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Parents support hybrid school option

More city parents support a hybrid back-to-school option for the fall that would provide for four days of instruction per week, including one day in person, according to a school division survey.

However, none of the four choices provided by Suffolk Public Schools received an outright majority of support.

Under the Hybrid 1 option, supported by 41 percent of the 4,412 parents who took the survey, children would go to school one day per week and receive virtual instruction for an additional three days. Fridays would be set aside for teacher professional learning and office hours for student support and there would be no school on weekends. Students would receive teacher support on virtual learning days.

Of the other three options, 26 percent prefer to return to regular school — five-day-per-week, in-person instruction — with 24 percent wanting 100-percent online instruction. The Hybrid 2 plan that would provide for in-person instruction one day per week and four days of virtual learning — without Fridays off — received just 8 percent support.

The School Board will be presented with the division’s fall reopening plan at its meeting Thursday.

Parents were also asked about how their children would get to school under each of the options. Under the hybrid and 100 percent in person option, more than 50 percent of parents indicated their kids would be riding the bus.

Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III has said that it would take about five buses to get students to school for every one that ran a route previously, as state and federal guidelines call for one student to sit in every other seat on the bus.

During the school year that just ended, 4,922 elementary students rode on 91 buses, 2,893 middle school students rode on 80 buses and 3,023 high school students rode on 86 buses.

Based on those numbers, the fall reopening plan indicates that if 20 percent of them rode the bus, the division would need 83 buses for elementary routes, 49 buses for middle school and 51 for high school. With 25 percent riding the bus, the division would need to use 121 buses for elementary routes, 60 for middle school and 63 for high school. If 33 percent of those amounts rode the bus, it would mean a need for 160 elementary school buses, 80 for middle school and 84 for high school.

The survey did note that neither the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nor the Virginia Department of Health recommended having everyone return to school for daily instruction, and that it would also impact physical distancing measures to control COVID-19 transmission on buses and in classrooms. At a minimum, all students would be required to wear masks. Under the hybrid and in-person options, teachers and staff would be required to wear masks.

If the 100-percent virtual option is chosen, students would not receive any face-to-face instruction and would use Canvas, a learning management system that works with Google Classroom i-Ready for elementary students and Edgenuity for secondary students.

Under the division’s Continuity of Learning plan implemented after schools closed for in-person instruction in March, 59 percent of the 67 students who responded to the Continuity of Learning survey were dissatisfied with the Virtual SPS, with 30 percent saying they were satisfied and another 17 percent saying they were neutral about it.

Among the 1,227 parents participating, 42 percent indicated they were satisfied with Virtual SPS, though a nearly equal amount, 41 percent, were dissatisfied with it. Among the 640 staff members who took the survey, 55 percent were satisfied with Virtual SPS versus 16 percent who were not satisfied.

Gordon addressed issues with Virtual SPS in May, saying it had done what it was intended to do, which was to allow secondary students using the Edgenuity platform to master previously learned material.

Previous feedback on Edgenuity was concentrated on three areas, Gordon said: an extended period of time to allow students to finish the modules, audio issues and a lack of teacher support. All those issues were indicated by the Continuity of Learning survey respondents, though there was praise for the division’s quick response to putting together new learning platforms, appreciation for community input and for teachers who connected with students via Zoom or other means.

SPS Connect, which began with secondary students, will expand to all grade levels. Director of Technology John Littlefield has been working on providing age-appropriate technology for students across the division.

Fall reopening priorities, according to the division plan, will include desks at least six feet apart facing the same direction, requiring masks for staff and encouraging them for students, and limiting the use of common areas such as cafeterias, halls, gyms and other large spaces. Every building will be cleaned and sanitized throughout the day, and buses will be cleaned between runs.

Plans would be re-evaluated either Oct. 2 or Nov. 2.

A mix of division administrative staff, school administrators, counselors, parents and teachers were part of the task force teams.

Among the recommendations from the operations task force:

  • Provide barriers for front office counters and cafeteria cash register areas
  • Limit daily transportation to 25-percent capacity
  • Make face masks mandatory for staff and highly recommended for students
  • Increase cleaning and sanitizing procedures
  • Add health screening protocols

The instruction task force’s recommendations include:

Implement the Hybrid 1 class schedule, with all classes meeting daily

  • Establish grading expectations
  • Implement the Canvas platform
  • Focus instruction for elementary students on literacy and numeracy
  • Use skill-based formative assessments, not benchmark tests
  • Provide more face time for special education students

Special education students in district-wide program classes would attend school daily and ride special needs buses, with all related services being put into the classrooms and providing for an increase in hand washing and surface cleaning.

Students in the College and Career Academy at Pruden would be in class twice per week — one day for core classes, and the other for CCAP classes. Students would be able to drive or be transported to CCAP after elementary school bus runs.

The Social and Emotional Learning mental wellness taskforce recommended the following:

  • A K-12 Social and Emotional Learning, or SEL, curriculum
  • Daily class meetings or circles
  • Staff training for SEL, meetings, circles
  • Western Tidewater Community Services Board training on mental health
  • Establish support for staff with the community services board and the Bon Secours employee assistance program

As part of the plan, the division said its goal is to provide childcare during the day at designated schools for school-age children of its employees, and, if space allows, open it up to disenfranchised and other division students. The division is currently negotiating with AlphaBest and other providers for child care, and no transportation would be provided.

The next steps for the plan include continued monitoring of the reopening phases in the state, determine staffing, create bus routes and master schedules for each school, schedule teacher training and student discussions with the core task force team, distribute devices to students, determine food distribution for virtual students, let families know about the plan, and come back to the School Board with updates in August.

Gordon is recommending that the board approve the fall reopening plan as presented.

For more on the division’s fall reopening plan and the agenda for Thursday’s School Board meeting, go to https://bit.ly/0709SchoolBd. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at City Hall.