Loudoun Co. schools attempt to juggle ‘what ifs’ in hybrid return plans

This story is part of “Parenting in a Pandemic,” WTOP’s continuing coverage of how parents are dealing with childcare, schooling and more through the coronavirus pandemic.

In the pandemic-riddled 2020-21 school year, an F is something to strive for — F for Flexibility.

In a letter to Loudoun County Public Schools families and staff, Superintendent Eric Williams outlined plans to return more students to hybrid in-person learning — plans that could be scotched, based on public health guidance.

Loudoun County, like most local school systems, is bringing students back to school buildings in phases. Students in kindergarten through grade 2 are scheduled to start hybrid in-person learning — two days per week — on Oct. 27.

The Loudoun County School Board is considering Williams’ plan that would have students in grades 3 to 5, whose parents selected the hybrid model for the first semester — before the last-minute decision to launch the school year 100% remotely — begin hybrid learning Dec. 1.

Looking toward the second half of the school year, the school system will soon conduct a survey of parents and guardians’ preferences on whether they would be inclined to have their children shift to hybrid in-person learning, or continue distance learning.

“We wish that public health conditions were such that we could give an ironclad commitment to honoring these preferences and the reality is that we cannot make such a promise,” Williams wrote. “There is no guarantee that public health conditions will permit hybrid learning.”

While the goal of the school system has been to return all students to classrooms safely, if it happened all at once, changes would likely have to be made.

Williams offered an example, in which 70% of families chose the hybrid model: “Most schools would not be able to operate the hybrid model with our current approach to physical distancing and with hybrid students having two days per week of in-person learning.”

One possibility would be reconfiguring class layouts with planned physical distancing of between 3 and 6 feet, rather than 6 feet.

“This approach would increase the likelihood of greater COVID-19 transmission, quarantines, classroom closures and school closures,” Williams said.

A second option would be reducing the number of in-person instruction from two days a week to once a week.

A third choice would be maintaining the current approach of 6 feet of distance, and two days per week, with as many students as possible. “A key challenge with this possibility would be determining which students to accommodate.”

The Loudoun County School Board will likely vote on plans to resume hybrid learning at its Nov. 10 meeting, Williams said.

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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