Charlottesville School Board votes for all virtual start to the school year

Charlottesville School Board votes for all virtual start to the school year

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Charlottesville City Schools will start the 2020-21 school year with 9 weeks of fully online learning.

Prior to the unanimous vote in favor of the decision, Charlottesville City School Board Chair Jennifer McKeever spoke about her responsibility to keep students and staff safe.

“I cannot rely on my children’s health, my children’s teacher’s health, and my own health, my mother’s health, and your health, to people who may or may not believe in literally the virus,” she said.

The school board voted in favor of the plan presented Thursday night after discussing details for more than five hours.

“If we come back too soon, if we don’t do it right, people aren’t going to make it,” said board member Lashundra Bryson Morsberger. “And I can’t in good conscience vote for us to come back if it’s not safe”

“Quality, continuous professional learning for teachers, IAs [instructional assistants], and for administrators has been a major focus,” said Charlottesville Public Schools Chief Academic Officer Dr. Katina Otey.

The approved plan calls for four days of teacher-directed learning and one day that includes more student-driven learning.

“This will allow for teachers to have the latter portion of each Friday time to serve as professional learning time, planning time,” Otey said.

The board also discussed meet-and-greets that could be organized between teachers and students while distancing, either outside a house or in a classroom.

“We in secondary education also understand the importance of developing relationships with our students and parents,” said Charlottesville High School teacher Pamela Brown.

CPS surveyed staff and families and shared some findings. Just under a quarter of staff members (24.5%) were comfortable with the proposed in-person plan, while 54.5% of them wanted online-only learning. Parents were more split, as 45.4% preferred fully virtual learning, while 40.9% did not.

“I think child care is a hugely motivating concern for people who would like to see face-to-face learning,” said Beth Cheuk, who works with CPS community relations.

Another concern was how to teach students who would most benefit from in-person schooling. This includes special needs or ESL students. Those details won’t be decided until the next board meeting.

During the lengthy meeting, Dr. Denise Bonds, the health director for Thomas Jefferson Health District, shared some possible protocols for what a positive COVID-19 case would look like if students were to attend school in-person.

“If the child had been symptomatic in the classroom we would likely recommend that other children in that classroom stay home for 14 days and, if possible, get tested somewhere between 5 and 7 days [after potential exposure].”

The full Return to School plan, which includes some sample schedules, can be viewed here.

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