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Franklin schools to stay virtual nine more weeks

FRANKLIN

In response to rising COVID-19 diagnoses in Franklin, the city’s School Board voted unanimously Jan. 14 to keep instruction virtual for all grade levels for the third nine weeks of the 2020-2021 school year.

Superintendent Dr. Tamara Sterling, in making this recommendation to the School Board, cited Virginia Department of Health data, which shows that as of Jan. 14, the city had 661.4 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents and an 8.7% positivity rate over the past 14 days. Percent positivity refers to the percentage of COVID-19 tests that return a positive result out of the total number of tests given.

“COVID cases, even though we have the vaccine, have been trending upward in our area, especially in Franklin City,” Sterling said.

Will Drewery, emergency manager for the Western Tidewater Health District, recently informed city school officials that the region can expect to enter phase 1B of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s phased allocation of the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines on Jan. 19. Phase 1B includes teachers.

The nine-week delay in reopening is intended to allow Franklin’s teachers to make arrangements to receive their first vaccine dose by the end of February and their second by the end of March.

“I talked to the faculty and staff and there’s a lot of concern about Tier 1 teachers … when we talk about Tier 1 teachers, we’re talking about teachers that are at the highest risk, that have pre-existing medical conditions,” Sterling said. “We want to make certain we provide our teachers with enough opportunity and time to get the vaccine.”

In the meantime, Sterling plans to host virtual town hall meetings for students, employees and parents to obtain community feedback on a proposed phased reopening plan for April through June. The first of these town halls, which will be conducted using the Zoom videoconferencing platform, will be for parents and community stakeholders on Jan. 19 at 6 p.m.

The next two will be for Franklin High School students at 1 p.m. and J.P. King Jr. Middle School students that same day at 2 p.m.

To participate in the Jan. 19 meeting, go to fcpsva-org.zoom.us/s/89463114649?pwd=RVlMQ2Z5RlZSS1ExUHdGVGUvVDNIdz09 and enter 334379 as the passcode.

To participate in the JPK Jan. 21 meeting, go to fcpsva-org.zoom.us/j/86419046607?pwd=THUwNi9hOXk5MVZlbUhIUzZWSVhsUT09 and enter 038987 as the passcode.

To participate in the FHS Jan. 21 meeting, go to fcpsva-org.zoom.us/j/88463258044?pwd=RVpMV0tIQXBxSGZWbk5ZTU1LUWNydz09 and enter 038987 as the passcode.

The School Board plans to vote on Sterling’s proposed phased reopening plan in March, once it receives updated COVID-19 data and the results of the town hall meetings. Per Sterling’s reopening plan, as it currently stands, teachers and staff will report back to their buildings the week of April 19-23. Grades PreK-3, special education students and English language learners at S.P. Morton Elementary only will begin a hybrid two-day-a-week schedule on April 26.

For example, grades PreK-1 would attend in person on Mondays and Tuesdays and grades 2-3 would attend Wednesdays and Thursdays, with Fridays reserved for teacher professional development and deep cleaning of the building. That way, “you would never have over 50% capacity in that building at any given time,” Sterling said.

“For those that decide to stay home because they do not want their children coming back in, which is fine, we will support you and accommodate you,” Sterling added.

Starting May 10, grades 6-7 and some specific high school courses such as algebra and geometry would begin, also on the two-day hybrid schedule. On May 17, English 11 and science labs would resume at Franklin High School. Grade 8 will begin the hybrid schedule June 1.

The Tidewater News is waiting for additional information on when ninth and tenth grade will return.

Grades 4-5, which are ordinarily housed in two detached trailers at S.P. Morton, will remain virtual for the remainder of the school year due to lack of space within the trailers to facilitate social distancing. Grade 12 will also remain 100% virtual for the remainder of the year, since by that time, seniors should be taking their career and technical education examinations and Standards of Learning tests.

“Their year is really wrapping up and coming to a close so we don’t really want to phase them back in when they’re doing well and everybody’s moving forward with virtual learning,” Sterling said.

The division also plans to hold summer school July 5 through Aug. 20 for grades PreK-5, rising sixth-graders and rising ninth-graders. This will be in addition to the remediation and for-credit summer school Franklin High School typically offers.

“Because we’re coming back on that hybrid model … we still want to bridge them immediately into a summer school program, so it’s not like they’re coming back on a hybrid and then have two months off,” Sterling said. “No, we’re trying to keep all of our children in at least an additional four-week summer school program.”

Pre-registration for summer school will be from June 7-11.