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Albemarle pushes start of school back three weeks

Albemarle students will return to school Sept. 8 after the School Board approved the 2020-21 calendar Friday.

The three-week delay will give division staff and teachers more time to plan for the resumption of in-person schooling, officials said. Teachers would return to work Aug. 18. The calendar preserves all student breaks and ends the school year June 18.

Board members chose from three calendars Friday. One calendar started the year Sept. 8, another started it Sept. 2 and the third option kept the first day of school at Aug. 19.

A slight majority of parents, students and teachers surveyed wanted a later start to the school year, while 21% said a later start would not be beneficial to students, according to results of a community survey. About 62.5% of respondents were parents, according to the division.

The School Board held its second retreat over Zoom and discussed an expansion of The Boys & Girls Club of Central Virginia and the role of school resource officers before adjourning to have professional development. No board member made a motion to enter a closed meeting or cited a section of state code before they left the public Zoom meeting.

School Board attorney Ross Holden said no motion for closed session was required because professional development does not qualify as any type of public meeting, closed, open or otherwise, and cited a section of the state’s definition of a public meeting.

Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, disagreed with Holden’s explanation that a meeting for professional development doesn’t trigger the state’s open meeting rules.

“Professional development is public business because there’s no other reason for those board members to be together as a group other than to do the public’s business,” she wrote in an email.

Virginia enters the third phase of COVID-19 recovery July 1, opening the door for school divisions to offer in-person classes for all students.

The Albemarle school division has proposed two models — a hybrid approach or all-virtual. Under the hybrid approach, students would attend school in-person some days of the week and online other days.

The division currently is surveying families about their preferred option for next school year. A decision about the exact weekly schedule is expected July 9.

Principals of county schools supported Sept. 8, according to joint letters written to the School Board.

“Once the parameters for teaching and learning crystallize, it is clear we will need to lead our staffs in very intentional academic curriculum planning, preparation of our facilities, new operational procedures, and creative scheduling,” elementary school principals wrote. “Delaying the start of school would help us proactively plan for the many scenarios we are likely to face and troubleshoot the new systems we will need to implement.”

Albemarle and Charlottesville City Schools have traditionally matched their calendars. As of Friday, the city schools have not publicly discussed a calendar change.

However, county schools Superintendent Matt Haas said he thinks the city schools will move in the same direction.

Board member Judy Le said she was concerned about adding more time to the summer break given the research about learning loss during school closures.

“We’re also adding two weeks to the school year,” Haas said, adding that division staff members are just starting to make plans about how to recover learning in this school year and beyond.

“I understand the concern we’ve gotten from some parents that it seems like just kicking the can down the road, that it’s a further delay,” board member David Oberg said. “I really substantively don’t believe that that’s what we’re doing.”

Oberg said a letter from the division’s principals in favor of pushing back the start of school sealed his decision.

Board member Katrina Callsen voted against the Sept. 8 start, preferring the Sept. 2 draft calendar.

The week difference would give the division more flexibility later in the school year, given the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, she said.

“I don’t think as much as you can prepare for things I think we’re going to run into issues once we start up this,” she said. “For me the week is balancing the need to get kids in school, realizing that we need them there soon, and giving us time to work out some of the quirks while still providing a delayed start.”


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