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School Board to address start of school year

School Board to address start of school year

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The currently scheduled start to the 2020-21 school year is coming fast as Aug. 10 is the date students in Franklin County are set to return to classes.

The Franklin County School Board will hear plans for a socially distant start to the coming school year Monday night during its regular meeting.

Superintendent Dr. Mark Church said the plan still needs the board’s approval, but consists of a staggered start, meaning that students will attend classes on a rotating schedule with some students being in school Mondays and Tuesdays and others attending on Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays will be used for teachers to plan and connect online with students. He added there will be a group of students, considered to be most in-need, who will attend school four days a week.

Families will also have the option to keep students at home and do all online instruction, under the proposed reopening plan, Church said.

“We want our families to do what’s good for them,” Church said.

Church said families will be kept on the same schedule so parents with children in different grade levels will be able to ride together to school and hopefully make planning easier for parents.

Not only will only half of the student body be attending classes at once, but at least for the start of school, classes are going to be different for students. Class sizes will be approximately 10 to 15 students, depending on the size of the classroom. He said some rooms are smaller than others, and seating will be 6 feet apart. At the high school level, Church said classes will not rotate in the normal six-period days.

“Students will be in classes longer and won’t change classrooms four times, but twice,” he explained. “Teachers will move instead of students.”

This structure is designed to keep from having to disinfect the classrooms several times each day. Church said the division will follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Virginia Department of Health.

Face coverings will be required for bus riders. Church said there is no real way to maintain a 6-foot distance on the bus. He said staff will also be asked to wear masks when the 6-foot guideline is not able to be met, giving the example of a kindergarten classroom, where teachers are in constant contact with students. He acknowledged that asking students that age to wear a mask isn’t feasible, but said the teachers will be asked to do so. Also, students who are working in groups or are in situations where the distancing guidelines can’t be met may be asked to wear face coverings.

Church said he anticipates pushback from parents regarding face coverings, but said, “We’re hoping they will do it because it is the right thing to do.”

Playground equipment will be closed as Church explained there is no way to disinfect the equipment after students touch it. Physical education teachers are going to have to get more creative with activities and assign more activities for homework, he said, such as hiking and filming themselves on a hike or completing an assignment.

Clubs and extracurricular activities will look different this year as well. Church said clubs will be able to meet while remaining socially distant, but groups such as theater or band will face challenges with performances and meeting Phase 3 guidelines regarding large gatherings.

To help with feeding students, Church said students will be sent home with meals as an extension of the summer feeding program at least through August. He added the program is costly and although CARES Act funds have helped, they will run out.

As guidelines are continuing to change rapidly during this pandemic, Church warned these plans could also change. The board will discuss more at its meeting Monday at 7 p.m.

The meeting will be streamed online.

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