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Hope, doubts as preK-3 students go back

South Boston News
The Halifax County School Board recognized the school nursing staff for their tireless work to keep others safe this school year. From left, Tina Slabach, MSN RN, school nurse coordinator, and Angela Brankley, RN, Cluster Springs Elementary nurse, with Superintendent of Schools Mark Lineburg and chairman Kathy Fraley.
SoVaNow.com / February 11, 2021


The Halifax County School Board backed a timetable set by Superintendent Mark Lineburg to reopen schools Feb. 16 for primary grades and special education students. At their monthly meeting Monday night, trustees discussed plans for all students to return in March, and teachers presented what their virtual teaching days look like.

The return of students is broken into a three-phase plan:

Phase 1 allows the return of preK-3 and high-need SPED students on Tuesday for two days a week of in-person learning. School days will operate on a hybrid A/B schedule. Students who attend Monday and Wednesday will learn at home on Tuesday and Thursday. Students who attend Tuesday and Thursday will have virtual learning on Monday and Wednesday.

Fridays are reserved for teachers to prepare future instruction, one-on-one support, creating take-home packets and recording grades.

Phase 2, sixth and ninth grade, will have approximately 23 percent of students returning to the classroom on March 8. Phase 3 includes the rest of the student population returning to school on April 12.

However, after some discussion, the school board approved a motion for fourth, fifth, sixth, and ninth grades to return on March 8.

Families are not mandated to send their children back to school buildings. Students are required to take part in school via distance learning.

“The option to send your student to school is by choice,” said chairman Kathy Fraley.

While some faculty members, bus drivers, and cafeteria staff have received the first round of the vaccine, there is still a risk of spreading the coronavirus. HCPS held a vaccination clinic on Jan. 30 in which 215 employees received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“If a teacher did not get the vaccine, they could potentially expose a child that could carry the virus home to their family,” said ED-8 trustee Walter Potts. “I do not have a child in the school system, and I’m glad I don’t.”

“I agree with Mr. Potts. I’ve heard from many teachers who do not want to go back to in-class instruction due to tending to elderly parents and family members expecting a newborn child,” said trustee Jay Camp, ED-4.

“We first offered the vaccine to those who were 65 years and older, then special education teachers, and then preK-3 teachers and paraprofessionals,” said Tina Slabach, school nurse coordinator.

A spreadsheet of vaccines administered to preK-3 teachers showed that 45 have been vaccinated with the first dose. That total represents seven teachers at South Boston Elementary, three at the Early Learning Center, nine at Cluster Springs, four at Sinai, six at Clays Mill, six at Meadville, five at Sydnor Jennings, and five at Scottsburg.

Thirty-five employees declined or did not answer the survey to enroll those who want the shots (15 SBES, one SBELC, eight Cluster Springs, four Sinai, zero Clays Mill, one Meadville, two Sydnor Jennings, and one Scottsburg).

Following the next vaccination clinic, ED-3 trustee Sandra Garner Coleman requested a summary of teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and others to have a better grasp of what percentage of staff has been vaccinated.

“Receiving the vaccine is personal choice, but we will enforce wearing a face mask,” said Lineburg. “Wearing a face mask is enforced by the dress code policy, just as wearing a necktie.”

The superintendent expressed that, by following the guidance of the Center for Disease Control, the Virginia Department of Health and the Department of Education, Halifax County Public Schools is confident it can hold schools safely amid the pandemic.

“We can open the schools to the students if we follow all the appropriate measures: social distance of six feet, wearing a face mask, frequent hand washing and keeping the facilities clean,” said Lineburg.

The hybrid attendance schedule is designed to help maintain a low number of students in each classroom and allow social distancing on school buses. Through survey responses, the HCPS Central Office has determined that 3,315 students out of 4,655 students enrolled in the system would like to participate in the hybrid plan.

“We have 115 buses and can transport 2,460 students,” said Scott Worner, director of secondary education. This will have to be monitored with a margin of error if hybrid student population increases.

Currently there are 1,544 students enrolled in grades preK-3. A total of 886 students have opted to return for in-class instruction. During Phase 1, approximately 28 percent of students will be in the elementary school buildings per day during the A/B schedule.

