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Christian Heritage Academy set to return to full-time classes Sept. 9
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Christian Heritage Academy set to return to full-time classes Sept. 9

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By BRIANA BARKER

While Franklin County Public Schools is weighing its options, the county’s private school, Christian Heritage Academy is opting for a full return this fall.

CHA opted to delay the start of the fall semester to buy time to make decisions and watch how concerns surrounding the coronavirus evolved.

“We began praying about it back in the spring when everything started happening,” said Tony Quist, head of school at CHA. “We put together a plan and started working with our parents in May to communicate that we were going to leave plenty of time this summer to make sure we had one: time to plan and make assessments and two: see how the situation played out over the summer.”

He said the school felt confident in its plan as they have watched other schools and districts and seen them delay opening as well.

Numbers of cases in Franklin County is one key item of information Quist said CHA officials have been watching. He said he feels the percentage rate of cases is “low” and that the survival rate is “positive,” with only one death reported so far in the county.

Information put out by the American Academy of Pediatrics and Virginia Council for Private Education has also helped guide CHA officials as they prepared their reopening plan.

“We are planning on mitigating risks, increasing distance, student screenings,” Quist said.

Classes will start Sept. 9 for all students with additional safety protocols put in place. Those protocols include social distancing, limited student mixing with classrooms being self-contained, students eating lunch in their respective classrooms and no school-wide assemblies. Students who typically change classes throughout the day will no longer switch classrooms and sanitation services are being doubled.

Quist said another change this upcoming school year is increased recess time from 45 minutes to an hour or more. As for playground equipment, Quist said they feel that is not a significant risk, and students will be permitted and encouraged to use the playground.

“We felt it was important to get them outside so it is part of a wellness program,” Quist explained. “For our secondary students sixth through 12th, the schedule we are working on for next year allows them plenty of opportunity for mental breaks, to get outside, still being separate but to not be inside breathing all the same air all the time.”

He added the older students can eat lunch outside as well.

Face coverings will be optional for all students. He said the guidelines regarding face coverings for teachers and staff are mandatory when 6-foot distancing is not possible, but that he feels for the most part the distancing won’t be an issue. He added if teachers are more comfortable they are welcome to wear face shield or face masks.

“We’ve talked with our teachers, and there doesn’t seem to be any concern about that,” he added.

No before or after school programs were initially planned, but Quist said parents have communicated to the private school that they are in need of after-school child care programs so those plans are currently being revised.

In establishing the back to school plan, Quist said school officials sought feedback from families and parents about what they were comfortable with via a focus group established back in May. Parents of elementary, middle school and high school students talked with the school officials about multiple options, from completely remote learning to having all students back in the classroom, including alternate schedules. He said they came out of the meeting with the plan to return K-8 to classrooms with students in grades 9-12 on campus participating in online learning with proctors overseeing their studies. Quist said CHA has an online program for students in grades 9-12 that can be completed 100% remotely and the school is planning to utilize that program in case students have to pivot and return to online only instruction.

CHA has 180 students enrolled in K-12 grades, and class sizes average between 10 and 15 students.

“One of the things about us in this situation has been that the smaller size has allowed us to be a bit more nimble and maneuver more quickly through some of these decisions,” Quist said.

He said there are still seats available for fall semester for in-person learning and online learning. The CHA online program is multi-accredited, and online students are still eligible to participate in extra-curricular activities. Quist said the extracurricular activities will be available this year.

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