August 19, 2020
Thursday, August 13 marked exactly 5 months since the Governor of Virginia closed schools throughout the Commonwealth for two weeks due to rising cases of COVID-19. When the announcement happened on March 13, we were devastated—our schools had NEVER experienced something like this. No other event had kept IWCS buildings closed for this length of time. We were confident we would be allowed to return once the two weeks were up. The two weeks turned into the rest of the 2019-2020 school year. Certainly we would be able to return in the fall, back to the way things were before March 13, right?
That answer is clearly, and painfully, No.
The School Board approved a plan to allow Pre-K through third grade students to return to school for the first nine weeks on a hybrid schedule, with a virtual option for all grade levels.
There are people who are not happy with the board’s decision, and they have shared their displeasure with us. Parents have concerns about childcare, how their student will learn on a non-traditional schedule, and whether their child will be able to socialize with their friends.
We empathize with parents and their struggles. I can assure you that we would like nothing more than to have school go back to the way it was before March 13. But we cannot with the current restrictions in place. Even in Phase 3, we are still required to implement physical distancing which does not allow all of our students to return to school at the same time. The board elected to ease back into in-person learning with a hybrid schedule for our PreK-grade 3 students and certain groups of students with disabilities. These students are those most in need of face to face instruction. And it will give us a chance to see how a return to in-person learning with a smaller number of students.
This means that all students in grades 4-12 are participating in some form of remote learning to start the school year. Whether temporary remote, or virtual, students will not be returning to their schools, at least for the first nine weeks for the temporary remote students. We are not experts in virtual learning. Our teachers are experienced and successful with traditional face to face instruction. That’s what they know and what they do best. Now, they have spent countless hours over the summer, and will spend more time when they return in August, to become proficient with online instruction while still carrying out in person learning with the new safety measures. All of this has happened in response to the health crisis.
This is not a model we want to be implementing. We want to have all of our students back in the buildings to work with them in person, to celebrate their successes with high fives and hug them when they need it. Students routinely sit in groups, play together at recess, eat lunch together, and share supplies with each other. Physically distancing has not been the norm for in-person learning.
My point is that everyone has been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. There are obvious concerns for families with members who have health issues and are at a higher risk for serious repercussions if they contract the virus. We also have parents who are facing an economic hardship related to changes in their employment, or additional costs due to their children not being back in school full time. Teachers have revamped how they teach in order to support a variety of models their students may be using—hybrid, remote, or virtual.
People are anxious about the unknown. They are unhappy, scared, angry, concerned, worried, and upset over the current situation. Every one of these emotions is valid. The COVID-19 crisis is not anyone’s “fault” and we need to be careful about how we express our emotions, especially in front of children. I ask you to think about some other qualities we need to demonstrate during this difficult time—kindness, understanding, patience, and compassion. I know it may not be easy, but I encourage you to show empathy to others. We don’t know what our friends and neighbors are dealing with and the issues they are facing.
Isle of Wight is a county of very proud individuals, many who may be struggling like never before. Isle of Wight is also a county that looks out for each other. When this crisis first occurred, we saw acts of kindness from all corners of our community. I’m sure many of you put the well-being of others before yourself. It’s what you do, especially those of you who are front line workers. I’m sure you are tired and in desperate need of a break. I want nothing more for all of us. Until that can happen, please hang in there, take care of each other, and above all, be kind. We will get through this together and emerge a stronger community for it.
Jim Thornton, Ed.D.