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With a green light from the state to begin in-person classes in Phase Three of the Forward Virginia plan to re-open, Wythe County educators are busy hammering out a plan to re-open schools for instruction.

Gov. Ralph Northam announced earlier this month a phased approach allowing the state's public schools to slowly resume classroom instruction for the 2020-21 school year. Education guidelines under Phase Three of the Virginia Forward re-opening plan allows for all students to return to classroom.

Northam announced on Tuesday that Virginia will step into Phase Three July 1, and the Wythe County School Board has approved its academic calendar with a start date of Aug. 24.

Superintendent Scott Jefferies said school officials are currently fine-tuning their remote learning plan, which is key to resuming instruction in the fall, he said.

“We can take any component of that 100% remote instruction and we're ready for anything that comes our way when it comes to hybrid instruction,” he said.

According to the Virginia Department of Education's Recover, Redesign, Restart 2020 plan, school divisions should prepare for both in-person and remote instruction, as well as a hybrid of the two.

School leaders in Wythe County are currently getting classroom and school bus capacity counts to help plan for logistics and social distancing requirements that will still be in place at the start of the school year.

As part of the basic requirements for school systems to re-open, students must be able to maintain at least a six-foot distance from other students. Staff must wear facial coverings when social distancing can't be maintained and must also undergo daily health screenings.

“Every school division is going to have to assess their capabilities with their spaces, their transportation and pair that with what guidelines are expected of us from the Department of Health and from the (Department of Education),” Jefferies said.

One of the recommendations given to school districts for hybrid instruction divides students up into groups, Jefferies explained. Students in Group A, for example, would attend school on certain days of the week, while students in Group B do remote learning. The following week, the groups would alternate. Another alternative is for students to split into morning and afternoon instruction, spending half the school day in the classroom and working remotely for the other.

Jeffries pointed out that a plan for 100% remote learning must also be in place in the event the state sees a spike in coronavirus cases that could see restrictions put back into place. He also noted that some health experts are predicting a surge of cases in late fall.

“We hope that's not the case, but we have to be ready for that because the expectation is that every school system in Virginia will be able to implement a 100% remote learning plan at some point,” Jefferies said.

The superintendent explained that the school district has planned for every student in grades Pre-K through 12 to have a learning device, such as a Chromebook, to ensure equity. They have also set up a plan to deliver those devices pre-loaded with instruction to those who do not have viable Internet access to download needed materials.

In regard to classes at the technical school, Jefferies said students would be permitted complete the curriculum portion of most courses remotely, if remote instruction is needed. Classes with hands-on components, like welding and cosmetology, would need to see those components completed at a later time, he said.

But, like most every other educator, Jefferies hopes to see full in-person instruction kick off and last throughout the school year.

“If we're able to be way more wide open, then we're going to be way more wide open,” he said. “If we have to be more restricted, then we'll do what we have to do.”

Each school division is required to submit their return plans outlining their guidelines to the VDOE for approval before the start of the school year.

Jefferies said the school board hopes to have their plans finalized for submission by mid-July.

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