HENRICO, Va. (WRIC)– Henrico County Public Schools will make a decision Thursday evening on the learning plan for the second marking period of the school year. Superintendent Amy Cashwell along with the school board will make a recommendation for the second nine weeks based on the HCPS Health Committee’s recommendations.
HCPS’ Health Committee is currently meeting each week to consider current pandemic conditions and trends in the region and in Virginia, with a goal of safe expansion of in-person learning. The committee, made up of 16 individuals from the Henrico Health District, Henrico County Public Schools, the HCPS Student Health Advisory Board and the community, makes regular presentations to the School Board. HCPS uses that status to determine what instructional approach, as illustrated on a continuum, to safely use to conduct in-person classes.
In a report reviewed by the school board on October 12th, the Virginia Department of Health recorded COVID-19 presenting a high burden to the public. According to the Virginia Department of Health, the transmission trend is fluctuating in Central Virginia. New CDC recommendations will change contact tracing protocols, adding a layer of complexity with tracking exposure to the virus.
On Thursday, the HCPS Health Committee recommended expanding in-person learning opportunities and a fully virtual option for students in Pre-K to 12th grade. The Health Committee is recommending to phase in students in-person by grade level. The committee has advised the school board to welcome back Pre-K through 2nd grade students on Nov. 30, 3rd through 5th grade on December 7th, 9th grade from Feb. 1-2 and all other secondary grades on Feb. 4.
The committee also advised to adjust the secondary master schedule to stagger and extend transition times, use 6-foot distancing for classroom seating, maintain cohort groupings as much as possible, and to create one-way traffic patterns in hallways. The HCPS Health commitee also is making a recommendation to prioritize elementary students.
Henrico Public Schools Spokesperson Andy Jenks hopes for a civil discussion during the school board meeting.
“Here we are now at that moment in time where we committed to making a decision and the input is certainly intensifying leading up to this decision and rightfully so,” said Jenks.
Earlier this month, Henrico County Public Schools surveyed families and staff members for input. Over 50% of families said that they want their children to continue online learning. Seventy-five percent of teachers are willing to instruct in-person courses.
Meghan Hyatt is a special education teacher and works in the school district. Hyatt told 8news that she wants to continue teaching virtually and that she would consider moving if the vote is not in her favor.
“It’s really hard on the families. I know it is. It’s really hard on the teachers too. We’re working twice as hard now,” said Hyatt. “This is my passion. This is something that I was born to do. It’s not something that I started right out of college. I fell into it. I became a teacher because of my love for it and now I’m being asked to give up so much. I just don’t know when it becomes too much.”
Hyatt worries about the safety of her family if the school board votes to bring students and faculty back to the classroom for the second marking period.
“I live with my father. He’s 66. He’s been a smoker for most of his life. If he were to get this disease because I brought it home to him, I couldn’t live with that,” said Hyatt.
During the meeting, Henrico School Board Member Alicia Atkins questioned the option for students that have asthma who cannot wear a mask. Atkins also inquired about the measures that will be taken for a student that refuses to wear their mask.
The school board will take questionnaires, surveys and focus group results into consideration when making a decision. A public forum started at 5 p.m. where community members have the opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns. The district will then make a final decision.
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