Loudoun Co. schools plan 2 days in-person, 3 at home to start school year

Assuming Northern Virginia remains in Phase Three of Gov. Ralph Northam’s phased reopening after the coronavirus shutdown, students in Loudoun County will likely be in-school two days per week, and participate in distance learning three days per week, according to Superintendent Eric Williams.

Thursday, Northam described laid out details of Phase Three, but said they would not take effect this week. They include allowing gatherings of up to 250 people and eliminating capacity caps for nonessential businesses and restaurants.

In a Thursday evening emailed update, Williams said, based upon guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Northam’s Phase Guidance for Virginia Schools, the current plan would have students in their schools twice weekly, and doing synchronous online learning three days each week.

Some students with disabilities and some English learners would attend school more than twice a week.

In an attached document, “LCPS Guidance Regarding Public Health Precautions,” the school system envisioned classroom desk configurations that would provide 6 feet of separation between students and teachers in most cases.

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In instances where the 6-foot-distancing suggested by the CDC couldn’t be maintained, teachers would wear masks. The school system “is considering requiring all students age 10 and older to wear a cloth face covering when 6 feet of physical separation is not possible,” and “encouraging parents of students younger than 10 to ask their children” to wear masks “as long as parents conclude that it is developmentally appropriate for their particular children.”

On school buses, students would sit one per seat, every other row, on opposite sides of the bus. Children living together would be able to sit together.

The school system is considering double runs, in which a route would be divided, so drivers would make two trips to transport students from their stops to school.

According to LCPS, guidance from the CDC and the Commonwealth allow for some risk assessment and deviations, based upon the individual school system’s facilities, populations, and community desires.

The CDC references three levels of risk: lowest risk (with all distance learning), more risk (with small, in-person classes and 6 feet of physical distancing) and highest risk (full classes, with no distancing).

“One can describe the approach under consideration by LCPS as between the ‘more risk’ and ‘highest risk’ levels, and closer to the ‘more risk’ level,” according to the LCPS guidance document.

The school system has the latitude to implement additional safety measures in school buildings.

“LCPS is also considering conducting no-touch temperature checks for a random sample of students and staff members each day, and/or requiring staff members to check their own temperature each day before reporting to work,” the guidance reads.

With the goal of 100% in-person learning, the school system said that may be possible once Virginia moves past Phase Three, even if the year begins with hybrid learning. “LCPS will adjust its approach at any given time based upon the phase that Northern Virginia is in at the time.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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