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Back-to-school, again, for county students

South Boston News
Students head to class Monday morning at South Boston Elementary. / February 22, 2021
With the return of elementary students delayed last week by winter weather, it’s back-to-school time today in Halifax County — again.

Halifax County elementary schools were set to welcome pupils in grades pre-K through three this morning, bringing together students and teachers in large numbers for the first time since school was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic last March.

Also invited back to school today are small numbers of students in all grades — special education students with IEPs, English language learners and homeless students, all of whom were allowed to return to school buildings in the fall until a resurgence of the virus prompted HCPS to shut down school facilities again in December.

Plans call for more students in other grades to resume face-to-face classroom learning in March and April.

In-person attendance is optional, and many families are choosing to keep their children at home for remote learning, said Superintendent of Schools Mark Lineburg. He estimated around 45 percent of students will be heading back to their classrooms for the second semester, after an overwhelming majority of students attended school virtually during the first semester.

In-person school will be conducted on a four-day hybrid schedule, with A and B groups alternating days in class to reduce the number of people inside school buildings at any given time. Students will get two days of in-person instruction under the hybrid schedule, Monday through Thursday each week. Fridays are set aside as a teacher work day for lesson planning, student outreach and professional development.

Students are required to take part in school four days a week, whether in-person or at home.

“[Monday] is an ‘A’ day. We’ve never had an A and B day before,” said Lineburg, who said opening day promises to be a new experience for everyone.

“I’m sure there are going to be some snafus. We haven’t been in school in a year and now we’re doing it in a new way,” he said.

Lineburg added that he is hopeful problems can be ironed out quickly. “We’ll be doing our very, very best working with our families, and our families have done their best working with us.”

Each school has sent out information to families explaining preparations in place, including bus transportation routes with pick-up times and locations. Lineburg said school operations have been affected by COVID-19 infections among the staff, but “we’re getting healthier” and the school division is ready to welcome students back.

“We have certainly had various parts of our operations that have had their ups and downs” because of employees who have contracted the virus, he said.

With hybrid attendance in effect, Lineburg said he expected less than a quarter of students will be inside their school buildings on a daily basis, since only around half of families have said they will be sending their students back. Students who are in school will be required to social distance and wear masks.

Meantime, Lineburg said he hopes Halifax County Public Schools will be able to set up a second employee vaccination clinic later this week. The first vaccine clinic, held Jan. 30, saw more than 200 employees receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by Moderna. There has not been another clinic since.

Lineburg said he has been in contact with the Virginia Department of Health, Department of Education and the Governor’s Office to see about increasing vaccinations to cover all employees who want the shots. He also said HCPS is pushing for in-school, rapid virus tests to protect employees and students from a possible outbreak.

“I don’t know if it’s going to be feasible, but we do have a meeting [Monday on that],” he said. Gov. Ralph Northam has heard pleas from school officials for more vaccines and resources to combat the virus, and “we appreciate his help and we think we’ll get more vaccines. And we’re exploring testing for folks who are asymptomatic.”

The 15-minute antigen tests would be administered to staff members as they show up for work, with school nurses doing the work and analyzing the results, if the test kits are made available.

With students out of school for almost a year, Lineburg said he could only take a guess on the number of students who have signed up for in-person schooling who will actually show up Monday. “You worry about attendance, but it’s different than it used to be. Kids do have the option of taking part in class at home.”

The return of grades pre-K through three takes place against a backdrop of reduced community spread in Halifax County in recent weeks. The rate of new virus cases has slowed since the start of February, when Halifax and most of the U.S. were caught in the grips of a worsening pandemic.

In the past seven days, there have been 84 new cases reported in Halifax County, compared to 140 cases in the first week of February. The county has seen 2,263 cases of the virus since the Virginia Department of Health began tracking the data on the pandemic in March 2020.

The United States is expected to cross the grim threshold today of half a million people who have died from COVID-19. There have been more than 28 million known cases of the virus in the U.S., and health experts say the actual number of infections and deaths is likely to be higher than the official numbers.

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Should have started school on time. This is just crazy. Can't believe the cowards that are running our government.


Why, allpolitical? Starting on time obviously didn't help you. Unless you are a teacher or work in the education field, your opinion doesn't matter. So why post it?


Allpolitical2 lol yo you historicly u post so much tough talk ... guns, rights, poorly run this, that, masks, vaccines yada yada yada. At least people stand up and run for government to attempt to make a difference.... someone get this guy a box of tissues - no one likes a crybaby

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