by Brandon Jarvis

Update: 7/28 – The school board voted in favor of giving families an option of five-day in-person learning or a virtual academy.

At the meeting, the Superintendent told the board that every family should be prepared to go to a fully virtual schedule at any time, depending on COVID-19 case numbers. Sroufe said the 25th of August would be the latest time the board can decide on fully virtual learning while still providing CHPS with enough time to get the materials distributed to students and teachers.

At the meeting, Sroufe said that the split of students signed up for in-person or virtual-only is close to a 50/50 split. The school board voted unanimously to provide both options to familes. You can find more information below about the plan for the upcoming school year in Colonial Heights.

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As the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, school systems across Virginia have been scrambling to decide on a plan for restarting schools in the upcoming 2020-2021 academic year. While most schools in central Virginia, Richmond, Chesterfield, Hopewell, and Petersburg are choosing to send their students back 100% virtually, Colonial Heights is attempting a different approach. 

In addition to a virtual-only option, William Sroufe, the superintendent of Colonial Heights Public Schools (CHPS) has presented families with a 5-day, in-school option for students. If the school board approves giving families these two options, then Colonial Heights will be one of the few localities in central Virginia to offer a full week of in-person learning. 

“We are asking each family to choose between 2 learning settings: either a virtual academy with 100% online instruction or the traditional school setting with adjusted school hours and transportation restrictions,” said Sroufe in a letter to families.  

Option one is a virtual-only school experience for students and their families. CHPS says that the Virtual Academy will be a fully-staffed, 100% online, PreK-12 school.

CHPS staff released a broad structure for students participating in 100% online learning.  

  • At the elementary level, school staff will provide approximately 2-4 hours per day of direct, synchronous instruction (whole group, small group, and individual). Elementary students would also receive one hour per day of specialized instruction as needed, such as Gifted, ESL, or special education services. Elementary curriculum includes language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, and resource classes.
  • Middle school students will receive approximately 2-4 hours per day of direct, synchronous instruction (whole group, small group, and individual). The middle school curriculum is based on course enrollment and would include language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, and a rotation of electives.
  • High school students will receive approximately 3-5 hours per day of direct, synchronous instruction (whole group, small group, and individual).

CHPS stressed that families will need to understand and be able to support their child’s active participation in all online learning activities on the established schedule and will need to work with the division to arrange for their child to continue to take part in state assessments and other mandated educational activities.

The second option that families can choose is a five-day week of in-person learning for students. Each school will be broken up into different learning zones where students and teachers will all work and learn within one zone to reduce movement throughout the building.

Students will remain in one classroom for the majority of the day while teachers change rooms. Meals will be delivered to each learning zone and outside spaces will be divided accordingly. However, CHPS says that to the complexity of high school schedules, the high school will not operate in learning zones. The high school will be operating on an alternating even/odd block schedule with classes being two hours in length.

However, there is one caveat; CHPS can only offer a five-day week if enough student sign up for the virtual academy.

CHPS says they can only fit 10-14 students in each classroom to stay in accordance with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidance.

“Our goal is to serve every child, in-person, all week, if possible,” said Sroufe. 

If too many students sign up to receive in-person learning, then CHPS will have to shift to an alternating schedule for students to attend. The alternating will incorporate both in-person instruction and virtual learning while different students attend school on alternating days.

In their plan, CHPS says that “capacity limitations may require decisions to prioritize in-school instruction for the highest needs’ populations, such as students with disabilities, English learners, and students in primary grades.”

Several safety measures will have to be taken by CHPS to ensure that the limited capacity school buildings will be as safe as possible. To aid in covering that cost, CHPS received $504,406.81 in CARES Act funding from the federal government. “At the forefront on our decision is the safety of our students and our staff,” said Sroufe. “By limiting travel within the school, minimizing mixing of student groups in learning zones, using personal protective equipment, and following strict cleaning procedures, we will protect our school community.”

CHPS is asking parents to decide on which option they plan to enroll their students in before August 26th. “So many families are struggling with this decision,” said Lia VanderClute Tremblay, a CPHS parent and 2020 candidate for school board. “But I’m especially concerned about teachers and other employees, who don’t have much of a choice. Some of them are very concerned about picking up the virus or bringing it home to their families, and I can’t blame them.”

The school board is scheduled to meet on July 28th to discuss and vote on the plans presented by the superintendent’s office. The Scope reached out to each board member for comment but we have yet to hear back.


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