New Kent schools leaning towards parent/guardian choice for 2020-21 reopening
The task of planning to return back to an educational environment has been a task for several school systems in Virginia. A Tuesday night special board meeting by New Kent’s School Board provided just a miniscule sample of opinions from the community about how schools should reopen for the FY2020-21 year due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.
School board members convened for three hours at the work session, with many leaning towards having the parental/guardian option to choose for their child to learn either through a hybrid plan or an all-virtual plan.
For nearly the first two hours, Director of Curriculum and Instruction Byron Bishop and executive assistant to the superintendent Mila Hall read nearly 100 comments from the public in response to a survey distributed by the school board. Those emails and messages were received from a wide variety of people, ranging from parents, grandparents, guardians, school employees, teachers, community members, and students.
Those favoring the all-virtual plan spoke about the concern of safety for their child when returning to the physical classroom. The virtual plan would focus on students logging into their computer and watching their instructor via video-streaming, different from the emergency shutdown virtual learning that took place in March.
“If you look at those around us, the cases are continuing to rise,” said one comment. “My child will not be returning to the classroom this fall.”
“At first I was in favor of hybrid learning in the initial survey, but after watching the sudden spike in cases, it is in the best interest of us to keep our kid safe at home.”
Cases of the Coronavirus has spiked in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. New Kent lays just on the outskirts of those jurisdictions and have seen an increase of cases. Approximately two months ago, 36 cases were reported in the county. Now, that number sits at 111 as of Monday night.
Questions arose about the feasibility of an all-virtual opening model.
“If we have an all-virtual learning environment, will Chromebooks be provided to the students?” a letter inquired of school staff. “It would be a financial burden to me to purchase another computer.”
“I don’t have Internet service where I live at,” another message read. “I don’t have the ability to drive my children to a hot spot because I work.”
Those favoring the hybrid model (two days in the classroom, two days of virtual learning, one additional day of professional development/additional instruction) commented that schools reopening is essential for many factors.
“I can’t afford any additional daycare or supervision,” said one commenter. “I work in a two-income household and we both work.”
“While I don’t mind instructing my kid at home, I know I’m not a professional,” said another letter. “The teachers are the ones who are properly equipped for it.”
Other letters that emphasized the mixed face-to-face plan said that students are already interacting with each other outside the school setting.
“I have a child in daycare with a lot of kids and they have taken the proper precautions,” one email read. “There hasn’t been any cases from either the kids or the staff as the result of this. I know the schools can do the same.”
“A lot of kids are currently participating in travel team baseball and gymnastics right now,” another letter read. “If we keep these kids in cohorts when they go to school, it will keep them in class while still emphasizing social interaction.”
“We are not like these bigger jurisdictions that have the tools for an all virtual reopening,” another post read. “We don’t have the capability for that and it will be inequitable for some students.”
Slides on a Powerpoint presentation provided information about responses from educators and school employees, as well as data information about their location. Compared to surrounding locations, more than half of New Kent school’s employees within the boundaries of the county. School employees responding to the survey favored a hybrid plan, with either an A/B (alternating day) model or an AA/BB (two-day alternations), with Friday as a teacher workday/virtual instructional day.
Bishop and Director of Technology Ross Miller presented an additional slide, showing a mock schedule of a school work day for both instructors and students. Additional information presented in the Powerpoint reinforced that despite which plan is chosen, the schools will still be providing information to the parents and community to work through the logistics.
School board members conversed with each other, weighing the pros and cons from previous conversations held at earlier meetings. That discussion led to the belief that parents should have the opportunity to choose how they preferred their student to learn.
“Our ultimate goal is to provide a safe learning environment for our teachers, staff, and students,” said New Kent Superintendent of Schools Brian Nichols. “We are in an unprecedented time and we are working with all of our available resources. Information changes on a daily basis and as they do, we have to adjust our plans.
“Our plans have to be flexible,” he continued. “If the number of cases continue to rise, we have to be able to switch back to an all virtual-plan if necessary.”
School board members are expected to vote at their Aug. 3 meeting on the recommended plan. If a parental option is chosen, a questionnaire will be distributed to parents to provide information if they will have their child learn inside a physical school building or through virtual learning. That response will be used to assist with logistics the schools will face for the upcoming year that include transportation, classroom space, and the lunch program.