The Prince William County School Board will hold a special meeting tomorrow, Tuesday. Jan. 12, to discuss return-to-classroom plans after Superintendent Steve Walts last week presented a new model that would keep most older students virtual until after spring break.
Last Wednesday's board meeting spanned nearly nine hours, included more than 60 often-emotional public comments from parents and teachers and ended at 2:50 a.m. with board members voting to hold the special meeting to consider Walts' plan, which School Board Chairman Babur Lateef called a "radical" departure from what parents expected and had been preparing for.
The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. and will be broadcast live here.
The school board isn't required to hold citizen comment time during special meetings, but by a majority vote last week, decided to allocate one hour during Tuesday's meeting for public comments from those who have not previously spoken on the matter.
At the board's last meeting, the majority of speakers were teachers, who offered stories of co-workers who have died of COVID-19, worries of bringing the virus home to their families and overall a call for the county to return to all-virtual for the time being.
One school counselor said she's watched the school board receive information on skyrocketing cases and metrics and heard the follow ups "with rainbows and sunshine about how infallible our mitigation measures are." But teachers feel they're not being considered.
"Sharing data doesn't seem to work," she said. "And sharing our feelings definitely doesn't work."
Walts' new plan, the school division said on its website, comes "with the hope we see a decreasing trend in COVID-19 that lowers the overall risk by that time, particularly with the coming of the vaccine."
Under the latest hybrid model, fourth, fifth, sixth and ninth grades are tentatively planned to begin returning April 20. Seventh, eighth, 10th, 11th, and 12th grades are tentatively planned to start returning April 27.
These return dates begin two weeks beyond the spring break, allowing for the monitoring of any increase in COVID-19 positivity that may occur as a result of the break.
Families can still opt to keep students all virtual.
Current start times would continue for all grades until the April 20 return. At that time, based on the current anticipated in-person enrollment, start times would revert to an approximate 7:30 a.m. start for high school; middle schools would start at approximately 8:15 a.m., and elementary bells times will vary with most starting around 9 a.m., according to Walts' plan.
Walts said additional student support methods will be explored for grades not returning to classrooms, including in-person and virtual tutoring options after school and on Mondays. Vulnerable learners will continue to attend in-person four days a week. Pre-K through third grade and CTE will also continue to attend in-person on days as previously planned.
"Lower community spread, brought by vaccinations, moving beyond winter and flu season, will hopefully help mitigate this risk and allow us to return to secondary in-person in April," the school division said.