Franklin County Public Schools intend to get students back in the classroom beginning in August.
Now that Gov. Ralph Northam and the Virginia Department of Education have released guidelines for the reopening of schools, educators have a clearer picture of what the 2020-21 school year could look like.
“The commonwealth’s public schools face the unprecedented challenge of restarting operations and formal instruction after a mid-year shutdown and responding to the toll the necessary closure has taken on learning and on the social and emotional health of students and staff,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane. “Our goal was to provide recommendations and reopening scenarios that reflect the diverse needs and circumstances of our rural, suburban and urban school divisions.”
Over the past two months, FCPS administrative staff and faculty have been working on potential scenarios and developing strategies for opening schools in August.
“We anticipate that our schools will reopen in August as scheduled; however, with probable social distancing mandates, there will be a reduced number of students who can attend each day,” Franklin County School Superintendent Mark Church said in an email to parents.
According to the governor’s directives, schools will reopen in the same three phases as the Forward Virginia phases.
Since Franklin County is already in Phase 2, students with special needs are cleared for in-person learning. Students in preschool through third grades and English as a second language students are also allowed to have in-person learning, but with limitations.
Starting school during phase 2 would probably mean a distance learning environment for all other students, Church said.
Phase 2 also allows for limited sports and extracurricular activities, summer camps and working family child care.
Church said he is hoping for the county to be in Phase 3 by the start of school. He anticipates the third phase to include a hybrid schedule in which students would alternate time in the classroom and time learning online.
“Full instruction will take place,” Church said. “We will have new, graded instruction. It will be different from what our continuing education plan was from spring. We’re going to do whatever we can to get kids back in the building as quickly as possible.”
“Regardless of the phase, the division needs to be prepared for new instruction, address the learning loss from the abrupt shutdown in March and prepare for individuals who may not be able to learn onsite to have full remote access,” said Assistant Superintendent Sue Rogers. “The phases just let us know the number of students allowed safely inside the buildings at one time.”
One critical piece to the social distancing puzzle is the plan for busing students to and from schools.
“In order to get students on the buses in a safe manner, we will have to maintain 6 feet of social distancing on the buses when possible,” said Director of Operations and Human Relations Greg Cuddy. “When it is not possible, we will implement mitigating strategies to maintain the health and safety of students and drivers.”
Cuddy said one of those strategies could include wearing cloth face coverings if individuals are unable to maintain the social distancing guidelines.
He added that the division is attempting to keep families together in order to rework the bus routes and to keep families on the same learning schedules.
“It’s challenging and it’s critical, but we’ve been working on the plan for a while and, as long as we maintain our social distancing and mitigating strategies, we should be able to reach our goals,” Cuddy said.
The maximum number of students that could safely travel aboard one bus simultaneously is approximately 24, Cuddy said.
According to state and VDOE guidelines, faculty and staff would be required to where face coverings when they are not able to maintain 6 feet of social distancing with a student. Older students are also encouraged, but not required, to wear face coverings when they are not able to maintain social distancing guidelines.
Church said the school division will make laptops available to students without computer access at home, and schools are currently being prepared to meet social distancing, cleaning and sanitizing and other related guidelines.
The summer meal distribution program will continue until July 30 on Mondays and Thursdays at all elementary schools and Benjamin Franklin Middle School.
“What we’re working towards is getting our students back in the classrooms as soon as possible,” Church said. “We know how important it is for our teachers and students to have that interaction. We will be sharing more specifics as our plans are solidified. We plan on being as transparent as we can. We’re excited about education and we ask for flexibility and patience as we move along.”
Parents and students are encouraged to visit the FCPS website at www.frco.k12.va.us to keep up with new plans and updates as they are posted.