Nothing set in stone: Local school boards set to decide on re-opening plans

The Albemarle County and Charlottesville School Boards will meet this Thursday, July 31 to finally decide how to open schools this year, reports Katherine Knott.

Knott says that people who commented during three town halls largely fall into two groups: “…those who said it was too dangerous to return to school; those who said that in-person instruction constrained by social distancing and other safety precautions wouldn’t be effective; and those who felt that the risk could be reduced through masking and social distancing and felt that not returning to school would have a detrimental effect on students…”

Most teachers and staff favor online instruction to begin the year. Other school systems in the area have decided on in-person classes and some in-person classes. Regardless of what the plans are, parents can opt for online only instruction if they choose. County School board vice-chairwoman Katrina Callsen said that "nothing being decided right now is set in stone,” and that “everything is changing; the information we have is changing." School is expected to begin on September 8.

Indeed, experts at UVA have warned that the area could see a spike in COVID-19 cases in September if there isn't sufficient compliance with mask-wearing and social distancing regulations.

Graphic below from the Daily Progress:

Breaking: Message from Charlottesville Schools Superintendent Dr. Rosa Atkins ahead of Thursday’s vote:

Dear staff and families--

As you know, on Thursday at 5pm, our School Board will meet*, and they will vote on our revised calendar (with a proposed start date of September 8) and our plan for how to open the school year.

As you also know, we have been wrestling with these complex decisions and have put forth a number of plans. Through our surveys, we know there is no clear consensus among families about the best path forward. 

After much thought, listening to teachers and the community, staff planning, consultation with public health experts, and more, we are recommending to the Board that Charlottesville City Schools open all-online for the first nine weeks of the year. We recommend that we revisit this decision mid-way through the first quarter to see if we can confidently resume face-to-face learning.

We know that if the Board approves this recommendation to move online for the first quarter, it will raise concerns for many of you. 

  • For those who need child care during your working hours, we have reached out to community partners to begin mapping resources.

  • For those who had a bad experience with online learning this spring, we have spent the summer researching best practices and we have already opened our professional learning class to staff so teachers can make the fall a much more positive and productive experience than our emergency learning in the spring.

  • For those who are worried about the mental wellness of your students, our fall plans incorporate social-emotional learning, community building, peer-to-peer engagement, and more. We are bringing in new resources and will soon be asking you about your family’s needs so that we can support you. Our teachers are already working on ways to make connections and build relationships with you and your students.

  • For those advocating for those students in need of meals, tech support, or other supports, we will continue and enhance the ways we have been meeting the needs of our community.

We know that as we re-evaluate quarter-by-quarter, any decision to offer a face-to-face option will raise other concerns.

  • For those wondering whether school safety protocols can successfully contain the virus, know that we will continue to watch American and international school reopenings so that we can modify our plans in accordance with best practices.

  • For those who want state or national guidelines to help us decide matters such as when to reopen or close, know that we are advocating for those tools.

  • For those who have practical questions about how to effectively resume face-to-face education while social distancing, again, we will be watching sister school divisions closely to keep learning and adjusting.

  • For households with special health risks for COVID-19, know that we will work with staff and families.

In short, we know you have concerns. We share those concerns. And for the time being, with cases rising in our nation and area, with a higher-than-recommended positivity rate in our area, and with many unanswered questions about how best to protect our staff and students, we have decided to put our efforts into online learning so we can make this first nine weeks rewarding and productive.

We are proud to be a diverse community. Sometimes we see that diversity in terms of race or ethnicity or life experiences. Today, we see that diversity in terms of our varying perspectives about how to best teach our children.

As always, diversity is a strength. Diverse opinions help us see and solve problems. Diverse strengths help us come together as one community to meet the needs of our students.

Thanks for your ongoing support and care. Thanks for continuing to partner with us for the future of our children and community.

Have a good evening, and take care.

Dr. Rosa Atkins
Superintendent

*For details on how to watch and participate in the School Board meeting on Thursday, July 30, 2020 at 5 p.m., visit charlottesvilleschools.org/schoolboardmeeting