Rockingham County high school students have not been in the classroom since March 13, 2020, the last day schools were open before Gov. Ralph Northam shut down in-person learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Beginning Feb. 1, the first day of the second semester for high school students, the final phase of the current school year will take place. High school students will return to Broadway, Turner Ashby, East Rockingham and Spotswood on an A/B schedule for the remainder of the school year.
There was some discussion about sending high school students back when buildings opened for middle school students, said Superintendent Oskar Scheikl. However, because there are some high school courses that only have one section opening, it would have been impossible for a teacher to balance both virtual and in-person learning, thus jeopardizing a high school student’s ability to gain a course credit, Scheikl said. The decision was made to send students back at the start of a new semester.
“And it’s easier with high school students to not have a parent with them at home,” Scheikl said.
Rockingham County has opened slowly since school started on Sept. 10. It began with only pre-kindergartners, kindergartners and first-graders attending school in person four days a week.
In November, the school division opened to the remainder of elementary school students as well as middle school students for in-person learning on an A/B schedule.
Last year, seniors were unable to finish in public school surrounded by their classmates and had to take part in socially-distant graduation ceremonies. Reopening high schools will give seniors a chance to have some closure on their 13 years in public education, Scheikl said.
Similar to middle schools, about 20% of high school students have opted to continue with the Home Learning Academy, the county’s answer to virtual learning.
It’s hard to look to the future at this point, and how the 2021-2022 school year will unfold. But with the rollout of the vaccine, Scheikl said he hopes to open fully in the fall.
However, that all depends on clinical trials and vaccine rollouts for students. Currently, the vaccine is only available to students 16 and older. There are clinical trials underway for students as young as 12, and if that goes well, they will go even younger.
“Experts say the pandemic will only go away when we achieve about 70% immunity, and that would certainly need to include students,” Scheikl said.