By Stefanie Jackson – Northampton County Public Schools navigated through a spike in COVID-19 cases after winter break that temporarily closed classroom doors to in-person learning, but now COVID-19 numbers are steadily declining and many students are back in school two days a week – and some grades are offering in-person learning four days a week.
“Our parents have done a phenomenal job of helping us about getting kids back in school,” Superintendent Eddie Lawrence said at the Feb. 25 school board meeting.
He was referring to parents who are driving their children to and from school, freeing up school bus capacity – which is severely limited by social distancing rules – for children who have no other way of getting to school.
Northampton school administrators have been doing some creative thinking to get as many students as possible back in schools four days a week while adhering to COVID-19 guidelines.
For example, a cafeteria may not be used to serve breakfast and lunch right now, due to social distancing requirements, but it can be used as a large classroom where students can be spaced apart six feet or more.
Pre-K through second grade already have the option of a four-day school week, and third and seventh grades began offering that same opportunity since Monday, March 1.
Lawrence said the fourth and eighth grades will be offered a four-day school week next, and he also is considering allowing seniors back in schools four days a week starting Monday, April 12.
School board Chair Maxine Rasmussen noted parents have been “anxious” to get their kids back in the classroom, but they also have been “patient and understanding.”
Lawrence assured parents all students will be able to go back to school in person four days a week “as soon as it’s practical.”
Northampton High School is the only public school on the Eastern Shore that has offered football this school year, Lawrence said.
Northampton students currently are participating in football, volleyball, and cross-country running.
Due to COVID-19, the Virginia High School League changed this year’s schedules for sports that are traditionally played in fall, winter, or spring, including football, which began in February and will end in early April.
Upon Lawrence’s recommendation, the school board approved stipends for two junior varsity football coaches who have been assisting the varsity football coaches and are now coaching several eighth and ninth graders who are new to the sport.
They will play only one or two games this season since few schools are allowing the sport during the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than 30 Northampton students currently are participating in football, Lawrence said.
Cost of Competing Adjustment
The Cost of Competing Adjustment (COCA) is state funding that helps schools offer competitive salaries to teachers and is currently given only to Northern Virginia counties that compete with the Washington, D.C., area for hiring teachers.
State Sen. Lynwood Lewis introduced Senate Bill 327 to the Virginia General Assembly last year to make COCA funding available to Accomack and Northampton schools, which compete with bigger counties and cities in Maryland and across the Chesapeake Bay when hiring teachers. The bill passed the Finance and Appropriations Committee in a 15-0 vote but was continued to 2021.
Gov. Ralph Northam may have anticipated that the bill will pass this year, because he included full COCA funding for Accomack and Northampton in his proposed state budget for 2020 through 2022.
Nine localities already receive full COCA funding and another nine localities receive partial COCA funding.
Accomack and Northampton would be the first counties outside of Northern Virginia to receive COCA if Lewis’ bill passes and becomes law.
Lawrence said, “I’ve got my fingers crossed. I think that would be, longterm, a great thing for Northampton County.”