In his last presentation before the Prince William School Board, Superintendent Dr. Steven L. Walts presented his Return to Learning Plan for the “fall” session of 2021. The plan is tentative and subject to change based upon guidance from the governor, CDC and Virginia Department of Education.
Five-day-a-week in-school will be in session next year, and Walts said the intent is to “normalize” operations while being prepared to pivot at any time. He is hopeful that COVID-19 cases will continue to decline and state-mandated mitigations will decrease, leading to greater normalcy.
As it stands now, PWCS will be offering the option of full-time in-person instruction at all grade levels. Those students should be allowed to revert back to in-person seamlessly at any time.
PWCS conducted a parent surveys that is open until June 18. Thus far, 95% of students would return in-person, which is the default option. That percentage remains basically consistent across elementary, middle and high schools.
Virtual options will be provided to the greatest extent possible without concurrent teaching.
High school students will have the option of being served via Virtual Virginia, Virtual Prince William online schools, which is always available to them. These do not adhere to a bell schedule. The Independence Nontraditional School will also offer a virtual program.
“We want to make sure that everybody understands that we will be paying for these things whether you are in person or virtual,” Walts said.
Middle school and elementary will be served through virtual sections broadcasted from their base school or in collaboration with neighboring schools. Those students would have to adhere to school bell schedules.
Occoquan member Lillie Jessie said that would be confused for principals to coordinate. Gainesville representativeJennifer Wall asked if so few students enroll in virtual, could they just offer a Prince William elementary school, for instance if virtual enrollment fell%. Walts said all options remain on the table.
Potomac representative Justin Wilk said they would probably get some teachers volunteering to teach asynchronously if they offered a good stipend. If a class would to be asynchronous, Walts said it would be communicated to parents.
Start Times & Bus Runs
Walts is hopeful they can return to standard pre-pandemic bell schedules next year.
State required social distancing could necessitate two bus runs. However, such mitigations may be lifted by late August . “We will only be doing this if we are required to do so,” said Walts, who is in conversation with new Superintent Dr. LaTonya McCade.
“We are anticipating,and hoping that we will not (need the extra bus runs), and we will use mitigations like mask on the bus to return our bus times to our pre-pandemic normal times. That will be the goal: the pre-pandemic normal times,” Walts said.
Potomac member Justin Wilk suggested they could advertise their online school to students from neighboring counties and charge enrollment. Walts said they could look into it.
Walts said that even after the pandemic virtual school for all students it is a nice option. There are always students who cannot attend in person for a period of time due to medical reasons and this is a way for them to stay up to date with their work.
On Wearing Masks
Many parents have been asking board member about whether students will have to wear masks in the fall, especially with high school and middle school students being able to be vaccinated.
Walts simply said they would follow whatever the governor required them to do.
On Changing Start Times
Although his presentation included options for changing school start times to have school begin later for older students, Walts advised the board not act without first receiving extensive input from the community.
Chairman Babur Lateef agreed and said that was more on for information. He wanted to continue a discussion he had hoped to usher in during the previous year.
The research says that delaying school start times for students 10- and up is beneficial to their health and wellbeing, thus leadership presented three options.
Options are #1 to revert the schedules; #2 keep the same order, but delay everything to 8:30 a.m., #2 start high school and middle school no earlier than 8:30, but elementary can start earlier.
Woodbridge representative Loree Williams said she brought up this issue years ago. Fairfax and Loudoun employ alternate schedules.
But Walts said those schedules are still controversial so they need to tread lightly.
Judging by comments Bristow Beat received, elementary parents have the most concerns, most of which are centered around a lack of daylight hours in late fall. Too early start times leaves kids waiting at the bus stop in the dark. Days that end too late would inhibit outdoor play time.
American Rescue Plan (ARP) Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER)
Prince William County schools can apply for emergency relief but they will need to follow certain guidelines. They need to conduct surveys and have plans posted on the website.
Still Questions About Equity Plan & Critical Race Theory
During Citizens' Time, the board refused to hear from a few parents who came to speak about the equity plan. Chairman Babur Lateef said it was not on the agenda.
Speakers argued that the agenda included return to school in the fall and this fit within that category.
However, schiool board counsel Mary McGowan shut it down, saying they legally cannot allow discussion on things outside of agenda items and it does not qualify.
One young speaker said. "I'm confused...I'm just confused." He received applause (although that is also prohibited during Citizen's Time.)
Lateef said they will discuss in the fall and in the meantime he encourages residents to email their school board members.