by James C. Sherlock
I subscribe to the Roanoke Times because I find it by far the best regional newspaper in Virginia. It produces local reporting that the rest of us can only envy.
I was drawn to two stories in the past week.
The first, on June 21 by Alison Graham, revealed only 2/3 of residents of Roanoke County have broadband access.
Roanoke County’s Tentative Plan
The second, by Claire Mitzel today revealed the school system’s tentative plan:
“Southwest Virginia’s second-largest school system on Thursday unveiled its plan to return to school in August, which will involve daily in-person instruction for pre-K through second grade students and twice-a-week in-person instruction for third through 12th graders. Roanoke County’s plan is based on the state being in Phase 3.”
The plan is preliminary, but the article reported that the School Board seemed to support its broad outline and will vote on a final plan July 2.
“Third through 12th grade students will be split into two groups under the plan to attend at 50% capacity. One group will attend school on Mondays and Thursdays; the other group will attend Tuesdays and Fridays. Families with multiple children will attend on the same schedule.”
“Parents can opt for 100% remote learning. … Face coverings will be required for middle and high school students.”
“Elementary students will have 40 minutes of recess each day, and lunch will be served in the classroom. Because students will be spending more time in the same classroom, schools will dismiss an hour early to give teachers planning time. Middle and high schools may dismiss an hour early, too.”
“Individualized Education Plans will be followed and vulnerable learners’ needs will be prioritized.”
Even this plan is contingent upon parents helping with transportation.
The Roanoke County School Board members are good people. The Superintendent is a good man doing what he thinks is the best he can with the difficulties his system faces.
What becomes of disadvantaged children?
My concern in all of this is focused on the threat to the futures of children already disadvantaged by their home situations, personal troubles and various learning disabilities.
If school year 2020-2021 is a washout for them academically and yet they are socially promoted based on false but unmeasured expectations for remote learning and alternate schedules, most will never recover.
I have no idea why we have not heard from the Virginia Poverty Law Center, the NAACP or other advocates for the poor on this issue. Based on their websites, they have not taken a position.
I tried UVa’s Curry School of Education, and found nothing on that website either. That school is trying hard to help teachers with remote learning and alternative schedule tips. And good for them.
As far as I can tell the Curry School hasn’t mentioned that neither works for most poor children.
Roanoke County’s Options
I communicated with both the superintendent and the school board in Roanoke County just ahead of last night’s meeting.
I recommended either opening the schools 100% or leaving them closed because of what I consider the false options offered by remote learning and alternative schedules.
I don’t know what that county will ultimately do here.
Neither do they, but the problem is very hard and they are pretty far down the road to an alternative schedules and remote learning plan.
They have not yet heard from parents after today’s Roanoke Times story.
One-third of Roanoke County residents don’t have broadband access. Some of those with access can’t afford it.
The wild card uncontrollable by the superintendents is the home situation. Many parents are not equipped by education or their own troubles or work schedules or absent fathers or all four to help at home with remote learning.
I have some experience as a middle school classroom teacher. Simply put, I can’t imagine successfully playing the teacher’s role in the current Roanoke County plan.
Two in-person instruction days with only half the kids having participated successfully in the three remote learning days and even less having done the remote learning off-line assignments will prove unsustainable quickly and will build over time.
Guidelines and Waivers of Importance to Parents
A big part of the issues with the 2020-2021 school year are the federal and state waivers in place. These have not been reported.
Students impacted by school closures due to the pandemic were authorized to bypass standardized testing for the 2019-20 school year. Look for attempts to get that waiver renewed in 2020-2021.
If so, parents will have no idea how their school is measuring up in teaching their children.
- Any remedial services provided in the 2020 fall term must be offered outside of the regular instructional day.
- Local school divisions were relieved of end-of-year assessment requirements for early intervention reading services and algebra readiness intervention services in 2019-2020.
