Southampton students to be phased back in

Published 6:10 pm Tuesday, January 12, 2021

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Barring a spike in reported COVID-19 cases, many Southampton County Public School students will be able to return to classes in a hybrid model starting on Feb. 8, with the others on Feb. 22. The school board’s unanimous decision to support this was made following a presentation and recommendation by Dr. Gwendolyn Shannon, superintendent, during the Monday night meeting in the high school.

She noted that the “Return to In-Person Learning Plan” was essentially presented in October as a phased plan, which was agreed on by the board. In this case, Phase II moves from the first — all virtual, or asynchronous, — to a hybrid model. The first to return for two days of in-person instruction will be those students in grades pre-kindergarten through third; sixth and ninth grades, as well as all levels for Life Skills Classes. The other three days will be for virtual learning. Shannon stressed that parents can still choose the all-virtual model for their children.

Students in grades 4-5, 7-8 and 10-12 can go to their school buildings for two days beginning on Feb. 22. That’s depending on metrics and mitigation strategies.

Speaking of which, before coming back there are steps in place to mitigate the risk of becoming infected with the novel coronavirus. These will include health screenings before entering buses, wearing masks, frequent hand washing and keeping apart six feet from one another when possible.

Elementary students would be in their schools from 8:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.; secondary pupils from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Where class times are concerned, principals will make and share videos to share with parents and students.

There will be two cohorts, or units, of students. Cohort A is composed of pupils with last names A-I, and will go on Monday and Tuesday; Cohort B will be J-Z, and go on Wednesday and Thursday. Principals will have leeway to “make modifications to that particular cohort,” said the superintendent.

Everyone would do virtual on Friday. Teachers could focus more on individual students when necessary that day.

Where meals are concerned, five meal boxes will be available for delivery each Friday, and families already registered don’t need to do anything, and those who want to sign up can still do so. All assignments will be graded for accuracy, with a minimum of one and maximum of three grades to be recorded and posted weekly. Students are expected to be physically present for both the in-person and virtual classes.

Shannon showed statistics of new COVID-19 cases in the county. As of Jan. 11, the total number of new cases per 100,000 (within the last 14 days) is 2,195. But the percentage of Reverse Transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) positive tests is down 11.3 percent; the percentage change in new cases per 100,000 (within the last 14 days) is down 13.5 percent.

Mitigation measures in place in the school system, though, have apparently encouraged Shannon to make her recommendation.

Regarding vaccinations, the superintendent pointed out that in Virginia, 189,283 people had at least one shot, and 15,130 fully vaccinated. Southampton County has 138 people are vaccinated in Phase 1a. Talking to local health officials, vaccinations will be in Phase 1b, and teachers will soon be able to make their own appointments for getting their shots.

Another factor for the superintendent’s recommendation to move to Phase II is

The superintendent also acknowledged that there’s been learning loss for students. Also, there’s concern about their mental health, such as not being engaged with classmates and teachers in person.

She reiterated her recommendation to move to Phase II.

Following board discussion, the agreement is to have a called meeting before Feb. 8 if COVID-19 conditions have worsened.