Hybrid In-person School Starts Nov. 5

By Ruthann Carr

It took five hours of discussion and six motions Wednesday (Oct. 15) for the Fluvanna County School Board decided to allow students to return to in-person schooling on a hybrid schedule.

Total virtual learning remains an option.

Board member James Kelley (Palmyra) voted against having students return to the classroom before January citing potential health risks from COVID-19.

The evening began with public comments, both in-person and submitted via email, and read aloud by the Board members.

Out of roughly 30 comments, about two-thirds lobbied for children to return to in-person learning. A sample of those comments:

  • “You took my option from me and I consider that unacceptable,” Bridget Larochelle, parent;
  • “It’s time we opened the schools up. You have the opportunity to make a decision that’s right. I pray you to do.” Bryan Alther, parent;
  • “How did we get to the place in our society where we allow five people to decide what the majority does?” Jay Johnson, teacher;
  • “Everyone I’ve talked to says the same thing, ‘Virtual school is not the best option for our students.’ You’re creating a new group – one in danger of mental, emotional, and intellectual stunting,” Polly Seymour, parent.

Many of those wishing to keep all-virtual through the end of the year were teachers who said it was wrong to take the hard-won progress and stability created with their students and change things in the middle of the semester.

Teacher Jennifer Elliot said it would “halt the continuum of learning.”

Others cited what they considered is the lack of administration involving teachers in the decision/planning.

Superintendent Chuck Winkler said he recommended offering the in-person hybrid model because it better-suited students’ educational needs.

He offered the following information to show other area schools haven’t shown high infection numbers while attending in-person classes:

  • Louisa: 13 cases, (four teachers/nine students);
  • Goochland: Four cases,(three teachers/one student);
  • Greene: Two cases (both students);
  • Orange: Six cases (three teachers/three students);
  • Fluvanna: Four cases (three teachers/one student).

Since school began Sept. 8, Fluvanna offered in-school, child-care for teachers. Also, teachers conduct virtual instruction from their classroom.

In order to meet the needs of students with special instructional needs and who lack Internet access at home, the schools began bringing in those student sub-groups to “Internet Cafes” and targeted instruction.

Adding the in-person option means some teachers will be teaching children in the classroom while also addressing students attending remotely. Most agree that will be a challenge. Some students will have a different teacher than the one they had in the first nine weeks.

Winkler said it will be a challenge whether they start now or in January.

“It will happen,” he said. “Why not make that change now?”

Throughout the evening Board members discussed Winkler’s outlined mitigation strategies, building ventilation, where and how students will eat lunch, changing classes, and mask-wearing.

Kelley said he heard some staff disregarded the mask policy.

Winkler said that was correct.

“And I can tell you I’ve addressed every single one of them that I have seen,” Winkler said. “And I will continue to do that. And I’ve asked my administrative team to do that. It’s important that we follow these guidelines. If staff continue to disregard the mitigation plan there will be consequences to that.”

Kelley said his concerns about putting kids back in school were twofold: “We’re going to be reactive rather than proactive and if we can’t get our own staff to wear a mask, then how on earth are we going to enforce it with children in the room?”

At one point during the four-plus hour discussion, Andrew Pullen (Columbia) held up his phone and read off a 434 area code number he said had been calling and texting him constantly throughout the meeting.

“If they can’t stop harassing me, I’ll contact the sheriff. It needs to stop now,” Pullen said.

Kelley got the ball rolling with a motion to remain virtual until January. The motion died without a second.

Several other iterations failed to get a majority vote.

Shirley Stewart (Rivanna), who attended remotely, suggested prekindergarten through 7th-grade start hybrid in November and allow the schools to decide what teachers are virtual and hybrid. The motion passed with Stewart, Johnson, Pullen and Rittenhouse voting for; Kelley voting no.

Then Stewart moved to have 8th – 12th grades begin hybrid in November.  The motion passed with Stewart, Pullen and Rittenhouse voting for; Johnson and Kelley voting against.


Food for Fluvanna Children

Superintendent Chuck Winkler said the schools have been given funding to provide two meals per day free to any Fluvanna child age 18 and under. The child does not have to be a Fluvanna County Public School student. This is funded through June 30, 2021

Grab and go meals are free. Meals are available to all children including those learning in-person or virtually and regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability.

Meals will be provided, on a first-come, first-served basis as follows:
Meal pick-up is available at Fluvanna County High School from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of every week. The pre-arranged meal delivery service is on Monday of every week.
Delivery service is available to all FCPS students. If interested, complete a consent for home meal delivery form.
For more information contact: FCPS Food Services at 434-589-4344 or visit http://fluco.org/food-services-home/.

Bond Money Back

Superintendent Chuck Winkler said the Virginia Public School Authority will be refunding more than $4.7 million to Fluvanna schools over the next 10 years. Winkler and County Administrator Eric Dahl signed the papers that will release the series of payments over the next decade.

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