Albemarle County Public Schools Superintendent, Dr. Matthew Haas, said today he is recommending to the School Board at their October 8 meeting that in-person instruction for students be expanded beginning on Monday, November 9.
This progression to Stage 3 of our Return to School plan could increase the number of students in schools from a few hundred presently to as many as 2,500 students on two separate days, or 5,000 students in total. In-person class sizes would be 12 students or less. All pre-K students and students in grades K-3 would attend school in person on either Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday of each week. Dr. Haas also called for an increase in the number of special education students who are in A-base and C-base programs and English Learners. Students without adequate internet connectivity will continue to be included as well as students who are not receiving any meaningful educational benefits from online instruction.
Parents would still have the option of choosing the all-virtual instructional model for their children. “Parents should have the opportunity to decide what is in the best health, safety and learning interests of their own child,” Haas said. “My recommendation would broaden choice for more parents,” he added.
The Superintendent said in-person instruction should be a priority for our youngest learners, pointing to guidance from the division’s School Health Advisory Board, which said it supports efforts to safely increase the number of students returning for in-person instruction, and recommends focusing on younger students, along with smaller class or pod sizes with students adequately spaced.
The director of the Thomas Jefferson Health District, Dr. Denise Bonds, has said, “The value of in-person education for pre-K students and students in grades K-3 is critical to this age group's overall development and growth. Providing the opportunity for students to return at this time is important and the current public health conditions in the community support a decision that enables parents and guardians to send their children to school for in-person instruction.”
The public health considerations that are being met and support this decision, Dr. Bonds added, “include the implementation of masking and distancing policies, widespread access to testing, quick turnaround for results, and as of right now, lower community transmission among Albemarle County residents than in July.”
This input, as well as the views of nearly 10,000 parents, employees and students from online surveys, were influential in shaping his recommendation, Haas said. He said another crucial consideration was his concern that the current instructional environment in the division’s schools and in schools across our nation is driving ever wider, the gap between the haves, the have less, and the have nots.
“An all-virtual learning environment only perpetuates educational opportunity gaps, with the greatest burden being borne by our most vulnerable learners,” he said. “We need to do all we can to provide these learners with the support they need and deserve,” he insisted.
An online survey of teachers recently revealed that nearly 70 percent agree that health and safety protocols in their workplace have kept them safe, more than 10 times the percentage of teachers who disagreed.
When talking about the efforts of teachers, Haas said, “I am grateful to and amazed by our teachers and technology staff. Through their empathy, creativity, and herculean hard work, they are making the best of a very tough situation and making virtual learning work as best it can. I am inspired by what our teachers are doing, and I think about them every day and the pressure they feel to get it right. And there is a lot going right, thanks to our employees. And I can’t thank them enough.”
Haas said that based on feedback from the survey and discussions principals have had with staff, he was confident the school division would meet one of its requirements for expanding in-person student instruction: the ability of staff to implement the division’s instructional and health plans.
If the School Board approves a move to Stage 3, parents of those students who will be invited into school beginning next month will receive a survey later this week asking them to indicate whether they will send their child to school or prefer to continue with virtual instruction. Responses will be used for health, safety and instructional planning, and the division will ask parents to complete the survey as soon as possible.
“The state department of education and the health department, especially our local health officials here in Charlottesville, have done a superb job providing us with up-to-date and comprehensive guidance. I also would like to thank our extraordinary employees across all departments and schools, for their support of the protective measures that are keeping all employees, students and families safe,” Haas said.
Since schools closed in March, the division has invested more than $1.5 million to keep employees and students and their families safe, investments that have reconfigured learning spaces to ensure adequate social distancing, improved air circulation, and provided equipment and supplies for regular cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces throughout school buildings.
Experience has shown that this Board’s measured approach on July 30 was the right step, Haas said, and it tells us now that this is the right time to take another measured step forward.
The School Board will consider the Superintendent’s recommendation at their meeting tomorrow evening. The meeting can be accessed online beginning at 6:30 p.m. through our live stream.
CONTACT: Phil Giaramita, Public Affairs and Strategic Communications Officer