Most Fauquier public school students could return to classrooms four days a week in early April.
Superintendent David Jeck briefly outlined his recommendation to double in-person instruction at Monday night’s school board meeting.
It would start with the youngest students, who have suffered the greatest “learning loss” since the COVID-19 pandemic struck Virginia last March, Dr. Jeck explained.
Kindergarteners through second-graders would return to classes four days a week, starting March 15, according to the superintendent. That could expand through Grade 5, depending upon staffing.
The plan would make in-person classes available four days a week in all grades, K-12, starting Monday, April 5, when spring break ends.
Classes would meet Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Schools would continue to use Wednesdays for deep cleaning, teacher lesson planning and students’ catch-up work.
For that to happen, Dr. Jeck said:
• The number of new COVID-19 cases must continue to decline.
• Parents must complete another survey to choose instructional options for their children and to state whether they need transportation to and from school.
• The system must have enough bus drivers, “always critically important” and a continuing challenge.
Schools across Virginia closed almost 11 months ago and moved to remote instruction in the following weeks.
Fauquier started offering “hybrid” instruction Nov. 9, with students in classrooms two days a week.
About two-thirds of the county’s 10,000 students continue under the hybrid model in classrooms either Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday, with the remainder studying remotely. And, about 800 students have left the county school system since last March.
Everyone acknowledges the shortcomings of remote or “virtual” instruction, particularly in a county with inadequate internet access in rural areas and the lack of a computer for every student.
Since last summer, thousands of parents have pushed for in-person classes.
But, social distancing guidelines — on buses and in schools — along with inadequate staffing have thwarted efforts to expand face-to-face instruction, according to administrators.
Increasing vaccinations, declining cases and new guidance from state and federal authorities have changed the situation, Dr. Jeck said Monday night.
Gov. Ralph Northam and state education Superintendent James F. Lane last week urged — but did not order — schools to provide in-person instruction.
“Almost 50” of Virginia’s 133 public school systems continue to offer no in-person instruction, Dr. Jeck noted.
“Clearly the message from the governor and the state superintendent is that we bring more students back to school, and I agree with that,” Dr. Jeck said. “The expectation is that we do all we can to bring more students back into classrooms sooner rather than later.”
Sixty percent of the school system’s 1,900 employees have received at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, the superintendent said. The total could reach 85 percent by mid-March, he added.
Doubling the number of students in schools will make it impossible to maintain the mitigation “gold standard” of 6-foot spacing with masks. But, Dr. Jeck said spacing of 3 feet with masks meets the minimum standard.
“We have a lot of questions that we need to answer,” he added. For example, “we don’t know how many students will return (to classrooms) from all-virtual” or how many who’ve left the system will re-enroll.
“This is an incredibly stressful time for everyone,” Dr. Jeck said. “Teachers, staff are killing themselves to make sure they’re providing services for students . . .
“They want to do a great job for these students, and they feel handcuffed because of the technology.”
Teachers conduct classes simultaneously in-person and for students at home via live video.
School board members welcomed the planned expansion of in-person classes.
“This will make a lot of people happy — parents and children,” Chairwoman Donna Grove (Cedar Run District) said. “They want normalcy.
“To get to that point by March 15 (in elementary schools) is good.”
Duke Bland (Marshall) said: “It’s aggressive, but it could happen.”