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MCPS holds marathon meeting, delays start date of school

Published: Jul. 22, 2020 at 1:48 AM EDT
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MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ) - The Montgomery County School Board has voted 5 to 2 in favor of pushing the first day of school to September 8.

School leaders discussed at great length over a dozen items in their 90-page reopening plan document Tuesday.

“I have lots of concerns about our kids’ welfare,” Marti Graham said.

“I just worry we’re moving too fast,” said Susan Kass.

“The way students are educated in today’s society are much different than the way we learn,” Jamie Bond said.

The meeting began at 1 p.m. and continued for more than 12 hours.

While many items were discussed, two of the larger topics were focused around face mask requirements and the start date and phase of starting school again.

The board voted that all students will need to have face coverings at all times. Staff will always need to wear them in the presence of students and when other staff members cannot maintain six feet of physical distance.

They also agreed that if a student refuses to wear a mask, that student’s parent or guardian will be notified and the student may be required to participate in remote learning.

“This is uncharted territory,” Penny Franklin said. “We’ve never had to deal with this before.”

The board also voted to move the start date of school from August 13 to September 8.

“I’d rather see us, as Gunin said, be safe, give ourselves a chance to get started, and then ease into the terrific plan you’ve put together,” Kass said.

“I’ve also talked to many parents that are concerned about education because [they’ve] pretty much said, ‘I don’t know that my child got anything from the time that we got out of school,‘” Bond said.

Schools will also open in Phase III, Level 2. That means there will be in-person instruction for all students with strict social distancing measures in place; schools will open at 50-percent capacity, meaning students Pre-K to 12 will attend four half days per week; and remote learning will continue to supplement face-to-face time.

“I personally have a daughter who is in the schools right now and if I thought it was anywhere unsafe to send my own child back, I wouldn’t. That’s how confident I feel that this is okay,” Dana Partin said.

After a dinner break, the board had a chance to get some of their questions answered by the NRV Public Health Task Force. Their questions and concerns focused around the spread of germs and concerns of Virginia Tech and Radford University students returning in the fall.

“Most people are not going to be a contact, the biggest challenge will be dealing with the panic that surrounds an outbreak or cases in a school,” said Dr. Noelle Bissell, the director of the New River Health District.

Bissell said the plans and guidelines the district has in place should keep exposures low, even in the same room. She supported the 50 percent return of students. She’s pushing for good education on how you can know if you were exposed to someone who tested positive: within the six foot radius for more than 15 minutes without a mask.

Some board members expressed concerns about the return of the college students and the rise in cases. Bissell said the cases will go up, but the students need to do their part, too.

“They know that their college experience depends on this right now, that they’re going to have some behavioral change, so we need to have that mutual understanding,” Bissell said.

Blacksburg Police Chief Anthony Wilson said the students behaved well when trying to manipulate life in this new world in March.

“Between now and November, it’s life in a brand new world, it’s going to be completely different, and we’re going to use every tool in our toolbox to make sure it stays there,” Wilson said.

After the Task Force addressed the board for just over an hour, they continued on working down through a comprehensive list of items to agree upon. They only made it through the first 15 of 23 items Tuesday night.

Here’s a comprehensive list of the items discussed and the option that was agreed upon.

1. What public communication efforts (outside of VDH contact tracing) does the School Board want MCPS to engage in when there is a positive test in the classroom (staff or student)?

Option 3: Notify the school if there is a single positive test.

2. How will MCPS address community requests for facility use?

Option 1: Do not authorize use of facilities by outside agencies at this time.

3. Will face coverings (masks or shields) be required to be worn by students grades PK-2?

Option 2: They will be worn at all times. Students cannot attend in-person instruction without a face covering.

4. Will face coverings (masks or shields) be required to be worn by students grades 3-12?

Option 2: They will be worn at all times. Students cannot attend in-person instruction without a face covering.

5. Will face coverings be required to be worn by staff?

Option A1, BE: They will be worn at all times when in the presence of students and when 6-feet of physical distancing cannot be reasonably maintained between other staff members.

6. What methods will MCPS use to conduct required daily screenings?

Option 2: Parents and staff will complete a safety commitment form at the beginning of the year. The document will ask the parent or staff member to ensure that each day they are following the obligations of the commitment.

7. How will MCPS address volunteers?

Option 1: No volunteers will be permitted at this time.

7A. Will we allow student teachers to complete their student teaching requirements in the MCPS schools?

Option 1: Yes, if they have completed a 14 day quarantine once arriving in southwest Virginia and follow all requirements for MCPS employees.

8. Will secondary teachers spray the desks between class changes?

Option 2: Teachers will spray the desk.

9. If all students are required to wear a face mask while riding a bus, what does the bus driver do if the student refuses to put on a mask prior to boarding the bus? All school buses will have disposable masks available for students to wear.

Option 2: Bring the student to school and notify the administration of the student’s action.

10. During the 2020-2021 school year, do we pay stipends to coaches for cancelled seasons? The total cost for coaching stipends is $839,566.

Option 1: Do not pay for cancelled seasons.

11. Do we retroactively pay our 2019-2020 spring sport coaches supplements in full? The cost to this would be $168,510.

Option 2: No

12. Expectations will be communicated to parents and guardians prior to the opening of school about the expectations of face coverings. What happens if/when students and parents refuse to adhere to these guidelines?

Option 1: Students will be given a mask and asked to wear it. If they refuse, the parent/guardian will be contacted to encourage the child to wear the mask. If the student will not wear the mask, the parent will be required to pick the child up from school. Students who refuse to follow guidelines on a regular basis will be required to participate in remote learning.

13. Specialty teachers provide instruction in Art, Library, Music, PE and STEM. This is usually done by taking students to the specialty classroom. This means many students utilize the space with very little time in between. Recommendations regarding social distancing and mitigation have promoted the minimization of the use of communal spaces. How will elementary students access their specialty teachers?

Option 1: Specialty teachers will provide instruction in the classrooms so as to limit the use of common spaces and movement. PE teachers will go outside as much as possible. When this is not possible due to inclement weather, the gym may be used under school board determined mitigation guidelines.

14: Does the Board wish to amend the phase and level under which schools will open?

Option 1: Stay as planned. Phase III, Level 2.

15. Does the Board want to keep the August 13 start date or move it to a later date?

Option 3: Move the start date to September 8 (after Labor Day).

Remaining agenda items 16-23 have to do with the 2020-2021 academic calendar. Those will be discussed and voted on at the next meeting, August 4.

On Wednesday afternoon, we spoke with the superintendent for MCPS, Dr. Mark Miear. Miear said he’s excited about the plan, including the vote to increase custodian pay, as currently the district is in need of more custodians.

We also asked Dr. Miear about what pushing back the start date of school will due to snow days. He said that decision has not been made yet.

Copyright 2020 WDBJ. All rights reserved.

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