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School Board approves expandable start of school plan for 2020-2021

The Roanoke County School Board approved the plan for the start of the 2020-2021 school year at a meeting July 15.  The plan is designed to expand as numbers and conditions change and will be assessed frequently.  The plan starts with students in kindergarten through second grade to attend schools in-person five days a week.  Students in third grade through twelfth grade will attend school in-person two days a week and will receive online instruction three days a week.  All students have the option to receive 100-percent online instruction, if desired.

“Like other school districts in our area, we are committed to following public health guidance to protect our students, families and staff, which limits our capacity to 50 to 70-percent.  So far, about 85-percent of our students want in-person instruction, which far exceeds our capacity.  The blended model will allow us to serve students in-person for as many days as we can, while also supplementing with online learning,” said Dr. Ken Nicely, superintendent of Roanoke County Public Schools.

“Throughout the development of this return to school plan, my commitment was to educate our students and also follow the guidance of public health experts.  We’ve frequently consulted with our local health department and we feel this is a plan that offers the best balance between providing in-person instruction and mitigating the spread of COVID-19.  While there is no such thing as completely eliminating risk related to COVID-19, by following public health guidance, we can lower the risk and open in a responsible manner as allowed in Phase 3.” Dr. Nicely said.

“We understand and accept that this is not the ideal way for our students to learn.  However, given a choice between having our youngest and least independent students learn in school five days and having them only attend two days per week during these most formative years, the better choice for most students is to have them in school.  Our plan is expandable so that if more students choose 100% online instruction, or if conditions change, we can add more students according to capacity,” Dr. Nicely said.

The return to school plan, which can be found online at http://www.rcps.us/returntoschool, offers details about how in-person and online instruction will take place.

Students in kindergarten through second grade will attend school in-person five days a week with reduced class sizes and spread out classroom spaces.  As a result, some areas of the school, such as libraries and cafeterias have been temporarily converted into classroom spaces.

Students in grades three through twelve will be split into two groups and will attend school in-person two days a week in spread out classroom spaces.  Students in the same household will be on the same schedule as much as is possible.  These students will receive online instruction three days a week on the following schedule:

  • Mondays:  Group 1 (A Day) in-person instruction, Group 2 online instruction
  • Tuesdays:  Group 2 (A Day) in-person instruction, Group 1 online instruction
  • Wednesday:  Group 1 and Group 2 online instruction
  • Thursdays:  Group 1 (B Day) in-person instruction, Group 2 online instruction
  • Fridays:  Group 2 (B Day) in-person instruction, Group 1 online instruction.

(Note:  the A/B day schedule only applies to middle and high schools).

By offering one day of in-person instruction followed by two days of online learning, students are able to stay better connect to the school and have meals available to take home.  Further, according to the health department, this schedule allows for better contract tracing should there be a COVID-19 case in a school.

As part of this plan, students will be required to wear face coverings in school at all times when six-foot physical distancing cannot be maintained, such as transition times, doing group work or school bus rides.

All students have the option to receive 100-percent online instruction, if desired.  Online instruction will be conducted via RCPSOnline.  Students have the option to move from blended instruction to 100-percent online (or the reverse) if desired.

“Online instruction this fall will be nothing like our students and parents saw back in the spring.  Instruction will be robust and rigorous with grades, assignments and some live instruction synchronous with the classroom experience,” said Dr. Nicely.

“We have greatly expanded our online course offerings, especially at the high school level.  If a student desires, he or she can enroll in our new RCPSOnline Academy, which is a completely independent learning.  This new program has dedicated teachers with students working at their own pace,” Dr. Nicely said.

Most of the courses in the RCPSOnline Academy are designed to be completed in a single semester with world language and dual enrollment courses completed over the course of an entire year.  Students do not follow a traditional classroom schedule. Students are enrolled in up to four courses at a time. Learning is self-paced with real-time instruction on an as-needed basis.  Students attending the RCPSOnline Academy must attend for the entire year and are not eligible to switch to in-person instruction.

More information about online instruction is available at http://www.rcps.us/RCPSOnline.

In terms of safety, the school system has taken great strides to enhance the safety of our school facilities and our staff.  The school system is providing facial coverings for all students and staff, providing extra cleaning supplies for teachers to use as needed in addition to daily cleaning by custodial crews.  The district has contracted with a new custodial company to provide a greater level of daily cleaning and disinfecting, including on school buses.

“We recognize that some of our staff are concerned about returning to the classroom and we’re working to make sure our staff can teach in a safe environment,” said Dr. Nicely.  Like students, all staff are required to wear facial coverings anytime six-foot physical distancing cannot be maintained.

Multiple hand sanitation stations have been added in each school to allow students and staff to easily use hand sanitizer.  In each school, a special room has been created where any student who is showing COVID-19 symptoms will wait in a negatively pressurized space until parents/guardians can pick up the student.

Most importantly, parents are reminded to keep their children home if they are sick or are showing symptoms related to COVID-19.  Parents will be given a daily health screening checklist to review each day before sending their child to school.