Community input sought for decision on start of school year

By Terry Harris

With the beginning of the school year only six weeks away, speculation on and opinions about what this year will bring due to COVID-19 is running high. To that end, Dr. Serbrenia Sims, Superintendent of Surry County Schools, sat down last week-end to talk about the three potential plans under consideration for her school system, how those plans were formed, and why, when, and how she is seeking input from all interested community members before a final plan is adopted.

“Since March, when the state shut down all schools,” Sims said, “the principals and other admins of Surry County Schools have been working diligently behind the scenes to make sure that we have safety equip and procedures that will be put in place when the students are allowed to come back into the building. How to handle the return is a difficult an unprecedented decision, and I am seeking public input. We already have responses to surveys we sent out as well as suggestions in group meetings with faculty and staff. However, as we get closer to the start of school on September 8, a final decision needs to be made, and the decision cannot be made by one person, so I am depending on the public to assist with the final decision.”

Sims explained that, first information was gathered from parents, staff members and the community and used to generate three draft scenarios for the beginning of school, which was presented to the School Board on July 14. Next, additional information will be obtained from a meeting of the Reopening of School Committee composed of parents, staff, and community representatives. This group will look at the proposed options and discuss their concerns on July 21. In step three, Dr. Sims will host a series of five reopening of school community conversations at Luther Porter Jackson Middle School at 6 p.m. for each of the county’s five districts as follows:

July 23 – Surry District – School Board representative Dr. Valencia Williams

July 27 – Dendron district – School Board representative Faye Perkins

July 28 – Claremont District – School Board representative Laura Ruffin

July 29 – Carsley District – School Board representative Marion Wilkins

July 30 – Bacon’s Castle District – School Board representative Elsie Dennis

For these meetings, all citizens are invited to attend the meeting for their district. Face masks will be mandatory, and social distancing will be practiced including attendance by a maximum of 75 people.

Finally, based on information and feedback gathered in the first three steps, a proposal will be presented to the Surry County School Board on Aug. 3.

 “I have been working with administrators for the last several weeks to ensure that we create a healthy and safe plan for the reopening of schools that meets the needs of our students and staff members,” Sims said. “We will continue to closely monitor information related to coronavirus transmission trends in and around Surry. However, we recognize that our plans need to be flexible due to the uncertainties associated with the virus.”

“Even in the face of continued uncertainty and fear, we are preparing for the 2020-2021 school year with multiple reopening scenarios in mind,” she added. “All decisions on how to reopen schools will be based on health conditions related to COVID-19. Continued guidance will be sought from the Governor’s Office, Virginia Department of Education, and health officials. Decisions to move from one phase to another will depend upon facts as they relate to COVID-19.”

Sims said that they have proposed the following three scenarios, as well as possible variations, depending on the number of students who can be served in each scenario.

 Scenario 1 – Virtual Instruction

    1. Virtual learning supplemented by Instructional Packets and Flash Drive Support
    2. PreK-Grade 1 will receive iPads
    3. Grades 2-12 will receive Chromebooks
    4. Limited in-person instruction for select groups of students
    5. Curriculum: Virtual Virginia
    6. No Extracurricular Activities will be offered
    7. No Athletic Activities will be offered

 

  1. Scenario 2 – In-person Instruction for All (multiple scenarios are offered due to space limitations)
    1. Option 1: Monday -Thursday in-person; Friday (at-home) instruction via packets or virtual assignments.
      1. All students may attend in-person.
      2. Virtual Instruction will be available for families who choose to remain virtual.
  • Shortened school days (8:00am to 2:00pm to allow for deep cleaning of buildings daily)
  1. PreK-Grade 1 will receive iPads
  2. Grades 2-12 will receive Chromebooks
  3. Mitigation strategies will be employed on buses and in schools (face masks, daily health screenings, social distancing, frequent hand washing or sanitizing)
  • Curriculum: Virtual Virginia
  • No Extracurricular Activities will be offered
  1. No Athletic Activities will be offered
  1. Option 2: Combination of in-person and virtual learning activities
    1. Student population will be split into two groups who will attend on Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday; Wednesday will be used as deep cleaning and planning days.
    2. Virtual Instruction will be available for families who choose to remain virtual.
  • Shortened school days (8:00am to 2:00pm to allow for planning and deep cleaning)
  1. PreK-Grade 1 will receive iPads
  2. Grades 2-12 will receive Chromebooks
  3. Mitigation strategies will be employed on buses and in schools (face masks, daily health screenings, social distancing, frequent hand washing or sanitizing)
  • Curriculum: Virtual Virginia
  • No Extracurricular Activities will be offered
  1. No Athletic Activities will be offered
  1. Scenario 3 – Traditional in-person instruction: In-person learning in this scenario may occur without physical distancing or face masks. Other health mitigation strategies such as frequent hand washing, and sanitizing will be employed.
    1. PreK-Grade 1 will receive iPads
    2. Grades 2-12 will receive Chromebooks
    3. Virtual Instruction will be available for families who choose to remain virtual.
    4. Curriculum: Virtual Virginia
    5. Extracurricular Activities will be offered (limited)
    6. Athletic Activities will be offered with VHSL guidance

“With each scenario, families will have a Virtual Instruction option,” Sims said. “In addition, the scenario that is selected for the start of the school year will also be significantly influenced by which phase of reopening the state is in at the beginning of the school year. Even with all the community input we are actively seeking from all concerned citizens, this will be a complicated and difficult decision to make.”

“I realize that no matter what the final decision is there will be those in support and those not in support,” she added, “but my main and primary consideration is the health and safety of students, faculty and staff as we ponder what the start of school will look like.”

“With continued intensive planning, we will be ready for the 2020-2021 school year,” Sims said, “and I believe that it is important for the community to understand the process we are implementing, with guidance from the Surry County School Board, to achieve that goal. COVID-19 dramatically changed all our lives, with some members of the community experiencing strong challenges to their physical, mental, and economic well-being.

I want to express my gratitude for our community’s patience and understanding as I know that many have questions, thoughts and are genuinely concerned about how we will return to school and what our reopening of school plans will look like this fall. This is why we are strongly urging every concerned citizen to come to the district meetings and be a part of the process.”

A decision is expected to be announced during the first week of August.

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