Stafford County and King George County public schools are preparing for a virtual start to the 2020–21 academic school year on Monday, joining public school students from Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania and Caroline counties who have already gone back to school from home.
Stafford County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Kizner said he visited every school in the division over the past week, talking to teachers and administrators as they prepare for a most unusual school year.
“I’ve had the opportunity to observe the excitement—and some levels of anxiety—among our staff,” he said. “I’ve been very impressed by the attitude of our staff getting ready to start. I think there’s a recognition that when we start on Aug. 31, we’ll be good, and as time goes on, we will keep getting better and better.”
Stafford’s return-to-school plan calls for four days of synchronous online learning for middle and high school students, with one day of self-directed learning at home.
Elementary school students will receive two days of synchronous online instruction and will complete learning activities on their own time the other three weekdays.
Kizner said “many” teachers will be ready on Monday to move right into instruction, but he also expects the first week will involve working with families to solve device and internet connectivity issues and familiarize parents and students with the expectations and structure of virtual school.
In June, the Stafford Board of Supervisors approved spending $1.1 million in CARES Act funding to purchase 9,000 additional Chromebooks, enabling each student in the division to have a device.
Kizner said the school system has distributed 29,000 Chromebooks so far and received a final shipment of 500 Saturday.
“We still have a few hundred students that we need to get devices to,” he said. “There’s been a backlog.”
While most Stafford students will attend school from home, there are four groups of students—middle- and high-school-aged early English language learners; certain students with disabilities; students without high-speed internet access and certain students in the career and technical education program—who will be coming into school buildings the first week of school.
Kizner said about 200 early English language learners in grades six and up will attend classes at Shirley Heim or Drew Middle School or North Stafford or Stafford High School.
Elementary-aged English language learners will begin in-person classes “a week or two afterwards,” Kizner said, “as we work with families and update test results.”
Kizner said there are about 300 students with individualized education plans who will receive in-person education.
“Those numbers will keep changing as we have meetings with families,” he said.
The division will also host a daily internet café for a little more than 500 Stafford students of all grade levels who do not have internet access.
The internet cafés will be held for full days at Widewater, Hartwood and Stafford elementary schools.
Kizner said there are 620 families on top of the 500 who also have internet needs, but the school system’s technology department thinks these families’ needs can be met by taking Wi-Fi hotspots to their homes.
If that doesn’t work, however, the school division will open three more schools—Conway, Margaret Brent and Rockhill elementary schools—to serve as additional internet cafés.
The return-to-school plan adopted by the school board calls for the division to pilot a hybrid schedule—in which students would attend school in-person for two days each week and continue with distance learning the other days—in October.
Kizner said there are teachers interested in participating in the pilot and schools that are willing to host it.
If health trends support it, the pilot program will begin in “early October” and if successful, a hybrid schedule will be offered beginning Nov. 12, Kizner said.
Families who wish their children to continue with 100 percent distance learning will still have that option.
King George students will also start school Monday. All students will attend remotely for the first nine weeks, according to the division’s website.
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