Less than two weeks ago, Gov. Ralph Northam said he expected all school divisions to reopen with in-person learning options available to students by March 15.
Northam’s comments were not considered an official mandate, so what do the York County School Division and Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools plan to do?
Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools
WJCC Public Schools is currently transitioning students from virtual classes to a mixture of both virtual and in-person classes.
This hybrid learning approach consists of two in-person and three virtual days. The plan is to have all students in the hybrid learning model by March 1, said Eileen Cox, spokesperson for WJCC Public Schools.
The school division had previously announced hybrid learning would not start until Monday, Feb. 22. However, Cox said it agreed to start transitioning students back to hybrid learning earlier several weeks ago.
Elementary students started hybrid learning on Tuesday. Sixth and 12th graders start on Monday, with the rest of the system’s middle and high school students starting the following week, she added.
The students’ schedule is based on the first letter of their last name. A-L students learn in-person on Mondays and Tuesdays, and M-Z students on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
“And, if there is a blended family, schools are working with those families to make sure kids are back on the same day,” she added.
The school division is still using the same “safety and health mitigation strategies” it has used since October requiring wearing face masks on school buses and indoors, social distancing measures and providing hand-sanitizing stations through the buildings.
Cox said classrooms have desks spaced out, too — about 6 feet apart in most rooms. Students can expect to see signage in hallways, along stairwells and in other locations as friendly reminders for hand washing, wearing face masks, and even directional signs for foot traffic.
For school meals, students will eat breakfast in classrooms, and both elementary and middle school students will eat their lunch there, too.
Because the school division is not using the cafeteria at this time, Cox said high school students have their in-person learning days “reduced,” ending around lunchtime. Those students have the option to pick up a grab-and-go meal and are then expected to spend the remainder of the school day learning virtually.
“That’s a temporary schedule as we are kind of getting kids back into the building, implementing the mitigation strategies,” she added.
Because water fountains are closed, save for the refillable water bottle stations, Cox said each student will receive a water bottle on their first day of school.
The school division also has tours for students — particularly for new students and those transitioning to sixth and 9th grade.
For staff, vaccinations are not a requirement, but encouraged.
“A little over 79% have received their first dose of vaccination,” Cox said, adding more are expected to get their second dose on Friday.
Previously, the school division, James City County and Williamsburg “worked together, where we communicated a window of time for employees.”
Now, thanks to the Peninsula Health District and the localities, employees can use the statewide platform to schedule their vaccination appointments, Cox said.
She added the staff said getting vaccinated makes them feel more comfortable teaching in the classrooms, and while it was not the deciding factor to delay the reopening of in-person learning, it was a “mitigation strategy.”
“We’re really excited to have our students back,” Cox said. “We just wanted to make sure that we were able to do so safely.”
The WJCC Public Schools division plans to have all its students in a hybrid learning model by March 1.
RELATED STORY: WJCC Schools delays hybrid learning to mid-February
York County School Division
York County School Division (YCSD) has been offering hybrid learning to its vulnerable learners since Sept. 28, thereby meeting the Governor’s expectations announced in his press conference two weeks ago.
By early November, YCSD moved from the Remote Model of the Flexible Framework, in which all students learned from home, to the Leveled Model, in which all elementary grades go into school on alternating hybrid schedules and all secondary students learn at home.
On Nov. 9, students in sixth grade moved to the Hybrid Model ,and on Jan. 19, students in 12th grade moved to the Hybrid Model.
Beginning Monday, Feb. 22, 11th grade students will return to school in the Hybrid Model. These students will be followed by grades 7 and 9 on Monday, Mar. 1, and grades 8 and 10 on Monday, Mar. 8.
“Establishing dates for remaining grade levels to return to in-person learning has been a top priority for the division. Throughout this school year, we have stressed that the best place for our students is in their classrooms, when we can safely bring them in,” Katherine Goff, spokesperson for the YCSD, said in an email.
Students and staff will be required to continue following the proper use of face coverings, physical distancing, hand hygiene, cleaning and disinfecting, and contact tracing. They will also continue to conduct Daily Health Screenings before coming to school or work.
Meanwhile, more than 1,600 employees, including substitutes, have received at least their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine between Jan. 18 and Feb. 5.
As employees may have received either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, the timeline for a second dose and optimal coverage varies for each employee.
YCSD continues to collaborate with the Health Department and local agencies to minimize the impact of vaccination clinics on school schedules, but it does not yet know when appointments will be scheduled.
“If vaccination appointments or resulting side effects impact staffing levels, individual schools and/or the division may need to temporarily shift learning models and/or daily schedules. While we hope to provide notice for planning purposes, we encourage families to have backup plans in place in the event of changes in school schedules,” the announcement stated.
The division has also revised its standards for staff and students identified as close contacts of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
Instead of a 14-day quarantine, close contacts will be able to complete the quarantine protocols in 10 days provided they remain symptom-free.
“While the CDC issued guidance allowing this reduced quarantine period in December, the division chose to wait to implement these standards until transmission rates declined,” the announcement said.
“We are proud of our staff and students and their work to adhere to our mitigation strategies, which are key to being safe and in school. We also appreciate the support of our families and community of the last 12 months as we have all adapted to changes due to COVID-19,” Goff said.
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