Chesterfield school board decides on fall return options, ‘we can do better’ says mom of gifted students

Chesterfield County

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Our area’s largest school district is making plans for the fall semester. On Tuesday night, the county’s school board approved a plan to offer both in-person and virtual learning options.

District leaders like Superintendent Merv Daugherty are encouraging families to choose the in-person option, saying it’s the best route for student learning.

According to documents from the school board meeting, right now the plan is to require masks and distancing in classrooms. However, district leaders recognize that could change before the fall, depending on upcoming guidance from health officials and Governor Ralph Northam.

The county is now officially in line with other nearby school districts, like Richmond and Henrico, by giving parents the choice of traditional learning and learning from home.

The school year starts on August 23.

A new “virtual academy” will be offered for students in kindergarten through eighth grade for either a semester or for the full year. Middle schoolers can participate in extracurricular activities at their home schools.

English language learners and special needs students who want to learn from home are among those eligible. The district said parents have to contact their child’s case manager and school counselor before signing up.

However, the specialized program for gifted students will not be offered virtually. “Although there is a choice, it’s not an equitable choice,” said CCPS parent Dominique Chatters in an interview with 8News Wednesday. “If I want them to continue in the gifted program, they have to physically go in the building.”

Two of Chatters’ five kids are currently in the gifted program learning from home. They’re too young to get the vaccine and she’s not fully comfortable sending them back into a classroom setting just yet.

“They’re beyond that curriculum, deliberately, by design, and now they’d be sitting in a virtual environment bored to death because they’re learning things they learned last year,” she said.

The mother said there should be a way to ensure all students can excel. “We can do better. I just want us to do better.”

According to a memo from Chesterfield officials, “identified gifted students will be clustered together in online virtual classes as much as possible.”

Virtual academy sign up goes until June 1st.

Until July 9, high school students who want to learn from home can enroll in an existing, self-directed program that’s been around for years.

What’s being called a win for teachers is they won’t be asked to teach both virtual and in-person students at the same time. That’s otherwise known as “concurrent” teaching. This means students enrolled in the academy won’t see their home school classmates during school hours.

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