Salem becomes latest school district to expand in-person learning

Published: Mar. 9, 2021 at 10:38 PM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - In Salem City Schools, classrooms are hanging out the welcome sign. The school board voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve a new reopening plan that has all grades offering at least four days a week of in-person learning.

Currently, Pre-K through 2nd grade offer in-class learning full-time. Grades 3-12 are on a two-day-a-week hybrid schedule.

“There’s a lot of information out there that indicates kids need to be in school for academic reasons, for social reasons and just for some basic health reasons,” said Assistant Superintendent of Schools Dr. Curtis Hicks.

Under the plan, social distancing requirements will drop from minimum six feet to three feet. That change is in line with guidance from the CDC and VDH, as Salem is no longer in the “highest” COVID-19 transmission category.

Space remains tight in some situations. Each school will come up with a plan to manage meal times, when students will be maskless. Some classes may be split up, with half the class eating at their desks, the other half going to the cafeteria or another room.

Transportation is also tricky. “We’re encouraging every family that has the capacity to bring their children to school in the morning to do so, because the morning is where we have a bit of a crunch,” said Hicks.

The new plan comes as new data show student performance has slipped in the school district compared to last year – though not far as initially expected.

“Hybrid students, in-person students, online students, we’re seeing pretty close to the same [drop],” said Director of Instruction Jennifer Dean.

According to Dean, the data will allow the district to target help to students who need it most for the rest of the year, and into potential summer school.

“We’re having smaller classes, we’re having more intentional groups, we’re having a lot more people push in to give support to those students,” she said.

The new reopening plan takes effect March 22.

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