Most Manassas City Public Schools students could see the inside of their classrooms for the first time since last March next month, with the school board indicating support for a return date of March 15.
Under the plan, which was discussed at last night’s board meeting and will be voted on at the next meeting Feb. 22, the general student population not currently receiving in-person instruction would start coming back in the middle of March, pre-k through fourth graders returning the week of March 15, and grades five through 12 returning the following week.
Students would still receive most instruction from home, attending classes virtually three days per week (one of which would be through pre-recorded videos uploaded by their teacher). Two days per week, students would be back in classrooms. Some teachers may still teach via Zoom, with a classroom monitor present in the room.
Currently, some special education and English-language learners are receiving two days of in-person instruction, but for most students this would be the first time back in a classroom in just over a year.
School board members indicated a willingness to approve the plan at their next meeting, provided there wasn’t a significant spike in cases or a problem with the second round of vaccinations for teachers.
“This is hard on everybody, not just the students,” board chair Sanford Williams said. “We realize how hard this is on students … but it’s hard on everyone. We as a jurisdiction will definitely make the best decision for Manassas.”
Initially, division staff proposed that students would return March 8, but board member Suzanne Seaberg said that with staff scheduled to receive their second shots Feb. 28, that would be before the vaccine reaches its full efficacy. According to the CDC and vaccine manufacturers, the second shot typically takes full effect within seven days, but it can take up to 14.
To provide more time after the second shot, division staff moved the proposed start date back one week.
Manassas teachers received their first shots at Unity Reed High School Feb. 8. Superintendent Kevin Newman said the division wasn’t allowed to track what staff members came to get vaccinated and which didn’t, but that vaccines had been made available to all teachers.
“Over 4,000 people were served on Saturday and Sunday and it was made available to over 1,300 members of the MCPS family,” Newman told the board. “How many of that 1,300 showed up, we don’t know. … There was enough to cover the over 1,300 names we sent to the health department.”
The timeline for return would align with Gov. Ralph Northam’s recent call for all schools to bring back students by March 15, but MCPS board members insisted the decision was theirs and theirs alone.
New COVID-19 cases have fallen recently in Manassas and Northern Virginia writ large, but Manassas is still in the highest risk category for school divisions published by the CDC and Virginia Department of Health.
“I appreciate the governor’s attempts to help us out. However, he doesn’t know Manassas. [Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction] Lane doesn’t know Manassas,” board member Tim Demeria said. “I think they’re out of line here. … I just want people to know that what this board decides is going to be decided for what’s best for Manassas. It may coincide with what the governor is saying, but if it does, that’s just a coincidence.”