At a special meeting of the Prince William County School Board (PWCSB) on January 12, Dr. Lateef, board chairman, introduced a proposal that moves students in grades 4-12 into the classrooms again by February 26. The board approved the plan by a 5-3 vote that overrides the previous one proposed by Superintendent Walts to bring students into the classroom after spring break early in April.
For high school students, especially seniors, returning to the classroom in April would let them be IN school just a little over a month before exams begin and schools dismiss for the summer. That length of time would not be significant academically for graduating students who want to create meaningful memories of final school activities before they become alumni.
According to reading assessments administered by the state’s Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening (PALS), the County showed a dramatic increase in the number of young students failing to read at grade level (New data: Reading gap widens in Prince William County schools | Headlines | insidenova.com). The screening tries to identify kindergarten- through third-grade students who need reading intervention services.
From the findings, it appears that virtual classes are not very successful in teaching beginners how to read. The sooner they return to the classroom the better. The current plan brought kindergartners back to school the week of November 10; first-graders followed in early December. The rest of the elementary grades would be back in the classroom in January.
Dr. Lateef’s proposal certainly challenged the idea that virtual learning is working. Already, students with special learning needs have been in school since September with no evidence that their being in class has been a source of spreading COVID. A majority of school staff and teachers will have been vaccinated by March, when classes would resume for all grades.
Dr. Walts foresees difficulty in managing COVID guidelines where students move from room to room in middle and high school. More than 60% of families have opted to stay with virtual learning even when classrooms reopen. That reduction in the total number of students in each classroom will provide ample physical space to meet CDC guidelines for social distancing, a major concern when trying to reduce the spread of the virus.
At the next PWCSB meeting on February 17 the board will consider the state of COVID-19 and how many teachers have been vaccinated to determine how to proceed with the new proposal.
— Posted by Tom Salmon for Doris, a fellow member of the Prince William and Manassas Family Alliance