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Chesterfield School Board Approves Virtual Learning Options For Fall

Chesterfield School
Families of Chesterfield County public school students will have to let the district know if their children will return in the fall virtually or in person. The school board approved two models Tuesday that paves the way for a new school year as the safety guidelines around the pandemic begin to recede. (Photo: Ian Stewart/VPM News)

The Chesterfield School Board and officials are encouraging students to return to face-to-face instruction in the fall. 

Superintendent Merv Daugherty said the district’s plan is to have students return to school in a normal environment and follow CDC guidelines.

“And this gives parents the option to come in face to face or go to virtual learning,” he said.

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In presentation documents, officials said returning students to face-to-face instruction will help restore learning loss and support students’ social-emotional needs. 

Those documents also say schools have spent the past year for the eventual reentry of students and staff and that COVID-19 prevention guidelines, such as 3-foot physical distancing and heightened cleaning standards, will still be in place. Mask wearing, they said, is anticipated.

But at the meeting, Daugherty predicted that after Governor Ralph Northam’s announcement slated for June 15 which could possibly ease more restrictions around the pandemic, even physical distancing guidelines may be removed.

“Probably the only thing that will be discussed over the summer, not sure yet, is what will happen with masks.”

He said if that mandate is removed, students who want to wear them will still be able to. 

For families who aren’t ready to send their students back, the district is offering a “Virtual Academy” similar to online classes currently in session. 

The Academy will be available for students from Kindergarten through 8th grade. Middle schoolers will be able to participate in athletics and extracurricular activities at their home school. Specialized programs, such as the county’s center-based gifted program, will not be available.

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Concurrent teaching, which is taking place with some online classes right now, will not be offered as an option next school year. That means Academy students will not be able to join their face-to-face classmates virtually.

“Most importantly, I am thrilled to be voting yes tonight to no more concurrent teaching for our teachers,” said board member Debbie Bailey. “That is something that teachers need to have as their new normal.”

Bailey said with the concurrent teaching removed, teachers who teach virtually will be able to focus on students in the room. 

Parents must inform their respective schools of their decision by June 1.

For high schoolers, the alternative choice is CCPS Online, a self-directed learning program that has been in place for 15 years. Sixth through eighth graders will also have this option. July 9 is the deadline for this selection.

District officials say the deadlines will help them better prepare for the school year, which includes organizing bus routes for students returning to buildings. Families will have the option to enroll in the Virtual Academy for just the first semester or the entire school year. However, those signing up for CCPS Online must commit for the entire year.

Virtual Academy Restrictions

Students who are enrolled in the district’s center-based gifted programs won’t have the option to join the Virtual Academy. However, officials said that “identified gifted students will be to the greatest extent possible clustered together in online virtual classes.”

Also, English Language Learners and special needs students will have the option to sign up for the Academy, but parents will have to contact their child’s case manager and school counselor prior to signing up.