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During the upcoming second semester, schools will continue offering the already established mix of in-person and virtual learning while also allowing more in-person days for a small number of high school students.

The matter was up for discussion during a Monday school board meeting after staff was recently directed to examine the possibility of increasing in-person learning at high schools. Some board members previously expressed interest in exploring the possibility of offering high school students four in-person learning days per week.

Currently, students either attend school two days a week with three days of remote learning or participate completely remotely. Additionally, 65 special education students attend school in-person four days a week.

Robert Hauman, the schools’ director of curriculum and instruction, explained there are 1,149 students at Culpeper County High School and 1,422 students at Eastern View High School. In the first semester, about half of those students are attending in-person two days a week.

Those students are split into two “tracks” that see half of the students going to school Monday and Tuesday while the other half goes Thursday and Friday. While there is room to safely increase daily attendance, Hauman explained that combining the two tracks for a schedule in which these students would receive four in-person learning days presents issues. For example, he said classes generally consist of about 15 properly spaced students. If both tracks were combined, certain classrooms would reach capacity and some students would go to an “overflow area” of the school to participate remotely.

“At that point, they might as well just be at home,” Hauman said.

Therefore, Hauman told the school board that “we’re pleased with where we are.”

“We’d recommend sticking with the model that we have for second semester at the high school level and give the schools permission to continue to add two-day or four-day for some folks who might really need the time, particularly seniors, to the four-day model,” he said.

Hauman said principals see the need for more in-person learning and have asked for the discretion to allow certain students to attend school two or four days per week. Hauman noted that a lot of Virginia school divisions are implementing full-remote learning and Culpeper’s current model “is much more than several divisions have even attempted.”

“Maintaining the current model would allow them to selectively add students until they reach their mitigation limits or until we get the green light to return,” he said.

Even if four days of in-person learning were offered, Hauman said not many students or parents would be interested. He explained robocalls, emails and personal invitations offering more in-person learning have been sent.

“Believe it or not, there are not droves of people beating down their door to come back to in-person,” he said.

That may change, he added, when parents see report cards from the first semester.

“We know sometimes kids don’t always tell everything as truthfully as we think they should. Some students’ parents are surprised when we call up and say ‘they’re not doing any work,’ and the parent tells us ‘they’re absolutely doing work, I see them on the computer all the time.’

That’s not necessarily what’s happening, so when grades do come out we might see a lot more requests to come back,” Hauman said.

Any significant shifts in how students learn during the second semester, Hauman said, would result in adjustments for families, school staff, the transportation department and food service personnel.

He added that many students have said they like two days of in-person learning as they still see teachers while managing their own schedules. Many students, he noted, have started working and are watching their younger siblings.

With all that in mind, Hauman said the school system’s ultimate goal is to increase in-person learning and eventually return to “normal school” – “whatever normal means.”

Superintendent Dr. Tony Brads agreed, saying that the school system’s goal, while keeping safety in mind, is for students to receive five days of in-person instruction.

“Don’t panic out there folks. I’m not saying that’s immediate…When it’s possible – gradual – that’s our goal,” he said.

Brads added that online learning may continue being an option for some time “and we have to continue to improve on that aspect.”

School Board member Marshall Keene noted that he previously expressed interest in returning remote learners to the classroom. Hearing the recommendation, he said “it’s very obvious just looking through your presentation that there’s so many different variables.” Currently, he said “I think what we’re doing now is perfect” and the schools “don’t need to change what we’re doing…as long as we gradually progress to that five-day a week schedule next year.”

“Gradual progress back to five days a week. I know that’s ultimately my goal. I know that’s ultimately most of the community’s goal,” he said.

Keene added that the possibility of getting some of the students who need extra time in classrooms back to school “is a huge step for progression for our school division.”

School Board member Barbara Brown agreed, saying she is “ecstatic” about Hauman’s recommendation.

“I am very much in support of this and it seems to be what the people who run the system for us want…I think y'all are right on track,” she said.

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