Back to Learning: Major school systems to reopen virtually, others offer in-person/virtual options

Updated: Aug. 26, 2020 at 6:09 AM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Some of the largest school systems in Central Virginia have opted to return to learning virtually, and now educators are weighing in on how that could work.

Sonia Smith, President of the Chesterfield Education Association, said what parents and students will see in the fall is vastly different than the emergency virtual learning seen this past spring.

“They are trying to figure out how to perfect their craft as online instructors,” Smith said. “The digital outreach as far as getting to students and being engaging, and that type of thing is solid and on point.”

Smith acknowledges what many parents saw from March through June was rough.

“It was growing pains for educators,” Smith said. “We had no idea what we were doing. Some of us did, some of us didn’t; very difficult to navigate.”

However, Smith said school systems and educators have learned from their mistakes.

“I have full faith and confidence that every student who is able to log in and get that good work done, it’s going to be incredible,” she added. “I’m encouraged; I’m very optimistic.”

Among the school systems opting for a virtual start to the 2020-2021 school year include:

  • Chesterfield
  • Henrico
  • Richmond
  • Petersburg
  • Hopewell
  • Caroline
  • Brunswick
  • Dinwiddie

While each school system has its different methods and instruction plans, one of the main priorities for all teachers is engagement.

“Coming up with creative solutions to encourage students to get up from their computers, do some sort of scavenger hunt and come back,” Smith said. “We need to keep them excited, and, in a virtual fashion, still be able to connect on some level with their classmates.”

However, there are several school systems that have left it up to the parents or guardians to choose between in-person instruction or online. Those school systems may have a variation of in-person learning through a hybrid schedule or fully virtual instruction.

Those school systems include:

  • Amelia
  • Colonial Heights
  • Hanover
  • Prince George
  • Powhatan

Many of these school systems make up the rural areas of Central Virginia.

“Their numbers, as far as enrollment is concerned and class sizes, is very small,” Smith said. “It’s a very different setup, so they have a little more wiggle room.”

However, when it comes down to the concerns with the COVID-19 pandemic, they are still the same no matter where the school system is located.

Meanwhile, several school boards have yet to vote on their back to learning plans. That is expected to happen in the last week of July.

In the weeks leading up to the start of the school year, Smith said educators will continue to work on the best ways to engage with students, whether they are in-person or online.

“They’re going to take into consideration the well-being of the whole student, the whole scholar, before even delving into and jumping into academics,” she added. “We have to consider the fact they have been away from their friends, classmates for so very long… those first few days will be a little tough, but the content and material that will be delivered will be top-notch.”

The Virginia Department of Education created an interactive map breaking down how all of the state’s 132 school divisions would be going back to learning this fall.

According to the data, there are 66 school divisions that are offering fully remote learning while only nine divisions are in person for all students at least four days a week. The other 57 school divisions are offering a mix of some type of in-person and remote learning.

The VDOE also says that all 132 school divisions offered students and families a fully remote option to learn.

Chesterfield County Public Schools

The Chesterfield County School Board voted Monday night for a full virtual return to learning under its plan “Project Restart.”

The vote was 4-1 in favor of the virtual start. This comes after Superintendent Dr. Mervin Daugherty recommended the virtual learning earlier that day.

While the Chesterfield Education Association supported the virtual option, some parents spoke out at the meeting saying they should have the choice to return their students to the classroom.

The phased-in approach includes:

  • Begins in a virtual learning environment and phases in cohorts of students with disabilities (Level 2) and English language learners (Levels 1-4), as appropriate, while remaining in compliance with social distancing guidelines;
  • Plans for a hybrid model of in-person and virtual learning that reintroduces cohorts of students to classroom learning while remaining in compliance with social distancing guidelines; and
  • Ultimately returns all students interested in returning to in-school instruction (with an option for students to remain in a virtual learning environment for the year if they choose).

School begins on Sept. 8 for students.

For more information on CCPS’s return to learning plan, click here.

Henrico County Public Schools

Henrico is the most recent school system to move forward with an online option. The school board voted unanimously after six hours Thursday for the virtual option.

This comes after the Superintendent made the recommendation Monday for all students to learn online for the first nine weeks of school through its “Mission Forward” plan.

