Charlottesville City Schools is planning to offer five days of in-person classes next school year, though officials are still working out other logistics, including what a potential virtual component could look like.
Planning for next year is in the early stages.
“We really want to spend some time reflecting on what went really well this year because there were lots of things that went well, as well as what areas needed enhancement,” said Katina Otey, the division’s chief academic officer. “We certainly want to use what we have learned from this year as we move forward, but our main focus overall will be to prepare for a safe return to learning for students and staff.”
As the division works toward fall classes, plans are underway for a variety of summer programs to help students recover from the pandemic. The division is partnering with the Piedmont Family YMCA and University of Virginia on the offerings that will provide a mix of academic and enrichment activities that are in-person, according to a presentation at Thursday’s meeting.
For next school year, state law requires that schools offer 180 days of instruction or 990 hours, and asynchronous time won’t count as instruction time, Otey said. The day before the meeting, Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill that will require schools to provide full-time, in-person instruction as of July 1.
Virtual Virginia, a state-run program, will be available for K-12 students and a division virtual learning program could be an option for select students, according to the presentation. The division doesn’t know yet how many families might request a virtual option.
School Board member LaShundra Bryson-Morsberger said she wanted to keep elements of virtual learning that worked and not just default to Virtual Virginia.
“We don’t know where we’re going to be, and I feel like when COVID came, we were unprepared, we were doing our best and always putting out fires,” she said. “It would be nice this time around to look at all the options and be ready. I would like starting from a place of saying, ‘we will look at virtual and in-person depending on what the community wants and what we need.’”
Otey said that meeting the state requirements complicates offering the virtual option since the program this year had lots of asynchronous work time built into it. Additionally, the division is working through the logistics of a virtual program and how it would work best for students and staff while meeting the instructional time requirements.
“We’re still the beginning planning stages,” she said. “We’ll continue to explore and look at what next year might look like.”
Whether mitigation measures such as the mask requirement and social distancing will be in place depends on state and federal guidance, said Beth Baptist, the division’s coordinator of career and technical education and special projects.
“What I continue to hear is that we will still be wearing masks probably into 2022,” Baptist said. “We know that all of our students will not be vaccinated until the fall or even the winter, so I think we’ll be wearing [masks] and who knows, by that time, we as adults may need a booster. So, I anticipate that we’ll be doing this continuing at least through the fall.”
Accommodating all the students back into the school buildings will most likely require changing the social distancing rules. Currently, all desks are separated by six feet. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last month that schools could space students three feet apart as long as masks are required.
“We’ll have to look at that and see what’s happening with our numbers but, yes, we wouldn’t be able to do exactly what we want to do if we kept it at six feet, I don’t think,” Baptist said.
Board member Leah Puryear encouraged Otey and other division officials to be clear and transparent about what fall classes will look like.
“We need to understand what’s going on every step of the way, because we are in the Charlottesville city school division, and we are informed consumers and we want to know,” she said. “As long as people are a part of the process, and feel that they understand what is happening during the process, I think we as a community will avoid unnecessary pitfalls.”
In lieu of expanding the school year, division officials have said expanding the summer school offerings would be a way to support students and help them recoup learning lost over the last year.
“We really want to approach summer school from a whole-child, asset-based approach,” said Neely Minton, the division’s summer school coordinator. “Yes, we’re focused on remediation and building foundational skills especially in literacy and math in grades K-8, and we believe enrichment, movement and play are equally as important in a high quality summer school curriculum.”
For rising first through sixth-graders, the division is partnering with the YMCA to offer the Power Scholars Academy, a five-week program that will have a mix of offerings that focus on social-emotional learning and literacy in the mornings as well as fine arts and other enrichment activities in the afternoons. Power Scholars is free for families, open to about 445 students and will be held in city school buildings.
Initially the program was for students currently in kindergarten through fourth grade, but Otey said the division expanded the opportunity.
“We just felt that we needed to do something different this year after a year of COVID and this opportunity landed before us,” she said.
Minton said schools will use the division’s tiered system of supports, PALs scores, performance on SOL exams and engagement with virtual learning to determine which students to invite to the program.
The city’s parks and recreation department is also offering a camp this summer for rising first through sixth graders that will start June 21. Registration for the six one-week sessions opens April 12 for city residents.
For more information, go to charlottesville.gov/389/Summer-Camps.
Vic Garber, deputy director of parks and recreation, said camp will look different this year as they follow all federal, state and local guidelines. To help with safety, the camps will have a counselor to camper ratio of 1:6.
“We wanted that to be high, because I’ll be honest, we’re not sure what this is going to be like and we want to put safety first.”
The city’s camp costs $55 per week but Garber said the city has a strong scholarship program to help families.
For middle school students, Buford partnered with UVa for a four-week program to serve about 80 students and provide experiences that focus on underscoring math and reading growth while providing students an opportunity to explore academic interests through a socially aware lens, according to the presentation.