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 Council updated on water repairs, restaurant

Free covid testing set Friday at fairgrounds

Mecklenburg County’s older students to stay at home, for now

Trustees accept recommendation to continue remote learning for secondary grades as COVID-19 strikes at several schools

Sports

Jeffress in running as NL top reliever

Comet alum is one of three finalists for NL Reliever of the Year honors after his first year in bullpen with Chicago Cubs

Community


Opinion


A&E

News

Halifax County Trustees reverse direction, allow special ed students back in school

South Boston News
Interim secondary education supervisor Scott Worner (center) and transportation director Dwight Elam outline the challenges of school bus transportation at Monday’s meeting of the School Board.
SoVaNow.com / October 01, 2020
By a 4-3 margin, the Halifax County School Board voted Monday to take a first step towards resuming in-person classroom instruction by allowing 139 high-need special education students to come back to school no later than Oct. 7.

The change in direction, after the eight-member board deadlocked on the same question two weeks ago, came after Central Office administrators spelled out plans for what Superintendent of Schools Mark Lineburg dubbed “the slow walk to school.”

“Every parent needs to be prepared for a bumpy ride whatever we do,” said Lineburg, who in response to a question from ED-2 trustee Roy Lloyd, recommended a first step of returning 139 acute need special education learners to classrooms throughout the county in two weeks.

A timetable for the phased return of all student groups, crafted by the Central Office, identified SPED students as the first to come back, on a two-day hybrid classroom schedule starting Oct. 13. Other student groups would be allowed back to class in phases during October, November and December, although all families would have the option of keeping their children at home for distance learning.

However, Lloyd made a motion to return the small cohort of SPED students next week — by Oct. 7, with Lineburg tasked with the responsibility of setting the exact date — and a bare majority of the board agreed. Lloyd’s motion drew the support of ED-4 trustee Jay Camp, ED-6 Board Chair Todd Moser, and ED-7 trustee Keith McDowell, who seconded the motion.

It passed 4-3 with ED-8 trustee Walter Potts absent from the meeting. At the previous Sept. 14 School Board meeting, Potts joined Sandra Garner-Coleman, ED-2, Freddie Edmunds, ED-5, and Kathy Fraley, ED-1, in adamantly opposing the idea. Pott’s absence opened the way for the 4-4 tie vote impasse to break.

The three trustees who cast “no” votes Monday night said they continue to oppose returning students to school amid the coronavirus pandemic. Fraley said the teachers she has talked to fear catching the virus, even as they lament the negative impact that distance learning has on their students stuck at home.

“Our teachers are conflicted — they want their children back, but they are frightened for their safety,” said Fraley.

The first group to be allowed back are the division’s most vulnerable students, with learning disabilities and health and developmental conditions that often require intensive therapy and one-on-one engagement. In her conversations with special education teachers, Fraley said a point expressed by many is that “some of [their students] just want to be held all day.

“Remember, these are small, delicate children and all they want is to be held. Our teachers are going to find it’s very hard to do that,” Fraley said. “We’re putting a lot of people at risk.”

Divisions on the board hardened visibly when Lloyd made a second, follow-up motion — to allow high school athletes to resume conditioning sessions in preparation for the Virginia High School League’s timetable for the return of sports. The VHSL’s “Championship + 1” calendar envisions a December start to the winter sports season, with fall sports such as football pushed back to winter and spring of 2021 on a partially-overlapping schedule with spring sports.

The motion to let student-athletes resume conditioning drills under the direct supervision of coaches passed 4-3, with the vote following the board’s earlier pattern.

Garner-Coleman, Edmunds and Fraley voiced their ire over Lloyd’s motion, noting that high school sports have not been part of trustees’ deliberations on how to safely reopen schools. “I thought we were taking baby steps to see what’s going on, and now you’re going to have athletes running around?” asked Edmunds.

Fraley said she felt “a little blindsided” by the vote, which was not part of the meeting agenda, and Garner-Coleman blasted the notion that sports could restart safely with only VHSL-recommended precautions — physical distancing among the student-athletes, PPE for coaches and staff, and regular sanitizing and cleaning — in place.

“We’re not the NFL,” she said. “We can’t have practice in a $100 million bubble for these children.”

