Back to Learning: Henrico families and staff receive more info on in-person/virtual learning plans

Updated: Oct. 28, 2020 at 9:27 AM EDT
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HENRICO Co., Va. (WWBT) - Henrico County Public School (HCPS) families and faculty got more of an idea of how learning will take place during two virtual town halls scheduled Tuesday.

On Oct. 22, the HCPS school board voted 4-1 to expand in-person learning opportunities for the second nine-weeks of school and beyond. There will also be a fully virtual option for parents as well.

On Tuesday at 4 p.m., HCPS faculty and staff had the chance to hear from school leaders about how in-person and virtual learning will work moving forward. This was done through a virtual town hall.

The virtual town hall for HCPS families took place at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

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“This is a snapshot of a moment in time,” said HCPS spokesman Andy Jenks. “There’s going to come an opportunity to do this again when the questions might be on a different wavelength or might need to go into greater depth.”

But for now, Jenks said they’re trying to handle some of the most commonly asked questions, including timelines for when students who opt-in for in-person learning will return, to requirements for getting accommodations and even daily routines at school.

“What is that school day going to look like from when that student wakes up in the morning at home, to getting on the bus, to going into class and then in reverse all the way back home,” Jenks said. “We’ll have folks who are capable of talking through that.”

The current proposed timeline for HCPS students returning to in-person learning four days per week is as follows:

  • Monday, Nov. 30: Grades Pre-K through 2
  • Monday, Dec. 7: Grades 3 through 5
  • Jan. 4-8: One week of virtual learning for ALL students during the week after Winter Break
  • Monday, Feb. 1 (start of the second semester): Grades 6 & 9
  • Thursday, Feb. 4: Grades 7, 8, 10, 11, and 12

To provide as much knowledge as possible, the panel for the virtual town halls were not limited to administration staff; they’re also brought in principals.

“They’ll be there to articulate how things will work at the school level,” Jenks said. “Dr. Danny Avula from the health department, who folks have become very familiar with this year, will be there to lend some expertise from the health perspective.”

Jenks added you can expect each school to adapt to what will work best for them.

That could also include extra positions within the schools.

Currently, there are dozens of jobs available within HCPS to accommodate the expansion of in-person learning.

“These classroom monitor positions were positions we needed filled yesterday because we are still gradually expanding what we call the limited in-person learning,” Jenks said. “So, it’s only expanding more.”

Additionally, parents do not have to make an immediate decision on whether they want their child(ren) to continue learning virtual or switch over to in-person learning.

“We still want to maintain flexibility, not only for our internal plan but for external planning - our employees, our student households as well,” Jenks said. “It is reasonable, and we believe, that folks should have an opportunity to be informed before being put up before any sort of deadline.”

At some point, Henrico Schools will ask families to choose how they would like their children to learn. The same question will be posed for staff, however, there’s a chance not all teachers will get their requests approved.

During the second town hall, Henrico Health District Director Dr. Danny Avula joined school leaders as they answered the most common questions out of 815 that were submitted by parents.

Dr. Avula says the data shows schools are not driving the increased transmission. Some of the factors that went into the recommendation include the ability to commit to consistent mask-wearing, hand washing, physical distancing, cleaning protocols and contact tracing per VDH and CDC guidelines.

“When we do identify a case, we’ll be able to contact trace quickly and contain that spread of disease so that we’re not having a mass infection in the school,” said Avula. “I think certainly the overwhelming evidence that, particularly at the younger age of the age spectrum, kids are not transmitting disease in schools and schools are not driving community transmission. That was a really important factor for us.”

Students will be expected to wear their masks throughout the day with exceptions during lunch. Exceptions will also be made for students with special needs.

Efforts will also be made to keep the schedules of secondary and high school students reporting in-person for school the same as their virtual classmates. The instruction for elementary students will be identical where possible.

“There will be opportunities for in-person learning at times and virtual learning at times, and opportunities where that will be blended together,” said Dr. Stacey Austin.

Students will also notice a lot of protective barriers in their classrooms and throughout the schools. Plexiglass barriers will be placed in the most frequented areas at all HCPS buildings.

“We’ve supplied them in all of the common areas in the building...particularly your main office,” said Susan Moore Director of Facilities “We went on to add desk guards to all of the students' and teachers' desks.”

When it comes to the decision of whether to send your student back to school or keeping them virtual, the panel says the choice will be permanent in order to avoid complications with the consistency of schedules.

“If a family likes to remain virtual or to return to in-person learning, that will be a commitment that families are making for the remainder of the school year,” said Director of High School Education Dr. Thomas Ferrell Jr.

The panel adds the bus drivers, teachers and faculty will be equipped with extra PPE for students who forget theirs.

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