Loudoun School Board Backs Hybrid Learning Plan to Start Fall Classes

The Loudoun County School Board has set the parameters for the start of the 2020-21 school year, endorsing the framework for a hybrid offering of in-person classes and distance learning beginning Sept. 8.

The action came just before 1 a.m. Tuesday, at the tail end of a 9 hour meeting that featured four hours of public comment.

Superintendent Eric Williams and division administrators have been working with parents, teachers and student for weeks to develop a safe and effective return to class amid the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. They ultimately settled on a plan to provide every student with two days of in-school, in-person instruction and three days of distance learning each week.

It’s an alternative that has found few fans.

In recent weeks, vocal parents have pushed for fulltime in-person classes, with an option for families to opt for fulltime distance learning if they have health or safety worries. Their concerns range from inability to acquire or afford childcare for the three at-home school days each week, a poor experience with distance learning during the end of the 2020 school year, and beliefs that students are well equipped to handle the virus should they become infected. Results of Parent Survey

Meanwhile, vocal teachers pushed for a 100 percent distance learning model, at least to open the school year. They expressed confidence that the distance learning offerings will be far improved compared with the hastily created program put in place last spring. They also worry about the health risks of in-person instruction, to themselves and their families.  Results of Staff Survey.

Many School Board members also said they wished for fulltime in-person classes. However, administrators said, even if a large number of students choose fulltime at-home learning, that option was not possible without ignoring physical distancing guidelines that could limit some classrooms to a few as 10 students.

Three members made a push for that option, with Jeff Morse (Dulles) urging administrators to be guided by the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which advocates the goal of having all students physically present in school. Those recommendations differ from the positions of local and state health officials and CDC guidelines.

John Beatty (Catoctin) proposed striking the hybrid model and directing the staff to work toward offering the options of fulltime in school or fulltime distance learning. His motion failed, with support from only Morse and Harris Mahedavi (Ashburn).

With the approved framework of the plan to offer a blend of in-class and at-home learning in hand, administrators will now work to build class and bus schedules, and prepare for teacher training.

Starting next week, parents will be asked to make commitments for either hybrid instruction or fulltime distance learning that will be binding for the first semester of the school year. Administrators are planning an electronic town hall meeting on July 8 to explain the program to parents and answer questions. Details on that program are to be circulated next week. The decision deadline will be July 13.

Teachers also will be asked if they are willing to conduct in-person classes.

Once the participation numbers are known, it will take four weeks to build class schedules and another three weeks to schedule the low capacity bus runs that will allow for physical distancing during the trips.

Teachers will return in late August for three weeks of training and planning.

The School Board also approved a delay in the class start date to Sept. 8, the Tuesday after Labor Day, to provide more time for preparation.

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