At a School Board meeting on Monday, Rockingham County Public Schools Superintendent Oskar Scheikl will present a proposed plan for reopening schools in the fall.
A lot of consideration has gone into the plan, and Scheikl wanted to assure parents that the plan will make clear when students will be in the classroom and when they won’t, he said.
The plan is based on guidelines from the Department of Education that, while not mandatory, would be wise to follow, Scheikl said.
“Guidelines aren’t mandates but that can create some confusion,” he said. “If we were to deviate from that and say, ‘We’re going to do something different,’ we would be in a very poor position if our approach is ultimately not successful.”
One of the biggest and most challenging of these guidelines is that a 6-foot distance be maintained by students and staff at all times, including in classrooms, lunch rooms and on the bus.
RCPS has been looking at ways that the goal of the 6-foot distance can be achieved while also respecting the limitations of the physical space they have to work with. For instance, could Plexiglas barriers and face masks allow students to sit closer together in the classroom while also ensuring safety?
These are the difficult questions that the school division has been tasked with answering while considering a plan for reopening this fall.
Ultimately, there will be a transition period where mitigation strategies are implemented and then judged on effectiveness. The goal is to get all students in the classroom at least a few times per week, but it won’t happen all at once, Scheikl said.
“Our approach will be a transition plan,” he said. “We do not anticipate that we can open school with all students in the classroom on Day One.”
Early elementary students and students with greater needs will be prioritized when it comes to in-person learning.
It’s important to protect not just students, but staff members as well. Forty percent of bus drivers fall into the risk category for COVID-19 due to age. There are also a lot of custodians who do as well.
“They have a right to a safe working environment,” Scheikl said.
The full reopening plan will be presented Monday during a 6 p.m. work session. A video link to the meeting will be posted on the school division website 15 minutes prior to the meeting.