However, Lloyd noted that high school athletics has been a longstanding part of the administration’s Return to School plan, and HCHS Principal Michael Lewis affirmed that the athletic department submitted a “Return To Play” plan to the VHSL for approval this summer. “It’s a 10-page document,” said Lewis, adding, “I haven’t read it recently.”

Before casting a yes vote to the motion, Camp asked Lewis about coaches’ plans for handling workouts. Lewis assured board members that conditioning sessions would be limited to five students per coach, and coaches would be issued masks. Lewis also noted that students are practicing and conditioning on their own for the planned return of sports — and not under the watchful eye of high school coaches, which he suggested would be safer.

The discussion among trustees Monday night took place under a different public health landscape than the last time the board met in mid-September. Then, the test positivity rate for COVID-19 in Halifax County — that is, the number of people testing positive for the disease, out of the total number tested — was over 9 percent.

Over the past 14 days, that test positivity rate in Halifax County has dropped to 5.3 percent, said HCPS Nurse Supervisor Tina Slabach, citing CDC data. The single-day average in Halifax County on Monday was 3.2 percent.

Public health expects have generally recommended extreme caution, if not outright lockdowns, before communities reopen schools where the test positivity rate exceeds 5 percent. Since the previous school board meeting on Sept. 14, Halifax County has reported 69 new cases of COVID-19. Seven people have died in the county, including an 18-year-old recent graduate of HCHS, Justyce Reid, the first adolescent known to have died of the virus in Virginia.

Within the school system, five employees have tested positive for COVID-19, two of whom are bus drivers. Another 10 employees who have been tested came back negative. Eleven persons have gone into quarantine after possible exposure to others with the disease, including five cases involving household members.

A revised “Return to School” plan presented by Lineburg — after the original plan Sept. 14 met with no action by the School Board — spells out a staggered timetable for students to go back to class. After the high-need special education cohort, the next groups that would be readmitted for in-person learning would be homeless and English Learning students on Oct. 19, along with students who do not have access to the internet at home. “That’s a real concern for us,” said Lineburg, referring to students who do not have the option of virtual learning.

The timetable developed by the Central Office calls for pre-K through third grade students to come back to school on Nov. 3 — the first major bloc of students, numbering 1,526, to attend on the A/B alternating two-day weekly schedule. Those students could ramp up to four-day attendance by Nov. 12 under the revised calendar.

“Whatever we do, the calendar is not set in stone,” said Lineburg.

The calendar calls for two more large student cohorts, in grades 4, 5, 6 and 9, and grades 7-8 and 10-12, to return to school on Nov. 23 and Dec. 1, respectively.

One obstacle that administrators are wrestling with is bus transportation. Transportation Director Leonard Elam and interim Superintendent of Secondary Instruction Scott Worner presented a range of options that would either assign paraprofessionals to ride on buses to take temperatures before students are allowed to board the bus, or forgo testing at the bus stop and check students for fever once they arrive at school. Enlisting paraprofessionals to accompany bus drivers on their routes is expensive, while not doing so “really is inconsistent with safety concerns,” Worner conceded.

However, for various reasons, it probably will be impractical to have paraprofessionals along for the school bus runs, Worner said — many of the employees have already said they will not be available for the duty. Instead, HCPS’s chances of successfully running daily bus routes will depend on parents and students making their own arrangements to get to school.

“If every single child chose to ride the bus, we wouldn’t be able to fit them,” said Worner. However, as long as enough parents take their children back and forth to school, or hold them out for remote learning, and older students drive themselves to school, “we think we can make this work,” he added.

Tell-a-Friend | Submit a Comment

36

Comments

The board members who voted no, need to get out of their South Boston/Halifax County bubble. As board members, they are to vote in the best interest of the students,not the teachers and they are there to support the decisions of the superintendent. They are for policies and procedures. The super is for running the division. They are, in essence, placing children at harm, by not allowing them to come to school. The same for not allowing training and conditioning. Playing sports requires this in order to SAFELY be competitive. Our athletes are going to be at a great disadvantage when seasons roll around and if out of shape and weak, they are more susceptible to injury. How will the board react when lawsuits start being filled claiming neglect?


Classified Advertising

Buy and sell items in News & Record classifieds.