The Albemarle County School Board voted unanimously in favor of the division’s plans to offer a full-time in-person option next school year alongside an all-virtual school.
The division is required by the state to provide five days a week of in-person instruction during the 2021-22 school year. Thursday’s vote was the first unanimous reopening-related decision since July, when the board started to weigh whether and how to reopen schools. Board member Katrina Callsen did not attend Thursday’s meeting.
Patrick McLaughlin, the division’s chief of strategic planning, has led the planning efforts.
“So, thank you, Dr. McLaughlin, Dr. Haas and the entire team,” board Chairman Graham Paige said. “So you will now be moving forward with more planning for next year.”
Two people spoke during public comment before the board’s vote — a departure from previous meetings when reopening decisions were on the agenda. The 2021-21 school year begins Aug. 23.
The division opened up in-person classes to all students in mid-March. Currently, preschoolers through third-graders can attend in person four days a week while students in fourth grade and older can attend in-person classes two days a week.
Schools Superintendent Matt Haas said last month that the division wouldn’t change the frequency of in-person classes for this school year but would offer five days of classes next year, as well as a separate virtual school.
Division leaders detailed the plan to do that last week during a special meeting and answered questions from board members. The motion in favor of the plan was adopted Thursday with no discussion.
Charlottesville school officials said in early April that they also are planning for five days of in-person classes, in line with the new state law.
To offer five days of in-person instruction, additional staff most likely will be hired to support smaller class sizes with three feet of social distancing in place, among other changes, according to the county presentation. Mask-wearing and other mitigation measures, such as ventilation and air filters, will continue to be in place, according to last week’s presentation.
Since then, the Pfizer vaccine was approved for use for ages 12 to 15, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said most fully vaccinated people do not need to wear a mask inside or outside.
Eileen Gomez, the division’s COVD-19 coordinator, said vaccinations for students will start next week at Albemarle High School. Staff members are working to schedule clinics at other high schools and middle schools, as well, she said.
As opposed to this year, the division’s new virtual school will be separate from other schools; however, students can still participate in extracurriculars and receive additional support from their home school.
At the start of Thursday’s meeting, the board voted to appoint Reed Gillespie as principal of the virtual school. Gillespie is currently an assistant principal at Western Albemarle High School.
About 7% of families have said they would want an all-virtual option, according to survey results presented at the meetings. About 20% of Black families who responded said they would opt for the virtual school.
Starting June 1, families can pick which option — in-person or the virtual school — they want for the 2021-22 school year.
To assist families with the decision, principals will host town halls this month. The division also is building a website for the virtual school and holding information sessions. For more information, go to k12albemarle.org/our-division/virtual-campus.