Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Going back to school — in person. Here’s what local public schools are doing

(WYDaily/Courtesy of Unsplash)

It’s been 10 weeks since the public school year started in the 757.

It’s also time many student groups start transitioning back to in-person learning, according to plans presented by Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools and York County School Division before the beginning of the year.

So what have the school districts been doing to prepare for this shift? And is it safe to send kids back to in-person learning now?

Currently, elementary schools and grade 6 in York County are in a hybrid instructional model, according to the division’s Return to School website. Grades 7 through high school are all still in remote learning as of Nov. 9.

It is yet to be determined when those grades will transition to hybrid learning.

RELATED STORY: York County School Division updates: How the first week of school went and what the rest of the 9-week period looks like

Katherine Goff, spokeswoman for YCSD, was unavailable to answer calls seeking comment.

“While our goal is to continue moving towards a full reopening as the year progresses, we must first meet identified health and operational integrity metrics – such as local and regional COVID-19 transmission rates, mitigation strategies, and availability of teachers and staff to work on-site,” read a statement from the Return to School website.

But local school districts have been collaborating with representatives from the Peninsula Health District to monitor and evaluate health and safety risks, according to Irene Ferrainolo, spokeswoman for the PHD.

While the PHD continues to advise school districts on what the best course of action is, it’s still up to the districts themselves to decide.

“We are working very hard not to be deciders, but we do give our position on what concerns we do have and don’t have,” Ferrainolo said in a phone interview Monday.

RELATED STORY: Return to Learn Path 3: An updated timeline for in-person learning at WJCC

Eileen Cox, spokeswoman for Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools, said teachers and staff are working hard to engage students remotely and as they return to school buildings for in-person learning.

“Their creativity and flexibility as they embrace new technology and platforms is commendable,” Cox said.

In appreciation for staff efforts, WJCC Superintendent Olwen Herron is recommending to the School Board that all contracted employees receive a one-time bonus of $500 and a 1.5% raise beginning January 2021.

Has the division received any complaints or comments from families?

Well, Cox said as one could imagine there are some families in the community who are eager for students to return to buildings quickly, while others are more cautious. Some parents would prefer to see a continuation of remote teaching and learning.

Even though they have had some criticism, Cox said student and staff safety is the No. 1 consideration for school administration as they are making decisions about the phased return of in-person learning.

The school division also is in close contact with the Peninsula Health Department. They participate in weekly calls with health officials. In addition, the head of student health services notifies the health department any time someone at the school reports a positive COVID-19 test.

“One of the most important things is the small self contained groups,” Ferrainolo said. “This means no intermingling between classrooms, students eating lunch in the classroom, and staggered recesses.”


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