Prince William school officials resist calls to allow virtual opt-in

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Prince William County Schools resisted calls to allow families to change from in-person to virtual instruction Thursday, as an online petition to reverse the decision circulated.

Growing COVID case numbers and the announcement that schools would not use physical distancing in buildings to mitigate potential virus spread have led some parents to demand a virtual option for their students after registering for in-person learning in May. But schools spokeswoman Diana Gulotta said in an email Thursday that the division had no plans to re-open the selection window, citing the need for advanced scheduling, staffing and budgeting.

Families with certain circumstances can apply through their schools for homebound instruction, but that is carried out through individual schools and is not the same as the division’s virtual learning program. Last week, the division said that 97% of students were planning to return for in-person instruction when school starts later this month, but petitions on have popped up for both PWCS and Fairfax County schools.

“We offered virtual in the spring. Fairfax required you to have a medical note to get virtual, we said ‘You have a choice,’” Prince William School Board Chair Babur Lateef told InsideNoVa. “But we needed to know because it’s really hard to set up a decent virtual program in time for the school year. … And I personally believe that in-person instruction is far superior, I think most superintendents across the state do as well.”

In Fairfax County, parents had until May to opt children with special circumstances into virtual learning for the fall. Prince William schools offered the option to all families, with the May deadline.

In the late spring and early summer, COVID-19 cases in Virginia were at minimal numbers as vaccines became available to anyone 12 and older.

This week, however, the state was averaging 1,733 new cases a day, the most since February, and 61.9% more than on the same date in 2020, when no vaccine was available. About 80% of the cases in Virginia are now the Delta variant, health officials said, based on testing of a limited number of samples.

Although over 70% of Virginia adults have been vaccinated,  Delta is so contagious – anywhere from two to four times more so than prior variants of coronavirus – vaccination rates will actually have to be much higher to achieve “herd immunity,” state health officials said.

“With the original variant, students were less likely to be seriously impacted, but in the case of the Delta variant, children’s hospitals across the country have seen a surge in symptomatic infections and based on recent CDC comments, children can easily contract the virus & carry it home to younger or older family members, which in-turn is potentially a matter of life and death,” parents said in a petition titled “FCPS Virtual School Option.”

As of late Thursday morning, the petition had 2,223 signatures.

In Prince William County, a petition to allow parents to choose virtual school had 207 signatures Thursday morning.

“On May 28, 2021, the deadline for choosing virtual instruction for PWCS, the Covid situation in northern Virginia was looking promising. However, that is not the case today,” the petition says.

“Some parents are comfortable with the increased risk to their children. Many are not. Please give the parents who want to opt for virtual instruction a way to make it happen before August 23, 2021.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been changed to include Prince William County school officials’ response to the petition. 

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Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

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