Charles City school board opts for nine-week virtual instruction to begin 2020-21 year
Charles City County Public Schools will spend at least the first nine weeks of the new school year in a virtual learning environment.
Following a recommendation from new Superintendent of Schools Dalphine Joppy, school board members approved virtual instruction for the first quarter of the 2020-21 school year during the July 30 regular meeting. During the midpoint of that first quarter, school staff will evaluate the situation to determine if students can return earlier or if the length of online teaching will continue.
Early indicators in the meeting leaned towards distance learning for some time period. During the first comment period, employees of the school system addressed school board members with their concerns.
“I know whatever decision the board will be tough,” said Adam Smith, a social studies instructor at the high school. “But I know it’s a lot easier to make up lost learning than make up lives.
“We have to keep things in perspective,” he continued. “I’m willing to do what I need to make learning work, but I’m not going to risk students’ lives. We need to focus on what’s going to be safe, not perfect.”
Dean of Students and high school social studies instructor Lisa-Michelle Allmond echoed her coworker’s stance, pointing to the time period and differences from the original lockdown to the current situation.
“When the children were remanded to quarantine, they were the first to stop the spread,” she said. “But as parents were called back to the working world, children were sent back to daycares and became infected.
“It would be grossly negligent to put kids at risk, especially in a predominantly black student population like in Charles City,” Allmond concluded, pointing to the factors that COVID-19 effects minorities more.
For teacher Lakisha Bannister, she said that each teacher’s situation is different and hopes the school board took into consideration their situation.
“Teachers have children who are already going to be learning virtually,” she said. “Someone like myself have older children who can manage their schedule, but I have a coworker who has a five-year old who will need more supervision.
“Everybody’s situation is different,” Bannister added. “We have to take in consideration and reduce the risk as much as possible.”
From there, more steps in preparation were taking place even before the official announcement. Director of Operations Jerome Tyler recommended the purchase of 350 Kajeet Hotspots that will provide broadband service up to three gigabytes a month for students to work from home. Afterwards, Director of Finance Sue Salg advised school board members that she has applied for a grant of upwards to $805,832 for equipment and supplies to help when students due return to the school building.
Joppy followed with a presentation from two surveys, one presented to employees and one to families of students. In the employees’ questionnaire when asked about how they would like to start the school year, nearly 45 percent said they preferred a hybrid return (two days in-person, two days virtual, with one day for cleaning and additional distance learning). Following closely with 41 percent was all virtual instruction.
Charles City’s “Return to Learn” survey solicited 318 responses. According to the results, 77 percent (246 responses) had some sort of access to the Internet, but only 42 percent had a reliable service. Approximate 72 percent of respondents would have somebody within the household to assist with instruction, and 70 percent would need transportation to the schools if in-person learning began.
When it came to the actual return to education portion, 148 responses (46.54 percent) elected the option for an all-virtual restart. The hybrid model garnered 76 responses in favor of it (23.9 percent).
Joppy proceeded to her recommendation to start the first nine weeks virtually. On-site learning with special needs students would be arranged according to the superintendent, and the progress of the online instructional plan would take place during the first nine weeks.
School board members weighed in on the superintendent’s recommendation to begin the new school year.
“I know that any decision we make isn’t going to make everybody happy, but as a parent of a child who is in school we are going through a pandemic and just don’t have enough information,” said District 1 representative Joy Harris.
“I hope that we do reassess this plan midway through,” chimed in at-large member Preston Adkins. “There may be cases where kids can come back in if need be due to situations at home.”
District 3 Martha Harris also agreed with the virtual restart but preferred the instructors to work from the school environment.
“I prefer the teachers to be on site so that students can come in on a one-to-one basis if they are struggling,” she said. “Students may not be able to get their needs when learning at home.”
Following comments, board members approved the vote unanimously. Joppy indicated that planning for the virtual restart will also consist of plans to provide meals to families, assistance with distribution of computers and the hotspots, and organization for students with special needs. The superintendent plans to provide an update at the board’s regular monthly meeting in August.