At tomorrow evening’s School Board meeting, I will be recommending a move to Stage 3 of our Return to School plan. During their meeting, the Board will vote on whether or not to proceed to approve my recommendation, which provides for a modest increase in the number of students who will be invited to receive face-to-face instruction beginning on Monday, November 9.
My recommendation is based upon regular consultations with our local health department; the outstanding work of our employees in keeping our facilities safe and clean; the input I have received from parents, students and employees; and the importance of prioritizing the learning needs of our most vulnerable students.
The current instructional environment in our schools and in schools across our nation are driving ever wider, the gap between the haves, the have less, and the have nots. Research tells us that rich learning experiences, as early as possible in the life of a child, can lead to improvements in a child’s survival, their health, growth, and cognitive and social development.
The changes I recommend would apply to all students in pre-K through third grade, who will be offered face-to-face instruction two days per week. Stage 3 will continue to provide in-person access to our students without adequate internet access, more of our special education students, English Learners, and students who have struggled to succeed in the current virtual learning environment.
An expansion in the number of students invited to come into schools also is an expansion of parental choice. Parents of students who would be invited into our schools will have the option to decide whether virtual or in-person instruction is in the best health, safety, and learning interests of their child.
The number of students in our schools could increase to approximately 2,500 per day, or roughly 20% of our student population. This measured approach will allow us to continue to observe the public health guidance on keeping students and staff safe during the pandemic while also improving our ability to support students most in need.
If the Board approves, parents of children in grades Pre-K through third grade will receive a survey asking them to notify our school division whether they intend to send their child(ren) to school or if they prefer to keep their child(ren) in an all-virtual learning model. To assist with our health and safety and instructional planning, I urge parents to complete the survey as soon as possible.
Based upon our online surveys, reports from our principals who regularly talk with teachers and classified staff, and my own weekly visits to our schools, I am absolutely confident that we can safely expand in-person instruction.
The director of the Thomas Jefferson Health District, Dr. Denise Bonds, advises us that, “The value of in-person education for pre-K students and students in grades K-3 is critical to this age group’s overall development and growth. Providing the opportunity for students to return at this time is important and the current public health conditions in the community support a decision that enables parents and guardians to send their children to school for in-person instruction.”
Our School Board will be discussing my recommendation and deciding on the instructional model we will follow during their meeting tomorrow evening. You can access the live stream of this meeting through the ACPS website.
Our experience since July 30 has shown that a measured approach is the right step, and it tells us that this is the right time to take this step forward.
Dr. Matthew Haas