PWCS Update on 20-21 school year

July 1, 2020

The Prince William County School Board will hold a special meeting at 6 p.m. on July 7, 2020, for the purpose of listening to citizen comment regarding school reopening to address critical matters created by the state of emergency and COVID-19 pandemic.

Read the announcement.

June 29, 2020

Prince William County Public Schools (PWCS) continues to work on a return to new learning plan for the 2020-21 school year

A Return to New Learning Task Force, including multiple work/focus groups, with 90 members representing principals, teachers, support staff, and central leadership, as well as parents (e.g., Instruction, Equity, Special Education, Safe Schools, Gifted Advisory Councils), has been working to provide valuable input and develop draft plans that prioritize the health and safety of all students and staff while delivering equitable, high-quality new learning in the fall. For example, in support of putting the health and safety of students and staff as a top priority, principals at every level were asked to conduct classroom-by-classroom assessments utilizing 6 feet of distancing measurements to determine furniture placement and the maximum number of students who can be in every space while maintaining the social distancing. Similar health and safety assessments are occurring across the division to include bus transportation safety assessments.

In addition, PWCS parent survey and school-based staff surveys have been distributed. These survey results, in addition to results from the survey conducted by the Prince William Education Association, will inform the creation of the plan. An additional survey for parents will be conducted in mid-July after the return to new learning plan is adopted. The Department for Human Resources will be gathering information from every employee to determine employee needs and will work with employees who may be in high-risk health categories and/or require ADA accommodations.

PWCS must consider the multitude of requirements from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), Virginia Department of Health (VDH), Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Virginia High School League (VHSL), and other organizations overseeing all school divisions' plans for returning to learning. PWCS leaders are also collaborating with the Prince William School Board to ensure this plan is comprehensive and thoughtful.

As the process progresses, the School Board will be receiving updates in preparation for a work session on July 8. The School Board is scheduled to vote on the return to new learning plan on July 15, with communication of the plan to staff, students, families, and the community immediately following.

June 12, 2020

On June 9, Governor Ralph Northam shared the Virginia Department of Education's (VDOE) Recover, Redesign, Restart 2020 plan for returning students and staff to school.

A few key highlights from their plan include:

  • Learning and instruction must be provided for every student.
  • In-person instruction can be offered for all students; however, strict social distancing measures must be implemented.
  • Virtual instruction is also an option as well as a hybrid model allowing for both in-person and virtual.
  • Remote learning exceptions and teleworking should be options for students and staff who are at a higher risk of severe illness. Under the current Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, this includes anyone 65 and older, and those persons with underlying health conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and those who are immunocompromised including those undergoing cancer treatments or on corticosteroids or other immune-weakening drugs.
  • Per the state requirements, mitigation strategies may impact school operations and student capacity limits.
  • Additional operational requirements mandated by the State include physical distancing, such as keeping students six feet apart, gathering limits and other mitigation strategies, including the use of face coverings by students and staff.
  • The VDOE is requiring physical distance between children on school buses when possible, including one child per seat, every other row, and limiting capacity as needed to optimize distance between passengers. Children (such as siblings) living together may sit together on the bus.
  • The VDOE and the state are also requiring physical distancing of at least six feet to the greatest extent possible in all buildings and classrooms. Other social distancing precautions should include, but are not limited to, restricting mixed classes and closing or staggering the use of communal spaces such as cafeterias, and limiting outdoor activities and recess to 50 people, with a priority on social distancing and restricting the mixing of classrooms.
  • Large gathering limits will be determined by Executive Order in effect at that time. According to VDOE, athletics and extracurricular activities may continue with some mitigation measures. This includes limiting athletes' contact with each other, perhaps only allowing for some sports training rather than competitions.
  • Before entering Phase II or III, every school in Virginia will be required to submit to the VDOE a plan outlining their strategies for mitigating public health risk of COVID-19.
  • Additionally, public school divisions will be required to submit a plan for providing new instruction to all students in the 2020-21 academic year, regardless of phase or the operational status of the school at the time. This plan must also include strategies to address learning lost due to spring 2020 school closures and plans for fully remote instruction should public health conditions require it.

"While we agree that the safety of students and staff should be at the forefront, we also recognize this guidance is a significant unfunded mandate on our school division, and places an immense challenge on our teachers, administrators, staff, students, and families both fiscally and logistically," said Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Steve Walts. "We also recognize that the state's directives are not aligned to the realities of our school division's scale, scope, or budget."

Dr. Walts added that the physical distancing, bus, and building capacity requirements, and health considerations of staff and students, will unfortunately make it impossible to have all students and staff in buildings at any one time.

"We will have to implement some variation of distance learning, alternating schedules, and telework," he said. "Despite these challenges, we are working hard to prepare for the fall. We have a number of plans that have been taking shape over the past few weeks."

Furthermore, Walts said, the division has multiple collaborative teams comprised of school-based instructional staff, including special education, and English learning, as well as school-based administrators and department leaders, working on development and completion of plans.

"We are continuing to implement our digital equity plans, as well as providing computer devices for students without them at home, and access to the internet through a combination of Wi-Fi parking lots, hot spots, and reduced cost internet through Comcast," Dr. Walts said.

PWCS will be surveying families and staff in the next two weeks to obtain further feedback on the guidance from the state, as well as to gain insights to shape final plans.

"It is my hope to have a more specific return to learning update for the School Board to consider by mid-July," Dr. Walts said.