Charlottesville City Schools officials have discussed plans for resuming in-person classes, and the options include possible dates in October.
“There’s a proposed plan that was shared with the COVID-19 Advisory Committee for their input and discussion,” Beth Baptist, chair of the COVID-19 Advisory Committee, said in an email Friday. “The plan is in the initial stages of discussion, and no set dates have been decided.”
A copy of a presentation on the new plan is attached at the bottom of this article.
Baptist, who also is coordinator of career technical education and special projects, said she anticipates there will be several revisions to the plan. Public schools officials shared the proposed plan with the committee in an effort to get feedback.
While the reopening plan is not finalized, Baptist confirmed that the plan involves younger students going back to school in-person on a staggered schedule. The division would then proceed with the older students.
Students would attend schools four days a week with asynchronous learning on Fridays.
“The draft also shows middle and high school students returning on a hybrid model of two days per week and continuing with asynchronous learning on the other days,” Baptist said. “All students will have the option of maintaining their online-only schedule. To the greatest degree possible, we will try to give instructional staff the option of remaining online or returning to in-person instruction.”
The School Board on July 30 voted to begin the first nine weeks of the school year virtually. Currently, the division has partnerships with third parties, such as the YMCA, to assist children with in-person virtual learning. If those third parties need space, they can then use the city school buildings.
At this point, it is unclear when the School Board will vote on an in-person plan. According to the presentation, the earliest in-person reopening date for prekindergarten through second grade is Oct. 13. Under the proposal, all students, with the exception of those whose parents opt to continue virtual instruction, could return as soon as Oct. 27.
School Board member Lashundra Bryson Morsberger on Friday said Superintendent Rosa Atkins needs to stick to the original plan.
“I believe changing direction contradicts the vote that was taken in August to go virtual for the next nine weeks,” she said. “It’s breaking our word to staff and shareholders and community members. We asked the community to do a very heavy lift with virtual learning and they rose to the occasion and this decision negates all that work.”
Bryson Morsberger said she doesn’t feel comfortable reopening school buildings yet, citing that there are things that need to be worked on, including protocols on either how to shut down or reopen schools.
“I’m at a loss because I found out about it the same way that most people did,” she said. “I want us to do what we say we were going to do. We took a very hard vote and the superintendent is disregarding the vote.”
Virtual learning is hard, she said, and she gets that part. She’s also aware that there’s a population of children who are vulnerable and who may need in-person instruction.
But sending this population of children to school in person would mean that the division is sending its most vulnerable children back in the classroom, she said. And to her knowledge, she said, the board has not discussed any liability issues.
Lashundra Bryson Morsberger is the newest member of the Charlottesville School Board.
Credit: Ézé Amos/Charlottesville Tomorrow
“All of this is hard,” she said. “We are not in an ideal scenario. The choices are hard. None of these answers are perfect. But we need to stick to what we said.”
While many during School Board meetings have encouraged board members to reopen in-person, others have also voiced concerns about the rising COVID-19 cases.
Baptist said that the committee lauds the division’s current online offerings, but face-to-face teaching is a better model.
“To begin this planning process, we established a schedule based on the earliest possible return. As a practical matter, when we began considering that if we have a staggered reopening at the end of the nine weeks (early November), we will quickly have interruptions with Thanksgiving and the winter break,” she said.
“Returning earlier allows for more continued instruction and routine before these events. But again, nothing has been decided, and everything is up for discussion. We are thinking outside the box to present all options to the committee.”
Albemarle County Public Schools has opted to reopen its school building in five stages, ranging online-only to all in-person, said Phil Giaramita, schools spokesman. County schools currently are in stage two, which offers in-person instruction to English language learners, children with special needs and those who don’t have access to adequate internet.
The higher the division goes in the stages, the more students will be allowed to go back in the school buildings for in-person instruction.
To move forward to stage three, the school division is in the process of beginning reaching out to employees, students and the community to get feedback. Superintendent Matt Haas is expected to make a recommendation the week of Oct. 8.
“This Friday, all employees, students and parents will be asked to participate in an online survey,” Giaramita said. “The survey will ask them about their current experiences, what has gone right for them, what challenges they may have encountered and how they would respond if we were to go to stage three next month.”
Haas will also make his recommendation based on input from principals, as advisory groups, data by the Thomas Jefferson Health District and state guidelines, Giaramita said.
“We will want to know how many parents would be comfortable with sending their children to school and how many employees would feel comfortable returning to in-person work,” he said.
“Students in the early elementary school grades are likely to be in school more frequently than students from other grades,” Giaramita said. “Even in stage three, parents or students could continue to select an all-virtual instruction model. In stage three, all students also would continue to have part of their learning be virtual.”