The Prince William County School Board voted 6-3, Thursday morning, to adhere to its Return to School (Building) plan proposed on Jan. 12, thereby, over-riding objections by the superintendent.
“This is essentially holding to the plan that we approved a month ago; this is the plan that the public has been aware of,” said Chairman Babur Lateef, who proposed holding a vote on the default plan.
The plan will return willing 4th-12th grade students to school on Feb. 25 and 26 for 4th, 5th, 6th and 9th grades, and March 2 and 3 for 7th, 8th, 10th and 12th grades. Specific bell and bus schedules are subject to change.
Students will return 2-days each week via a hybrid in-person model. They will have to socially distance by 6 feet and wear face masks. Virtual-only learning remains an option, and is the preferred one for most PWCS families.
Jennifer Wall (Gainesville), Justin Wilk (Potomac), Lisa Zargurpur (Coles) and Diane Raulston (Neabsco) supported Lateef’s plan.
Lateef and Wall have been steady advocates of getting students back into the classroom from the beginning.They noted that mitigation techniques are successful, and students will be able to fully social distance in the classrooms. Wilk has been supportive as well while championing the need to protect Tier 1 health employees. He noted his sons are thriving in school and wants to help the most vulnerable students who need the in-school support.
In approving Lateef’s plan, the majority of the board rejected the plan proposed by Superintendent Dr. Steven Walts. Walts described it as “safer” and more “feasible,” and would not start until teachers were fully vaccinated. It also adhered closely to Virginia Department of Health and CDC guidelines in terms of schools within the "highest" rate of COVID-19 community cases. Walts plan would have students return between March 9 and April 8. Plus, it would eliminate the problem of having so many teachers out the day after they receive their second vaccine doses.
Loree Williams (Woodbridge), Lillie Jessie (Woodbridge) and Adele Jackson (Brentsville) said they strongly believe the board should have had adhered to the superintendent’s best judgement.
“With all due respect, all night you (Dr. Lateef) talked about the research,” said Jessie. “The board is the board,” she said, saying the superintendent is, “the person we put our faith in in running the school.”
Williams said it was “disrespectful,” and “egotistical” to act as if they know better than the superintendent who is in the schools, meeting with the pandemic team, and is privy to more information than they are.
Jackson said she has been steadfast in basing her decisions upon the guidance they receive from the VDH and the CDC.
After the original plan won out, the school attorney, Mary McGowan said that the superintend retains his authority over shutting down schools if necessary, but cannot override the board’s vote and change the dates of the return.
This article may be updated at a later time to provide further details.