ALBEMARLE Co., Va. (WVIR) - In a narrow 4-3 vote, the Albemarle County School Board voted in favor of moving to Stage 3 for the second quarter of schools as proposed by Superintendent Matt Haas.
Stage 3 plans for most 4th through 12th-grade students to continue learning virtually, but the county will allow a two-day face-to-face hybrid option for preschool through 3rd-grade students.
“We’ll be moving forward then as a unified system, not a 4-3 split, but a 7-0 unified division,” said Board Chair Graham Paige.
ACPS anticipates about 2,500 students will be in its school buildings per day, about 20 percent of its current enrollment.
The Stage 3 plan will still continue in-person access for specific students who qualified under Stage 2, including English learners, special education students, and "students exhibiting a lack of engagement in the virtual experience.
It also allows secondary students to “participate in athletics or in-person extracurricular activities." Schools will have to submit plans that follow the guidelines set by the Virginia High School League.
Thomas Jefferson Health District Director Dr. Denise Bonds said in a statement: “Based on the current public health conditions and Albemarle County Public School’s plan for minimizing risk within school settings, the Thomas Jefferson Health District supports a decision to implement a hybrid teaching model for PreK – 3rd grade.”
The presentation the board received before the vote can be viewed here.
School board members have called these decisions some of the hardest they have had to make.
“My gut, my heart says ‘why would we risk it?’” said board member David Oberg. "But my brain says, ‘listen, we have experts who have done this analysis, who have said: 'look, as long as these things are followed, we’re safe.’”
The decision didn’t come without concerns. Many shared worries that their student won’t be taught by the same teachers they’ve bonded with virtually.
“We would send our kids back to school if the option was for them to stay with their same teacher," said Tracy Betsworth, an ACPS parent. "Our kindergartener, our 2nd grader, our 4th grader, have built relationships with their teachers. They want to stay with them.”
Kristin Brockmeier, another ACPS parent, called on the board to make decisions “based on face, and not fear.”
“As parents and educators and as a community: do our jobs, and make sure our children are the priority,” she said.
There is still a divide between parents and teachers. In a survey, 67 percent of teachers felt best with virtual learning.
“My colleagues and I have spent a great deal of time collaborating to provide students with rich online learning experiences, and it’s working,” said Irene Krone, a teacher at Broadus Wood Elementary School.
But 60 percent of parents felt best with a hybrid model.
“My kids finished school almost every day with a migraine and are physically and mentally deprived and depressed," said Robyn Mattern. "This model is not safe, is not effective, and is not sustainable.”
If ACPS sees a spike in COVID-19 cases, school board members did say the system could revert back to earlier phases as necessary.
The board also voted to hold a special meeting on Dec. 17 to discuss plans for the third quarter.