The News & Record
South Boston News & Record
and Mecklenburg Sun
Home   •   News   •   Sports   •   Classifieds   •   Community   •   Health   •   Entertainment   •   Obituaries   •   Opinions   •   Weather
Advertising | Contact | Register
Advanced Search
News

Halifax County Supes meet today

Woodview residents to be tested after employee is infected

Judge deals latest setback to uranium mining effort


Sports

Junior golfers bring home wins in season finale

Four division winners in Southside Piedmont Junior championships golf play hail from county courses

Community


Opinion


A&E

News

A new normal ahead as schools reopen

SoVaNow.com / July 15, 2020
With a four-day school week set to begin Sept. 8 in Mecklenburg County, parents as well as students want to know what to expect with the return to classrooms, and what the school division is doing to keep students and staff safe from COVID-19.

Disinfecting of classrooms, keeping a safe distance, lessons in hand washing and daily student health questionnaires will all be part of the new normal for Mecklenburg County Public Schools.

Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols cautions that the school day won’t be the same. Students won’t be allowed to hug their classmates or share a crayon or pencil. Sporting events, if they take place at all, may not begin until mid-December, at the earliest. At any moment, Gov. Ralph Northam could order school divisions to shut their doors again and limit themselves to distance learning if the coronavirus pandemic gets out of control in Virginia. However, Nichols said school superintendents are likely to push back against onerous restrictions by the state.

Keeping students out of school, Nichols said, could widen the economic gap that too many kids living in Mecklenburg County face. He points out that around 60 percent of all county students qualify for free or reduced price meals. He worries that a reliance on online distance learning is likely to burden these students — many of whom live in food in-secure homes, and lack computers, internet connectivity or adults at home who can help them with their lessons.

Nichols sees the reopening of school as a linchpin for ensuring that Mecklenburg County’s school-age kids are not left behind academically or economically. He also realizes that reopening schools isn’t simply flipping a switch. It involves careful deliberation and much training and preparation.

Already-funded technology improvements allow students in grades three-12 to be equipped with devices to use at home, but internet access is the bigger issue for many Mecklenburg families with school-age children. To address that problem, the school division has purchased mobile hotspots for use by students with limited or no internet access at home.

Still to be worked out are details involving transportation, when and where meals will be served, and how to accommodate students who will receive 100 percent of their lessons online. Parents have the option of choosing stay-at-home education for their students for the fall semester.

For those who return to the classroom, the school day will run on the same timetable as before — from 8:15 a.m.-3:35 p.m., but Monday through Thursday only. On Friday, class work will be delivered online to all students at home.

Students with poor or no household internet service will have their Friday schoolwork downloaded to their take-home computers before they depart school on Thursday.

All students will be expected to complete their Friday lessons and show proof of their work or be counted absent for that day.

Face coverings will be part of the school attire for students and staff, though Nichols admits it might be hard to enforce their use among younger students. The expectation is that each student will be responsible for supplying their own mask.

Classes will not begin or end at the tone of a bell. Instead, each classroom will be assigned a specific timeslot for when students can move through the halls. This is being done to avoid overcrowding and to reinforce social distancing.

Nichols said he believes that students enrolled in in-person classes will still be able to participate in electives such as band or art and physical education, but details are yet to be ironed out for those taking CTE classes taught through the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center in South Boston or the Lake Country Advanced Knowledge Center in South Hill.

“It looks like students will still take technical classes like welding and IT in person through SVCC (Southside Virginia Community College), but academic subjects may be limited to online,” Nichols said, adding that he has not received word from the SVHEC in South Boston as to how the higher ed center will handle classwork going forward.

Another unknown involves sports. One idea floated by the Virginia High School League after an executive committee meeting at the end of June would have winter sports running from Dec. 13-Feb. 20, fall sports from Feb. 15-May 1, and spring sports from April 12-June 26. Winter sports would include basketball, gymnastics, indoor track, swimming and diving and wrestling. Competitive cheer, cross country, field hockey, football, golf, and volleyball would be included in the fall season, and baseball, softball, girls and boys lacrosse, soccer, tennis and track and field would take place during the spring season.

There’s also the question of how to transport the kids to school. Mecklenburg County does not have enough buses available to accommodate all student bus riders at the same time, if the division is forced to adhere to CDC recommendations that limit ridership to one child every other seat. And plans are still in the process of being developed to address the potential that a student or teacher at a given school may develop a COVID-19 infection.

Nichols said the decision to reopen Mecklenburg County Public Schools for four-day, in-person classes was not made lightly. He relied on guidelines from the CDC for reopening schools, and data collected by the Harvard Global Health Institute that ranks Mecklenburg County at risk yellow level — the second lowest tier.

A risk level yellow indicates evidence of community spread, which is currently happening in Mecklenburg County, according to Jon Taylor, the county’s emergency services coordinator.

Taylor told members of the Board of Supervisors on Monday that the number of cases of COVID-19 in Mecklenburg County rose by nine between Friday and Monday — from 253 on July 10 to 262 on July 13. Taylor said these new cases are associated with community spread since there are no confirmed active outbreaks in the county. Outbreaks are reported by the Virginia Department of Health when two or more persons tests positive for the coronavirus at a single site.

Two earlier outbreaks, at Sentara MeadowView Terrace in Clarksville and at Chase City Health and Rehab, are marked as “pending closure” by the Virginia Department of Health after those facilities reported no new cases in more than a month.

The yellow risk level also comes with an advisory that the community should engage in rigorous testing and tracing programs, something that is not happening in Mecklenburg County. Less than 12 percent of the population across the Southside Health District — comprised of Brunswick, Halifax, and Mecklenburg counties — has been tested for the virus. The number of testing encounters also has dropped precipitously since it peaked in mid-June.

From March 16, when testing began, until July 13, the last date for which testing data exists, only 9,749 persons out of a total population of 81,860 in the Southside Health District have been tested for the COVID-19 virus, and most of those tests are associated with known outbreak sites.

Nichols acknowledges that further changes will come if the number of new virus cases escalates between now and Sept. 8, or further into the fall or winter months. That is a risk Nichols said he is willing to take because of what he sees as the greater need to return students to the classroom. He admits the challenges — academic, social, logistical — eclipse those the school division faced when it shut down in March. But he believes school can go forward safely with guidance and support from the state and federal governments, and the commitment of school personnel and the community.

Tell-a-Friend | Submit a Comment

54

Comments

267 cases up 20 in 7 days

Comments

269 cases up + 2 from yesterday

Comments

272 + 2 up 2 more 7/18/20

Comments

274 up 2 more 7/19/20

Comments

278 up 4 more 7/20/20

Comments

280 up 2 7/21/20

Comments

303 cases and 1 new death today July 29, 2020.


Sports Coverage

See complete sports coverage for Halifax and Mecklenburg counties.