No decision has been made on when Halifax County Public School students will be able to return to school, and Superintendent Dr. Mark Lineburg said on Sunday he doesn’t anticipate that decision to come from him.
He said he anticipates Gov. Ralph Northam to make an announcement early this week on public schools in Virginia.
On March 13, Northam closed Virginia K-12 schools for a minimum of two weeks starting March 16 in response to the continued spread of COVID-19.
Regardless of when students return to school, Lineburg said he anticipates it to have a significant impact on how school is going to look different next year.
He did note that he does not anticipate students to have to repeat a whole year, but that they’re continuing to work on emergency plans to figure out how to address these changes.
That is one of many loose ends the superintendent and his staff are working through to try to determine how to best address this school year.
On Friday, Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane directed Virginia Department of Education staff to prepare an application to the U.S. Department of Education for a statewide waiver from federal requirements related to student testing.
The state superintendent issued the directive after U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced an expedited process for states to request statewide waivers from assessment and certain accountability provisions of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.
“It’s not just as easy as saying no SOLs,” said Lineburg who noted that some students have to meet certain criteria to advance to the next grade or graduate.
“Hopefully we will get some leniency to get our kids graduated,” he added.
In the meantime, the school system also is preparing for the Halifax County School Board’s budget work session and special meeting Monday evening to be held at the Halifax County Middle School cafeteria at 6 p.m. when school board members are expected to approve the upcoming budget.
While the public is able to attend, Lineburg said they will be practicing social distancing as much as possible as part of their safety measures.
As stated in an advisory opinion outlining how public bodies should conduct meetings by Attorney General Mark Herring, he stated that the Virginia Freedom of Information Act permits meetings to continue to be held in-person and open to the public.
“It is also my opinion that Code § 44-146.21 does not authorize local governing bodies to hold meetings solely by electronic communication during the pendency of the emergency, but that Code § 15.2-1413 provides additional authority for localities to ensure continuity of government during the declared emergency,” he wrote.
They also are streaming the meeting on Facebook live.
“We’re going to try to spread people out,” Lineburg added.
School board members have been reviewing the proposed fiscal year 2021 budget with the expectation that they could receive an additional $2,179,876 in revenue from the state and level funding from the county.
In previous budget talks, board members have discussed the possibility of giving teachers a 2% raise plus step increase at a cost of $1,091,916.
Superintendent Dr. Mark Lineburg said that would translate to between 3.4% and 3.7%.
He also suggested adding $288,000 to adjust the salary scale toward the top of the scale.
They also considered giving non-teaching staff a 3% raise at a cost of $486,812 as well as an additional 1% raise for support staff at a cost of $80,000.
Support staff includes positions such as custodians, bus drivers and aides.
Not only is the school attempting to give raises to teachers, non-teachers and support staff, but they’re also facing the possibility of state mandates of minimum wage for support staff and substitutes costing roughly $159,755.
Other items considered as part of the budget were $100,000 to add school counselors to meet state requirements, $35,000 for a safety coordinator, $65,000 for mental health specialist and $65,000 for a writing specialist.
In addition to approval of the budget, board members also are slated to renew their food service contract.