Blended learning with face-to-face and online teaching, rotating schedules and a possible late start date are all options when Halifax County Public Schools return for the 2020-2021 school year.
While noting that these are all preliminary plans, Halifax County School Board reviewed some possibilities when they met Monday evening.
They also noted they are still waiting for more guidance from Gov. Ralph Northam’s office before they have anything more concrete.
Superintendent Dr. Mark Lineburg told board members Monday he anticipated receiving a more than 100 page document Tuesday on guidance for operating school, and he plans to review it before sharing it with other members of the school team.
Northam made an announcement Tuesday focused on distanced learning, virtual learning and blended learning as all K-12 schools plan to open in the fall.
The school board also received some guidance from school and central office staff on maintenance, health, instruction, communication and transportation matters when they met Monday.
Director of elementary education Lisa Long provided information on preliminary plans for reopening schools noting that safety of students, teachers, parents and the community as a whole is the main priority.
If students return using a “regular platform,” she said school would start on their scheduled Aug. 17 date, but she said if alternative platforms are needed, the earliest they’d likely return would be Sept. 8.
Before proceeding, Long stressed that “all instruction modelling and plans are preliminary.”
They plan to have a staff meeting June 15 to share more information, brainstorm and plan.
One idea Long said they’re discussing is the option of having face-to-face classes Monday-Thursday with a rotating schedule. She said there would be a group A and a group B.
One scenario she presented was that group A would attend school Monday and Wednesday while group B would attend school Tuesday and Thursday.
She said Friday would likely be used for professional development for teachers.
“Teachers have never taught this way before,” said Long. She said there will be a lot of planning needed and training to master new platforms of technology.
Some platforms of technology she anticipates being used are Google Classroom, Zoom, Virtual Virginia and Virtual Learning.
Virtual Learning, she said, is a tool that a lot of other Virginia schools already used before the coronavirus hit, and she said it would now be available to all Halifax County students.
“It’s here to stay… it’s a positive addition to students,” said Long.
Parents, she said, will have the option to choose if their child comes to school for face-to-face learning or if they attend school solely online.
Long also said she recognized some groups of students such as pre-K-second grade, Career and Technical Education and students with disabilities need face-to-face learning.
The school system plans to send out a link to the survey through the its alert system to any parent with an email shared with the school system, according to Jeanie Hawks, director of instructional technology. Paper copies will be provided for those without an email.
In addition to deciding if they want their child to come to school or not, Long also said they’ll have to let the school know if they plan to bring the child or have the child ride the school bus.
The school system also plans to redistribute the survey every nine weeks, said Long, who noted if a parent needs to change a method the option is there. But, she also stressed once a parent chooses for this child to physically attend school or online learning, the child must use that method for the entire nine weeks.
“This information is crucial in moving forward,” said Long. She said they’re only allowed to have so many children per classroom and so many on the bus.
In giving more details about transportation, director of transportation Dwight Elam said they will put decals on seats that can be used, and buses will be loaded back to front.
He also said routes will be reviewed, and they plan to eliminate two routes with safety and efficiency in mind.
The transportation director also said all bus drivers, SPED car drivers and all substitute drivers will receive a physical exam prior to the start of school, all DMV driver transcripts will be obtained and they’ll receive proper in-service training to enhance safety.
He also said all vehicles will receive a deep clean and disinfection, and all drivers will be responsible for disinfecting between routes.
Chairman Todd Moser asked Elam if he had an estimation on how much fuel costs would increase due to an increase in the number of runs per bus routes, and Elam said he would get him that information.
He said drivers would have multiple runs, but he had no further details.
The transportation director also said he planned to provide PPE (personal protective equipment) for all transportation staff.
Lineburg stressed they would follow any mandates or regulations from the Centers for Disease Control, Virginia Department of Health and state government.
ED-8 trustee Walter Potts asked if the state does not make a mandate for masked employees, then what?
Vice-chairman Sandra Garner-Coleman told the board she thinks they should “lead by example” while pointing out that three of the board members did not have masks on.
As one board member began to explain why he didn’t wear one, chairman Todd Moser ended the conversation saying they weren’t’ going to get into that, and that the board would continue the mask conversation in closed session.
Maintenance director Steve Brumfield said his staff is currently working on cleaning and replacing all the air filters in the HVAC systems.
He also has purchased PPE and a disinfectant that he said contains the germ killer for the coronavirus.
The maintenance director said he has enough of the disinfectant to last until the end of the next school year.
Hand sanitizer dispensers also have been purchased for high target and high traffic areas as well as PPE for staff including masks and gloves.
He also said custodians had been trained for the difference of cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting.
Disinfectant also will be placed in each classroom, and Brumfield said teachers would be responsible for disinfecting classrooms between students.
Brumfield also noted that changes are possible, and that they’d be following the CDC, VDH and state government guidance.
Garner-Coleman asked if the disinfectant in the classroom would be a spray bottle or airborne.
Brumfield said teachers would have to spray and wipe areas such as the light switch or doorknobs.
“Teachers have to help,” he added.
Lineburg also noted that the school day also will likely look different and students may not change classrooms after 50 minutes.
“They may be in there for longer periods,” he added.
The vice-chairman also made it clear that she does not want to overwhelm the teachers.
Speaking about nurses and other health related matters, Tina Slabach, school nurse manager, said all employees would have to undergo some sort of health screening prior to the school year starting.
She also has ordered PPE and has begun training on how to isolate a child who may be showing COVID-19 symptoms. The head nurse also plans to educate families on what to look for as far as symptoms and when to stay home from school.
The school nurse manager also said she is working to secure more nurses, and is waiting on further state guidance on masks and other issues.
Vice-chairman Coleman asked would the additional nurses be part-time, and Slabach said some would be temporary full-time and some part-time while others would be as needed.
School board members had several questions regarding the start of school such as Standard of Learning testing requirements, hours and days of school required and handling nutrition.
The superintendent said he anticipates there to be some sort of waiver to eliminate the SOL requirement, and he said they would continue to feed students they have been. He said those attending school would receive food in the cafeteria, and other students would have the option of coming to pick up food.
As far as other information, he said there are still a lot of “unanswered questions” right now.
He said in the end, the main focus he has in mind is that he wants to make the school year as simple as possible so “teachers can just teach.”