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Prince Edward unveils school reopening plan

Prince Edward County students can expect to attend school on alternating weeks when the new school year begins Aug. 11.

In a Thursday, July 2, Facebook Live video, Prince Edward County Public Schools (PECPS) Superintendent Dr. Barbara Johnson addressed members of the PECPS community regarding the school’s reopening plans.

In the video, Johnson briefed viewers by stating the information reviewed would mainly be in reference to the first quarter of school, lasting tentatively from the first day of school, Aug. 11, to Oct. 13.

Barbara Johnson

Johnson announced PECPS will be utilizing a “hybrid model” for school using both a mix of remote learning and in-person classes. Students will attend classes in-person at the school building four days a week, with in-home instruction utilized on Friday and the following week.

For example, students will be separated into A and B groups. Student A comes to school Monday through Thursday and works remotely Friday. Student B works from home Monday through Friday. The next week, student A works from home Monday through Friday while student B goes to school Monday through Thursday.

Although the school will be cleaned around the clock each day, Fridays will be reserved for extensive deep cleanings.

School officials added there will be an option for some students to complete their instruction 100% at home if desired. Students with disabilities will have the option to come to school in-person each day depending on their IEP.

School days are expected to last from 7:45 a.m. to 3:10 p.m. as usual.

In order to work from home, students will be issued a Chromebook that will allow them to work remotely without immediate access to the internet. Students can utilize these devices to complete assignments, watch videos and do worksheets. The school division will be using platforms such as Canvas or Google Suite, with content created by instructors and Virtual Virginia, to accomplish at home learning. Teachers are actively being trained on remote education.

When students bring the Chromebooks back to school on their at-school weeks, completed work will be submitted to teachers for grading and review. Younger children will be issued a touchscreen device.

Johnson stressed social distancing of six feet or more will be a staple throughout the school day. Classes will likely have between 10 and 12 students at a time, with desks spaced six feet apart. While face masks are optional for small children and only encouraged for older students, students will be required to wear face coverings in instances in which six feet of distance cannot be maintained.

Students with asthma or breathing problems who cannot wear a face mask may be asked to try wearing face shields that cover the entire face without tightly covering the nose and mouth specifically. Cases will be evaluated as necessary.

The school has been working to obtain PPE and other items to distribute to students as needed. Parents who elect to have their children wear reusable masks are reminded to wash the masks regularly.

Daily temperature checks for all students will be taken using non-evasive handheld thermometers. Any student displaying a high temperature will be held in a special room and parents/guardians will be immediately contacted.

Face coverings and health screenings will be required of every visitor to the schools, although PECPS will limit the amount of visitors that come to school. Lockers and cubbies, for the time being, will not be assigned to students.

Johnson highlighted that perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of reopening for all school divisions is the subject of recess. She said it is extremely difficult to ask young children to remain distant from one another during outside play. That being said, students are expected to wear face coverings on playgrounds. Physical education classes will continue with room to allow social distancing. Field trips will not occur for the time being.

Breakfast and lunch, Johnson announced, will be free for all lower, middle and high school students. Lunch delivery will consist of a combination of grab-and-go, delivery to classrooms and socially distant lunch room dining as age appropriate.

According to Johnson, most of the buses in the school’s fleet can seat up to 52 children, but social distancing will now mean students are required to sit every-other-row at an angle with one child per seat, meaning only around 12-15 students can ride each bus. However, students who live together or are from the same family will be allowed to sit with one another. That being said, routes are subject to change and bus notes to change routes will no longer be honored. Students will continue to be dropped off at licensed daycare/child care centers.

PECPS is currently working to arrange school schedules to prioritize students of the same family being able to go to school in the same weeks, regardless of attending lower, middle or high school.

Parents will be allowed to drop off and pick up their children, but PECPS will attempt to minimize lengthy drop-off lines and drop-off patterns may change.

School officials noted that while the reopening plan included mostly division-wide guidelines, parents will receive information regarding their individual schools in the coming weeks. Johnson added it is likely that most younger students will not get up and walk to different classrooms throughout the day, while high schoolers likely will.

It should be noted that the school’s reopening protocols are subject to change.

At this time, the school system is waiting on guidance from VHSL regarding sports and extracurricular activities.

Those with additional questions about the reopening process at PECPS can submit inquiries at reopening2020@ pecps.k12.va.us.