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Henrico families await word on the county's back-to-school plan

Posted at 7:15 PM, Sep 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-15 19:16:03-04

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- School leaders with Henrico County Public Schools have yet to make a call on when or how students will return to classrooms in-person this school year. The school district intentionally laid out a timeline on making that decision to provide their families with some consistency, a spokesperson said.

Virtual learning will continue for practically every Henrico student for the entire first nine week “marking period.”

Monday, Chesterfield County, the largest school district in Central Virginia, announced the district would begin a phased approach to in-person learning on September 29.

Sarah Quinn, who has three children in Henrico schools ranging from pre-school to high school, said her family is like so many in the county: doing the best they can to adjust to virtual learning.

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“As you can see, I’ve got a lot of different things going on, and a teenager who doesn’t need much direction and certainly doesn’t want too much direction from mom,” Quinn said as her two youngest played in the driveway of their home. “It’s just a lot of pinballing back and forth between all of them.”

“This is hugely challenging for a lot of people. Being that I’m out of work, we have somebody sort of built-in to be able to do that, whereas years ago, if I was still working in the restaurant industry, forget about it,” Quinn said. “You’ve got multi-generational households; households with a lot of kids.”

Andy Jenks, the Director of Communications for Henrico County Schools, said school leaders are reviewing the latest health data and analyzing feedback from a broad range of opinions on how to proceed.

Jenks said during the summer Henrico decided to stick to virtual instruction for the first nine weeks to give families a clear picture of what the beginning of the school year would look like.

“Consistency is good. A routine is good. But what happens after that first nine weeks is what we’re examining now, and continuing to prepare for,” Jenks said. “We want our families to know that we’re monitoring health data, examining the trends. The school board will be updated at least three times between now and late October. At which a recommendation for the second marking period will be made.”

There is no “magic number” or metric influencing their decision to bring students back, Jenks said. Pre-school and kindergarten families will have one-one-one meetings with their teachers beginning this week, and Jenks said other limited groups of students would return for in-person instructions in the weeks to come.

“We are still working toward that ultimate goal that all of us want, which is the return of what normal used to be like. We’re going to get there, it’s just we need to keep updating our community on a weekly basis,” Jenks said. “You zoom out and look at the bigger picture in terms of percentage of positivity, but perhaps just as important, if not more important, are trends. We want to see at least 14 consecutive days of the community transmission level of being moderate or low. We’re not there yet, but when we get to that point it will help influence our decision.”

Quinn said the thought of going back to in-person instruction brings on mixed feelings: the fear of potentially spreading the virus and the desire to get family life back closer to normal.

“I’m in absolute awe of how quickly our teachers and school systems were able to adapt,” she said. “We need to figure out the healthiest way to keep our kids safe, keep our teachers and communities safe, and go for it because we can’t live in our bubbles forever.”

Henrico is using a continuum approach for determining their “reopening status.” HCPS is currently “Approach 2.”

  • Approach 1 (Stay-at-home order): No in-person instruction. Schools closed to the public.
  • Approach 2 (Substantial/High burden): Most students learning online with students seen in person on a limited basis. Schools are open to the public on a limited basis.
  • Approach 3 (Moderate burden): Smaller groups of students in classrooms and schools are open to the public on a limited basis.
  • Approach 4 (Low burden): Larger groups of students in classrooms (most, if not all, students back on campus) and schools are open to the public.

The next Henrico County School Board meeting is September 24. A recommendation for reopening is not expected until October 22. You can learn more on Henrico’s status here.