The Prince William County School Board asked the superintendent to work on a plan to return to school five-days a week in-person for next year, and to also offer an all-virtual option for all students. The board voted unanimously for the directive at their March 17 meeting.
Jennifer Wall, the Gainesville representative, and Loree Williams, the Woodbridge representative, collaborated in creating the directive. They asked that the Dr. Steven Walts come back to the board with a plan on May 5. However, they said they do not expect the plan to be fully formed or set in stone. The idea of the directive was to tell families what the school division is planning.
“We do sit on opposite sides of the spectrum” said Williams, whose district has high rates of COVID-19, but they agree in that they both want parents to be informed.
Williams explained the importance of having virtual option.
“I don’t believe in-person five days a week is the most valuable option for all of our students. Rather, we can use multiple forms of instruction. We can agree that hybrid is just not working.”
Dr. Walts was in agreement. Even though he just learned of the directive this week, he said his staff had already begun working on a similar plan. He is in favor of bifurcating in-person and virtual with the caveat that there might be some instances in which it is not possible. He also said they are considering more creative solutions in addition to in-person and all-virtual.
Potomac District member Justin Wilk said he was excited about this. He believes that the virtual learning option is here to stay. School divisions spent millions on software and computer devices and the opportunities to offer more to students across the county collaboratively now exists.
Within the directive Ms. Wall provided a list of reasons as to why the directive is necessary at this juncture. She said the five-day option – in most cases- is essential for meeting the student’s academic and social emotional needs; parents need to plan for next year and some are already enrolling their children in private schools; vaccinations and mitigations have made in-person learning safer and data proves this; and the hybrid model is not ideal or sustainable. Lastly, she believes that they should continue to offer the virtual options for those whose circumstances require it, or who prefer it.
Williams added that they are still in a pandemic and it is to be expected that some people will not yet feel comfortable returning to school. As virtual has worked well for many, she hopes it can be a solid equitable option. Moreover, the virtual option addresses overcrowding issues. This is important to social distance and could be useful in future planning as well.
Every school board member was in agreement that it is the right direction for next year. All had only positives things to say about this year’s all virtual model and were hopeful they could return to traditional five-day model by August.
They acknowledged that the hybrid was not the best learning model because in most cases teachers were still teaching into the computer. They said that was never meant to be a long-term option and they always realized it was not ideal.
Chairman Babur Lateef said he appreciates that Walts and staff had already begun working on this. They will be at the mercy of the state of emergency, but this is what they need to plan for.
Williams said they do not expect a fully formed plan. She likes that they can have public discussions with the expectation that things may change. It is a pandemic, and as such things tend to remain in flux though through are all hopeful for next year.