Shenandoah County Schools Superintendent Mark Johnston made a video on Friday afternoon to update the community on school plans for the fall.
“There are a number of agencies and groups that advises that we have to adhere to their guidance,” Johnston said. “These would include, of course, the governor’s office emergency orders, the Virginia Department of Education and direction from the state superintendent of public education as well as the Virginia Department of Health, which more locally that guidance comes through the Lord Fairfax Health District, of which Shenandoah County is in the southern part of.”
Johnston said that he and his staff participate every Thursday in a meeting with Valley Health to stay up to date with the local situation and that he has a virtual meeting with the state superintendent of public instruction every Tuesday morning. He said he hopes to hear some news soon on the reopening of schools in the fall.
“Right now, we’re waiting, hopefully within the next 10 days – maybe sooner – to get clear guidance from the state regarding reopening timelines, precautions and so on,” Johnston said. “To that end, we have a group that has been meeting, representatives of different parts of the school division, parents, teachers, administrators, central office staff and so on. And really, what we’ve been doing is really just going through a series of what-if scenarios. We learn as we read about what other divisions are doing in Virginia, across the nation as well as internationally. We see some things that we like. We see some things that we don’t like too much.”
Johnston said that they are looking at three scenarios. The first would be to come back in the fall with no regulations, though he said they would use some new health and hygiene practices that they have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The second scenario would be to continue as things are now with schools closed and figure out a way to teach students virtually.
Johnston said he believes the third scenario is the most likely to happen.
“I don’t think either of those (first) two scenarios are most likely,” Johnston said. “I think the most likely scenario is the third one that we’re looking at and considering, which is what if we return but then with things like physical distancing in place, groups no larger than currently, that’s 10, and so on. The thing that I want to stress to you is this – even the most simple things can be quite complex logistically.”
He said if the third scenario is selected, they have a lot of issues to figure out, including how to handle bus transportation and lunch. Johnston said that buses hold 77 students and they would not be able to have 77 students on a bus with social distancing needed.
Johnston said they have discussed having meals sent to students in their classroom, but he said the health department said that meals would have to be covered and if every school division in Virginia is doing that, then having enough containers for every school could be an issue.
“So there’s a lot of details, a lot of considerations to be made,” Johnston said. “So I wanted to ensure that we are working on that.”
Johnston said that early this week there should be an online form on the Shenandoah County Public Schools website where anyone in the community can give input or ask questions.
“We want this to be a free-flowing exchange of information and review,” Johnston said. “So we’re not going to hold back things. We’re going to share with you what we’re thinking about, what we believe our realities to be, and we’re going to want you to help us with this.
“...I believe when you have information, it helps reduce anxiety and stress levels,” he said.
Johnston said that the current meal program, which is delivering meals at all three middle schools from 11 a.m.-1 p.m., will continue until at least June 30. He said they have applied to extend it until the end of July but that has not been approved yet.
Johnston said that from March 18-May 21 they have served 40,000 meals, and sometime later this week they will reach 50,000 meals.
“So I just want to say hats off to them,” Johnston said. “They’ve had one day off since March 18 and that was Memorial Day.”
Johnston said that starting June 8, students who were taking the instructional part of driver’s education and were 10 hours short of the needed class instruction can finish up their instruction online. He said principals or counselors should be getting in touch with them. Johnston said at this time the behind-the-wheel class remains suspended due to the state regulations.
Johnston said that high school students who need to take a summer school class can do so online.
“Starting June 8, we’re going to give our students the opportunity, anybody who failed a class in grades nine through 12 will be able to make up that class through an online resource,” Johnston said. “It’s called Apex and basically they complete a course and if it’s a (Standards of Learning) course, and they need to take an SOL test, they’ll be able to do so at the conclusion of that under safe hygienic conditions.”
He said summer school programs for students in kindergarten through eighth grade are being considered for July depending on state guidance.
The first day of school is scheduled for Aug. 4.
Johnston said the health of everyone involved is at the forefront of every decision that will be made.
“First and foremost, in this set of challenges that we’ve had is always the safety and health of our students and faculty,” Johnston said. “Every decision that we’re making is in regard to that concern, and we want to make sure that we don’t endanger anyone in everything that we do moving forward.”
View the video on YouTube at https://tinyurl.com/ya8rno6u