FRANKLIN COUNTY, Va. – During an emergency meeting Monday night, the Franklin County School Board decided not to switch to full in-person learning for all students at the start of the second semester.
The district recently released plans to transition from its current hybrid learning model to all in-person learning starting Jan. 26. People in the community, especially teachers, raised concerns about the changes as COVID-19 cases continue to surge in Franklin County.
“We’re so far along and we’re so close to being on the other side of this thing, it just does not make good common sense to throw the doors open and bring all of our children back at this point,” said Shannon Brooks, a teacher at Eagle Tech at Franklin County High School.
Brooks gathered with other teachers before Monday’s meeting to express their desire to return to the classroom, but only if it is done safely.
“We are asking for help, we are asking for time and we are asking for resources in order to put proper safety measures in place,” said Theresa Trexler, also a Franklin County High School teacher.
Some parents, including Ashley Edmondson, supported a return to in-person learning for all students. Edmondson said virtual learning has been taking a toll on more than just her children’s education.
“We’re not able to teach the family component at home and have that part of it because we’re spending all of our time helping our kids with their frustrations of clicking through Canvas [an online learning platform] and looking at a computer screen,” Edmondson said.
In a 6-2 vote, school board members decided pre-K through seventh-grade students will attend in-person classes four days a week starting Jan. 26, while eighth through twelfth-grade students will remain virtual for now.
Franklin County Superintendent Dr. Bernice Cobbs said the health and wellness of teachers, students and staff continues to be a priority for the district.
“We’re going to do everything we can to ensure that our teachers and students are safe, putting those mitigation strategies in place,” Cobbs said.
Cobbs said some of those strategies include going through every classroom to determine how many air purifiers are needed to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. She said COVID-19 relief funds should cover the costs.
Cobbs also addressed concerns about social distancing when students return to the classroom. She said the school board decided to use the American Academy of Pediatrics social distancing guidelines for schools that were also a part of revised guidance the Virginia Department of Education released in July 2020.
Those guidelines allow for three feet of social distancing between students when students wear masks and are not showing symptoms of COVID-19. However, Cobbs said the district will strive to maintain six feet of social distancing as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Where we can we’re certainly going to use the six feet, but three feet is an option with the mitigation strategies and everyone needs to keep that in mind,” Cobbs said.
Kim Ellis, a teacher at Franklin County High School, said the health and wellness of the county’s teachers and students will have a direct impact on the entire community.
“Our schools are a microcosm of our community,” Ellis said. “By us not taking care of these students and of our schools and making sure they’re safe, this is going back out into our community. It’s affecting and infecting everyone unless we get a hold on it.”
Franklin County Public Schools’ COVID-19 dashboard for January 2021 shows 15 staff COVID-19 infections and 27 student infections.