Shenandoah County Public Schools switched from all-virtual to the hybrid method of learning on Monday and Superintendent Mark Johnston said that he felt “things went very well.”
“Given that our transportation system can haul less than half of a normal year, the principals and central office staff developed detailed logistical procedures to ensure maximum efficiency getting in and out,” Johnston wrote in an email Monday before schools let out in the afternoon. “Adjustments will continue to be made but our largest schools, the elementary schools, had all students in no later than 8:37 and at Ashby Lee, students were in by 8:30 a.m. We so appreciate parents and drivers being patient and following requests by principals which enabled a good mix of our buses and car drivers to co-exist.”
Shenandoah County Assistant Superintendent Dave Hinegardner said at last week’s School Board meeting that 1,257 students were expected to be receiving bus transportation, and once they get things sorted out in a few weeks they are expecting 1,900 students to use bus transportation. Last year, they transported 4,600 students on buses, according to Hinegardner.
With the school division’s hybrid method, all pre-kindergarten through fifth grade students will attend in-person classes four days a week, Monday-Thursday. Students in grades six through 12 will go one day a week, depending on the first letter of their last name. On Monday, sixth- to 12th-graders whose last names start with a G, I, J, P, Q and S attended in-person classes. All students have the option of going all-virtual this year. At last week’s School Board meeting the division announced that as of Oct. 6, 1,384 students had chosen to do all-virtual learning.
While Johnston didn’t have official attendance numbers for Monday, he wrote that they are expecting 2,585 students for in-person classes Monday.
“I got to all of our schools (Monday) and was able to visit with classes, talk with students in classrooms, and visit with them in cafeterias and with some, while they were having lunch in their classrooms,” Johnston wrote. “I did an informal poll and found that in some classes, that about 40% were not very fond of the peas, which was the side dish served with pizza (Monday).”
Johnston wrote that Monday did feel a little different than the original opening day of school on Aug. 31.
“While August 31, our first day was a good feeling that students were connecting, the technology challenges were being overcome, etc., (Monday) was different because we had so many students present and that was very affirming,” Johnston wrote. “Other than being physically distant and wearing masks when in motion, it was a pretty typical day, which again is a testament to all the preparation and hard work of our staff.”
One of the regulations due to the COVID-19 pandemic is for all students to wear masks anytime they are in motion, but they did not have to wear a mask when sitting at their desks, which are all at least 6-feet apart.
Johnston wrote that he felt like everyone was dealing with the new regulations very well and did not hear of any issues with wearing masks or social distancing.
“While I know that was a concern preparing, it turned out that students were prepared and again, we thank parents for working with their children so that we can keep schools open for in-person learning,” Johnston wrote.
Recent COVID numbers show a spike in the area and even throughout the state. The county’s public schools, according to a dashboard on its website, have two active cases involving students. One case is at Ashby Lee Elementary School and the other is at W.W. Robinson Elementary School.
Johnston wrote in the email that he is following the COVID cases closely and will work with the Virginia Department of Health for advice on whether they would need to go back to all-virtual at some point or shut a school down.
“It does worry me because this is the time when we need to keep our vigilance high,” Johnston wrote. “I also have been watching closely the outbreaks. While our numbers are up, the outbreaks in our area have been limited to long-term care facilities, healthcare settings, and correctional facilities. We will continue to be vigilant. Any decisions on closure would be made in close consultation with the health department.”