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August, September openings among Norton school options

Mike Still • Jun 16, 2020 at 3:00 PM

NORTON — City Schools Superintendent Gina Wohlford told Norton School Board members Monday that reopening plans for the 2020-21 school year are still subject to frequent changes in the state COVID-19 landscape.

Wolhford’s comments came during a strategic planning discussion at the board’s June meeting, as the city school system joins other Virginia divisions in trying to figure out how to comply with the state’s Recover, Redesign, Restart 2020 plan to get schools reopened for the fall semester. Wohlford said the division has submitted its health monitoring plan to the state Department of Education, which includes temperature screening, intensified cleaning of athletic spaces, and purchasing of extra cleaning supplies and face masks for teachers, staff and students.

Norton, along with most Virginia schools, is in Phase 2 of the RRR 2020 plan, which would allow for pre-K through third-graders and English language learnings to return to in-person classes. Phase 1 of the plan allows for school-hosted summer camps, and Wohlford said that phase will allow for summer school and for high school band students to attend summer band camp as well and permitting in-person special education programs in the city’s two schools.

Phase 3 of the state plan would allow for a range in bringing all grade levels back to in-person classes and “none of them are good,” Wohlford said. Limitations on bus capacity due to state social distancing guidelines would cut school bus capacity back to about 15 students per bus, she said, while other guidelines would mean a mix of in-campus and at-home students even with a full reopening.

Based on a survey of families of 422 students, more than half of the division’s enrollment, Wohlford said 81% of students want to return to classes while 19% of students want to remain in at-home virtual instruction.

The RRR 2020 plan was not part of a state executive order, and Wohlford said that point along with low infection and COVID-19 case rates compared to much of Virginia could help Norton and many rural school divisions get variances from the Department of Education in how they conduct their reopenings.

Wohlford gave the board draft school calendars based on Aug. 5 and Sept. 1 start dates for the fall semester to prepare for what variances the city may get for handling reopening. She said the Aug. 5 start looks feasible now.

Wohlford said that school athletics will look different in the new school year since track and golf would be the only sports that could offer adequate social distancing of athletes under Phase 2 guidelines.

Summer reopening options regarding child care are being discussed with Children’s Inc., Wohlford said, but those discussions will be affected by whatever form reopening takes.

“It comes fast, then it changes two days later,” Wohlford said of planning for the fall. She said the spring school closing was not the best situation for students and instruction, and the fall will be a balance between safety needs and adequate socialization for students.

In other business, the school board directed a $500 bonus for all school employees, $70,000, from surplus funds.

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