Back-to-School Challenges Mount as More Push for Return to Classrooms

On Tuesday, more Loudoun students returned to the classroom for two days of in-person classes each week—and the School Board continued to wrestle with how and when to expand the hybrid learning model to all students who want it. 

In-person classes for students with disabilities began Oct. 13, sending approximately 850 students back to class two days a week as part of the hybrid learning plan. This week, 1,700 English language learners, 165 pre-kindergarteners, and 10,224 K-2 students were offered in-person classes as part of the hybrid program. Under current plans, subject to a vote scheduled for Nov. 10 to move forward with the third phase of hybrid expansion, 8,300 students in grades 3-5 who selected the hybrid learning option along with seniors at the Academy of Engineering and Technology and the Academy of Science are slated to return to class two days a week starting Dec. 1.

Going into Tuesday’s meeting, administrators were recommending that in-class learning not begin for more than 22,000 middle and high school students until the start of the second semester on Jan. 21. 

However, it remains unclear whether there would be space—and perhaps teachers—to accommodate all the hybrid learning requests. That has the staff running simulations on a new “concurrent teaching” model that would blend hybrid and distance learning students in the same class with a single teacher. That proposal has raised concerns from parents that distance learning programs, in effect, would evolve into having students simply watching livestreams of in-person classrooms. 

Superintendent Eric Williams is requesting a School Board vote on Nov. 10 on a series of options to accommodate the hybrid learning requests. Those include reducing the distance between desks from a minimum of 8 feet to as little as 4 feet—allowing more students per classroom—or reducing the number of in-person class days offered, or creating a lottery system to determine which students will get the available seats.

On Tuesday night—as during every School Board meeting over the past few months—frustrated, angry and tearful parents and students lined up to urge a return to in-person learning, saying the online classes are failing them. 

Also, the School Board was presented with the results of a student survey that reflected high levels of stress, boredom, worry and unhappiness among distance learning students, especially at the high school level.

Two weeks ago, a narrow School Board majority rejected a motion to push administrators to get secondary students in class more quickly. 

Another push to accelerate the schedule was turned back on Tuesday night, although for the first time a five-member majority showed support for considering it. Only a procedural requirement for six votes prevented a proposal to begin secondary hybrid learning before the December holidays from coming to a vote.

Also on Tuesday, the division announced the second case of a positive COVID-19 test that, because of close contact with the infected individual while on campus, will require multiple students to quarantine at home for 14 days. 

There have been numerous cases of students and staff members testing positive for the coronavirus since limited in-person classes began at the Monroe Advanced Technical Academy on Sept. 8, but so far only two resulted in close-contact exposures of others on campus. The school division, almost daily, sends notices to parents and students reporting instances when staff members have tested positive and are isolating at home. Each case is investigated by the Loudoun County Health Department, which determines if there has been potential exposure to others. To date, more than 50 employees have been quarantined after potential workplace exposures. 

Such notices are expected to continue as more students and teachers return to class. Requirements for cloth face coverings and desks spaced at least 6 feet apart are designed to limit interactions that could be deemed close contact under the public health guidance, thus limiting instances of quarantining. Only more widespread exposure would result in administrators and the health department sending home entire classes or temporarily closing a school, under the current procedures. 

3 thoughts on “Back-to-School Challenges Mount as More Push for Return to Classrooms

  • 2020-10-29 at 5:00 pm
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    We, as Loudoun parents, continually ask, why Williams does not understand that distant learning is failing? We point out that students’ mental health is failing.

    The answer is clear. Williams and his merry band do not care about Loudoun students. They have another agenda.

    They should all resign.

    We want our students to be the focus.

    • 2020-11-02 at 6:13 am
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      Remote learning has been great for my daughter. She is flourishing and her mental health is far from failing. As far as I’m concerned LCPS has done a great job responding to a very trying time.

  • 2020-10-30 at 11:25 am
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    “On Tuesday night—as during every School Board meeting over the past few months—frustrated, angry and tearful parents and students lined up to urge a return to in-person learning, saying the online classes are failing them.

    Also, the School Board was presented with theresults of a student surveythat reflected high levels of stress, boredom, worry and unhappiness among distance learning students, especially at the high school level.”

    Yet they do nothing. The SB and Admin have failed. They don’t care about our kids. It’s all about them on a power trip political agenda. They’re destroying lives and causing harm to families. They just don’t care.

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