By Stefanie Jackson – Northampton schools Superintendent Eddie Lawrence reported that despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the new school year is off to a good start.
“I’m as about as happy and proud as I can be about the first two weeks of school,” Lawrence said at a Sept. 10 school board meeting.
Northampton students returned to school the week before Labor Day, one week ahead of Accomack students.
Both counties offered students two options for going back to school: a hybrid plan consisting of two days in school and two days learning from home every week, or 100% virtual learning.
With fewer students in school on fewer days per week, students are able to attend school and practice social distancing according to state and federal COVID-19 guidelines. Other safety measures in place include face mask requirements and frequent sanitization.
Lawrence credited the successful opening to “the dedication of our teachers, especially.”
Wait times for children to enter school in the morning were long, but parents were patient and appreciative of the precautions that were being taken during that extra time, such as taking temperatures, he said.
As of Sept. 17, about 55% of Northampton students are participating in face-to-face instruction, and 1,189 students have attended school at least once so far this school year, Lawrence said.
He said he’s “tickled pink” that the unusual school year has started with fewer problems than anticipated.
The numbers of students in attendance during the week of Sept. 17 were 392 at Northampton High School, 161 at Northampton Middle School, 335 at Occohannock Elementary School, and 301 at Kiptopeke Elementary School.
The “not-quite-so-good news” was that 211 Northampton students have not yet shown up to class in person or online.
The school board budgeted the 2020-2021 school year for 1,400 students, Lawrence noted.
Plans were made to follow up with parents about the missing students, starting with 26 parents who requested student laptops but hadn’t yet picked them up.
Lawrence planned to meet with Associate Superintendent Christine Hill, attendance personnel, and the school social worker to determine if the 211 students are unaccounted for due to truancy or another reason such as attending private school or home school or moving out of the school district.
Out of 1,189 students, only 171 rode the bus, leaving spaces available for more children who need reliable transportation to and from school.
Lawrence was concerned about students who benefit the most from face-to-face instruction, such as kindergarten students, English learners, and special education students. He would like to invite more students in those groups to attend school in person or expand the school week from two to four days of face-to-face instruction for those groups.
Students in self-contained special education classes already have a four-day school week, Lawrence said.
Accomack schools Superintendent Chris Holland reported 2,028 students attended school on the division’s first day, Tuesday, Sept. 8.
Of those students, 1,015 were hybrid students and 1,013 were virtual students .
Holland thanked all Accomack teachers and staff for helping the school year get off to a good start.
The drive-thru open houses that were held in Accomack school parking lots on the Thursday and Friday before Labor Day also received a lot of compliments, he said.
School board vice chairman Ronnie Holden commended Accomack schools for “a great team effort from the central office down to even the janitors” to make the first day of school a success.
School board member Edward Turner, whose two children attend an Accomack elementary school and middle school, also commented. He said the first day of school wasn’t without “hiccups” but teachers were responsive to parents’ concerns and “overall, I think, it turned out to be a good day.”