrators and department leaders, working on development and completion of plans.
“We are continuing to implement our digital equity plans, as well as providing computer devices for students without them at home, and access to the internet through a combination of WiFi parking lots, hot spots, and reduced cost internet through Comcast,” Dr. Walts said.
PWCS will be surveying families and staff in the next two weeks to obtain further feedback on the guidance from the state, as well as to gain insights to shape final plans.
“It is my hope to have a more specific return to learning update for the School Board to consider by mid-July,” Dr. Walts said.