Students in Augusta County Schools have a few more options to consider for the upcoming school year.
Augusta County School Board members consented Thursday to move forward with additional updates to the reopening plan for schools adopted last month.
Students now have the option to switch between a blended learning model and virtual learning at least once in the school year. Another significant change was the schools' opportunity to provide four days of in-person instruction for preschool, kindergarten and a select number of students who participate in special education programs. Updated cleaning and health protocols were also discussed at the special meeting.
“I think it’s important that parents and the public to realize that, as a board, our goal is the safety of our kids and our teachers,” said school board member David R. Shiflett. “We have to balance that with providing educational opportunities.”
Students who wish to change learning models are able to do so at any time during the school year, but they must first provide a five-day notice to administrators. Additional changes can be made to a student’s schedule for medical reasons or other reasons approved by the administration.
Dr. Eric W. Bond, superintendent of Augusta County Public Schools, said preschool students could attend all four days of in-person instruction or choose to attend virtually for the whole week.
“[For] our preschool and kindergarten children this is their first experience with school,” Bond said. “We wanted to make it as normal as possible.”
Schools will conduct daily health screenings and encourage parents to complete health screenings each morning before their child leaves for schools. Students will be asked if they’ve had a fever over 100.4 in the last 72 hours, if they've had COVID-19 symptoms, taken any medication to lower a fever and inquire if they’ve been in close contact with anyone in the last 14 days who’s been diagnosed with the virus. If students answer yes to any of these questions, they are encouraged to stay home and contact their school.
Students who have a fever after arriving at school will be directed to a climate-controlled area for five minutes and their temperature will be taken a second time to see if the fever is still present. If a student has a fever over 100.4, they will be sent to an isolated area in the clinic and kept in isolation until they can be picked up.
Terry LaFon, the executive director of transportation, gave information about the updates made to this year’s transportation plan.
All buses will run double routes and be disinfected between each run. One student will be allowed per seat, and all students must wear face coverings while on the bus. Families from the same household can sit together. Buses will be loaded back-to-front, and students will exit front-to-back. Windows will be open to increase airflow if the weather permits. With these rules, around 26 students can fit on each scheduled run.
Gretchen Burgess spoke during the public hearing on Thursday. Burgess has two children who attend Augusta County Schools, one with special needs. She’s concerned about schools opening in less than a month and suggested delaying the opening date that is currently set for Aug. 18.
“It seems very counter-intuitive to me that we shut down schools in March when the numbers were zero and now we’re opening them up when the numbers here are on an upward trajectory,” Burgess said.
Although the board consented to move forward with the updated plan and keep the original start date, board member Donna H. Wells vocied some reservations about the decision.
“I’m not going to make that suggestion although that’s where my heart is,” Wells said. “I’m really concerned about teachers.”
The next school board meeting is scheduled for Aug. 6.