Shenandoah County Public Schools announced Wednesday morning that the division will go all-virtual for all students for the first nine weeks of the school year.

“The health and safety of our staff and our students and their families has always been our highest priority,” Schools Superintendent Mark Johnston states in a news release. “After consulting with the School Board, though not unanimous, the majority support that this is the only way to safely reopen our schools at this time. I know that this will be difficult for many families, but our number one goal is to keep our school community safe and healthy.”

On July 9, the Shenandoah County School Board approved a hybrid model that had some students attending in-person as much as four days a week. It was known from the start that there might be times they would need to go all-virtual. As part of that plan for reopening there was a caveat that Johnston would decide when schools would need to go all-virtual or stay in the hybrid model with the backing of the School Board.

Last week at a special meeting, the School Board and Johnston agreed to look at the possibility of starting schools all-virtual this fall. Johnston said that he would contact each School Board member individually and do whatever the majority wanted. The decision did not need to be approved at a School Board meeting because the model approved in July hadn’t changed. It is the same plan, but they are starting it out all-virtual.

The school year will begin on Aug 31.

The news release states that the number of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths in Shenandoah County continues to be a concern.

“Just recently the 7-day moving average of cases in the county per 100,000 has risen from 5.9 to 6.9 to 8.2 in less than a week and on August 10 hit 12.1,” the release states.

According to the news release, Johnston is using the Harvard Global Health Institute to get his information. Shenandoah County Public Schools Assistant Superintendent of Teaching, Learning and Innovation Gabby Ryman said that Johnston also uses information from the Virginia Department of Health.

The news release states that COVID-19 data will be monitored daily and the decision will be reevaluated every week. The division plans to show the data on the county schools website so that everyone can see the data that is being used to make decisions. The earliest a return to the hybrid model could occur would be nine weeks into the school year, which would be Oct. 26. The news release states that an announcement of a return to the hybrid model would be done at least two to three weeks in advance so that parents could make arrangements.

Shenandoah County Public Schools Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services and Strategic Planning David Hinegardner said that they will reevaluate the situation in about five or six weeks into the school year to see if they would like to go back to the hybrid model of learning.

“The goal is to get kids in school as quickly as we can but also as safely as we can,” Hinegardner said in a phone interview on Wednesday.

He said with going all-virtual to start the year it gives them more time to make sure everything is ready for a possible switch to the hybrid model later in the fall.

The teachers are using professional days until Aug. 28 to get used to the new learning management system Schoology. Ryman said that the teachers will be prepared to teach virtually on Aug. 31.

“They are utilizing this time at school with professional days to learn about Schoology,” Ryman said. “They’ve already begun planning and building lessons. So they have plenty that they will be ready to roll out with virtual on Aug. 31.”

Shenandoah County isn’t the only school system going to all-virtual learning this fall. Rockingham County Schools will be doing an all-virtual model starting on Sept. 10. Harrisonburg City Schools will also be doing an all-virtual method starting on Aug. 31.

Other school systems in the area are going to a hybrid method. Warren County Schools will use a hybrid plan but are considering pushing the start date from Aug. 27 to Sept. 8. Frederick County Schools, Winchester City Schools and Clarke County Schools will reopen on Sept. 8 using a hybrid method. Rappahannock County Schools will be using a hybrid model starting on Aug. 24.

Schools across the country have struggled with the decision as to how they should reopen. According to a story by The Associated Press, the Cherokee County division in Georgia attempted to do in-person learning last week and this week has reported that at least 1,156 students have been quarantined as well as 37 staff members. At least 19 schools in the district have been affected. On the opposite side of things, Gwinnett County, the largest division in Georgia, tried to launch virtual learning on Wednesday and had parents complaining that their children could not log on to Gwinnett County’s online system.

Hinegardner said his message to all the parents in the community is to be patient.

“We all want the same thing,” he said. “We all want the very best for our kids and for our community and the reality of this pandemic situation is it’s not a school problem. It’s not a feeding problem. It’s not a transportation problem. It’s a community problem and the more we work together and try to help things the better all this is going to go, and we’re going to do the very best we can.”

Johnston was not available for comment on Wednesday.

– Contact Tommy Keeler Jr. at tkeeler@nvdaily.com