As the Charlottesville school division prepares for a virtual start Tuesday, officials are starting to eye the next big decision — what will learning look like in the second quarter?
When the School Board decided in July to start with all-virtual classes for the first nine weeks, school officials didn’t outline a plan for the following quarters. Now, a community advisory committee made up of public health officials, medical professionals, teachers, parents and others will review local data about COVID-19, state and federal guidance and other factors, such as the division’s ability to transport students to school, in order to make a recommendation.
Schools Superintendent Rosa Atkins said at Thursday’s School Board meeting that the committee could recommend continuing virtual learning or propose a hybrid model. The division had proposed two different hybrid options this summer — one with two days of in-person classes for all students and one with four days of in-person classes for elementary students and two days for the higher grades.
“So what we need to do in this community is to use the wisdom of many different groups to help us determine when we can safely return students to school and in what method,” said Beth Baptist, the division’s coordinator of career and technical education and special projects. “We know we would like to have the hybrid model and that’s what we’re moving toward, but one of the big questions is when we can do that.”
Those interested in serving on the committee should apply at charlottesvilleschools.org/committees by Wednesday. The division wants to convene the first meeting by Sept. 24 with a report to the School Board by Oct. 1 and Nov. 5, if needed.
The committee was one of three superintendent advisory panels detailed Thursday. The other two will focus on school security and reviewing building names. More information and applications for those committees also are available at charlottesvilleschools.org/committees.
When school starts Tuesday, those in division buildings, including children and staff in child care programs, will be required to wear masks or an acceptable face covering, according to the policy the School Board approved. The mask policy mirrors what the Albemarle County School Board adopted last month.
Also during Thursday’s meeting, Baptist, who is working with the Thomas Jefferson Health District, reviewed the latest COVID-19 case numbers with the board.
As of Aug. 31, the city’s percent of positive cases was at 9.7%, up from 3.8% the week before. Those numbers were available through a Virginia Department of Health dashboard, which is not accessible to the public.
A VDH spokeswoman said last month that the department did not intend to make the dashboard public.
“Until we are at a sustained 5%, I’m going to be reluctant to go back,” School Board Chairwoman Jennifer McKeever said. “It’s a baseline. To me, a pretty high baseline. These ups and downs are just not where I feel comfortable at sending my children, your children and our staff.”
The health district’s percent positive rate for Aug. 31 was 7.3% after eight days of consecutive increases. Over the last month, the positive rate has fluctuated while slowly inching up after hitting a low of 5% on Aug. 6.
In Charlottesville, cases climbed sharply in the last week of August after nearly a month of relatively flat day-to-day increases. As of Friday, the seven-day average of daily case increases stood at 19.
“At this point, I’m not going to let us just accept the argument that it’s not all [University of Virginia] students because that is literally the only thing that’s changed over the past two weeks,” McKeever said.
McKeever and other board members also wanted to know how exactly UVa students will be included in the district’s case numbers. The university is tracking positive cases identified through Student Health and Wellness or a UVa clinic on its own dashboard.
On Friday, UVa reported an additional 27 positive cases, with students accounting for 26 of them. Since Aug. 17, 161 students have tested positive and the university has reported a total of 201 cases.
Kathryn Goodman, spokeswoman for the health district, said they are working on processes to ensure that the case numbers reflect what’s happening in the community regarding the virus’ spread.
Safety and security
Following the board’s decision in June to end the school resource officer program, a safety and security committee resources committee will be convened to make recommendations for a new safety model.
The deadline for applications is Sept. 15 and recommendations from the panel are due to the School Board by Nov. 5.
Board members encouraged Atkins to ensure that the committee would reflect a broad cross-section of the community and questioned whether the Charlottesville Police Department needed to be included.
“The school resource officers are people that [teachers and students] have a strong relationship with, and they have been in their buildings for a number of years,” Atkins said. “They provide valuable service to our students, to our teachers and to our community. Yes, it is time for us to take a critical look at the relationship and the [memorandum of understanding] — no question about that. But we have our resource officers who have developed meaningful relationships with staff and students, and those are people that we would want to hear from as we have this discussion.”
LaShundra Bryson Morsberger and other board members expressed concerns that having a CPD representative on the committee would stifle discussion and prevent the division from creating a new model.
“… I would like to push back on the idea that there has to be a Charlottesville Police Department member on the committee, because there’s been so much outcry and so much pushback and it’s a delicate topic,” Morsberger said. “Maybe we should start off from a clean slate and not from how the CPD would handle it.”
McKeever said the board wants to move beyond the SRO model.
“I fear that if you have [a law enforcement officer] at the table, it’s just different if you don’t,” she said. “They look at the world very differently. With all due respect to their relationships, they’ve also created real concern in the buildings, as well.”
The committee also will include parents, students, teachers and principals in addition to UVa representatives, psychologists, social workers and community business partners.
The first meeting is planned for Sept. 30 with work sessions during October before a recommendation is made to the School Board in November.
When the board ended the current program, division staffers said they would schedule a series of feedback sessions to inform a draft of a new model. Officials did want the new model to be in place by early August, but planning for the fall semester and switching to online classes changed the timeline.
After many calls over the years for the division to review its school names, an advisory committee will begin that process. As part of that effort, the School Board approved a policy change Thursday, giving the board the authority to rename buildings.
Interested community members, students, parents and teachers should apply by Sept. 23. Subcommittees will be convened for each school to give input on the naming review.
“We know that there has been some talk in the community about looking at the names of our buildings, and whether we should look at renaming any of them,” Baptist said. “We know that this has occurred in lots of different places around us and throughout the country. So we want to make sure that we are also doing due diligence and meeting the core values of the area by looking at the names of our schools to see if there needs to be any change.”
As opposed to the Albemarle County school division, which is taking a school-by-school approach to reviewing names, the city division is planning for the central advisory committee to make one recommendation to encompass all of the buildings.
The division’s 10 schools have 13 namesakes, some of whom have ties to either the Confederacy, the United Daughters of the Confederacy or segregated schools, according to an analysis by community historian Phil Varner.
The committee’s first meeting will be Oct. 15, according to a timeline presented Thursday. By Jan. 7, it is expected to provide a report to the School Board.