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PECPS approves plan to put all grades back in classrooms

Prince Edward County Public Schools (PECPS) has cemented its intentions to begin gradually sending more and more grade levels back to in-person learning for the second semester of the school year, but the return to classrooms is dependent on data following the Christmas holiday.

At its Wednesday, Dec. 9, meeting, the Prince Edward School Board voted to adopt the Option 8 Hybrid Learning Model presented during the meeting, but the dates for the reopening plan were pushed back.

Originally, the Option 8 plan, which PECPS Superintendent Dr. Barbara Johnson presented to the board Wednesday evening, included a phased-in approach in which students in fifth grade and below who have already begun hybrid learning would return to school for in-person instruction Tuesday, Jan. 5. Under the plan, one to two additional grade levels would return on either the A or B schedule each week until all grades K-12 would be participating in hybrid learning by the week of Jan. 25.

After board discussion, School Board Member Doug Farley referenced the academic and emotional tolls the pandemic has taken on students and their families. Acknowledging that data could trend in a negative direction, Farley said the school district needed to have a plan.

“I think we need to get the kids back in school, and the sooner the better,” he said.

Farley made a motion that the board approve Option 8, but no second was offered and the motion died.

Fellow board member James Dumminger then offered a motion to approve the Option 8 plan provided that the scheduled phase-in be pushed back two weeks to begin Jan. 18 to allow for teachers to come in for extra training and to provide time for the school board to carefully watch coronavirus data trends after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Farley voted no to the motion. All other board members voted yes to the motion except for members Lawrence Varner and Beulah Womack who were not physically present at the meeting and did not vote. The motion passed.

The first day of school will still occur Tuesday, Jan. 5, for students, but children will attend class virtually until the hybrid learning plan begins.

During the meeting, Johnson added that families will still have the option to opt out of hybrid learning, but virtual-only learners should be aware they will be participating in asynchronous remote-only learning, meaning these students will have very limited interactions with instructors throughout the week.

“We have a finite set of teachers, and so our teachers cannot teach in person and remotely,” Johnson said. “We are not equipped at this point to do that simultaneous teaching where teachers are recording themselves and they have a group virtual and a group in class … So if you choose asynchronous remote-only, then that is going to require a great deal of independent work on the child’s part, or on the family’s part.”

Johnson said students in grades 6 through 12 who participate in remote learning and see their teachers virtually on a regular basis will not be able to do so come time for the implementation of Option 8.

“That won’t happen if you’re choosing a remote-only option when children come back to school.”