HCPS considering 2 approaches for return to school; seeks input via survey

Updated: Jun. 24, 2020 at 6:37 PM EDT
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HENRICO, Va. (WWBT) - Henrico County Public Schools is asking for input from parents on the best way to reopen for the 2020-2021 school year.

Spokesman Andy Jenks said a survey is in the process of being sent out to families. They will be able to provide input on two approaches the school system is considering.

In May, HCPS announced five possibilities for a return to school, however, that was narrowed down at this point for input.

“The entire school experience is being re-imagined across this region and it’s quite frankly something that’s never had to be done before,” Jenks said. “You have to consider things from bus transportation to classroom settings, walking the hallways, gym class, extra curricular’s, sports and clubs, you name it; all these things need to be carefully thought through and re-imagined.”

One is a “hybrid learning” model designed to reduce the number of students in school at the same time.

“You could have a group of students who attend school in person while simultaneously another group of students is learning virtually and then those students flip flop week to week,” Jenks said.

A similar version is where a group of students may do in-person learning on Tuesday and Thursdays, while the other group goes on Wednesday and Fridays, however, all would still be learning virtually on that Monday. Another option would be for split learning, where some students attend school in the morning while others attend in the afternoon.

“With a newborn and two smaller children, I have to make sure that we’re all being safe,” said Tyrina Santiago, an HCPS parent. “I don’t think this hybrid learning is going to work.”

Another option is “parallel virtual learning” where parents or guardians have the choice to allow their children to learn at home virtually, something Santiago said she is happy about.

"That way I know they can be safe and the hard work I've done to keep them safe so far isn't going unnoticed," she added.

However, some students said virtual did not work well for them in the Spring.

“You can’t talk to the teacher about the work you need to do; you have to email them,” said Kevon Harris, a student. “It’s just easier in person.”

Some parents agree that in-person learning is best.

“For those of us who truly want ours back five days a week, we’re hoping we can work together to make that an option,” said Julie Stribling, an HCPS parent. “It’s truly critical.”

Stribling is part of a group called “Choices for Virginia Schools” which was created by several HCPS parents focused on discussing the best way for students to return to school.

Many of these parents point to the Virginia Department of Health which shows less than 10% of the state’s coronavirus cases involve children under the age of 19.

"We assess risk daily for our children and we think keeping them out of school is a much greater risk than sending them back," Stribling said.

Beyond COVID-19 data, Voice for Virginia’s Children’s Policy Director, Emily Griffey, said the school system needs to look at other data as well when determining the best course of action.

"Information like the number of economically disadvantaged students, students receiving free or reduced lunch, students with special education needs and those students might benefit the most from in-person instruction," Griffey said.

Griffey added there also needs to be a conversation about the impact on parents who have full-time jobs.

“Will parents need additional help; a parent liaison position to help them navigate a new world of online instruction,” she said.

Jenks said the school system is seeking input from all families on these approaches once the survey is sent out this week.

“This is what you want if you’re a school system; you want parents and families who are engaged, tuned in, paying attention,” he said.

At this point, school leaders said they are not anticipating a “full return to normal” because the school system is following state guidance and the advice of health experts.

“We need to create an environment that makes our entire community feel safe and that includes parents from all over Henrico County as well as our own employees,” Jenks added.

“There’s no doubt that we’re excited about welcoming our students and staff back to school in the fall, but we agree with the governor that the school day will look very different,” said HCPS Superintendent Amy E. Cashwell. “We continue to review the state’s guidance and narrow our focus. We know already that this summer and fall will be about re-imagining the school experience and building community confidence that our schools will continue to be a healthy and safe place for students to learn and grow.”

The state guidelines divide reopening into three phases. The document and related information are available at the Virginia Department of Education website.

While the document provides guidance and flexibility, each school system in the state must decide on a reopening plan that aligns with one of the phases and is required to submit a comprehensive instructional plan at least 15 days before the start of the new school year.

Additionally, because HCPS options involve in-person instruction, the school system is also required to submit a health mitigation plan.

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