“In making the decision to begin the year with a fully virtual school day, we asked and were asked a thousand important questions,” Cashwell said. “However, in the end, we had to focus on just one: Right now, based on the information we have today, our expertise and our best efforts, can we assure our staff members and families that returning to school in person will be safe and healthy? Until we can answer that question with confidence, your School Board and I believe that a fully virtual school day is the most feasible way to engage our students while prioritizing student, staff and community safety.”

For more information on HCPS’s return to learning plan, click here.

Hopewell City Public Schools

Hopewell City Public Schools voted Wednesday night for a fully virtual format for the first nine weeks of the 2020-2021 school year. The school board also voted to delay the start of school to Sept. 8.

“Our hope until this week had been to offer a choice between a fully virtual model and two days per week of face to face instruction,” Superintendent Dr. Melody Hackney wrote. “Unfortunately, due to a number of factors, offering in-person instruction has become unrealistic at this time.”

Hackney said the school system is aware of ongoing concerns for child care and they are working on options to share with families in the future.

On Thursday, the HCPS school board held a Facebook Live panel discussion to share information about preliminary planning for reopening.

Posted by Hopewell City Public Schools on Thursday, July 23, 2020

For more information on HCPS’s return to learning plan, click here.

Petersburg City Public Schools

On Wednesday the Petersburg City Public School Board voted unanimously to reopen schools on a virtual platform under the “Petersburg Virtual Academy.”

When it comes to the spread of coronavirus, Superintendent Dr. Maria Pitre-Martin said school leaders can mitigate the risk, but they just cannot eliminate it.

“Our staff worked diligently to be able to present as much data as we could for our Board to consider as they determined how schools would reopen in September,” Pitre-Martin said. “The Board utilized data from parents and families as well to make their decision.”

During the Board meeting, Superintendent Pitre-Martin presented health considerations, instructional options, transportation scenarios, and cleaning and safety practices as a part of reopening the schools in the fall.

Petersburg’s Superintendent isn’t yet sure whether teachers would work from home or in the school building.

For more information on PCPS’s return to learning plan, click here.

Richmond City Public Schools

The Richmond City Public School Board voted 8-1 on July 14 for virtual learning for the start of the 2020-2021 school year after several hours of public comment.

RPS officials said students will learn virtually for the first semester as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

“I just want to acknowledge how difficult this is,” said Superintendent Dr. Jason Kamras. “As I’ve shared and as many of you have shared, there is no one right solution and no matter what path we take this will cause inconvenience or hardship for some group of people.”

For more information on RPS’s return to learning plan, click here.

Brunswick County Public Schools

On July 28, school officials notified families that the district would be going with the virtual option for the first 9 weeks of the academic year, starting Aug. 10.

The School Board and Administration will continue to monitor the impact of COVID-19 and make a determination of delivery model(s) for the second 9-week period and beyond.

Attention Parents and Guardians: Based on guidance from The Virginia Department of Education, it is anticipated that...

Posted by Brunswick County Public Schools on Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Caroline County Public Schools

On July 30 the Caroline County Public School Board unanimously voted to approve virtual instruction for the first nine weeks.

Students in Pk-12 will participate in virtual instruction from Aug. 28 through Oct. 8.

For more information on CCPS’s return to learning plan, click here.

Goochland County Public Schools

Previously, the Goochland County School Board unanimously approved to offer parents the choice of in-person, however, the board voted on Aug. 11 to just offer distance learning for the start of the 2020-21 school year.

Beginning Aug. 24, students will access classes on a daily schedule remotely, but in real-time, with their assigned teachers.

The vote came after a collaboration with the Goochland community, school district staff and the local health department that began shortly after schools closed in March. A summary of the Board’s approved distance learning plan can be found, here.

Dinwiddie County Public Schools

The Dinwiddie County Public School Board had previously voted to reopen schools with the parental choice of a virtual or hybrid option. But as of Aug. 25, all students will start off learning virtually due to an increase of COVID-19 cases.

The school board originally voted to reopen the schools with a hybrid option that allowed students to attend school two days per week on either an A or B schedule.

“Based on the information received from the Crater Health District, there is community spread of the virus not related to an outbreak. There is also an increase within the Crater Health District for the number of cases in youth between the ages of 0-19, with two such cases here in Dinwiddie,” the school said in a release.

