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Prince Edward schools go online-only for first 9 weeks

Prince Edward County Public Schools (PECPS) will conduct its first nine weeks of classes remotely.

Barbara Johnson

The decision was announced by PECPS Superintendent Dr. Barbara Johnson in a Tuesday, July 28, live address held via Facebook and Zoom.

During the address, Johnson explained the original purpose of the video call was to announce details regarding a hybrid learning model discussed in a July 2 Facebook Live video.

Johnson said after meeting with officials from the Piedmont Health Department last week and reviewing data that showed the county is experiencing a “second wave” of the coronavirus, the decision was made to alter reopening plans and move to an online-only model for the first nine weeks.

According to Johnson, the week of Aug. 11 will serve as an “open house” of sorts, in which parents will visit school, likely in a drive-thru format, to pick up Chromebooks, class schedules, textbooks and any other equipment to be distributed to students.

Students and teachers will use the first week to acclimate to the new learning environment.

After families and faculty get a feel for things, new instruction will officially begin the week of Aug. 17.

Meals will still be provided to students during the remote learning period, with parents likely ordering meals for children and picking those meals up every two weeks. More information regarding food distribution will be released in the coming days.

All students will be issued a Chromebook, which will allow them to work remotely without immediate internet access. Information and assignments will be uploaded to the Chromebooks before children receive the devices. Age-appropriate touchscreen tablets will be issued to Pre-K through first-grade students.

These devices will not cost anything to families, though students will be expected to turn in the devices at the end of the academic year. Parents are expected to sign user agreements regarding use of the device and possible fees associated with damage or loss.

The school has ordered hot spots that will be placed across the county in convenient locations to be announced later. Students with internet access difficulties will need to bring their Chromebooks to hot spots approximately every two weeks in order to send in work.

The school will be utilizing Canvas and Google Suite as educational platforms for online learning. Each student will have a specific login for access. Instructional content will be generated by teachers, but Virtual Virginia will be accessible for students, especially secondary-level students.

Elective-style classes, such as music and art classes, are expected to continue during virtual learning.

When PECPS does reopen, Johnson stressed, a hybrid model will be utilized for in-school instruction. Fully-online learning will still be an option for students who don’t wish to return in-person.

Johnson said the next steps for the school system will involve continued professional development for teachers focusing on lesson alignment and remote instruction.

Technology email and voicemail hotlines to support students and their families will also be set up.

“I realize this is extremely disruptive to many families,” Johnson said. “We realize you were in the process of coming up with child care options for an A week or a B week. We realize that this is going to be an added expense for some families. We recognize that, and we are sorry for, what feels like to some, the last minute change.

“As I have continued to say, this is a very fluid situation, and in order to be able to say that our children can come here safely, our staff can come here safely, we have to make this change. The rise in cases is somewhat alarming for us, and again, we will not do anything that will ever endanger anyone that is a part of our PECPS community.”

Families can still submit tips or inquiries regarding reopening at Reopening2020@pecps.k12.va.us.