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Newport News School Board votes to start younger students in-person in October

The hybrid plan sends students to in-person classes two days a week and online three days a week.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Newport News School Division leaders are following in the footsteps of the Virginia Beach and Chesapeake School Divisions by speeding up their return to in-person learning timeline.

On Tuesday night, board members voted to get younger students back in class starting this month. They voted five to two to approve the superintendent’s hybrid model plan.

The plan sends students to in-person classes two days a week and online three days a week.

The plan allows the division to take a class and divide it into an A group and a B group. This approach provides space for social distancing. A group and B group students will alternate attending in-person and online.

In August, the board voted to start transitioning on November 2. But division leaders advocated for a two-week head start to help vulnerable learners.

"The elementary parents are saying overwhelmingly, no this is not working out,” said Board Chairman Douglas Brown. “The ones that are contacting me, saying no this is not working out."

The board approved this tentative timeline for returning students:

  • October 19- Select special needs students and English learners (Level 1)
  • October 26 – Pre-K through Grade 2
  • November 5- Grades 3-5 and Grade 6
  • November 16 – Grades 7 and 8

No date has been set yet for high school students.

"Our plan is not complete, and I think that is the man thing that we want to say to our community this evening,” said Superintendent Dr. George Parker. “This is the launching point of what it will take to get back to in-person safely."

Dr. Parker said the plan will be flexible. He said the division will watch infection rates very closely. Families can also choose to stay virtual.

"This, if not now… this is as low as our infection rate is probably going to get for the whole year,” said Chairman Brown.

Many board members were in favor to try the plan.

"My biggest concern is my teachers,” said Board member Lisa Surles-Law. “That we are able to do it such as they feel safe and they feel protected."

Board Members Marvin Harris and John Eley voted against the plan.

"It's hard for me to reconcile with having kids come back to school when I am watching the news and our own President of the United States caught COVID,” said Eley. “The Governor of Virginia caught COVID."

Several teachers in the audience said it's too soon.

"I'm here for the students and I'm here for the families, but I didn't sign up to catch COVID and die,” said orchestra teacher Chanel Hurt.

Some said they won't send their own kids just yet.

"I will not be sending mine back until the positivity rate is much lower,” said teacher Mary Vause.

Students and staff will be required to wear masks. There will also be several health mitigation strategies in place to ensure the school environment is safe. Desks will be spaced six feet apart. 

Custodial staff will be cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting the building each day. They will have "classroom wellness" stations that include hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, disposable masks, and antibacterial soap.

The division needs feedback before moving forward. They are asking families to fill out a return to school intent form on Parentvue. They will be asked to decide how they want their children to continue learning.

The form is due on Friday, October 16.