Prince William schools superintendent Steve Walts to retire in June 2021

After a review of COVID-19 metrics across the region, Prince William County Schools Superintendent Steve Walts told the school board Wednesday he’s not recommending any changes to the division's plan to bring students back into classrooms.

About 3,000 county first graders returned to in-person learning this week under the school system’s part-time hybrid plan, joining some pre-kindergarteners, kindergarteners who returned Nov. 10. In all, there are about 7,750 students back in classrooms across the county.

For November, the school division’s COVID-19 dashboard showed 207 positive coronavirus cases among staff and/or students at county schools. Last month there were 84, and in September there were 50. There were 69 new cases the week of Nov. 15-21 alone, the dashboard shows.

Like the last school board meeting on Nov. 18, Walts told board members he wasn't recommending any changes in operations, and noted that the relatively low number of students currently in classrooms as part of the reason.

"It is very important to note we will continue to monitor situation closely," Walts said.

Walts’ COVID-19 update followed a presentation by elementary school administrators describing the first few weeks of integrating pre-kindergarten and kindergarteners back into classrooms.

The principals acknowledged challenges, especially at first, but painted an overall rosy picture of having students and teachers back. Their assessments didn’t mesh, however, with those of several teachers who spoke during citizen’s comment time. They described shortages of personal protective gear, the stress of teaching virtually and in-person at the same time and fears for their health as  COVID-19 numbers continued to rise.

Several speakers, including Prince William Education Association President Maggie Hansford, asked the board to consider establishing a pandemic metric that would trigger a return to all-virtual learning. Fairfax County schools, for instance, have set one of several “acceptable thresholds” for in-person learning at an 8% COVID-19 tests-to-positivity rate in Fairfax County. The Prince William schools COVID-19 dashboard showed the county’s test positivity rate at 10.8% on Wednesday.

Occoquan District School Board member Lillie Jessie questioned the wisdom of not having set metrics set for a return to all virtual learning, saying teachers and parents should have some idea of a threshold.

Walts said his team reviews a range of metrics each day and weighs those against the school division’s ability to mitigate the virus threat in schools.

Now that the youngest students have returned, second and third grades are expected to follow Jan. 12. Students will attend two alternating days per week, with Mondays remaining all virtual.

Students in fourth through 12th grades will remain virtual through the second quarter, with a plan for fourth, fifth, sixth and ninth grades to start returning Jan. 26. Students in grades seventh, eighth, 10th, 11th, and 12th would begin returning Feb. 2.

Families can opt to continue remote learning for students.

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