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Most Community Members Favor Beginning School After Labor Day, Plus Return to School Task Force Presents Report

DATE: June 18, 2020
CONTACT: Phil Giaramita, Public Affairs and Strategic Communications Officer
PHONE: 434-972-4049

Most Community Members Favor a School Year That Begins After Labor Day; Task Force Presents Report on What Instruction Could Look Like This Fall

(ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Virginia) – The Albemarle County School Board is expected to decide during their work session on Friday, June 26, when the 2020-21 school year will begin for more than 14,000 students. Originally, the school year was scheduled to start on Wednesday, August 19, but that date is being reconsidered in light of the public health restrictions now in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 illness.

At the School Board’s meeting this afternoon, members were presented with the results of a recent community survey on when the new school year should begin. More than 4,800 responses were received from parents, students, employees, and other members of the community with the highest level of support, 55 percent, favoring a start date after Labor Day. Slightly more than half, 51 percent, agreed that starting school after the August 19 date would be beneficial. A copy of the survey results is available on our Survey Results web page at https://www.k12albemarle.org/acps/division/accountability/Pages/Survey-Results.aspx.

To help inform decisions on the learning experiences that will be provided to students when the new school year begins, the division will ask parents to participate in a follow-up survey beginning next week and running through July 3. Parents will be asked about the school transportation needs they anticipate for their children in August or September as well as their preferences for either in-person or virtual instruction or a combination of both.

Debora Collins, the school division’s Deputy Superintendent, said, “The conclusion we reached, based on the guidance from the governor’s office, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, our local health department, and our task force research, is that a hybrid model of instruction will best meet our responsibilities to provide healthy building environments, protect the health of students and staff, and ensure healthy learning experiences.”

Collins told School Board members a hybrid instructional model would best meet the social distancing restrictions that are expected to be in place this fall. By allowing students to alternate receiving in-person instruction, it would reduce the number of students in school at one time and allow for more separation between students. While one group of students would be in classrooms on a given day, another group would be learning remotely. The groups would alternate on successive school days. Elementary school students could have a different arrangement than middle and high school students.

She said parents also could have the option for all instruction to be delivered virtually to their children, but noted that this form of learning must parallel the quality of in-person learning.

Collins oversaw the work of the school division’s Return to School Task Force, which included more than 80 representatives from the division’s schools and departments. “To provide parents, students and staff with adequate time for preparing and planning for this unique school year, our goal is to finalize student schedules by Thursday, July 9, and submit a comprehensive instruction plan to the Virginia Department of Education, as required, the following week, by Wednesday, July 15.

Among the major issues identified in the Return to School Planning Guide, the draft task force report, are:

  • Specific safeguards to keep students safe and physically healthy and to identify student mental health needs and support protocols. This might include the circumstances under which face masks must be worn by staff and students. It also would address the arrangement of classroom desks and the use of such larger rooms as cafeterias for instruction.
  • Developing flexible schedules for various learning environments.
  • Structuring athletics, field trips, and other extracurricular programs to keep students safe.
  • Ensuring that instruction is easily accessible, meaningful and equitable in its delivery and outcomes, and that assessments of student progress are relevant and useful.
  • Keeping staff safe and ensuring they are able to support the health and well-being of students and other staff members.
  • Determining how best to provide safe transportation for students.
  • How to respond effectively and immediately if and when a confirmed case of COVID-19 is present in a school or building.

The draft Return to School Planning Guide, which will be finalized next week, is accessible online at https://www.k12albemarle.org/acps/division/COVID19/Return-to-School-Planning-Guide-DRAFT-061820.pdf.

“These are unprecedented times for every member of our school community, students, families and staff,” said Collins. “The encouraging news is that our staff adjusted quickly and imaginatively following the suddenness of the March 13 shutdown of schools. Since then, our teachers and staff have gained even more hands-on knowledge about how to reach students and their families under these challenging circumstances. This will benefit all of us in the new school year,” she said.

Collins said collaboration between the schools and families, always a key component in the quality of student learning experiences, will be even more crucial in the weeks and months ahead. “Our goal is to work closely with families as they make these important school and instructional decisions. We want parents to have as much information and guidance as possible, as soon as possible, so that we can continue to work together to make the new school year a rewarding one for them and their children,” she added.

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