Southampton back-to-school plans proposed

Published 7:20 pm Tuesday, July 14, 2020

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On Monday evening, the Southampton County School Board along with approximately 50 other county residents heard the proposals for returning students to learning this fall admist the COVID-19 pandemic.

One is full resumption, where everyone goes back to the schools. As stated in the presentation that’s fully posted at the school website, “While this was considered, the health and safety of students, staff, and the community was considered to be at-risk with this approach. It would require appropriate social distancing, frequent and thorough sanitization and reliable communication.”

The second is the blended model and gradual resumption. Different forms would be a staggered resumption; alternating days with a day for enrichment; and modified time to include early dismissal. A quarter schedule for resumption has also been suggested, “where the plan will be followed for a full nine weeks to allow for monitoring, planning, student and faculty support, grading and overall assessment of pandemic response and progression.”

The blended model format for elementary schools would work on an A/B schedule. Group A would be in class Monday and Wednesday, with Group B present on Tuesday and Thursday. When not in the schools, they would do distance learning. Fridays would alternative with face-to-face remediation and support for both groups. The rational is based on maintaining health and safety as well as concerns about transportation recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control.

The blended model format for middle and high schools notes that the building might be needed to support elementary students depending on space requirements. Should that happen, the first nine weeks would be virtual learning, with teachers to work on a rotating schedule in order to give personal instruction. If the governor and state superintendent allow for a larger resumption, then the model would be adjusted. One rational is that “A gradual resumption serves to allow students and families to re-establish academic norms and expectations.”

CDC guidelines include: staying at home when sick without reprisals; teaching hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette; face coverings for staff and students; keeping supplies such as hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes; posting regular broads about the virus; and maintaining health environments.

Transportation needs would include masks, sanitizers, touchless thermometers and 6 versus 3 fee distance. The number of buses, drivers and amount of fuel would have to be increased.

The school buildings would also be supplied with masks, sanitizers, thermometers and student dividers.

Before school personnel made the presentation, a handful of the audience made their thoughts known.

Brandon Rogers acknowledged to the board, “you are leading in a time that’s daunting. Understandable, it’s a steep learning curve.” He recommended collaboration with the Virginia Department of Health, meeting with the Board of Supervisors; develop a weekly communication platform that all stakeholders can access; and be proactive in reviewing plans with other localities.”

Dr. Deborah Goodwyn, who was re-elected as board chairwoman, said right afterward that the board would not take action that night. Members later decided to have a 5:30 p.m. work session on Monday, July 27.

Pryor Lindsey of Courtland, said he’s the father of a high school student and, “I am not an advocate of my child being back in school. She doesn’t believe in mortality. I am not confident about her returning to school.”

A woman who identified herself as a Registered Nurse and working with the VDH said she’s been testing patients for COVID-19. “I am deep in it … I urge you to pay attention to what I’m saying.”

That included to begin training now of everyone involved with the students where the virus is concerned. She added that school nurses can’t afford to be exposed, and that a team effort will be needed. A separate decontaminated room in school should be set aside now.

Another man disagreed with questions asked in survey, and said a place was needed for comment.

“I would like the opportunity to see more details … and the results published.”

George Collins Jr. said he has two major issues with the county school system — communication and transparency. He noted the survey was online only and parent had only 2-1/2 days to complete it.

“It’s very flawed and hard to make informed decisions,” he said, citing details about the survey.

“I feel this board does not do a good job of informing us, the parents, of what’s going on. “That’s a big problem. We are in the dark.”

He did praise of Meherrin Elementary Principal Rickeita Jones for her thoroughness in keeping parents informed throughout the crisis.

Berlin/Ivor Supervisor Chris Cornwell Sr., speaking just as a parent, said, “I had not planned to speak. Then was I met by this {he gestured to the large audience in hall].”

He suggested that a larger venue such as the gymnasium or cafeteria could have been used for this meeting.

Goodwyn said, “We didn’t anticipate size of audience. I apologize for those who had to stand.”

The audience was reminded to look at division’s webpages on Tuesday for full details.

As mentioned, the board meets late this month to discuss and make decisions about resuming a new school year.