ISLE OF WIGHT Co., Va. – Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Isle of Wight County School Board approved a plan for the reopening of schools for the upcoming school year at their special meeting on Thursday.
IWCS Board Chairman Jackie Carr made the motion to allow parents of elementary and middle school students a choice between 100% virtual learning or a blended, in-person model. All high school students would begin the year with 100% virtual learning.
“Data for COVID-19 among children suggests children are less likely to get COVID-19 than adults and when they do get COVID-19, they generally have a less serious illness and are less likely to spread the virus,” said Carr.
The board approved the motion 3-2.
School board member Vicky Hulick was one of the two members who voted to have virtual learning for all students in the first nine weeks of school and then reevaluate the situation afterward.
“I’m skeptical to roll the dice because one death is too many,” Hulick said. “One child’s death is too many. I’m not just concerned for our students. I’m also concerned for our teachers.”
Through the plan, parents of elementary and middle school students have two choices on how they want their children learning in the fall: Parents can opt for a hybrid model, where children will attend in person two days a week, either Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday, and work remotely on the remaining days. The other choice allows their child to be completely virtual for the entire first semester, and they would still be taught by teachers from IWCS.
Parents of high school students also have a choice for their children even though in-person instruction is not currently an option. They can elect for their child to participate in a completely virtual model for the entire first semester, which ends on February 2, 2021. This model may include instructors outside of Isle of Wight County Schools, such as teachers from Virtual Virginia. Otherwise, high school students will be part of remote learning for the first nine weeks. These students would be with IWCS teachers throughout that time and could return to in person learning after the first nine weeks, based on a decision by the school board.
Like so many other rising seniors, Hugh Strother was looking forward to his last year of high school in the Isle of Wight County School District.
The teen is active in the marching band, jazz band, symphonic band, quartets and other school programs. Strother’s mother Jennifer Molesworth said he was hoping to start the year inside a classroom at Smithfield High School.
“Finding out this morning, he’s not happy; he wanted to go back to school,” Molesworth said. “They need the socialization. They need to be out with their friends. They need their peers, and they need to get away from their parents.”
Molesworth’s daughter Devin Strother just finished her high school senior year virtually.
“There was no prom; there was no senior banquet; there was no dinner; there was no senior cut day,” said Molesworth. “There was none of that last stuff that makes senior year so much fun and cements those memories.”
Parents will have until August 10 to decide on a plan and won't be able to change their minds.
For Molesworth, she’s hoping at least part of the school year can be saved and the board would reevaluate if the situation changes.
“This isn’t normal and I’m tired of it being called a new normal. This is not a new normal at all,” said Molesworth. “So many students are going to lose from this. I understand why they are doing this, I just don’t like it.”
Students participating in certain Career and Technical Education programs will have an opportunity for in-person instruction in the CTE course on a hybrid schedule
Students with disabilities in Pre-Kindergarten through eighth grade in the inclusion and self-contained settings will have the same options as their non-disabled peers. At the high school, students with intensive support needs in self-contained settings will follow the hybrid model available for elementary and middle school students.
Isle of Wight County Schools will hold informational meetings to discuss the reopening plan on Wednesday, August 5, at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. at Georgie Tyler Middle School, and Thursday, August 6, at Westside Elementary School, also at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. These meetings will be streamed live on the IWCS Facebook page and YouTube channel.