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Superintendent presents recommended return to school plan for 2020-2021 school year

Roanoke County Public School Superintendent Dr. Ken Nicely presented to the school board on June 25 his recommended plan for the start of the 2020-2021 school year (see this link for a detailed presentation).  The plan, posted on the Roanoke County Public Schools website at www.rcps.us/coronavirus, was developed based on some key commitments and considerations.  First, says Dr. Nicely, the safety of students and staff remained a top priority and that in-person instruction is the most effective method of learning for students.  Also, Dr. Nicely stressed that school leaders are not public health experts, rather, the school system must rely on those who are experts for guidance when it comes to health-related decisions.  

“We want all students to be in school as soon as possible,” said Dr. Nicely.  “Given the governor’s current restrictions related to social distancing, we believed most students would be better served with a staggered or hybrid schedule than not attending school in-person at all.  We’re trying to meet as many needs as possible while protecting the safety of our students and families,” Dr. Nicely added. 

The return to school plan is based on Virginia being in phase three and the associated public health recommendations for phase three.  The plan calls for a hybrid schedule with preschool through second grade students receiving in-person instruction daily.  To accomplish this, the school system will need help with daily transportation, given social distancing restrictions imposed on school bus capacity. 

“It is important for our youngest students to attend school in person every day.  Reading development is critical at this stage and we felt that these young students needed this instruction daily and directly from a teacher,” Dr. Nicely said.  “This option also will help our young families with child care, something that is a concern for many parents and employees,” Dr. Nicely added.

The goal is for students in all other grades (3-12) to receive in-person instruction twice a week with remote instruction the remainder of the week.  As with the youngest students, the school system will need transportation help from parents.  The student body will be divided into two groups.  Group 1 will be in school Mondays and Thursdays with remote learning Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  Group 2 will be in school on Tuesdays and Fridays with remote learning on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.  Teachers will have planning and remote learning on Wednesday. 

Parents who need or would prefer their child receive 100% remote instruction can choose this option.

Dr. Nicely stressed that the remote portion of instruction will be very different from the continuity of learning plan conducted in the spring.  Instruction will be robust.  Students will receive new material and ongoing feedback about their progress including grades.  To help facilitate effective remote instruction, the school district is providing a laptop to all elementary families for use at home.  This is in addition to the existing laptop program for all students in middle and high schools.  Further, the district is providing hotspots for families in need that live in areas where broadband internet is not available or is unreliable.

“We’ve heard from many parents and students who want us to start school normally with instruction for everyone five days a week without physical distancing,” Dr. Nicely said.  “While we understand their viewpoint, the fact is that we would be disregarding the recommendations of public health experts who tell us that doing so likely would lead to more frequent outbreaks and starting/stopping of the school year at individual schools.”

“Similarly, we’ve also heard from many parents and students who want us to wait to hold in-person instruction until a vaccine is developed,” Dr. Nicely continued.  “While we can sympathize with this desire for extra caution, this is not necessary under the current CDC guidelines, nor do we think it’s worth the negative impacts on learning that would be imposed by such an action,” Dr. Nicely said.

As the public health situation evolves throughout the course of the school year, the school system is ready to quickly transition to having more students attend school in person as is permitted due to changes in public health guidance and/or requirements from the governor.

In the coming days, the school system will be reaching out to parents to determine which parents/students will need or want 100% remote learning, which families can provide transportation (daily or on certain days), and which students will definitely need bus transportation.