Return-to-School Task Force Presents Ideas to School Board

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Zoom meeting of the Albemarle County School Board June 18, 2020.

The Albemarle county school division’s Return-to-School Task Force presented its much-anticipated report to the School Board today, though parents and students who hoped for specifics on exactly how schools plan to reopen this fall will have to wait a little longer. “While this document is what we might call the ‘rules of the game,’ it is not yet the ‘playbook,’” said Debora Collins, Deputy Superintendent, who outlined the task force’s findings.

The culmination of a large-scale effort that began in early May, the division’s “planning guide” incorporates the expertise of 81 school staff members across four aspects of the proposed reopening: healthy environments, healthy staff, healthy students, and healthy learning. Groups comprised of teachers and administrators for each focus area designed guiding questions and key strategies to chart a path forward with public health considerations at the forefront. The most recent draft of the planning guide can be found here: https://www.k12albemarle.org/acps/division/COVID19/Return-to-School-Planning-Guide-DRAFT-061820.pdf.

Beyond the broad guidance contained in the report, Collins acknowledged that parents, students, and teachers have “burning questions” about how school will realistically begin again, and those she answered elliptically. “It will be a hybrid learning model,” she said, “where one portion of student body will attend classes on school grounds while another group will learn remotely. The two groups may alternate days or weeks on campus to blend the environments, and elementary student schedules may be different than middle and high school.”

Unlike Charlottesville city school officials, who have proposed a “two days at school / three days at home” weekly learning schedule, Collins resisted getting into particulars. “We still need a lot of input to determine how often and how many children we can have in the buildings,” she said. A survey set to go out early next week will ask parents about their preferences for parent-provided versus school bus transportation to and from school, as well as whether they plan to send their children at all or have them learn virtually.

“We know it’s critical to have students in the buildings as often as we can, but there are challenging logistics to be able to do that in a safe way,” said Collins. “For instance, we are working with the health department to determine safe bus capacity and are looking at [having students use] every other seat, so for our biggest buses that means [a maximum of] 12 students. That changes the number of students we can get into the building every day.”

In response to questions from board members about options for families, Collins noted that parents will be able to choose virtual learning, whereby children may continue to stay home but learn “in a parallel way” by listening to lectures and doing the same work that is being done in the live classroom. She also floated the possibility that parents could request a home-schooling option where they would be able to choose their own sources of curriculum.

“Nothing is settled yet,” Collins stressed, “we are just beginning to explore these options.” The School Board has planned two retreats to discuss these topics in depth on June 19 and 26, and the official start date of school—potentially sliding to September 8 based on an earlier parent survey—will be announced on the 26th. The parent survey on transportation and in-person/virtual preferences will run from June 22 to July 3, and the division hopes to determine a weekly schedule for students by July 9.

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