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Fredericksburg schools looking to reopen Aug. 10 with mix of in-school, at-home learning

Fredericksburg schools looking to reopen Aug. 10 with mix of in-school, at-home learning

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Most Fredericksburg students are expected to head back to classrooms once the city’s schools reopen Aug. 10, but they will only be there two days per week.

Instruction would be online for the rest of the week, according to a plan drafted by a task force that includes school officials, teachers and parents. It divides students equally into four groups for the fall semester, and alternates schedules for in-school and online instruction so that only two groups are in school buildings at a time.

“Each group will represent 25 percent of the student population of the school,” Mike George, the school system’s chief operations/information officer, told the School Board Monday.

“We did this on purpose, that we have different tracks based off of the guidance from the CDC, the Virginia Department of Education, the governor and the Rappahannock Area Health District. If we have to change course in the plan, based on whatever is going on at that point, we have students pre-identified into groups, and we could then subdivide again to bring the capacity down if we had to.”

If Gov. Ralph Northam orders schools to close again, as he did last spring to slow the spread of COVID-19, all instruction would be online, George said.

The School Board will vote on the Recover, Redesign, Restart 2020 plan during a special session that it will schedule for next week. The draft calls for those in the A and B groups to go to their school on Monday and Tuesday, and have instruction online Wednesday through Friday. The C and D groups would have virtual instruction Monday through Wednesday, and go to their school Thursday and Friday.

Ninth- through 12th-graders are on a block schedule, and would have half of their 90-minute classes on one of their in-school days and the rest on their other in-school day.

The city’s four school buildings would close for deep cleaning on Wednesdays, unless it’s a short week due to teacher work days or vacations. When that happens, custodial staff would clean the night before the groups switch places.

All students would have the option of a 100 percent parallel distance-learning track, and students with underlying medical conditions such as asthma or diabetes or who live with a family member they do not want to potentially expose to COVID-19 are urged to take this for the fall semester. Those with specific needs would be able to opt for 80 percent to 100 percent in-person instruction.

“There is a wide range there that catches both ends of the spectrum,” George said. “The majority being, we’re assuming, the ones who come to school on the staggered schedule.”

Students in pre-kindergarten to eighth grade would continue with this schedule after Labor Day, but freshmen through seniors in the A and B groups would switch to a schedule with nine days of in-person instruction and then two weeks of distance learning. The schedule would be reversed for the C and D groups.

“The reason for that is that they [teachers] requested longer time with their students, and then they were able to have longer periods off,” George said.

He added that this might also help parents schedule child care better because an older sibling could be available to watch a younger brother or sister during those two weeks of distance learning.

School schedules aren’t the only thing that will be different for the upcoming school year because of COVID-19. So will buses and classrooms.

Seating on buses will be staggered as much as possible in accordance with the Rappahannock Area Health District’s recommendations, and bus drivers and passengers will be asked to wear masks. The school system has also removed some desks from classrooms and spaced the rest so they’re six feet apart.

George said teachers will be given touchless thermometers with color- coded temperatures so they can quickly screen each student for fever and check for coughs and chills at the door as they enter their first class. That decision was made to prevent bottlenecks as students arrive at school.

Everyone will be encouraged to wash their hands and wear a mask, although some younger students might find the latter difficult.

Free grab-and-go lunches will be available for all students this coming school year . Meals must be eaten in classrooms, and each classroom will have an assigned bathroom.

The instructional piece of the plan hasn’t been finalized, but it currently calls for students who are on the hybrid track to have the same teacher for a class taught in the classroom and online, George said in a follow-up interview Tuesday. Teachers who are unable to teach in-person due to health concerns or other reasons would instruct students who opt for 100 percent of their classes online.

George said during the interview that parents and guardians will be able to sign students up for whichever option they choose soon through the PowerSchool Parent/Student portal on the Fredericksburg City Public School website, cityschools.com/parents. An alert will be sent when it is ready.

All students in grades 3–12 will be provided with a school-issued computer. Kindergartners through second-graders will be issued an iPad if they don’t already have one at home.

George said the system is building 12 solar-powered, community-based Wi-Fi hotspots that can serve up to 25 students at a time.

“We are working with property managers to have them placed in densely populated housing developments throughout the city before school starts,” he said.

Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407

cjett@freelancestar.com

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