NORFOLK, Va. — On Wednesday, the Norfolk School Board unanimously voted to approve an updated, hybrid plan for a return to in-person learning.
Division officials will start phasing students back inside the classroom on March 15, almost a year to the date after they were sent home.
“The health and wellbeing of our students is paramount,” said Norfolk Superintendent Dr. Sharon Byrdsong.
The division is now following new VDOE and CDC guidelines.
“The key word here is 'flexibility,'” Dr. Byrdsong said.
Norfolk’s COVID case metrics fall under the VDOE’s high transmission red zone, but the division’s safety strategies in place allow for in-person learning to begin in phases.
- March 1: teachers and staff will return to the classroom.
- March 15: elementary students, students with disabilities and English learners return
- April 12: All middle school students
- April 26: All high school students
Under the hybrid plan, students will spend two days in the building, and two online at home.
In school buildings, masks are required, and desks will be six feet apart. There will be no more than 10 students in a room and teachers will get PPE.
“Air sanitizers in each room, face shields, gowns, and gloves for each teacher as a precaution,” said Chief Academic Officer Dr. James Pohl.
Most teachers will teach students, both in-person and virtual, from their classroom. The division is providing them classroom cameras and a Bluetooth headset. They will also provide professional development training when teachers start back.
Officials said HVAC systems in all 51 schools follow CDC guidelines and have fresh filters. But they found more than 700 classrooms need help with fresh air intake.
“We purchased sanitizing humidifiers for those classrooms, and they are being installed now,” said Chief Operations Officer Richard Fraley.
That’s a red flag for Norfolk Federation of Teachers President Thomas Calhoun.
“Because we are a really old city with some really old schools,” Calhoun said.
Still, he says many of the 1,400 teachers he represents want to return when it’s safe.
“Teachers teach, that is what we do,” Calhoun said. “It’s not a matter of them wanting to go back. It’s a matter of them wanting it to be safe.”
Division officials said 21 percent of students chose the virtual option, while 79 percent are signed up to do in-person class when possible. Dr. Byrdsong said they still have a choice.
“We will certainly have that remote option for parents who want to keep their children home,” said Dr. Byrdsong.
March 1-3 will become asynchronous learning days for students while teachers and staff make final preparations to begin safely phasing students back on March 15.