NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — The Newport News School Board approved a plan that will allow some students in the district to return to in-person learning if their families chose so.
On Tuesday night, the board voted 5-2 for its “Return to Learn” plan, a plan that’s been worked on by the district since the board voted in August to start the year virtual.
According to the plan, special education and some English Language Learner students will be brought back into the classrooms on Oct. 19.
Pre-K through second-grade students will be brought back on Oct. 26. Third through sixth grade will be brought back on Nov. 5. Seventh and eighth-grade students will be brought back on Nov. 16 and high school students will be brought back at a date to be determined.
The plan allows for parents to allow their students to continue all-virtual learning if they desire. Students with specialized learning could be in the classrooms four days a week and other students, who select to return back to class, could only have two days of learning in-class.
The “Return to Learn” plan included feedback from parents about the options as well as safety protocols the district will take as well as classroom designs, PPE accessibility, a COVID response team and bus changes.
Many school board members stated they’ve been inundated with parents of younger students urging them to have some type of in-person learning.
“All the parents are not necessarily going to bring their kids back to school but they’re saying give us the option for kids in need of that help to come back to school”, said board chairman Douglas Brown.
Those in support of the plan believe that now is the time to at least try to bring students back into the classroom while COVID-19 cases are down in the city.
“We can’t keep having a false start. At some point, instead of putting our toe in the water, we need to dive in while still taking into consideration the health, the number one priority on all points, because you can’t be overly cautious when it comes to health, but at some point, we have to move forward” said board member Dr. Terri Best.
Board members who voted against the plan, such as John Eley, who contracted COVID-19 earlier this year, said it would be hard to vote for the plan knowing it would put people at risk.
“If the president of the United States and the governor can’t be safe, I don’t understand how our staff are safe. Our children are saying,” he said.
Teachers who attended the meeting shared those same concerns.
“I’m worried students will catch COVID and bring it home to their families, bringing it home to grandma and immunocompromised family and elderly family members,” said Mary Vause, who is a Newport News Public School teacher and parents as well as a board member of the Newport News Education Association.
“Some of the members were saying this is the lowest COVID cases are going to be. It’s going to increase during flu season. Then why are we bringing them back? I think it was rushed,” she said.
Vause says she had hoped the board would’ve waited to get more feedback from teachers, who will be the ones in the classrooms.
According to the plan, teachers who are part of the at-risk category of contracting COVID-19 or have health concerns will be able to opt-out of in-person teaching.
But those teachers in attendance still left with many questions about sick leave and pay if they are doing in-person teaching.
Chanel Hurt, who is also a teacher and member of the Newport News Education Association, says many of her colleagues still hold the same concerns they held in March.
“I don’t think they’ve changed since but a lot of them are saying that’s not in their contract. They didn’t sign up for this. They’d like an actual seat at the table,” she said about discussing what steps to take next.
The “Return to Learn” plan included a Virtual Learning Academy for students who will opt to stay at home. After the COVID-19 pandemic, the district hopes to continue to use the academy for students who need at-home learning.
Teachers will not teach both in-person and virtual learning, according to the plan.
To read the entire presentation, click here.
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