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Henry County Schools vote to return to in-person learning

Internet issues and a decline in COVID cases drove the decision.
Published: Sep. 24, 2020 at 7:58 PM EDT
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COLLINSVILLE, Va. (WDBJ) - Thursday night, the Henry County School Board voted 5-2 to let students go back to the classroom. The move comes seven weeks after what’s been an all-virtual start to the school year.

The district will use the same hybrid model it originally planned to start fall classes with. Second through 12th grade students will be in class two days a week and learning virtually the other three. Pre-K, 1st grade and many students with disabilities will be in class four days a week.

The district says it expects roughly 3,500 students to go back for in-person learning, and another 1,400 will remain all-virtual.

“All along, we said we were going to follow the metrics,” said Superintendent Sandy Strayer. “We were going to wait for low community spread, and we were going to watch for a two week decline in new positive cases.”

Strayer says that’s not the only reason for the change. Internet access has proved to be a major issue for many families. Others have struggled to supervise kids learning from home.

“Even though the virtual learning is working for many students, there are still many that do not have that access,” she said.

The School Board’s vote comes over the objections of many Henry County teachers. Roughly half a dozen stood up to argue against a return to class during the meeting.

“Many of you are former teachers but you’ve never taught like this. No one in this country has taught like this,” said Magna Vista High School science teacher Liz Ashby. “The only ones who’ve taught like this are the ones who’ve been coming to the classrooms for the last seven weeks and living it.”

Ashby says virtual learning isn’t perfect, but it does have advantages, safety included.

“The online classroom has surprised me by how much I’ve actually liked it, and just the increased collaboration I’ve had with my colleagues,” she said.

The first day of in-person school will be October 12.

The district still has plenty to work out between now and then. Enrollment for the online and hybrid options needs to be finalized. In-person students will need to be split into A and B groups. The district is also working on its transportation plan, and admits it’s facing a shortage of bus drivers.

Officials say they plan to complete that work in the coming weeks.

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