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Most children will return to school buildings in 3 weeks

Pre-kindergarten to 5th grade will begin 4-day-a-week, in-person learning March 15

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quarantine numbers school division

One slide shared at Monday's night's school board meeting indicates that since Jan. 22, the numbers of students and staff members who have had to quarantine because of COVID-19 exposure has been dropping.

The Fauquier County School Division surveyed parents last week to find out how many families would want their children to attend school four days a week, instead of two days a week as many do now. Responses representing 5,765 children (78% of those who responded) indicated a desire to attend under the hybrid model, attending in-person classes four days a week; 1,655 responses (22%) indicated a wish to remain virtual.

Those who did not respond to the survey were added to the four-days-a-week group, so 8,734 students (84%) could come back to school while 16% would learn remotely. Families can choose to move from hybrid to remote at any time; those who wish to move from remote to hybrid will be accommodated as well. “We’ll try to be flexible,” said Superintendent of Schools David Jeck.

The survey results were announced at the Feb. 22 school board meeting, where the school board voted unanimously to allow the four-day-a-week plan.

After almost a year of limited time in classrooms because of COVID-19 restrictions, children in pre-kindergarten to fifth grade will engage in four days a week of in-person learning and one day of asynchronistic learning starting March 15. The rest of the student body, sixth through twelfth graders, will resume four-day-a-week learning April 6. Students will not be in schools on Wednesdays, so that buildings can be cleaned and teachers can spend more time interacting with virtual learners.

“Virtual” students will have four days of remote learning that parallels the in-person students. Those students will be able to see and hear instruction as they currently do in the hybrid model. School officials acknowledge that virtual learners may experience a “lag” in response to questions posed during class due to the increased numbers of students in the classroom, but “staff will respond as quickly as possible.” A presentation by school officials said, “Teachers will set new expectations for when virtual students can expect to have questions responded to during class, after school and on Wednesdays.”

Superintendent of Schools David Jeck admitted at last month’s school board meeting that the remote learning option will not be as “robust,” as it has been, because teachers will have many more students in the classroom to manage.

Mitigation

Frank Finn, executive director of student services, discussed mitigation strategies in buildings, emphasizing that 6 feet of physical distance will not be possible in many situations. That’s why it’s important, he said, for everyone to be especially vigilant about wearing masks, even during recess or physical education classes.

From survey results, it is estimated that about 4,900 students will require bus transportation, about 47% of the student body. David Graham, executive director for administration and planning, said that with twice as many children in schools, that means twice as many children on buses; sometimes children will share seats in order to accommodate the new numbers.

And certain overcrowded bus routes, he said, may require a double run. “At some schools, we may have to pick up kids, drop them off at school then go out and pick up another group,” said Graham. He added that after dropping off middle and high schoolers at their schools, buses will be cleaned before picking up elementary school children.

Athletics

Under the new plan, high school athletic programs would continue as they are now and middle schools athletics would resume (boys baseball, girls softball, boys and girls cross country and boys and girls soccer). Certain club activities would also open up if they can maintain mitigation strategies.

Finn said that outdoor sports will endeavor to make sure spectators have enough space to maintain social distancing.

Loss of learning

Amy Acors, director of instruction for the school division, explained that in order to help children who have been struggling with remote learning, each school has “identified and invited students to after-school programs based on how many they could support.” Eighteen of 20 schools are offering the program. She said, “Some started last week, some start this week and others start next week.”

She added that plans are underway to develop a summer program to help students catch up from their months of separation from their teachers.

Vigilance

Jeck and school board members reinforced the importance of staying vigilant against the coronavirus. The superintendent said, “We are all excited to have our kids back in schools. The safest place for kids to be is in schools. But now is not time to let down our guard.”

Board member Donna Grove (Cedar Run District) agreed. She reminded parents of the importance of keeping their children home if they don’t feel well. She said, with characteristic candor, “Please don’t take a chance. We don’t want to screw this up.”

Reach Robin Earl at rearl@fauquier.com

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