Loudoun School Board Pushes to Get More Students in Class

With three weeks left to prepare for the opening of a historically challenging school year, the School Board is continuing to wrestle with ways to get more students into their classrooms, even if only for one day each week.

Loudoun schools are scheduled to open Sept. 8, with students and teachers logging in for a program of virtual learning. The 100 percent online education program was adopted after the School Board abandoned earlier plans to offer a hybrid option that would allow live, in-person instruction two days a week. 

Earlier this month, administrators approved the first exception to that will allow approximately 900 students at the Monroe Advance Technology Academy to participate in a hybrid model. The move was designed to address concerns that hands-on instruction was critical for many of the MATA courses, ranging from auto service technology and culinary arts to welding and veterinary science.

During Tuesday’s School Board meeting, members pushed for more students to have the chance to get classroom time. 

Targeted students included those who qualify for preschool programs, special education students in the Aligned Standards of Learning and in self-contained programs, and students who are English language learners. School Board members said those were students who were least likely to succeed with at-home, online learning. 

But getting them into the classroom won’t be easy, administrators told them. 

The largest challenge is lining up enough teachers in each specialty to return to the classroom.

In a survey earlier this summer, nearly 3,700 teachers said they preferred to participate only in online learning this fall. However, fewer than 300 instructors so far have filed the paperwork to qualify for formal exemptions based on factors such as personal or family health conditions. 

During Tuesday’s meeting, School Board members, Superintendent Eric Williams and his staff discussed how to best balance those teacher preferences with the classroom needs. If a large number of teachers opt to take unpaid leave rather than return to the classroom, administrators will attempt to hire certified instructors on short-term contracts. Several School Board members acknowledged that in an already tight education hiring market, gearing up a full hybrid learning program would be unlikely if all those teachers opt out of a return to school, but there was clear reluctance to “strong arm” them with threats such as termination. 

Board members also hit roadblocks when trying to set deadlines for the additional hybrid learning programs to ramp up. Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge) proposed a phase-in schedule with MATA student starting hybrid learning Sept. 8, preschool students getting some in-person instruction starting Sept. 14; ESL students returning for one or two days a week by Sept. 21, and special education programs bringing students into class by Oct. 13. In the end, only the MATA and special education programs had their start dates locked in. 

Administrators will return next month with proposals to begin offering hybrid preschool and ESL classes, schedules that would allow ample time to identify staffing, compete training, build bus routes and other tasks.

Another push is underway to ensure students will have the internet connections they need to participate in online classes. The school district has acquired another 600 hotspot devices—adding to the 1,500 purchased in the spring—that will be issued to students without adequate connections. However, those require good cellular connections, which aren’t available in all parts of the county.  The school staff is working with a contractor to set up portable cell towers that can be used to fill in some gaps. Plans also are being made to allow students to set up their workspaces in the parking lots of libraries and schools to tap into wi-fi connections there. 

On Wednesday, Williams released this update to parents, students and staff members.

2 thoughts on “Loudoun School Board Pushes to Get More Students in Class

  • 2020-08-19 at 5:18 pm

    Pushes who? What a joke!

    Open the schools, or better yet, give parents education vouchers that they can redeem at the private school, pod, homeschool of their choice.

  • 2020-08-19 at 11:31 pm

    AAAHh……I don’t have kids so why should I pay taxes for your kids?
    I don’t think I should pay taxes anymore, at least not for anyone’s stinkin’ vouchers.
    Why didn’t you send your kids to private schools TO BEGIN WITH?
    Now you want to jump to what you perceive as higher ground- I see.
    Here’s an idea for you: Move to China and exist in your personal bubble. Stay there too.

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