ACPS: Albemarle Co. students will return to schools in stages

ACPS reaches decision on back to school plans

ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - Albemarle County Public Schools (ACPS) is moving forward with plans to start gradually bring students back into public schools, but to also keep classes virtual for most.

A majority of the School Board voted Thursday, July 30, to begin in Phase 2. Before making a decision, members heard proposals on the different stages:

  • Stage 1: Virtual learning for all
  • Stage 2: Virtual learning for most, and in-person access for a limited number of students
  • Stage 3: Virtual learning for most, in-person access for a moderate number of students, and hybrid learning for prekindergarten through third grade.
  • Stage 4: Virtual learning by choice, in-person access for a moderate number of students, and hybrid learning for all
  • Stage 5: Virtual learning by choice, and in person learning for all.

The Albemarle County School Board initially voted 3-4 Thursday to begin at Stage 2 for the first nine weeks of the school year on September 8. Graham Paige, Ellen Osborne, and Judy Le said they were in favor to begin in Stage 1. David Oberg cast the final vote against the motion.

Board members took a 10 minute break before taking up the motion again. Oberg then changed his vote to being in favor of the motion, but acknowledge the compelling arguments from those who voted against starting in Stage 2.

As a result, the School Board voted 4-3 in favor of starting in Stage 2.

Superintendent Dr. Matthew Haas also voiced support for starting at Stage 2. He acknowledged that if conditions go “in the wrong direction,” before September 1, then he’d be open to starting in Stage 1.

According to Albemarle County Public Schools (ACPS), data collected from around 6,000 parents showed that 67% prefer a hybrid learning start for September. Hybrid learning means a mix of students being in the school building and online. Meanwhile, 8.33% prefer virtual instruction to start, which means online classes.

This decision comes after hundreds of division employees signed an open letter calling for a virtual return to school. The letter addressed the rising number of coronavirus cases in the area, and states, “It is unequivocally unsafe for Albemarle County staff and families to begin the year with an in-person learning model.”

Board members also heard and discussed concerns and issues related to online access for students before they made their vote.

Another area of concern raised during Thursday’s meeting included how the return of University of Virginia students could impact local coronavirus numbers, as well as the importance of in-person learning is for children in pre-K-3.

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ACPS Release July 30, 2020

Most Students Will Begin the New School Year on September 8 Through a Virtual Learning Model; In-Person Access Will Be Offered to a Limited Number of Students Who Would Most Benefit from In-Person Instruction

(ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Virginia) – When Albemarle County Public Schools opens the 2020-21 school year on September 8, the instructional model for most students will be virtual; however, in-person access to school buildings will be offered to students without home internet access adequate for virtual learning as well as some students with special needs and some who are English Learners.

The School Board voted at their July 30 special meeting to endorse the recommendation of Superintendent Dr. Matthew Haas for how schools should open. They also agreed with Dr. Haas that his recommendation would apply for the first nine weeks of the school year, from September 8 to November 6. Halfway through this period, the superintendent will make a recommendation to the School Board for the second nine-week period that begins on November 9.

Students who return to school through in-person access to school buildings will be arranged in learning groups of 10 or fewer students and have a learning coach who will support them in accessing their virtual instruction assignments. This group will include students who are not able to adequately access virtual instruction from home; special education students who may not receive meaningful educational benefits online at home; and students who have not yet reached English proficiency and would most benefit from in-person instruction.

Consistent with guidance from the state departments of health and education as well as local health authorities, the School Board’s decision is based upon the most current information on health conditions in the county; input from employee and parent surveys; recent town hall meetings and emails sent to the Board; as well as the capacity of schools to provide a safe learning environment that maintains social distancing requirements.

Over the last two weeks, the division has received more than 6,500 responses from families to an intent form, with 72 percent of all respondents expressing some level of concern over sending their children to school for in-person instruction this September. More than 1,200 employees participated in a separate survey, with two out of three (65%) also concerned about safely returning to work in September.

In their presentation to the School Board, Deputy Superintendent Debora Collins and Chief Operating Officer Rosalyn Schmitt outlined five stages of returning for the 2020-21 school year. Those stages determine how instruction would be delivered, ranging from fully virtual instruction in Stage 1 to every student returning to in-person instruction in Stage 5. Each intervening stage gradually increases the number of students who would attend school in person. The recommendation approved by the Board has students return to school on September 8 in Stage 2.

Collins and Schmitt said the stages represent a measured approach to transitioning to fully in-person instruction, allowing the division to be flexible and respond quickly and effectively to protect community health and promote the academic growth of students. Movement from one stage to another would occur at a nine-week interval unless it was necessary to move to a more restrictive stage, which would be immediate.

Under the Stage 2 opening approved by the Board, most teachers would deliver instruction virtually with a limited number providing in-person instruction by their choice. Support staff will need to contact their supervisor for their work schedules.

Collins said the virtual instruction that will be provided to most students in September will be significantly different from that offered this past spring. Schools were closed by the governor on Friday, March 13, with virtual instruction taking effect on Monday, March 16. At that time, the state department of education directed that all virtual instruction be based upon a review of previously-covered material.

“We are looking forward to the quality of virtual instruction we will be able to provide to all students in September,” Collins said. “We will have the benefit of extensive planning time for our educators that will include professional development on virtual strategies and techniques. Our requirements will be straight-forward—specific class schedules for students, engaging and meaningful content, and an emphasis on quality assessments of student performance and progress,” Collins added.

Students without home internet access or those with limited internet service that cannot be improved by other means will have the option of coming into their school to complete online assignments. These families also can choose to have assignments delivered to them at home in a paper format or a recorded video. The division also can provide hotspot devices to homes that will enable them to connect to local Wi-Fi providers. Talks are continuing with Comcast about making it possible for families that cannot afford broadband service to benefit from data plans that would provide such service where available. This service would be provided as part of Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, with the school division underwriting the reduced costs of this service.

The joint presentation by Collins and Schmitt is available on our Return to School website at www.k12albemarle.org/returntoschool. This site also includes updated information on community and employee resources around COVID-19; the division’s health and safety practices, information on instructional plans and school bus transportation, and more. In the near future, the site will also include answers to frequently asked questions.

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