Northampton Schools Enrollment Up, More In-Person Instruction Anticipated

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By Stefanie Jackson – Northampton public schools enrollment has increased to at least 1,325, Superintendent Eddie Lawrence said Sept. 24.

Fewer than 1,200 students attended Northampton public schools either online or in person during the first two weeks of school; the school board had budgeted for 1,415 students this year.

Parents were contacted and most of the absent students were accounted for, except for maybe four or five students at each school, Lawrence said.

Some of the students who were still not enrolled either moved or their parents were undecided how to handle their children’s education during the COVID-19 pandemic, he noted.

Starting the week of Sept. 21, Northampton pre-K students were permitted to attend school in person four days a week, up from the two days a week most hybrid students spend in school for face-to-face instruction.

Associate Superintendent Christine Hill planned to ask parents of kindergarten students if those students also should switch to a four-day, in-person school week.

About 10% more children, or approximately 55% of all Northampton students, are participating in face-to-face instruction, Lawrence estimated.

He wants to amend the school division’s back-to-school plan to allow more students to ride the bus together in preparation for additional students eventually attending school in person.

Allowing one child to sit in the middle of every other seat and two children on opposite ends of every remaining seat, one bus could accommodate up to 31 students.

Lawrence is also considering increasing classroom capacity to 14 students. He planned to go into classrooms to take measurements and determine how social distancing would be impacted.

Any amendments to the back-to-school plan will require approval of the Virginia Department of Education.

The Virginia High School League’s executive committee voted to allow school sports to begin in December, and Lawrence proposed that Northampton schools should participate, with conditioning for winter sports beginning Nov. 2.

The benefits of school sports are “overwhelming” but also present challenges. A hybrid student stays with the same classmates all day, but when sports programs begin, students from different grades and schools will commingle, Lawrence noted.

To reduce the amount of commingling, school board chair Maxine Rasmussen suggested possibly excluding sixth graders, who attend Northampton elementary schools, from middle school sports.

But Lawrence did not want to further deprive the sixth graders of the “full middle school experience.” He noted that few sixth graders participate in middle school sports, and the sports seasons will be short, about 60% of their normal length.

According to the Virginia High School League, winter sports will be from Dec. 14 to Feb. 20, fall sports will be Feb. 1 to May 1, and spring sports will be April 12 to June 26.

School board vice chairman William Oakley asked if sports practices would be held four or five days a week.

Lawrence’s initial answer was four days a week, due to current bus schedules, but he predicted that if COVID-19 statistics continue to trend down, students will be able to return to school five days a week by December.

He suggested reducing stipends for coaches to 60% since the sports seasons had been reduced to 60%.

But school board member Charlena Jones pointed out that the coaches will do the same amount of work even though the sports seasons are shorter.

Her peers agreed and added that coaches of sports and other competitive activities like robotics and the creative problem-solving program, Odyssey of the Mind, will face additional challenges as they work through the COVID-19 pandemic.

The school board decided to pay coaches full stipends and consented to Lawrence’s other recommendations. No vote was required since the board decided to move forward with the programs and stipends that they had previously approved.