New Kent Charles City Chronicle

News for New Kent County and Charles City County, Virginia | October 30, 2020

New Kent School Board weighs optional in-person return for kindergartners, first graders in November

By Andre Jones | October 5, 2020 10:17 pm

An optional plan to bring a cohort of students physically back into school buildings in early November will be reviewed within the forthcoming weeks.

New Kent Superintendent of Schools Brian Nichols pitched his first case to school board members at Monday night’s regular school board meeting.

Nichols commented during a Powerpoint presentation about different phases to bring back to students back into the building. While Cohort One currently is in effect (K-12 students with Individualized Education Plans on an adaptive curriculum and pre-kindergarten kids with any IEP), Cohort Two will offer parents the option to allow kindergarten and first grade students to reenter their respective elementary schools.

Under the proposal, kindergarten students would be allowed into the building on Nov. 4, which marks the first day of the second nine-week marking period. According to Nichols, bringing the youngest group of learners in by themselves will allow them to get acclimated to a school environment. First graders would return to school the following Monday, Nov. 9. The additional cohorts currently do not have a timeline, as the superintendent said that it depends on the current metrics when addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and options that need to be weighed.

If a parent/guardian wishes to send their child back to the school buildings, Nichols is emphasizing health screenings for COVID-19 symptoms. If a student has any symptom, they are advised to stay at home. If a parent/guard does choose for the in-person return, the student must wear a face covering at all times, including on the school bus and in the school environment. Students will have their temperature checked once they arrived at the school and if symptoms warrant a self-isolation, a family member will be required to pick up the student.

Social distancing on the bus and the bathroom will reflect updated recommendations by the Center for Disease and Control (CDC). With students wearing masks, they will be allowed to sit one per seat on the bus unless they are sitting beside the sibling. Classrooms will be organized to have desks at least three feet apart, another recommendation made by the CDC. All instruction and lunch periods will take place in the homeroom class. In the case information is received about a positive COVID-19 test or contact, the teacher and students will be sent home to quarantine for 14 days. If the outbreak grows, the school division will go into a full closure and return back to strictly online instruction.

In-person instruction will consist of four days face-to-face (Monday through Thursday), with Friday being a virtual day. Friday will be considered a virtual instruction day. Nichols said the time for classes will remain the same (9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.) to continue uniformity. However, the superintendent did mention that a child’s teacher may change depending on the number who choose to stay virtual and those who attend class in person. Parents of the younger cohort will need someone to make sure a responsible adult is at the bus stop and/or after school care to be arranged for the child to be picked up for those who choose to utilize the transportation option.

A survey is being sent out for feedback on the proposal for Cohort Two to families with children that fall into that designation. But current school board members began to weigh-in with their thoughts.

“People need to know that this is a working document,” said School Board Chairwoman and District 5 representative Gail Hardinge. “Things can change at any moment.

“That’s why we do surveys,” she continued. “People need to understand that just because we put something on the survey doesn’t mean we are necessarily going to do it. That’s why we put them out to see that data and use it to make an informed decision.”

Nichols did confirm that even their school system have seen their issues with COVID-19 since the schools reopened for both virtual instruction for teachers and as learning centers for students who lack internet access. According to Director of Human Resources Cynthia Pitts, approximately 37 individuals may have had some contact with individuals with COVID-19. Of those 37, approximately 10 may have tested positive for the virus.

HIPPA laws prohibit revealing specifics of what individuals tested positive for the virus. Hardinge and District 3 representative Andrea Staskiel emphasized the necessity for honesty for those who do choose to send their students back.

“It’s going to be important for people to realize the need to be flexible,” said Hardinge. “I think everybody wants to go back to normal and for them to think that they are ‘all cleared’ that they are heading back to normal.

“The truth of the matter is that everybody needs to have a Plan B because if things don’t go right in a class and we have to go virtual again, parents are going to be stuck,” the chairwoman added. “Make sure you have a back-up plan and that this is a fluid situation. There is no notice when or if schools shut down because it can be at a moment’s notice.”

“Is this something we can vote on?” asked Staskiel. “I want to receive more information before we make a decision on this.”

Nichols responded that while a voted is not needed on the issue, he would follow the direction of the school board. That direction ended up as receiving additional information at the Oct. 19 school board work session.

“I think that survey will provide us additional guidance and an extra layer of comfort,” commented District 1 representative Wayne Meade. “We just want to make a more informed decision.”

School system personnel along with school board members will decipher the survey data along with other logistics to answer questions from teachers, parents, and school staff.

“We are returning at some point in some form or fashion,” Nichols said as he wrapped up his comments. “From the signs to the protocol, the principal and personnel have been working towards that.”