WINCHESTER — The first day of school for Frederick County Public Schools has been pushed back until Sept. 8, the School Board decided unanimously at a special meeting on Tuesday afternoon.
The division had planned on an Aug. 31 opening.
School officials asked the board to consider delaying the start of the 2020-21 academic year to give staff more time for health and safety training amid the coronavirus pandemic and to give parents more time to address child care needs once they receive their child’s class schedule.
No further action was taken at the meeting, affirming the division’s reopening plan, which gives students a choice to attend in-person classes on a reduced basis, along with some online instruction, or to take their courses 100% online.
Before the vote, the board received a reopening update from schools Superintendent David Sovine. It also heard from Dr. Colin Greene, director of the Lord Fairfax Health District.
Sovine said 70% of families have chosen for their children to attend in-person classes, while 30% have opted for 100% online learning. This means nearly 10,000 of the school division’s approximately 13,000 students will receive some in-person instruction when classes resume. Most in-person classes will average eight to 12 students, according to Steve Edwards, the division’s coordinator of policy and communications.
Under the reopening plan, preschool through first-grade students have the option to attend in-person classes four days a week (Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays), while second- through 12th-grade students can attend two days a week (either Mondays and Thursdays or Tuesdays and Fridays), with supplemental online learning on the other days.
Sovine offered some examples of what schools will look when they reopen. Sherando High School, which normally houses about 1,600 students, will have about 525 students per day, he said. Admiral Byrd Middle School will have about 350 students per day, while Greenwood Mill will have about 210 students per day.
The county has 19 schools.
Students should receive their class schedules the week of Aug. 17, he said. Bus routes/schedules for students enrolled in in-person classes will be provided at least one week before school starts.
Of the school division’s 1,100 teachers, 100 have verified medical or family issues that require 100% online teaching, Sovine said. An additional 200 teachers have said they would prefer to teach online.
Sovine said accommodating teachers with verified medical/family issues alone creates staffing challenges. He noted that all of the county’s middle and high schools and almost half of its elementary schools are significantly impacted by staffing issues.
At the high schools, Sovine said the division is working to enable teachers who must teach from home to livestream to students in their classrooms. The division also hopes to enable teachers instructing in a classroom to livestream to students who are enrolled in online learning.
Middle school students may have teachers instructing them online from a different middle school than the one they attend, Sovine added, explaining that teacher resources from all four of the county’s middle schools will be shared for the Virtual Academy. Middle school teachers also may have the option to livestream instruction into the classroom if they must work from home.
High school and elementary students can expect to have teachers from their respective schools, both in-person and online.
In the elementary schools, some teachers will be designated for hybrid instruction (in-person and online), while others will be designated for 100% online instruction.
During Greene’s presentation, he said that no children have died in the Lord Fairfax Health District or Virginia from coronavirus. He said those 65 and older are more at risk for developing serious complications from COVID-19. Of the 90 people in the health district who have died from coronavirus, 51 were 80 years old or older, he said.
From a personal perspective, Greene said if he was a school staff member with medical issues or over age 65, he would prefer working from home because of the risks posed by the coronavirus.
Greene did not mention that, as of Wednesday, 273 people between the ages of 0 and 19 have tested positive for coronavirus in the health district, which includes Winchester and Frederick, Clarke, Shenandoah, Page and Warren counties. That’s 10.5% of the health district’s 2,589 cases.
He did say that the number of coronavirus cases and related deaths have continued to decrease nationally over the past two weeks, adding that the area’s transmission rate for the virus is low right now.
Overall, Greene said he encourages schools that are reopening to have students wear face coverings, practice social distancing and wash their hands frequently.
Attending Tuesday’s special meeting at the division’s administration building at 1415 Amherst St. were Superintendent David Sovine and Frederick County School Board Chairman Jay Foreman. School Board members in attendance were Shontyá Washington, Brandon Monk, Brian Hester, Bradley Comstock and Vice Chairman Michael Lake. Board member Frank Wright was not present.