A proposed reopening plan for Harrisonburg City Public Schools for the 2020-21 school year includes blended learning, with one day a week being online learning only for all students.
A reopening task force has been meeting since the end of May to develop a strategy based on safety guidelines, Gov. Ralph Northam’s orders, and student success for the reopening of school in the fall. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2019-20 school year was canceled for in-person instruction.
Since then, parents and students have anxiously been waiting on information concerning reopening in the fall.
The task force has recommended a combination of in-person and virtual instruction. This is only a recommendation and after the School Board reviews the plan, it could look very different once approved, Superintendent Michael Richards said.
For students in grades prekindergarten through first, it is being proposed that they attend school in-person four days a week, every day except Wednesday, which is being proposed as a virtual learning day for all HCPS students.
For students in grades second through fifth, it is being proposed that there is an “A” cohort and a “B” cohort. The “A” cohort will attend school on Monday and Thursday and the “B” cohort on Tuesday and Friday.
The same plan would be in place for middle school and high school students.
Certain students at all grade levels who have special needs would attend school every day except Wednesday.
Every attempt would be made to schedule siblings in the same “A” or “B” cohort so that child care would be less of a challenge. Family requests to align “A” and “B” day schedules for their children who attend more than one school would be accommodated to the greatest extent possible.
Parents have the option of opting students into 100% online learning, or to go with the blended learning that is being proposed. However, once the 100% option is chosen, they will not be allowed to change to blended learning.
The proposed reopening plan also has vastly different start and end times for the school day.
School start and end times are suggested to provide for clustering east and west side schools to accommodate families and to maximize transportation volume, which would permit siblings to sit together on a bus.
The schedule also takes into consideration some child care issues by having the elementary and middle schools attend school at the same time.
These times may be adjusted should there be additional time needed between bus runs. Because in-school transitions would be limited and because teachers would be accommodating virtual learning daily, the suggested length of the school day is five hours.
High School students would start at 7:45 a.m. and conclude at 12:45 p.m. Thomas Harrison Middle School, Bluestone Elementary School, Keister Elementary School and Waterman Elementary school would begin at 9 a.m. and conclude at 2 p.m. Skyline Middle School, Smithland Elementary School, Spotswood Elementary School and Stone Spring Elementary School would begin at 10 a.m. and conclude at 3 p.m.
In this blended learning environment, grades would be given for specific assignments and assessments. Students would be expected to complete assignments and engage in daily learning activities.
Specials such as STEM, CTE and the arts will be arranged at each school and will minimize transitions for students.
Transportation creates a great challenge for school divisions that are still required for students to maintain a 6-foot distance from one another.
If a 6-foot distance between students is maintained, only 12 students can sit on each bus at a time. Normally, as many as 74 students can ride on a bus. It may be possible to double the capacity to 24 students if the following are adhered to:
● Students may sit one per seat as long as they are wearing face coverings
● Students with siblings should sit together allowing for up to three siblings per seat as long as they are wearing face coverings
● Buses will be disinfected following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines throughout the transportation day
HCPS will submit a variance request to be able to put 24 students on each bus while following the above rules.
Bus drivers and bus aides will wear the appropriate personal protective equipment when transporting students. The Harrisonburg Department of Public Transportation will establish protocols to ensure that all transportation employees are health screened before reporting to work.
Even with the approval of a variance request it will not be possible to transport the number of students who currently ride the bus to school each day, even with staggered start times. Therefore, the school division is asking parents who can drive their kids to school to do so. Another option is to have students who live within a reasonable distance of their school to walk.
Students receiving in-person instruction on alternating days will receive bagged meals to be consumed at home on distance learning days. For example, students in the “A” cohort will pick up a meal bag at the end of the day on Monday containing meals for Tuesday and Wednesday. On a Thursday afternoon, they will receive meals for Friday.
A change to the 2020-21 school calendar is also being proposed.
The task force is proposing to the School Board that the 2020-21 school year start a week later than originally planned.
The 2020-21 instructional calendar originally had students returning to the classroom on Tuesday, Aug. 25, which was keeping with past first days of school.
The proposed calendar now has students starting on Monday, Aug. 31. This is to allow for adequate time for safety and instructional preparation.
All task force proposals are just that — proposals — and won’t be official until voted on by the School Board at a later date. The earliest that the School Board could approve the reopening plan and the change to the school calendar is at the scheduled July 7 meeting.