Why are Roanoke County students still going to school in person?

The question is being asked a lot right now as other school systems shift reopening plans

Parents react to plans for upcoming school year in Roanoke County
Parents react to plans for upcoming school year in Roanoke County

ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. – Salem and Roanoke City Public Schools both revised reopening plans this week but Roanoke County doesn’t have plans to make changes right now.

The approved plan has Roanoke County operating under a hybrid model. Students in preschool through second grade will attend school in person five days a week. Students in third through 12th grade will attend school in person two days and do online learning for three days. Students also have the option of doing all virtual learning.

Roanoke City is going all virtual for most students for the first 9 weeks and Salem is doing the first 2 weeks of school at 25% capacity each day for every grade level.

Roanoke County School board member Don Butzer said with all three school districts right next to each other, many people are asking ‘What’s different in Roanoke County?'

Butzer sent 10 News the following points:

-- “As of Tuesday, Roanoke Co and Botetourt Co are at a moderate rate of cases per 100,000 versus a substantial rate in the city. If you recall, the VDH guidelines recommend considering Phase 2 opening if in the moderate range. We have considered it, but recommend staying in Phase 3, but with strict mitigation measures, since other metrics are still in the low range.”

-- “As of Tuesday, Salem was also technically at a substantial rate even though Dr. O’Dell also quickly points out that other metrics should be considered in making decisions. Rather than completely going online for grades 3-12, Salem is scaling back the daily group sizes.”

-- “For other metrics, such as hospitalizations, Roanoke Co is in the low range.”

-- “Currently, Roanoke Co has a larger percentage of students registered to be all online (approx. 22%) versus Salem; when that percentage is taken off the top, our “half” of students attending on alternating days is a more manageable number at each school.”

-- “So far, we have the staff to do our plan.”

-- “Roanoke Co emergency management and our School Health Advisory Board are comfortable with our hybrid plan under the current conditions.”

-- “Dr. O’Dell has emphasized the key role of mitigation strategies when considering school re-opening (which also aligns with guidance from CDC and AAP regarding re-opening of schools versus having extended closures). We are taking that very seriously and have changed our messaging on face coverings, we are sticking to 6 ft distancing (rather than shortening as some had pressured us to do), and we have started doing daily temperature checks in all our buildings with staff and will do the same with students. We are following all the CDC guidelines.”

Butzer added, “In order for us to stand a chance of opening and staying open, we have to stay very consistent with our messaging and expectations that everyone follow the requirements. The more people do that in the community the better to keep transmission rates down. If not, I suspect we will have to consider going online and/or we will have school closings.”

Butzer said administrators are working closely with Roanoke-Alleghany Health District Director, Dr. Molly O’Dell, sometimes every other day.

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