Newport News schools: 100% in-person instruction not feasible for the fall

Newport News

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — Newport News school officials have laid out some options for what returning to school in the fall could look like during the coronavirus pandemic.

But returning to 100% in-person instruction this fall is not feasible at this time, they said.

The Newport News School Board met to go over its options for the upcoming semester. The presentation included an overview of the plan including health and safety measures, instructional options, schedules and family choice.

The results from a community survey that went out in June showed the majority of people preferred a mix of online and in-person instruction. However, school officials know one plan doesn’t fit all.

“There’s still a lot of work to do, but I assure you we want to engage our teachers, our students, our staff and our community moving forward in making those decisions,” said Dr. George Parker, NNPS superintendent.

There are three options for parents and staff to choose from in a new survey.

One of the proposed plans for reopening schools is a hybrid learning schedule where students would be in school two days a week and at home three days. Students would be split into two groups and alternate days they’re in school, learning from home. Wednesday is a day for independent learning and when schools would be cleaned.

Another option would be 100-percent virtual for the first nine weeks of school, through Nov. 2. After that, students may be required to physically report to school.

The third option would be virtual instruction for all students, with the exception of some in-person instruction for some special populations such as special education, English language learners and early childhood students.

“Our expectations is that all students will be involved with some form of instruction every day,” Parker said.

As far as operations and safety for the hybrid plan, parents would need to take their child’s temperature and screen for any COVID-19 symptoms before sending them to school. Staff will also need to self-screen.

Face coverings will be included on the student material list for the fall. Students and bus drivers will be required to wear them on buses. To ensure social distancing, buses will only be able to transport 20-30 students at a time. Siblings will be allowed to sit together. Drivers will sanitize buses in between each route.

Face coverings will also be required inside school facilities where social distancing can’t be maintained. Classrooms will be reconfigured to allow 6 feet of social distancing.

Board member John Eley, who was hospitalized due to COVID-19 last month, praised the proposal but said he still has concerns.

“We’re in trying times and I’m nervous,” he said.

Eley isn’t alone in that feeling. School officials said close to half of nearly 4,000 parents who replied to the survey said they were somewhat or very uncomfortable sending their child back to school. 

Other mitigation strategies include educating students and families on how to stop the spread of COVID-19, limiting students’ movement in school, securing common areas like water fountains so they can’t be used, closing other communal areas, and more.

All options will be part of a new survey that will go out to parents and staff. Once that information is collected, school officials will review it and bring a recommendation to the school board on August 4.

We’re told all families will still have the option to choose 100-percent virtual learning for the first semester even after a decision is made.

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