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Roanoke City middle and high schoolers back in class as challenges remain

Published: Jan. 26, 2021 at 10:45 PM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - In Roanoke City this week, thousands of middle and high schoolers are stepping back into classrooms for the first time in months.

It’s part of a third quarter reopening plan that officials say has been going well so far. Under the plan, middle and high schoolers who want to can return to class two days a week, Monday-Tuesday or Wednesday-Thursday. The district says it has been able to consistently maintain six-foot social distancing, and has installed plastic shields around students’ desks.

Figures released during Tuesday evening’s school board budget workshop show just over 1,800 high school students chose to return to class, about half the student body. The rest remained virtual.

About 300 students switched from in-person to virtual learning at the last minute. Officials speculated that was because of a rise in COVID cases in the area, but had no hard data to back it up.

A smaller number of students switched the other way.

“That changes daily, because some are still figuring out what’s best for them,” said Roanoke City Schools’ Chief Academic Officer Archie Freeman.

The return of more in-person students has required the district to shift around teachers and rework bus routes. Durham School Services, which handles transportation for the district, has “made nearly 600 bus changes” since January 22, according to Chris Perkins. Perkins is the district’s chief operations officer.

But as students return, some staffers are staying away. 123 staff members have now received accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“90 are teachers. That’s an increase of 12 over second nine weeks,” said Perkins.

According to Perkins, 207 staff members have used protections under the Family First Coronavirus Response Act, which requires employers to make accommodations, like emergency paid sick leave, during the pandemic.

During Tuesday’s meeting, district leaders say they’re also looking ahead to this summer, preparing multiple programs, including summer school, to help students who are falling behind.

“We have to address our learning loss,” said Archie Freeman.

That academic toll comes as more students and staff at RCPS test positive for the virus.

The district is reporting 16 students and 12 staff tested positive in the last two days.

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