Isle of Wight school board votes to give parents a choice to send some students back to school for first day

Isle of Wight

ISLE OF WIGHT, Va. (WAVY) – The Isle of Wight School Board voted to put into place a return-to-school plan that will put some students in the classroom on the first day of the new school year.

In a 3-2 vote, taken during a special meeting Thursday morning at Westside Elementary School in Smithfield, the district broke away from many other districts in our region who have decided to start with virtual learning almost exclusively.

Instead, parents will now have the opportunity to decide whether or not to keep their student home and in virtual learning for the first quarter of the school year or send them into the classroom as part of a hybrid plan that includes some in-person learning.

Despite an increase of COVID-19 cases in Hampton Roads, there have been less than 200 new cases in the county since July 1, according to the Virginia Department of Health. Isle of Wight was not included in the governor’s latest restrictions to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“We will provide in-person learning for children whose parents feel this is best for their children and their family,” said Jackie Carr, chairwoman of Isle of Wight County School Board who represents the Carrsville District.

In the approved plan, if a parent selects the hybrid or “learning continuum” option, elementary and middle school students will return to schools two days a week, and complete work at home the other three days. All high school students will start the year with 100% remote learning, except some in career and technical education (CTE) programs. They will begin in-person learning once health metrics improve to the point where the superintendent feels it’s possible.

For the in-person schedule, one group of students will go Monday and Wednesday; the other group will go Tuesday and Thursday.

“In the governor’s plan … if you socially distance, which could mean A/B, they are recommending Pre-K-3 and special education students attend in a socially distance environment because it has basically been proven that they are the most difficult to educate virtually,” said Superintendent Dr. Jim Thorton. He added that in high school, those students are not in a cohort. They do have to switch classes, which puts many students in the hallway, even when using an A/B schedule.

Carr said she was passionate about having younger students go back first as she, a former elementary teacher, believes they have a better chance of falling behind.

“In-person teachers will have their class roster, they’ll have their curriculum, they’ll have their schedule and they’ll come to school daily to embrace the necessary changes and ready to teach,” Carr said.

Thorton said plans are also being made to have teachers instructing virtually to be physically in the classroom.

Board members Denise Tynes (Smithfield) and Vicky Hulick (Newport) voted against the plan, instead favoring a nine-week virtual start for everyone.

Hulick told the board she couldn’t live with herself if one student or teacher died as a result of their decision.

Tynes took aim at parents who have complained about the difficulties of keeping children at home.

“If you fail to get babysitting services for your children, Isle of Wight County Schools will not be it. Okay? I’m sorry,” Tynes said.

In June, IWCS conducted a survey of parents and employees to gather feedback on the reopening of schools. Click here to see the survey results.

The board will reevaluate the current plan before the end of the first nine weeks to determine how to proceed.

The district will have informational meetings next week for parents to help them make a decision on what’s best for their child.

  • Wednesday, August 5 at George Tyler Middle at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
  • Thursday, August 6 at Westside Elementary at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
  • All of these meetings will also be live streamed.

Parents will need to make their decision by Monday, August 10. The first day of the new school year is Sept. 8.

Watch the full July 30 school board meeting at this link.

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