- The Superintendent of Public Instruction will identify a new label for accreditation (“accreditation waived”) and thus waive accreditation for each public school for the 2020-2021 school year based on data from 2019-2020;
- Local school boards were relieved of the requirements to administer Standards of Learning end-of-course and end-of-grade assessments and the alternative assessments for students with significant cognitive disabilities for the 2019-2020 school year. No local school board shall be required to certify it has administered an alternative assessment in 2019-2020.
Face shields vs. masks
Requiring most children to wear masks on the bus and in school is the current standard.
Three University of Iowa infectious-disease doctors and hospital epidemiologists recently suggested in a Journal of the American Medical Association article that face shields may be a better option than masks for the general public in community settings, and some of their peers agree with them. From that article:
- “Face shields require no special materials for fabrication and production lines can be repurposed fairly rapidly. Numerous companies, including Apple, Nike, GM, and John Deere, have all started producing face shields. These shields can be made from materials found in craft or office supply stores. Thus, availability of face shields is currently greater than that of medical masks.”
- “Face shields offer a number of advantages. While medical masks have limited durability and little potential for reprocessing, face shields can be reused indefinitely and are easily cleaned with soap and water, or common household disinfectants. They are comfortable to wear, protect the portals of viral entry, and reduce the potential for autoinoculation by preventing the wearer from touching their face.”
- “People wearing medical masks often have to remove them to communicate with others around them; this is not necessary with face shields. The use of a face shield is also a reminder to maintain social distancing, but allows visibility of facial expressions and lip movements for speech perception.”
CDC initially ruled out the use of face shields for any purpose but medical use. Now the nation has enormous capacity that does not depend upon foreign materials in manufacture and offers adult and child-sized face shields in lot sizes from 5 to multiples of 1,000 at costs of about $2.50 each in lot sizes of 100.
I have asked CDC to consider the alternative on the use of face shields instead of masks in schools and they have agreed to do so.
I also sent the same school officials recommendations on how to ameliorate the busing problem. In busing, the perfect – six feet distance – will prove the enemy of good enough. As Kerry discussed here yesterday, many schools don’t have nearly enough buses or drivers to meet those regulations.
I have offered some suggestions to enable changing that rule.
- Temperature check before boarding. Requiring each child to have her temperature taken before boarding the bus is a good idea that can work, but will require an aide garbed in PPE to ride each bus for that purpose.
- Plastic barriers between seats. Putting up plastic shields between seats like we see in businesses now is currently illegal in many places because it interferes with the driver’s ability to monitor the children. Perhaps any such laws can be modified by executive order if the aides described above are onboard. Those shields could enable one child in every seat.
- Fresh air on bus. Requiring some level of window openings to maintain fresh air flow will help. Install rain shields. The children are dressed for cold weather.
With those changes in place the bus capacities will double and busing will prove a much more viable option. I will ask CDC to comment on these as well as the shields v. masks issue.
Is Reduced Demand for Busing being polled?
Many more parents will drive their children to and from school under COVID conditions, so schools must make accommodations for that increased traffic flow.
It is hard to predict how much of this will happen, so schools should poll the parents and attempt to find out. Increased drop offs will reduce the demand on buses and the routes and schedules can be adapted to the new demand.
Consider increasing the radius of allowable walkers. Years ago when my kids were in elementary school in Virginia Beach, I thought the radius was unnecessarily small. Those rules will need to be tailored to each school.
I sent two emails to school superintendents and some school boards, including Roanoke County. The first provided the actual CDC school guidelines instead of the flawed Virginia versions and the second was on face shields and busing.
Both were well received by the superintendent and school board of Roanoke County, but the plan was too far along to change by last night.
I notified them of the face shields questions I posed to CDC, and I intend to pose the busing questions above to the same organization.
My initial contact with CDC was promising. A man from CDC called me at home within an hour and said he wanted the answer on face shields as well. His wife is a teacher.
School Boards and superintendents have been dealt a bad hand. There is certainly no perfect solution until vaccines are widely available, and there may be no good solution in some school districts until then.
The poor, as usual, are disproportionately vulnerable.
I wish all of them well.There are currently no comments highlighted.