In the wake of the decision by Harrisonburg City Public Schools to go to virtual learning for most students in the fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the question was whether Rockingham County Public Schools would follow suit.
The answer, according to Superintendent Oskar Scheikl, is no. The School Board and school officials have not expressed plans to change gears from the approved plan, which includes two days in the classroom for most students and four days in the classroom for the youngest students.
“We’re not going to change because the city changes,” Scheikl said.
However, the School Board will consider additional mitigation strategies at Monday night’s meeting to keep students and staff safe, particularly in light of new research that indicates children are more likely to get COVID-19 than originally thought and can pass it on.
Rockingham County Public Schools officials have considered a number of options for the start of school that range from full in-class learning, which would be ideal but not safe. They considered and adopted a plan that gets kids in the classroom in smaller numbers, which will allow for social distancing. And finally they have considered the possibility of fully virtual learning. However, Scheikl said the latter would likely only be implemented if Gov. Ralph Northam calls for another shutdown of schools like he did on March 13.
“We are being driven by expert advice,” Scheikl said.
One change that the School Board is considering and will vote on at the Monday meeting is pushing the start date of the school year to Sept. 10. The reasoning behind this is twofold. It gives teachers more time to prepare for virtual learning, and it gives officials time to see what happens once college and university students return to the area.
There are three institutions of higher education in the area that are preparing to reopen in the fall — James Madison University, Bridgewater College and Eastern Mennonite University. Only Blue Ridge Community College is preparing for online-only learning.
Although these colleges and universities are developing strategies to reopen safely, it remains to be seen how well those strategies will be adhered to by students, Scheikl said.
If reopening colleges and universities leads to an outbreak of COVID-19 cases, Scheikl said he doesn’t want students in the classroom when that happens.
Monday night’s School Board meeting will be broadcast online, and members of the public can submit comments online, which will be read aloud at the meeting.