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Most Students This Fall Can Expect Their Learning to Combine In-Person and Virtual Instruction

DATE: July 10, 2020
CONTACT: Phil Giaramita, Public Affairs and Strategic Communications Officer
PHONE: 434-972-4049

Most Students This Fall Can Expect Their Learning to Combine In-Person and Virtual Instruction as Division Emphasizes Health and Safety Protective Measures Against COVID-19

(ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Virginia) – Health and safety protective measures that will be in place when schools re-open on Tuesday, September 8, will result in most students taking a combination of in-person and virtual classes, according to three scenarios presented to the School Board last evening.

Each of the scenarios are based upon Virginia remaining in Phase 3 of their reopening plan. If this status were to change, the associated public health guidelines could impact the number of people who can be on a school bus or in a classroom space. The division would make the appropriate adjustments in its planning.

Based on Phase 3 guidelines, the school division said elementary school students are likely to be in school four days a week and that based upon school bus ridership, school day start times could range from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. for the division’s 15 elementary schools. Friday would be an independent virtual learning day.

Middle and high school students could attend schools either one or two days per week based on school bus ridership and attend virtual classes the balance of the week. Under the first scenario, 25 percent of middle and high school students would attend their school one day a week. In the second scenario, the percentage of students attending school each day would increase to 50 percent. In either instance, Friday would be an independent virtual learning day.

Also, in middle and high schools, students would be limited to taking four classes per semester or at one time, which will reduce the workload for students, make it easier for students and teachers to build relationships and allow students to receive more immediate feedback from their teachers.

Student schedules ultimately will be determined by guidance from the state department of education and public health experts that is in place this fall as well as by social distancing requirements both on school buses and in classrooms.

To help with planning, all parents of students enrolled for this fall will be asked, beginning on Monday, July 20 to indicate their preferences, both for their child’s instructional model and for their desired method of school transportation for their child. In a recent preliminary online survey that generated nearly 7,600 responses, 86 percent of parents favored a combination of in-person and virtual instruction for their child this year; 14 percent said they preferred that instruction be entirely virtual.

In the same survey, 61 percent of parents said they are not planning for their child to regularly ride a school bus in the fall. This compares to the nearly 68 percent of students who have ridden school buses in previous years.

In a presentation to the Board last night, the school division’s Chief Operating Officer, Rosalyn Schmitt, said the social distancing measures expected to be in force in September would reduce school bus capacity from as many as 70 students down to 24 students on average. There are almost 650 school bus routes that serve students across the more than 700-square mile county. The presentation can be viewed at https://youtu.be/fiBWEoVSbH8.

“Our plan under the current public health guidance is to require face coverings of all students on our buses and to have only one student per seat,” Schmitt said. “We also will be disinfecting seats and handrails after every trip and promoting health screenings prior to student boarding,” she added.

Debora Collins, the school division’s Deputy Superintendent of Schools, said the division’s goal for the new school year is to utilize flexible student scheduling options that allow for social distancing but that provide highly engaging and meaningful instruction. “Our priority will be for our youngest students, those who are English language learners and students with disabilities to be able to safely attend school the majority of the week,” she said. “We also want to ensure that we have a robust plan for those families that may not yet be comfortable with their child in a school building,” she said.

In addition to its parent survey, the division began surveying employees today on any concerns, needs and questions they may have before returning to work. The results of this survey and upcoming employee focus groups will be part of the division’s decision-making process on a final plan for the fall.

On a related matter, the school division said it is developing a policy for the School Board’s consideration that would require all staff and students to wear masks in all schools, on all buses and in all offices when social distancing is not possible.

The School Board will consider input from the parents and employees before making a final determination of the division’s return to school plan, including student schedules, on Thursday, July 30 at a special board meeting.

One result of early feedback from employees is the development of a new policy that will require all staff and students to wear masks in all schools, on all buses and in all offices when social distancing is not possible. The policy is expected to come before the School Board for their approval prior to the start of the new school year. Additionally, the division will provide a guide for parents and for teachers as well as a health and instructional plan.

Earlier this year, the school division convened a task force of more than 80 educators, department heads and support staff to develop a return to school guidance for the employees. Part of the division’s Return to School website, the guide is available as a printable PDF document at https://www.k12albemarle.org/acps/return-to-school/Pages/Return-to-School-Planning-Guide.aspx.

This online format allows users to view the planning guide in the language of their choice using the Google Translate drop-down menu at the top-right of any web page.

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