A large chorus of parents are pushing for a four-day school week, teachers are concerned about their health, and members of the Halifax County School Board are stuck in the middle trying to find a solution for the reopening of schools.
While Superintendent Dr. Mark Lineburg has said a final decision will likely not be made Thursday, school board members plan to meet at 6 p.m. in the Halifax County High School cafeteria to continue discussions on the upcoming school year.
In addition to a COVID-19 health update, also on the agenda is the school reopening plan including discussions on the instructional plan and model, operations including safety and procedures, human resources including potential employee issues and communication.
Most recently, the school system hosted a virtual town hall in which Lineburg, Halifax County High School principal Michael Lewis and Francine Davis, principal of Sinai Elementary who previously served on the Virginia Department of Education Continuity for Learning (C4L) Task Force, gave insight to the next school year.
Previously, Halifax County Public School parents were given a survey that gave them two options for the next school year — solely online or a hybrid option that would allow for two days of in-person learning and two days of virtual learning at home.
The superintendent also said they plan to have pre-kindergarten through at least second grade, and maybe third graders, attend school at least four days a week. The school system also plans to provide in-person instruction for students with disabilities.
This would be dependent on classroom size. Teachers are currently required to socially distance their classroom, due to guidelines provided by the state.
Lineburg, Davis and Lewis assured parents during the virtual town hall that regardless of which option was chosen for their student, their student would receive “face-to-face” time with their teacher. They said it could be in the form of Zoom meetings, phone calls or recorded videos.
As far as career and technical classes at the high school, Lewis said they would allow for both in-person and online instruction, and Lineburg assured parents that dual enrollment classes would be offered.
For those who do not have Internet service at home, Lineburg said each school would have “hot spots,” and each child would have a Chromebook. He explained that parents could drive the child to a school with their Chromebook, download content for assignments and then the student would be able to work on the assignments at home without the need for Internet service.
The superintendent also said paper packets would be available for those who need them.
It is unclear which direction the school system will go.
Earlier this month, school board members approved an instructional calendar with a Tuesday, Sept. 8 start date. The calendar includes 16 days of professional development for teachers prior to the students’ first day of school to give the teachers adequate training to learn new online instructional methods and policies and procedures in preparation for a school year that will look completely different from years past.
ED-2 representative Roy “Keith” Lloyd and ED-7 representative Keith McDowell voted “no” on the 2020-2021 calendar.
However, other decisions regarding the upcoming school year were left in limbo.
During that meeting, board chairman and ED-6 representative Todd Moser asked parents to be patient with them as they went through the process of making decisions about the upcoming school year.
“We’re going to do our best to get your children back to school,” Moser told the parents. “Give us time to work this out, and pray for us.”
Garner-Coleman also asked the parents during that meeting to “keep us in your prayers” as they made decisions about the 2020-21 school year. She said the school board has to protect the health of all of its staff members when making those decisions, and some of the staff members have underlying health conditions. She added if teachers become sick with COVID-19 and have to quarantine, that would interfere with instruction.
“If we lose our teaching staff, nobody will be at school,” Garner-Coleman said. “We have to be protective of our staff.”
Lineburg also made it clear during that meeting that it would be impossible to have all students in school five days a week with social distancing.
At that meeting, Lloyd proposed and later formally made a motion for the board to hold a work session meeting at a later date, with a health professional present before making a decision about the instructional format for the upcoming school year.
“This issue is probably the largest we’ve faced in quite some time. I think it’s something too large to vote on in a business meeting,” he said.
Lloyd’s motion passed in a 7-1 vote, with Garner-Coleman casting the dissenting vote.