Pulaski County School Board adjusts back-to-school plan

Elementary students will return to full capacity on Monday
Published: Sep. 24, 2020 at 3:14 PM EDT
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PULASKI COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ) - Elementary school students in Pulaski County will go back to in-person class at full capacity Monday, September 28. That was decided at a special school board meeting Thursday afternoon, and it comes with the caveat that no new cases of COVID-19 emerge through the weekend.

“When it came to implementing the plan we realized there were a few areas where some flexibility is now allowed and we just wanted that to be reflected," said Superintendent Dr. Kevin Siers.

Siers gave the board three recommendations to consider at the special meeting. As part of the reopening plan, the board decided to reevaluate how things were going at the three week mark.

“Getting kids in face-to-face and increasing the in person instructional time is crucial, especially in the early elementary grades where they are developing their reading skills and early math skills," Siers said. “These are the skills they need to develop to be successful in school throughout their public school career and if we miss the boat on that we’re going to be playing catch-up for the rest of the time these children are coming through Pulaski County Schools.”

The percentage of students attending in-person classes, according to the district, may be modified, based on internal data with guidance from the New River Health District. That means some schools may be at full attendance, but others, with more positive cases, would operate on different schedules.

After a four-to-one vote, the board can now make decisions on capacity by school and grade level.

The district will also use cafeteria and other common spaces to maintain social distancing during meals.

School bus travel was also discussed; three students will be allowed per each two adjacent seats, as long as masks are worn, but that third student should only be seated after all seats have been filled, and seating positions must be staggered. One student per seat is still the goal.

“It just gives us a little more room to transport students home and still do it in a safe manner," Siers said.

But not everyone was on board with adjusting the plan.

“Some of our classes are overwhelmed anyway and I think it’s a bad move," said board member Bill Benson.

Board members said they keep getting emails from concerned teachers and parents.

“They say they have to go to 100 because their students can’t read," said board member Dr. Paige Cash. " I understand absolutely what they’re saying. I’ve had just as many people tell me we’ve got to stay at 50/50.”

The superintendent asks for patience from everyone as we head through these uncertain times.

“We are trying to meet the needs of everyone," he said. "We understand there are things that are problematic and inconvenient, but I do think that our plan and our responses have been as flexible and student friendly as any school division in the state.”

Middle and high school students will stay at 50 percent capacity for at least another week because there were positive cases identified at both schools in the last week.

Siers said if parents are concerned about sending students back to the classroom that they will work with each family individually to have a student stay virtual for a few days until they feel ready to come back.

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