Superintendent Says Prince William Health Metrics Informed Return to School Plan

Prince William School Superintendent Steven Walts (image by PWCS.)

Prince William County Schools will begin its return to in-person learning in the second quarter. At that time, the division will bring back pre-kindergarten through third-grade students via a phased-in approach. 

Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Steven Walts, sent a letter to PWCS parents and guardians, Oct. 9, stating he based his decision upon Prince William County’s most recent COVID-19 health metrics.

Prince William County currently falls in the “moderate,” risk group for transmission of COVID-19. 

October 9, 2020

Dear Prince William County Public Schools Parents and Guardians,

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our lives, upending our routines, and requiring rapid transformation of how we work and learn. We all long for a return to normalcy as quickly as possible. I too, want all children back in our schools with our wonderful teachers, administrators, and support staff as soon as possible. I share your concerns about the education being provided to your student, I also share your concern about your child’s health and safety, and the health of your family members and friends.

While the decision to return teachers and students to the in-person classroom elicits great emotion, ranging from relief to anger to sadness, first and foremost, my actions and decisions are guided by health metrics and local, state, and national health experts. It is critical to note that Prince William County has the highest number of positive COVID-19 cases per 100,000 persons in the past 14 days, compared to the city of Manassas, or the counties of Fairfax, Stafford, or Fauquier.

Making decisions about the education of our students should be done thoughtfully, keeping in mind the importance of the safety and well-being of our students and our staff. As announced by our School Board in July, “it is the goal of the Division to transition to a 50 percent capacity in-person and distance learning for the second quarter, while maintaining the flexibility throughout to adapt to public guidelines as needed…”

Virginia Department of Health and Virginia Department of Education recommends schools in the moderate risk category provide in-person instruction to willing students with disabilities, English learners, and pre-kindergarten through third grade students.

Wednesday night, I shared with the School Board our plans for a recommended phased-in approach for students to return to the buildings for learning in the second quarter. The health metrics in Prince William County indicate an ongoing moderate risk for the transmission of the COVID-19 virus in schools. Guidance released last week from Virginia Department of Health and Virginia Department of Education recommends schools in the moderate risk category provide in-person instruction to willing students with disabilities, English learners, and pre-kindergarten through third grade students.

Due to this guidance, I have recommended that Prince William County Public Schools bring back pre-kindergarten through third-grade in a phased approach in the second quarter. Second, I believe it is the best approach to allow our youngest learners the time to adjust to new routines, including many starting school for the first time, and having to learn safety protocols. Third, it provides additional time for planning, training, and technology for a more robust and successful return to in-person learning, including hybrid classroom instruction.

I do not come to this decision lightly. My own family has a current high school senior, and I know first-hand the great disappointment the COVID-19 pandemic has caused our students and families.

This phase-in for in-person learning will begin with Pre-K and kindergarten students who indicated an in-person preference (or did not select a preference) in the 50/50 model beginning November 10. This means the Pre-K and kindergarten students will attend two alternating days per week. First-grade students return for in-person learning two days per week beginning December 1. Second- and third-grade students return January 12.

In addition, the plan allows the return of students in some career and technical education (CTE) classes on Mondays beginning November 16.

All remaining students, including those at all grade levels who selected the virtual only option, will remain virtual through the second quarter. Students who are attending in-person four days a week in the first quarter will continue to do so in the second quarter.

I know you have unanswered questions, and we are working as quickly as possible to address your concerns and answer your questions. As we have more details, including student schedules, I assure you we will share those with you, and we will be working with your school principals to share school-specific information with you as well.

Please rest assured the safety of our students and employees is my highest priority, and I remain steadfast in my commitment to return to normal, once we can safely do so.

Sincerely,

Dr. Steve Walts
Superintendent of Schools

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