Prince William County School Board Chair Babur Lateef asked the board of county supervisors to dedicate $42.5 million to help the school division safely reopen schools in the fall.
Lateef presented cost estimates Tuesday, but the board did not discuss the funding request.
Before students can return to classes, educators face new challenges in class schedules, buses, cleaning and more, Lateef said. Keeping desks six feet apart and seating fewer students on a bus just scratch the surface of how many details division officials have to consider before the next school year begins.
All students won’t be able to start in-person on the first day of school due to strict needs for maintaining physical distance between everyone in school buildings, including students and employees, Lateef said.
The school division will need to purchase personal protective equipment such as masks for students, staff, nurses and food services staff, Lateef said. Other changes include needing additional bus drivers or having drivers work overtime and requiring additional custodians or having custodians work overtime, he said.
The division will also need to install enhancements such as plexiglass and purchase cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer, Lateef said.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Ralph Northam closed K-12 schools this spring. Federal and state education leaders expect schools to teach students in the fall, even if it is remotely due to the pandemic.
The school board attended a joint meeting Tuesday with the board of county supervisors to discuss the possible financial costs of implementing safety measures before school starts.
Division staff are working on developing a plan for the more than 91,500 students. The Virginia Department of Education has issued more than 130 pages of guidance called Recover, Redesign, Restart 2020.
Superintendent Steve Walts plans to present to the school board his proposed plans for the next school year in mid-July. The Virginia Department of Education is requiring all divisions to submit their plans for the 2020-2021 school year to ensure compliance with safety guidelines.
“We think that there is going to be added work to all of our teachers to develop this virtual curriculum,” Lateef said. “I think there's going to be more than enough work to go around. The real question is will there be enough money to go around?”
Lateef noted the potential for a staggered schedule — for a high school with about 2,000 students, half of students would attend school in-person Monday and Wednesday while the other half attend Tuesday and Thursdays.
That would mean huge disruptions to families, who will have to figure out child care and other impacts.
State guidance allows sports and extracurriculars to return although with strict physical distancing requirements, such as limited contact, and allowing training but not competition, Lateef said.
Students and employees will have daily health screenings and temperature checks. The division will need to implement a plan for what students do if they are displaying COVID-19 symptoms at school. Public health guidelines recommend schools designate an area for students with symptoms while waiting to go home or to seek medical attention.