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Roanoke students could come back to class four days a week, with a catch

It all depends on the number of parents who opt to keep their kids home
Published: Jul. 14, 2020 at 11:50 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Tuesday night, Roanoke City Public Schools Superintendent Verletta White set her district apart, unveiling a school reopening plan that differs sharply from surrounding districts.

The plan calls for students to be back in class four days a week - Monday through Thursday - and learning online one day, a so-called “virtual Friday.”

“This virtual Friday would allow us to provide remedial instruction. It would also give us an opportunity to provide enrichment,” said White.

There is, however, a catch. Thirty percent of parents would need to opt for virtual learning. That would free up enough space to bring back the other 70 percent of students safely.

“I do not believe we can manage more than 70 percent,” said White.

Roanoke City officials think they have the numbers to make this work. An optional survey that went out to parents last month had 68 percent opting for in-person instruction, versus 31 percent for virtual learning.

In total, 60 percent of Roanoke City parents answered the survey.

For the kids who come back to class, the district says it would take plenty of precautions. Extra-sensitive germ filters would be installed in the ventilation systems. Windows would be cracked on the school bus in the mornings and evenings to improve airflow. And the district would actively screen for COVID-19.

“It’ll be a process that will screen any individual before they enter any Roanoke City Schools building,” said Jeremy Howard, coordinator of RCPS student health services, adding “We’re going to provide Personal Protective Equipment free of charge.”

If a COVID-19 case pops up, officials say they are also prepared to pivot to virtual learning.

“It may be limited as small as a classroom. It could be as big as a hall, or it could be an entire school,” said RCPS’s chief of security, Chris Perkins.

Kids who stay home will attend what the district is calling its “virtual academy,” which will include virtual extra-circulars. The district says it will be working to ensure every family that needs it has internet access, and a laptop or tablet.

The plan, however, is still preliminary. The board only approved one part Tuesday, setting August 31 as the first day of school.

To move forward with the plan, officials say they’ll need to hear back from every Roanoke City Schools parent. To that end, they’re sending out a registration survey in the coming days. If too many parents want to send their kids back to class, the district says it could have to go back to the drawing board.

Copyright 2020 WDBJ. All rights reserved.

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