Moving up the May 6 date for his recommendation to the school board, Albemarle County Public Schools Superintendent, Dr. Matthew Haas, said today the school division has begun its planning to offer five days per week of in-person instruction at all school sites for students in all grades next year. The 2021-22 school year will begin on Monday, August 23.
Haas also said the division will offer an all-virtual school for elementary, middle and high school students. The all-virtual school will have its own principal and teaching staff and provide synchronous instruction to students.
“My recommendation will be that our school board approve this plan as the default unless, of course, circumstances materially change,” the superintendent said.
A recently concluded online survey of families generated over 6,500 responses, with more than 90% of the replies supporting in-person instruction for their child next year. When asked a follow-up question about their views if there were no physical distancing in schools, 89.6% of those respondents still supported in-person instruction, although there are no current plans to eliminate physical distancing.
Approximately 8% of responses favored an all-virtual option for students next year. At the present time, 42% of students are in virtual instruction.
Haas said recent developments related to COVID-19 have been favorable to offering full in-person instruction to all students in August, including:
The continued success of the division’s mitigation strategies and practices;
Updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that schools can consider a reduction in physical distancing guidelines from six feet to three feet, provided face masks continue to be required of all students and staff;
The success of the Blue Ridge Health District’s program to fully vaccinate ACPS staff who desire vaccination, and that soon may include offering vaccines to students as young as 12 years old; and
The recent legislation signed by Governor Northam that takes effect on July 1 and requires all school divisions in Virginia to offer students in all grades five days of in-person instruction each week. The legislation also permits school divisions to provide virtual instruction.
Despite these developments, the division is not planning to expand in-person instruction for students during the remainder of the current school year. All pre-K through grade 3 students now attend school four days per week, and students in grades 4-12 attend school in person two days per week.
“From the pandemic’s beginning, one of our most difficult challenges has been developing a new learning model within the tight boundaries of protecting public health as well as navigating the logistics of transportation, classroom space, and staffing. In a school division that serves over 13,000 students across more than 700 square miles, planning and logistics complicate immediately increasing in-person instruction,” Haas said.
There are more than 5,500 students — larger than the size of many neighboring school divisions — now primarily learning from home. In order to bring more students into schools at this late point in the school year, the division would have to redeploy resources away from students in virtual instruction, yet again changing their schedules and those of staff. Adding to these disruptions is the certainty that many students would need to change teachers.
“There’s a careful balance in place right now to ensure there is adequate staff to support in-person students. The same is true of our transportation network; we currently employ more than 560 different bus routes to bring students to and from school. Upsetting this balance as we near the end of the school year would detract from our ability to make our current Stage 4 plan work as designed,” Haas said.
Throughout the pandemic, the superintendent said, many students have likely suffered learning losses and have missed their interactions with teachers and their classmates as the result of not being in school full-time.
“This has been a constant focus for us and it will be the subject of our next school board meeting on Thursday evening,” Haas said. “It’s also why we are doing this summer what is a rarity for any school division: We are offering no-fee summer programming to all students at all of our schools from July 6-30, and we hope as many students as possible will be able to participate.”
There will be two sessions each day: a morning session devoted to academic enrichment and an afternoon session that, in collaboration with community partners, will feature programs specifically designed to promote student social and emotional health and physical fitness. These programs are in addition to the annual summer programs that offer high school students the opportunity to earn credits needed for graduation.
CONTACT: Phil Giaramita, Strategic Communications Officer