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Mathews to begin school year with almost entirely remote learning

While Mathews County Public Schools will be open for the 2020-2021 school year, and the calendar has not changed, the day-to-day schedule will look much different as the division continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the exception of two classroom days that each student in grades K-8 may attend, the first nine weeks of instruction will be entirely virtual.

The first day of school remains Monday, Aug. 31, but students in grades 9-12 will be learning remotely from the start and at least through Nov. 9.

The rest of the division’s student body will also be attending classes virtually, except for a two-week period at the start of the year. Superintendent of Schools Nancy Welch briefed school board members and the community on the reopening plans during a special meeting Thursday night in the Harry M. Ward Auditorium at Mathews High School.

“This is not ideal; this is not what we want,” said Welch. But, given the circumstances with the ongoing pandemic, “it looks like it’s what’s best for the kids,” said school board member Bambi Thompson. “I think it’s great that they [the K-8 students] do get to meet their teachers,” she added, and have the opportunity to go over the online platform for the rest of instruction.

Students in grades K-8 will be divided into two cohorts or groups, as determined by the individual schools. And, during those first two weeks of school (Aug. 31-Sept. 10), each group may meet with their teacher(s) face-to-face at school two days each. Group A will be able to attend school on Monday, Aug. 31 and Tuesday, Sept. 8. Group B will attend school on Wednesday, Sept. 2 and Thursday, Sept. 10.

Welsh said that will make every attempt to ensure that siblings are scheduled on the same days in what she called the “Nine-at-a-Time” plan (referring to the reduced class size for those sessions).

The decision about whether individual students will attend those in-person sessions is “completely a parent choice,” Welch said.

Parents are requested to provide transportation on those days. Families needing school transportation will need to make a request to their child’s school by Wednesday, Aug. 12.

The K-8 students will transition to remote/virtual instruction on Friday, Sept. 11 and continue in that fashion until the end of the first nine-week marking period (Nov. 2).

The decision whether to continue instruction in the virtual environment will be made on a nine-week basis, with a reassessment of conditions taking place the week of Oct. 12.

 “It is truly our desire to open schools in a traditional model or a hybrid alternating schedule while providing choices for our families,” Welch said. “However, new guidance from the Virginia Department of Health indicates significant increases in COVID-19 positive cases in our region. The trend is extremely concerning and presents an unprecedented risk to the school community.”

Students will engage in five days of instruction and content that will mirror the traditional school day “to the greatest extent possible,” Welch said. Faculty and staff will work from the school sites Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesday will be an “E-Day” for faculty/staff and students. Teachers may work from home or in the school that day, engaged in professional development. Students will engage in independent learning activities.

Open House canceled

The Aug. 26 Open House event has been canceled. Each school is coming up with its own Open House schedule that protects students and adults to the greatest extent possible. In most cases, individual grade levels will hold Open House events on the same evening, with other grade levels on other nights. Some grade levels will make individual and/or small group appointments with families. Each school will send out detailed information to families in the near future.

Welch said that instruction will look very different from the spring, when schools were forced to close suddenly. “We are no longer in crisis mode,” she said. “Our teachers will deliver new content remotely” through Canvas or Google Classroom. Additionally, remote live and recorded instruction will be available through Zoom or Google Meet. Work will be required and graded and report cards will reflect the grades and attendance as is the standard.