Loudoun Co. superintendent maps path to expand in-school learning

As Loudoun County families who chose the hybrid learning model plan to have all grades back in school two-days-per week by March 3, public schools interim Superintendent Scott Ziegler is looking further into the future to the possibility of expanding in-person learning in the Virginia school system.

During Tuesday’s school board meeting, Ziegler said once more students are back in school, he will watch metrics to determine how well mitigation strategies and protocols are — or aren’t — preventing the spread of COVID-19 within schools.

Ziegler said he expected to present board members with his findings and recommendations about expanding in-person learning by April 13.

“I think we need at least three, four or five weeks of data in order to make those recommendations,” Ziegler said.”

Assuming things go well in the first several weeks, Ziegler said expanding in-person learning would require a change in a safety practice the school system has been maintaining since the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic.

“To expand to four days a week of in-person instruction, in a hybrid model, in most cases we would need to adopt the Commonwealth of Virginia’s guidance on distancing, which is 3 feet of physical distancing, with masks — down from our 6 feet of physical distance, which is our current practice in Loudoun County,” Ziegler said.

Board member Ian Serotkin, who has long-favored a return to in-person learning, asked Ziegler if it was possible to have the panel consider the expansion earlier, at the end of March.

“We’ve got a lot of parents out there, hanging on every word, and trying to make decisions about whether they’ll re-enroll next year, and what they’re going to do about alternative options,” Serotkin said.

“We really need to have a handle on what’s happening on transmission in our schools,” Ziegler said.

In response to a request by board member Jeff Morse that the school system assemble prototype classrooms with 3 feet of distance between desks, in early April, to fine tune mitigation practices, Ziegler said, “I’d like to get some of our data before committing to a next step.”

Asked whether transitioning to four days per week in-person would take a long period of time, Ziegler said no, once he believes it is the proper step to take: “We could implement going from two to four days of in-person instruction on a very short timeline.”

Looking to the next school year, Ziegler said the current plan is for a return to full-time in-person learning, with options for distance learning.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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