With clock ticking, School Board votes to ask parents on back-to-school preference

Culpeper Schools Superintendent Anthony Brads updates the School Board Monday night on the task force's recommendation on returning to learning next month.

With the clock ticking until the first day of school, the Culpeper County School Board on Monday night could not come with up a firm decision on what learning in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis will look like — either in-class, online or some story of hybrid — when classes resume next month.

With classes scheduled to begin Aug. 24 — and any plan having to be submitted to the Virginia Department of Education by Aug. 3 — the School Board debated late into the night whether classes should go to school on a hybrid Monday-Tuesday or Thursday-Friday schedule for different blocks, completely online or to have all students in school four days a week.

After several failed motions, the board finally voted unanimously have parents and teachers to provide an intent form — not just a survey — as to whether they want four days of traditional learning each week, a blend of Monday-Tuesday or Thursday-Friday in-school instruction, or have their children learn virtually. That passed 7-0 after several back-and-forth motions. The board will then come back July 27 to finalize a plan.

Central office staff did not say on Monday when the intent form would be released or how long families and staff would have to complete it.

After nearly four hours of updates and debates, Stevensburg School Board member Marshall Keene made a motion to have staff formulate a plan to have students return four days a week, with an option allowing parents to let their students attend virtually only. The plan would also allow teachers the option of providing online learning only. However, any plan would have been based on “if the numbers support it” after a task force presented a required questionnaire to parents and staff. The board voted that down 4-3.

Catalpa District Rep. Barbara Brown made a motion that would have allowed parents to decide whether to have their kids in school two days a week — with some going Monday-Tuesday and others Thursday-Friday or having their children learn online only. Teachers would have had to work five days a week, whether they’re teaching in-class or virtually. That motioned failed 6-1.

School Superintendent Anthony Brads, showing obvious frustration that the board had not considered any of the task force’s recommendations, said the board needs to be specific in what to ask of parents and teachers.

“This needs to be a board decision to direct staff in a specific way,” Brads said.

Keene came back with another motion offering three options to parents, with the board coming back on July 27 to make its final decision after getting more numbers from parents and staff. That motion failed due to a lack of a second for discussion.

More motions continued to fail throughout the night before a decision was made shortly before 10:30 p.m.

School Board members said they received emails from parents as well as teachers concerned about returning to class as COVID-19 infections continue to rise. Then again, School Board members said they’ve also heard from plenty of parents who want their children to return physically to class.

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