By Stefanie Jackson – The Northampton school board voted July 23 to approve the district’s plan to resume classes in the fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The plan gives parents a choice between 100% online learning for their children, or a hybrid option of two days in school and two days at home, with one day a week reserved for deep cleaning of classrooms.
“In my heart, I do feel there’s not a safer place for the children than in our schools,” said Superintendent Eddie Lawrence.
“As we look at the summer of unrest we’ve had, I think our schools can play a pivotal role in calming down the frustrations that a lot of people have – and children need to be in school with each other,” he said.
Parents may choose online learning instead if they have reliable internet at home.
Associate Superintendent Christine Hill clarified that parents who choose the online learning option will decide how long their children stay in that program before returning to school in person. That could mean children learning from home for a month, a semester, or the whole year, she said.
A back-to-school survey was provided to school staff and parents by mail and electronically. Reminders to complete the survey were made by robocall and the Northampton County Public Schools website. The survey was also available in Spanish.
As of July 23, 137 staff and 287 parents had responded. Administrators planned to follow up with parents who had not responded starting Monday, July 27.
Of the teachers who responded, a majority were “prepared and ready to report” to school in the fall, Hill said. The teachers were also amenable to teaching remotely, she said.
Nearly 45% of parents who responded wanted the online learning option, Hill reported.
Only 30% of parents said their children will need to ride the bus. School board chair Maxine Rasmussen said that may relieve some of the burden on the operations department to provide bus transportation to students while adhering to state regulations.
Students must practice social distancing on school buses, which means, in most cases, one child per seat and multiple bus runs when bus drivers are already scarce.
During the public comment period, a letter by parent Felicia Matthews was read into the record. One of her concerns was what would happen if a Northampton teacher or student tested positive for COVID-19.
Due to privacy law, a student who tested positive for COVID-19 could not be named, but a letter would be sent home to parents informing them if a student or teacher tested positive for the virus.
Lawrence noted that the school division’s “first line of defense” against such a situation is twice daily temperature checks for students – once before getting on the bus and again later in the day, he said.
Former school board member Nancy Proto also submitted a letter for public comment regarding an unrelated matter.
In a previous letter, Proto had asserted that the school board had done a poor job of evaluating the superintendent, and their actions were neither transparent nor conformed to the Virginia Code.
(The school board voted May 28 to reissue Lawrence a two-year contract without members receiving 30-days notice of the vote as required by law; that error was later corrected.)
Proto believed that Lawrence’s performance should be judged in part by students’ academic performance, since “instructional leadership” is one of the seven performance standards set by the Virginia Department of Education for school superintendents.
She called Rasmussen’s June 30 comment that students are more than test scores a “copout.”
Proto wrote, “The primary purpose of a school district is to educate its students. Regardless of what other growth students have made, if we have not educated them, we have failed.”