Out of all seven elementary schools, Sydnor Jennings saw nearly all of the student population wanting to attend school on the two-day hybrid schedule — 162 hybrid, 19 virtual. At Cluster Springs, the breakdown is 329 hybrid/203 virtual, South Boston, 201 hybrid/ 417 virtual, Meadville 120 hybrid/56 virtual, Sinai 120 hybrid/83 virtual, Scottsburg 117 hybrid/115 virtual, and Clays Mill 97 hybrid/40 virtual.

Halifax County Middle School Principal Dawn Miller said 123 students there have indicated they want to take part in hybrid learning, while 175 students choose to remain solely virtual. The school is still awaiting 29 responses.

HCHS Principal Michael Lewis said 140 students at the high school have opted for hybrid learning, 152 will remain virtual, and the school is awaiting 100 more responses.

Lewis encouraged parents to still reach out and let the high school know if their student would like the hybrid or all-virtual learning platform.

As HCPS embarks on the first large-scale return of students to school buildings, educators will know more about any adjustments they may need to make in their plans.

“With two weeks of Phase 1 in action, this will allow time for more health matrix data along with data from the first implementation of the hybrid platform,” said Lineburg.

As of Monday night’s meeting positive COVID-19 cases in Halifax County were down by half from the equivalent period in the previous month. On Jan. 11 the community test positivity rate for the Southside Health District was 15.5 percent. On Feb. 8 the test positivity rate had fallen to 8.1 percent.

“We’ve seen some improvement in the positivity numbers, which is good,” said Lineburg.

All staff, students, and bus drivers will be required to wear a face mask at all times, except for when eating meals. Breakfast will consist of prepacked “grab and go” bags for students to pick up as they enter the building. Lunch will be delivered to the classrooms — although, this will vary from school to school depending on the size of the school.

Teachers will videostream their lessons daily for students who are not in the building. All preK-3 students are expected to participate in lessons daily regardless of location. Music, art, library, and guidance will be scheduled when students are home on their opposite days of face-to-face instruction.

Spring break was brought up as another option for students to obtain more face-to-face instruction and to catch up on assignments. An idea to do away with Spring Break, floated by ED-7 trustee Keith McDowell, was shot down quickly, due to the fact that the school calendar had already been adopted by the board in August.

“Once the calendar is set, families and employees have set the week aside,” said Lineburg.

Three teachers representing each level of education shared what their daily life now looks with virtual learning. Countless hours are spent searching for appropriate videos to use for additional learning resources. Numerous follow-up emails and phone calls are made to ensure that students are completing assignments. Printed assignments are sent home in packets for students who have no internet access.

“The initial struggle of learning Canvas” — the online classroom platform — “is now a breeze, if we could just get the students to turn their cameras on,” said Catherine Glass, an eighth grade teacher. Glass added there is much better rapport than early on with parents, who are generally very supportive.

“Chromebooks are now attached to the hip as we jump from the schoolhouse and into the privacy of your house,” said Jana Daniel, a Sydnor Jennings second grade teacher. “I am a veteran teacher and became a first year teacher all over again, feeling stressed, depressed, and worried.

“This has been the most challenging virtual year of life as well as for parents, educators, and our families,” said Daniel.

“Virtual learning may never end, but we will be happy to have three, 12, or 20 students when they return to the classroom,” said Beth Layne, a high school English teacher. “We teachers will continue to strive to reach every student in Halifax County.”

Layne said teaching virtually has been one of the biggest challenges of her career.



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Comments

Per the governors order, if you have a health condition, you are not required to wear a mask. The idiot super should be reminded of this. The china flu is a new flu and people will get sick and sadly some will die. That is life. REOPEN SCHOOL, REOPEN VIRGINIA!

Comments

ALERT QANON ALERT ^^^ say no to control lol say yes to facts... masks prevent the spread and viral load. Yes u idiot im speaking to you .. mask isn't about control its about looking out for others.. foolish - if we had masked up from the start this would have been behind us already. Control lol u mos-def outta control. VA open up the library so this guy can get an education on civility, community, safety, virology and airborne contagions


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