School leaders will continue to monitor data and work with the Virginia Department of Health. If the data improves, a targeted return date for hybrid learners is Oct. 1.

Amelia County Public Schools

On July 22, the Amelia County Public School Board voted for students to receive instruction through either a hybrid or a fully virtual/remote instructional model.

This gives parents and/or guardians the option of selecting which instruction method they would like for their child.

“While we would love nothing more than to welcome every student back in person on August 17, we believe that this Instructional Plan is the best alternative we can offer our students and our community at this time,” said Superintendent Dr. James Lane.

For more information on ACPS’s return to learning plan, click here.

Colonial Heights Public Schools

Superintendent Dr. William Sroufe said the decision to offer two options for parents was compiled through research of various reopening options, guidelines provided by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and input from parents, staff and community members.

“We firmly believe that student well-being requires face-to-face, student-teacher interaction,” Sroufe stated in a letter on July 15. “As a result, face-to-face instruction, regardless of the educational setting, will begin Tuesday, September 8th for all CHPS students.”

However, parents/guardians have a choice to allow students to attend school in the traditional setting or participate in an online “CHPS Virtual Academy.”

Enrollment for online learning was extended to Sunday, July 26.

“I think it’s important to remember that this is just a plan,” Sroufe stated. “Our teachers are preparing for 100% virtual instruction if at any time that becomes necessary. All our students and staff will be required to wear face coverings when social distancing cannot be maintained. Accommodations will be made on a case-by-case basis for medical reasons provided in writing by a physician.”

Leaders said hybrid learning is also a possibility depending on the number of students who select in-person learning.

For more information on CHPS’s return to learning plan, click here.

Hanover County Public Schools

On July 14, the Hanover County Public School Board approved the “Return to Learn” plan which includes a full-time in-person and a full-time online learning choice.

Unlike other school systems, those who choose in-person learning will be doing so five days per week inside school buildings.

However, once a parent/guardian selects an option for their child, it is binding through the first semester.

“Parents may only change their students’ instructional option at the conclusion of the first semester, if desired,” school leaders said.

For students who wish to enroll in online instruction, the deadline is July 29.

For more information on HCPS’s return to learning plan, click here.


The district announced big changes to the first day of school for those who chose in-person learning.

On Sept. 8, only students in ‘transitional’ years such as Pre-K, Kindergarten, First grade, Sixth grade and Ninth grade, will physically go to school. Online students will start the school year on Sept. 8 also.

All other students will go to school on Sept. 9.

The school district says these changes have been made so staff can do orientation activities that normally would have been done over the summer.

Prince George County Public Schools

Prince George County Public Schools presented it’s “Return to Learn” plan on July 13 to the school board for the 2020-2021 school year.

The school is also offering choices for parents for in-person or virtual learning.

However, traditional in-person learning may not happen five days per week.

“When we first entered Phase 3, plans were based on the guidance and recommendations of 6 ft. physical distancing which allows approx. 50% of students to attend in-person instruction for two days per week and two days per week virtual instruction with one day for cleaning, teacher planning, and professional development,” a presentation stated. “The revised guidance recently released provides for 3 ft. physical distancing which allows the school division to offer more on-site days of instruction to more students.”

For those families who may not feel comfortable with have their child(ren) return to school, virtual instruction is an option for them. The student must be registered by Wednesday, July 29.

For more information on PGCPS’s plan, click here.

Powhatan County Public Schools

The Powhatan County Public School Board voted on its return to learning plan on July 28.

Superintendent Dr. Eric Jones recommended schools reopen with two “Pathways for Learning” - virtual or face-to-face instruction.

For those who select face to face instruction, students will follow a hybrid model.

“Pathway II will provide as much in-person learning as current health and safety conditions allow,” a school board agenda reads. “This pathway is truly a continuum because at one end we have Short-Term Virtual Learning that may be required for some or all students due to health and safety concerns that may occur. In the middle, we have a hybrid learning option that provides at least two days of face-to-face instruction. At the other end of the continuum is a full five-day return to in-person learning.”

School leaders said movement between the levels is likely throughout the year depending on the ongoing pandemic.

For more information on PCPS’s return to learning plan, click here.

Copyright 2020 WWBT. All rights reserved.

Submit a news tip.