Virginia schools preparing for a variety of scenarios when students return in the fall

School is going to look a lot different when students go back to class

ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. – School is going to look a lot different when students go back in the fall.

Leaders are planning for everything and having to think about a totally different approach to education.

The Virginia Department of Education is advising school systems to think about changes on everything from schedules to buildings being shut down again.

“We can’t continue to operate like this and not having school at all, that’s a nightmare. Our kids will never recover from that,” said Roanoke County School Board chairman Don Butzer.

One school district told 10 News it has several different calendar options.

  • One starts on the regular school date in August
  • Another calendar option has the district preparing for school to start until Jan. 1, 2021

“When we reopen we’re going to have to take extraordinary measures,” said Butzer. “What I’m worried about mostly is what is this new normal going to look like.”

Butzer, Roanoke County Schools Superintendent Ken Nicely and other Roanoke County administrators are planning for any and all scenarios, just like other schools across Virginia.

“At this stage of the game we don’t know what’s going to happen a month from now, much less three or four months from now,” said Nicely.

“I can’t imagine and I could be wrong that we would just say ‘Okay, September 1st, October full-back to schedule’. I don’t think that’s going to happen. I really don’t. I can’t imagine that happening. We’d be putting a lot of people at risk I believe,” said Butzer.

The five scenarios Roanoke County is planning for include:

  1. A delayed opening which Nicely said has to look different than what’s happening now with student learning
  2. Schools closing again after classes start
  3. Staggered scheduling where students go every other day
  4. Staggered scheduling where students go every third day
  5. Everything is back to normal and all students could go to class together

The school system is also looking at other options like eating lunch in classrooms, having teachers move rooms instead of students and even isolation rooms if someone gets sick.

“How do you identify kids that have a fever? We may actually have to get into the testing business. We may have to have people standing at the bus with a thermal scanner scanning a temperature,” said Butzer. “The thing that I think is most complex is how do you run the buildings in a safe way if there’s no treatment or vaccine so that you don’t spread the virus.”

Roanoke County is currently evaluating how many students can be in a classroom. If an average class size is 25 but you have 3 feet on each side of student desks, that class size quickly shrinks to about 13 in an average-sized classroom.

“We’re going through this exercise in each and every building looking at the square footage in every classroom,” said Butzer.

Watch this video for more from Butzer about the upcoming school year.

“Even if it was that best-case scenario there are all kinds of implications in terms of cleaning procedures, what can you do to practice physical distancing, what do you do with students that are going to be absent a lot because I think we would probably have a lot of that,” said Nicely.

Access to technology is a big part of this planning too. All middle and high school students have laptops, but elementary students do not. They are looking at a plan to refurbish laptops from this year’s seniors to give out if needed.

85% of students have access to the internet so there a plan needs to be implemented to get the remaining 15% internet access or reach them in a different way, according to Nicely.

“No one would ever advocate this replaces what happens in the classroom, but we’ve got to find some ways to keep learning going and keeping kids advancing otherwise we’re going to have long-term repercussions if students really fall behind,” said Nicely.

Butzer said all of these things cost money that school districts don’t have.

“What my hope is is that the localities aren’t left on their own to do these things because that could be a nightmare. We need some state coordination here to do this,” said Butzer.

They’re also thinking about students with chronic health conditions like asthma or diabetes and worried about employees who may be at risk. More than half of Roanoke County school bus drivers are over 65-years-old.

Watch this video for more from Nicely about the upcoming school year.

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